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Feminism is the “belief that women should have economic, political, and social equality with men”(Gustafson). Many inspirational feminists have “challenged the traditional gender roles and demanded more opportunities for women throughout history” (Gustafson). In 1920, women finally gained the right to vote in the United States after a long fight against this particular injustice. After winning this opportunity, feminists started focusing on more societal issues like how they had fewer rights in the workplace and a lower social status than men. Sandra Cisneros was one of these women who dealt with gender roles in her own writings, using her experiences as a Mexican American woman. Sandra Cisneros’s short stories “Woman Hollering Creek” and “Barbie-Q” display Cisneros’s own experiences with poverty and sexism through the voices of female characters.
Sandra Cisneros is a Mexican American “novelist, poet, and short-story writer” (Saltzman). She was born on Dec. 20, 1954, in Chicago, Illinois. In her books and short stories she combines “feminism with her Mexican American heritage, creating a dialogue about topics like ethnic prejudices, poverty, and gender roles” (Saltzman). The female characters in her stories are “often torn between asserting their feminist feelings and following traditional, male-dominated Mexican cultural attitudes” (Saltzman). Sandra Cisneros’s portrayals of female characters within her stories are typical of the setting’s time period because her female characters battled societal expectations, poverty, and rampant sexism in her stories.
Women were expected to be perfect in society as they fulfilled their roles of mother, housewife, and wife. Society had very different views about men and women during this time period. Men were expected to have “morality, honesty, and professional success” (Parker). Their role was to work and provide for the family. Women were expected to be “physically attractive, nurturing, and empathetic” (Parker). They were to take care of the kids and stay at home. Women were also supposed to keep themselves up for their husbands.
The young girls in the story “Barbie-Q” are very excited about the dolls they find at a flea market, which were burnt in a warehouse fire and are on sale. One example of their happiness with these dolls would be when one girl says “If you dress her in her new “Prom Pinks” outfit, satin splendor with matching coat, gold belt, clutch, and hair bow included, so long as you don’t lift her dress, right?—who’s to know” (Cisneros 2). This sentence shows how appearances can hide disappointment, just as in “Woman Hollering Creek” where Cleófilas hides her unhappiness with her life by keeping busy washing dishes and looking after their house. The second example would be “So what if our Barbies smell like smoke when you hold them up to your nose even after you wash and wash and wash them” (Cisneros 2). This quote from “Barbie-Q” demonstrates how the little girls were accepting of their dolls smelling like smoke because they had little due to poverty. Another example of accepting a bad situation in Cisneros’s writing occurs in “Woman Hollering Creek”, when Cleófilas accepts her husband’s shortcomings because she thinks she has to settle for him due to her view that love is pain and therefore she must settle with an unhappy marriage.
Mexican American women were looked down on by men in their culture and viewed as having no room in politics or conversations. The women faced many problems like “sexism, racism, and class barriers” (Orozco). While men were “advanced in electoral politics” (Orozco). Most of the women “immigrated from Mexico to Texas” (Orozco). Their lives revolved around “the domestic sphere, in which they grew and prepared food, made and washed clothes, and raised children” (Orozco). They were treated very differently, a point Cisneros brings up often in her short stories, especially when Cleófilas has dinner with her husband in “Woman Hollering Creek” and relies on him to tell her when to talk and laugh.
Cleófilas is a young Mexican woman who marries and has to put up with abuse from her husband. Her husband beats her for no reason whatsoever. Cleófilas claims that “No, she won’t mention it. She promises. If the doctor asks she can say she fell down the front steps or slipped when she was out in the backyard, slipped out back, she could tell him that” (Cisneros 226). The quote shows how her husband was abusing her and she is so used to his abuse that she made lies about it to cover it up. Her husband also doesn’t care about Cleófilas’s health and she argues that “She has to go, so she can make sure the new baby is all right, so there won’t be any problems when he’s born, and the appointment card says next Tuesday” (Cisneros 226). The quote shows how she had to depend on her husband to take her baby to the hospital. She couldn’t just take the baby herself without any trouble. She relies on her husband to take her because men are more dominant in their culture. At the end of the story, Cleófilas is shocked when Felice yells as they cross La Gritona because she isn’t used to women asserting themselves or being loud in her culture.
Many Mexican American women struggled with poverty in their culture. Poverty is described as “the lack of enough income and resources to live adequately by community standards” (Allard). Poverty causes “suffering, malnutrition, poor health, and loss of life” (Allard). It is said that “inadequate food, medical care, and education reduce the economic and social contributions of poor individuals” (Allard).
Many people throughout the world struggle with poverty including Mexican American women.
In “Woman Hollering Creek”, Cleófilas and her husband struggle with poverty throughout the story. They struggle to pay their bills and take care of the baby. Cleófilas knows that “it’s difficult saving money with all the bills they have, but how else are they going to get out of debt with the truck payments” (Cisneros 226). The quote shows how they don’t have much money and are in debt. Other example would been “and her requests to fix this and this and this because if she had any brains in her head she’d realize he’s been up before the rooster earning his living to pay for the food in her belly and the roof over her head” (Cisneros 223). Cleófilas puts in extra effort to fix up their house, while her husband doesn’t care about her efforts to make their house nicer.
In conclusion, many feminists have challenged the traditional gender roles and demanded more opportunities for women throughout history. Sandra Cisneros, an awarded writer and social critic, deals with gender roles in her own writings, using her experiences as a Mexican American woman. Sandra Cisneros’s portrayal of female characters within her stories are typical of the setting’s time period because women were expected to be perfect wives and mothers in society and they were often viewed as being subservient to the men in their culture, a common theme, in Cisneros’s writing.
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