Latina women have been dealing with the ideals of machismo for centuries. In today’s society women have begun to make great strides in developing a position in the sun where their ideas and opinions are deemed worthy of examination. Many women have been striving to show their wisdom and insights. This paper will be discussing one instrumental writer who has begun paving the way for change in society’s conception of female gender roles. Achy Obejas is creating female character in Days of Awe who have internalized behaviors and ideals normally exhibited by males.
This paper focuses on how this specific Latina writer show the Latina’s, more specifically the Cuban female’s, journey into finding a voice through the use of her sexuality. The dynamics of gender roles both in Cuba and the exile community is a complicated issue. For years men have played the dominant role both in and out of the bedroom. Women both in the real world and in the world created by author have been faced with a conundrum when attempting to navigate the turbulent waters of sexual relationships.
The standard is set and if any woman dares break away from the male domination that is often prescribed in society she will certainly gain herself a “reputation. ” This commonplace notion is what Obejas is trying to dispel by showing what sexual freedom gains and how it strengthens a woman’s position in a patriarchal society. Achy Obejas creates female character who learn by embodying the role of the sexual aggressor that she can become free from male-dominance.
One of the many facets of patriarchy is that being sexually aggressive is deemed a male gender role. In Obejas’ Days of Awe there is evidence of a longing to be free from having to depend on the opposite sex for pleasure and approval. Alejandra is set free by their complete acceptance of becoming the dominating sexual partner. This freedom allows her to be in charge of her sexual experiences and no longer be in the submissive dependent role. This women travel the road of discovery. This quest leads one from the U. S. to Cuba.
She finds a secure identity through traveling from their home to a place that tests their self-worth. Alejandra, a young exile looking for a connection to Cuba and her feminine identity, finds the sexual fever dormant within her. This woman realize that learning to harness their sexual potency gives them control over a world normally out of reach due to gender discrimination. By using her sexuality she is privy to a position usually reserved for the male. She becomes empowered by the control and strength asserting her allure provides.
This paper will critically examine how Obejas’s character construction and experiences allow for the often-slighted Latina woman to hold her own in her class, community and culture through the suppression of the values of patriarchy via the suppression of the men in the novel. The main focus will be the dynamic between male and female interaction that ultimately leads to the shutting off of the male voice in a series of different and diverse empowering actions by the female protagonist.
The text will allow a look at the process of how these Cuban-American authors show that these women characters obtain and solidify their empowerment through the removal of the male’s power and position. The interaction between male and female characters allows the author to showcase a woman’s importance and strength while lessening the male’s role in society through his diminished role in the novel. Through a feminine narration, women are represented in a true fashion, not as a sidebar to a male-dominated existence.
Overview Achy Obejas has not been the object of popular critical study. She is often written about in terms of her sexuality and the ramifications of this existence. The label lesbian is frequently tagged with her name often overshadowing other important issues. She is often quoted in critical texts only due to her use of lesbian themes: “The immigrant’s ruminations about ‘what could have been’ are paralleled by lesbians’ concerns about past events that are seen in a new light…
The Cuban-American lesbian writer Achy Obejas illustrates these concerns in a recent story” (Espin 106). As a lesbian Cuban-American writer, she is often written about in this context and how these terms fit into her fiction. Her typical protagonist is a lesbian allowing critics to focus on this aspect of the novel leaving a gap in the discussion of the male characters. (McCullough 578). Critics aren’t discussing how the male characters affect woman’s narrative voice.
This paper focuses on the gaining of voice through the suppression of the male and few critics discuss the male-counterparts in Obejas’ fiction in these terms. Her examination of the exile’s life in Days of Awe is discussed but not enough focus is centered on Alejandra’s sexual relationships with men, for example, in the article by Alice Sparberg Alexiou, who writes: “she wrestles with all of her identities—sexual, religious, national” (38).
Critics will briefly pass over the topic of Alejandra’s sexuality not delving deep into the Alejandra’s relationships with men. The focus will shift to more common ideals such as political issues involving the exile condition and/or the religious aspects of Days of Awe: “While the narrative relates the circumstances of Cuban-American immigration easily enough, it has more difficulty describing the impact of crypto-Judaism on Ale’s family” (Socolovsky 236).
Socolovsky goes on to say: “The first part of the book consists of the narrator’s memories of leaving Cuba, always over determined by the discomfort stemming from her father’s secrecy” (227). This criticism is missing one of the key elements of why Ale travels to Cuba; to discover who she is as a Cuban-American woman. Obejas is also widely discussed for her inclusion of Judaism in her topics of Cuban History.
I found many articles written about her delving into the Cuba’s Jewish past: “Obejas’s linkage of being Jewish with being Cuban is intriguing.. .The equivalence is borne out in language as well, Miami Cubans are often referred to as ‘Jews of the Caribbean” (Solwitz 123). Achy Obejas use her fiction to undermine the ideal that men have a more powerful voice and should be at the forefront of a narration by intentionally giving their male characters lesser roles in their novels.
Author creates characters that show how powerful a woman can become once her voice is validated by some element of society, whether it is in the private or public world. Carmen Luke examines the role of women in society and discusses how vital the establishment of a woman’s opinions through her voice can be to self-worth and how key this expression is to determining a woman’s value: “The concept of voice as a means of empowerment for women has been a key element in feminist theory and practice since the beginning of the ‘women’s movement’ in the 1960s.
Voice, women’s speech and language, has been fundamental to feminist practices of consciousness raising and to theory building based on women speaking of their experience” (211). Luke is saying that women need to express their opinions and beliefs in order to solidify their position in society. The author does just this, use a strong feminine voice to narrate a woman’s experience. Theoretical Background Achy Obejas take on the development of the female exile’s existence in a significant way that incorporates gender issues as well as the cultural.
Often throughout literary history men have held the role of the powerful in several societies, both as authors and as characters: “It is well documented that all societies recognize some sort of gender differentiation and that most or all exhibit some level of gender stratification-a rank ordering of men and women that signifies the unequal distribution of power and the distribution of resources” (Xu 376). Literature throughout the centuries shows the patriarch is the master of the domain.
Traditionally when the Latino culture is represented in fiction the women in these representations are forced into the submissive role allowing the culturally accepted “machismo” to prevail. There is a tremendous amount of literature that represents its women characters as one dimension and nonessential to the plot of the piece. Women, who often hold only one role such as, caretaker, object of desire, or mixer of remedies.
When we examine Obejas’ fiction as example of the feminine writing practice, we find that this work becomes an example of French feminism’s theories on l’ecriture feminine: “a practice of writing in the feminine which undermines the linguistic, syntactical, and metaphysical conventions of Western narrative” (Showalter 9). Obejas’ recognition of how the feminine disrupts the symbolic structures of language, meaning, and writing significantly prefigures French feminist Helene Cixous. Plurality, which is a significant part of theory of l’ecriture feminine, can be seen in the in The Days of Awe.
Cast as a woman doomed to drown, Obejas is set outside Cixous’s conception of l’ecriture feminine in relation to modernism. For Cixous, the flesh of the female body becomes the site where the dissection of symbolic language begins; she believes that a woman writer, must write her self, because this is the invention of a new insurgent writing which … will allow her to carry out the indispensable ruptures and transformations … By writing her self, women will return to the body which has been more than confiscated from her …
Censor the body and you censor breath and speech at the same time” of language and meaning. (250) The Obejas illuminates the central component of sexual difference in relation to l’ecriture feminine which Cixous explore. Kristeva writes, “all speaking subjects have within themselves a certain bisexuality which is precisely the possibility to explore all the sources of signification, that which posits a meaning as well as that which multiplies, pulverizes, and finally revives it (298)” This vision of bisexuality, in relation to women’s writing, is also explored by Cixous:
writing is precisely working (in) the in-between, inspecting the process of the same and of the other. .. not fixed in sequences of struggle and expulsion … but infinitely dynamized by an incessent process of exchange from one subject to another … a multiple and inexhaustible course with millions of encounters and transformations of the same into the other and into the in-between, from which woman takes her forms (and man, in his turn … ). (254) Obejas, however, fights against these commonly accepted identity roles by producing fiction that eats away at the “man as ruler” mentality of so many cultures.
Author invents female character that creates a world where she is the one in a position of power and the male characters take a back seat therefore suppressing the ideal that the male has a more significant voice and more important things to say. This female novelist allows women to create their own secure space where they have the ability to be forceful and intimidating. The author gives the characters this safe space that enables these characters to use these traditional male characteristics to their advantage.
This allows the woman character to fight against the marginalization they are often forced into by the men in their society. Days of Awe: Feminist Reading In Days of Awe, Achy Obejas shows her female protagonist gaining agency through removing the male’s will to control and subjugate the female. Through heroine’s sexual prowess men are diminished allowing her voice to gain momentum. She is the counterpart to every man in Cuba who puffs out his chest catcalling women as they walk by. Alejandra San Jose is a classically alluring Cuban-American woman who is afraid of her own possibilities.
She has never explored the deeper side of her sexuality. She has only experienced love and sex in a surface sense, never delving into the areas of herself she is unwilling to expose for fear of appearing unfeminine. She has a yearning to discover herself and assert her true potential as a sexually viable being. Alejandra’s desires are manifested in her desire to understand her Cuban self and all this exotic desire holds for her. She feels that if she figures out how to embrace her Cuban identity she will become stronger and more in control of her direction.
She feels a loss living as an exiled woman unable to fully understand her self and what she needs to feel whole. Once Alejandra has observed the men of Cuba and felt their energy, she begins to feel how reversing her role would be beneficial. She is finally able to express herself: being a translator has allowed Alejandra the luxury of hiding behind the words and opinions of others, “Theses are not my words. I have no words of my own here” (76). Until she discovers a way to present her true identity without fear she has no voice.
She has to gain if, self-confidence in her individuality before she is ready to fight for the right to have her voice heard. The turning point for Alejandra is the provocative sexual encounter she witnesses between a Cuban man, Orlando and his teenager neighbor. The young girl has complete control over the sensual situation taking place between the two showing Alejandra how beneficial this role can be for the woman. Orlando, Alejandra’s host in Cuba is completely captivated by the girl’s sexual allure and her aggressive seduction.
Alejandra is aroused and empowered by the girl’s dominance in the interaction, “I smiled back, strangely calm, as I watched her caress her lover’s stubbly cheek and play with the nappy hair on his head. He continued lapping until she wrapped her legs around him and trapped him there, immobile” (86). At this moment, Alejandra sees firsthand what she has been missing from her own sexual experience, control. Orlando is immobilized by the young girl’s will and sexual strength: “Orlando knelt in front of her like a supplicant as she dipped again and again.
She arched her body, grinding her pubic bone into him” (86). She will determine when their lovemaking session is over. She pushes into him forcing him into submission giving her the dominant role in the interaction. Alejandra learns through witnessing this encounter that women can voice their desires and express their needs. Her will to express her own true identity is strengthened by her voyeurism. She now understands the power of being the dominant or the traditionally male partner in a sex act. Alejandra takes what she has learned about the value of being the aggressive partner back to the United States.
Her trip to Cuba has empowered her with the understanding of the exotic. She begins to assert herself with her current boyfriend, Seth. She becomes the man in the relationship going as far as grinding into Seth as if she was penetrating him with her sexual being, “I kissed his chest, his ribs, his hips, then slowly turned him on his tummy and pushed him down, my hand still on his member. I crushed my pubic bone into him from behind” (160). Alejandra pushes him down into submission and climbs on top of him taking the position of power. She controls the amount of pleasure each will receive and she controls Seth.
She gains her independence from Seth by turning the relationship around on him. She takes on the male characteristics in the bedroom silencing Seth and suppressing his desires for her own. Her voice gains agency through her implementing what she has learned from watching the teen seductress. Alejandra continues to empower her new identity as well. After she has finished with Seth she begins her first lesbian affair. In this relationship she plays the masculine role. She becomes the jealous boyfriend who doesn’t trust his sweet little girl and questions and accuses her constantly of being unfaithful.
She rules the relationship through physical and sexual dominance, I trembled and imagined that I would always want her as much as that time when, in a state of uncontrolled rage about all the lovers she might have had, I pushed her against the wall and knelt before her in a urine-soaked subway stairwell. Pining her hips with my hands, I used my mouth, my teeth, to get at those pungent lips, at the soft core of her where I stalked all my unsteady claims of conquest. (178) She exhibits the classic behavior of the male machismo.
Richard Basham defines the famous Spanish term in his article “Machismo” describing why the term fits Alejandra perfectly here, “Machismo, itself, can be loosely translated as “the cult of the male. ” In its essentials it is characterized by a display of sexual prowess, zest for action; including verbal action, daring and above all, absolute self- confidence” (127). The Latin Lover who dominates his female conquest through his sexual prowess and his perpetual insistence is ever present in Alejandra’s behavior with her new lover. She has now fully embraced the power of her sexuality.
She understands now how to use it to her benefit without worry about her lover. She continues to sleep with both men and women, but now she always plays the role of the dominant lover. She learns how to succeed both in her private life adding many conquests to her ego and her public life succeeding to be a successful translator who is widely respected by both men and women. One of her conquests turns out to be a bad lover, but Alejandra refuses to accept his inadequacies. He believes their lovemaking session is over because he has been “quickly” satisfied.
She immediately regains control of the situation by grabbing his member and informing him his job is not finished, “No, I didn’t like it,’ I said, climbing on top and guiding him, “so now you’re going to make sure I do” (230). Before she internalized the ways of the male she would have accepted his weak attempts at satisfying her never allowing her frustrations to have a voice. Now she will not be silenced or unsatisfied at the hands of a man. Alejandra dictates when the sexual encounter is over and certainly not before she has been satisfactorily pleasured. Her agency takes away the male’s desires and opinions.
She will no longer allow the control to be in any of her lover’s hands. Through these examples Alejandra shows the strength and sexual dominance. Alejandra discovers the potency and rewards of being sexually expressive. Alejandra takes quite long to understand the potential she has in herself. At the beginning of the novel she has yet to truly comprehend the power she has over the opposite sex if she chooses to use it. When she first returns to Cuba she is still intimidated by the power she realizes she has over men. Alejandra sees the way the women of the island flaunt their sexuality and how they use it to their personal advantage.
It is frightening to Ale how easily some women can manipulate men to do as they wish by showing a little skin and a little attitude, “All that week I dreaded the moment when some Cuban man would fix his sights on me, my heart in my throat as he decided whether I was due the complicated mix of flattery and possession that came with being island-born, or the courtesy of silence afforded foreigners” (59). In the beginning of the novel Alejandra relishes being treated with silence until she realizes the power she can harness from taking her attributes and using them to her advantage.
She begins to learn from the men of Cuba just as Reina has before her. She sees their openly seductive behavior allowing her to loosen her grip on her own sexuality. Alejandra is also slow to accept the beauty of being sexually secure. She is intimidated by her Cuban side and the history it holds for her. She is frightened by the exotic side of her personality and has reservations about setting it free: “Havana is where I was supposed to have lived, where I should have emerged like Aphrodite from the foam—where my destiny had been denied” (55).
Alejandra feels her exotic nature stayed behind when she left Cuba as a child. She is slow to realize her destiny is within herself not on the island. She is more timid in her attempts to become empowered hesitating after her first realization of how to obtain her strength. She gingerly wades into the waters of sexual freedom with hesitation and a fear reminiscent of her expression of her female identity. After she witnesses Orlando and Celina, his young neighborhood fling, she attempts to experience and emulate the strength Celina exhibited by allowing Orlando to touch her and give her pleasure.
The two are driving to a deserted location on the outskirts of Havana when Alejandra allows Orlando to bring her to climax with his fingers: “When Orlando parted my legs and tried to lower his head, I resisted: I licked the stubble on his chin, bit at his lips” (88). She takes control of the situation by not allowing him to do what he wants to her, but she is still unsure of how to lead the encounter herself. This is her first step in using her sexuality to gain a voice. Alejandra remains completely clothed in this interaction afraid of unleashing her desire and exposing her body.
She is still afraid to take this knowledge and use it to its full power. She doesn’t end up seducing Orlando until many years later. Alejandra San Jose is a classically exotic Cuban-American woman who is afraid of her own possibilities. She has never explored the deeper side of her sexuality. She has only experienced love and sex in a surface sense, never delving into the areas of herself she is unwilling to expose for fear of appearing unfeminine. She has a yearning to discover herself and assert her true potential as a sexually viable being.
Though Alejandra is quite advanced in her acceptance of the male role, she gains strength through her Cuban journey. The women learns to embrace the exotic nature found within, allowing for a stronger fuller voice. She silences the men in her live through sexual dominance, just as a male would normally in society. Richard Balsam looks at the woman’s traditional role, “From the macho’s viewpoint the natural place of the woman is in the home. She is mother first, a wife second, and a sexual being almost never.
At marriage she must be a virgin. Sex must be incidental to her, its primary purpose to produce children. She must recognize and accept her role, always remembering to show deference to her husband and brothers” (128). She has spurned the normal stereotype for Latina women and created a new space for herself where her voice is heard loud and clear. Alejandra is not married because she does not need a man to guide her way. She has taken it upon herself to find an avenue to strengthen her position in society.
Instead of leaning on the male for support this woman has taken on common male characteristics in order to be free from traditional gender identities allowing her to create her own persona where her voice has value and depth. This empowered woman has seen the last days where she is the submissive slave to a man’s desire. She has discovered the place in the sun and made it her own through expressing her sexual needs and desires. Conclusion In today’s modern society there still is a common struggle for the world’s many women.
Even in this era women are still striving to be deemed equal to men in all aspects of everyday life. Many different authors from all over the world create female characters that are fighting against stereotypes and prejudices building a foundation of empowerment for women through writing. This paper has set out to show how one Cuban-American author is in this type of female-centered telling in Latino Literature. This type of narration used by Achy Obejas invites the reader to understand firsthand the trials of Latina woman through this expressive telling that finally presents her story with her own individual voice.
Achy Obejas successfully creates female character that strives for and achieves control in a normally patriarchal society. She tells of proud Cuban woman who have scratched and clawed for the opportunity to have their voices heard. This women writer turns the tables on socially accepted norms involving long outdated gender roles in the Latino community. Through her acclaimed fiction Obejas creates female character that is able to achieve freedom from a submissive existence by establishing her own voice and value in society. The Caribbean has long been a place of exotic beauties and luxuries.
Obejas uses a woman’s natural seductive wiles to empower the woman of Days of Awe. Author creates character who learns that by taking away the male’s dominant role in the bedroom, his control in other areas will be diminished therefore strengthening the power of the new dominant sex partner, the female. Alejandra San Jose realizes the value of being the sexual initiator. In this novel the male characters fall into the background after they have been seduced leaving Alejandra with the only voices to be heard. One would agree being the sexual aggressor achieves power, but nothing achieves control like violence.
In her next arena of control, Obejas shows several aspects of machismo, including the violent behavior often shown to women at the hands of their lovers and husbands. However, the things in the Cuban community are changing to meet the modern day’s version of an independent Latina woman and the fiction this paper examined in certainly reflects this growth. With determined character and strong representation of a Latina woman author is opening a space where the Cuban female can be sure to be respected and heard without being degraded or discounted.
Obejas creates women in her fiction who refuse to bow her head in shame instead proudly showcasing what it is to be a Woman. Due to this prominent Latina writer depiction of real life struggles we are able to examine traditional patriarchal rules found within our society and move beyond her restrictions to foster real woman who will no longer swallow the lines she forces fed that require her to be submissive and afraid to speak her opinions. Achy Obejas has effectively created a realm in society where the female is the dominant figure allowing her to be successful in a multitude of arenas found throughout her life.
No longer does this woman have to go to extreme lengths in order to be heard. Through strong representations in contemporary fiction the Latina woman is beginning to realize she deserves to be accepted as a viable participant in society with a competent exceptional voice that should be valued and voiced. Works Cited Alexiou, Alice Sparberg. “Jewish Women, Many Voices. ” Lilith 28. 4 (2003): 38. Basham, Richard. “Machismo. ” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 1. 2 (1976): 126-143. Espin, Oliva M. “Leaving the Nation and Joining the Tribe: Lesbian Immigrants Crossing Geographical and Identity Borders.
” Women and Therapy 19. 4 (1996): 99-107. Cixous, Helen. “The Laugh of Medusa”. 1975. ”Feminisms” An Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism. Eds. Robyn R. Warhol and Diane Price Herndl. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1997. Kristeva, J. Language – The Unknown : An Initiation Into Linguistics (transl. by A. M. Menke). New York: Columbia University Press, 1989. Luke, Carmen. “Women in the academy: The politics of speech and silence. ” British Journal of Sociology of Education 15. 2 (1994): 211–230 McCullough, Kate. “Marked by Genetics and Exile: Narrativizing Transcultural Sexualities in Memory Mambo.
” A Journal of Gay and Lesbian Studies 6. 4 (2000): 577-607. Obejas, Achy. Days of Awe. New York: Ballantine Books, 2001. Showalter, Elaine, ed. The New Feminist Criticism. New York: Pantheon Books, 1985. Socolovsky, Maya. “Unnatural Violence: Counter-Memory and Preservations in Cristina’s Garcia’s Dreaming in Cuban and The Aguero Sisters. ” Literature Interpretation Theory 11. 2 (2000): 143-167. Solwitz, Sharon. “Days of Awe Review. ” Shofar 22. 1 (2003): 123. Xu, Wu, and Ann Leffler. “Gender and Race Effects on Occupational Prestige, Segregation, and Earnings. ” Gender and Society 6. 3 (1992): 376-392.
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