This chapter deals with femininity from women’s point of view, in other words how women themselves perceive their gender in the sense of their self esteem. This part of personal identity is highly subjective and it represents the way, an individual see oneself as the member of the particular group. I intentionally listed this category at the end of this theses, because it does not origin on its own but arises in the interaction with familial and social environment and it is overlapping with the aspects of identity I have already examined in previous chapters.
The theme of femininity vs. masculinity has become a hot issue in debates since 60’s all over the world. Karin Hausen (1976 qtd. in Valdrová) summarized up to the date gender imperatives as follows:
Traditional gender stereotypes proceeded in Europe do not differ much from what we have said about Latin America. I selected contemporary website by Czech person, to signal that female question is not the issue of the past or developing cultures, but it still has a point in our society nowadays. Valdrová further questions female predetermined role:
Self-denial, altruism, orientation towards the needs of other people as the life scenario of many women represents the fruitful subject to many discussions. To which extent these attributes might turn negative towards people involved? What is the impact to the child who realized that his/her mother has suppressed her own personality in favor to men’s plans and ambitions? Which behavioral patterns will the child keep when grows up? (Valdrová, “Žena, muž a sociální pohlaví”)
Valdrová confirms that to influence the gender stereotypes within the society we have to start with women’s personal identity. Consequently, mother’s perception of self as a woman would be of direct influence on the child’s perception of the world and the gender stereotypes are passing on further generation. As I have said, personal identity is created in an interaction of familial and social environment. I claim these two elements further interact with female’s inner self-perception, i.e. how does she see herself as a woman. The foundation stone in female self-esteem structure is created by the heritage from our (grand)mothers, and to speak about female self perception we cannot omit the role of sexuality and beauty. However subjective the beauty might be, it still stands for one of the most decisive components shaping women’s attitude to themselves.
Therefore, in this chapter I am going to analyze traditional gender stereotypes which are passing through generations as the crucial element to create female personal identity, further I am going to survey the attitude of Hispanic women to the cult of beauty they are permanently exposed to. I will also touch the question of media which function as the propagator of the cult of the beauty and gender stereotypes, and in the same time they represent the most effective tool to influence public awareness.
Chicano women of new age, as I have already described in the theoretical part of this theses, are consulting their life role with previous generations, questioning the traditional patriarchal stereotypes and refuse to accept the position of oppressed beings. Cisneros’ Esperanza reveals her ties to her great-grandmother and through her story we can understand the position of Chicanas’ women throughout a history: “It was my great-grandmother’s name and now it is mine. She was born in the Chinese year of the horse - which is supposed to be bad luck if you’re born female - but I think this is a Chinese lie because the Chinese, like the Mexicans don’t like their women strong. (10)
In Chinese calendar, the year of the horse means power and energy, and people born under that sign are believed to be “extremely independent and confident - the horse person is very quick-witted and is right in there with you before you have had a chance to finish what you are saying 8. The reference to Chinese mythology evokes the idea that hegemonic masculinity is not settled in Mexican culture only, but there exist a vast number of victimized women all across the world. Esperanza admires her ancestor for her untamed wildness which helped her to resist general standards of the society. Esperanza further claims that her grandmother was
“so wild she wouldn’t marry. Until my great-grandfather threw a sack over her head and carried her off just like that, as if she were a fancy chandelier” […] And the story goes she never forgave him. She looked out the window all her life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow… I inherited her name but I don’t want to inherit her place by the window. (11)
Here Cisneros suggests that some level of wildness and independence has always been presented in females characters, but these qualities used to be suppressed by the standards of patriarchal society. Again we can find here the stereotype of unscrupulous, violent man in the person of Esperanza’s great-grandfather. No regards how much Esperanza admires her great-grandmother’s character, in the same time she denies the role her great-grandmother was forced to accept in the end – i.e. her place by the window. We have already met this refusal attitude towards traditional gender roles in Lorna Dee Cervantes’ poem Grandma earlier in this thesis.
Esperanza’s tights to her great-grandmother are symbolized by sharing the same name. How do we identify ourselves with our own name is considered as a kind of symbolic contract between the society and the individual. We can find another reference to the symbolic role of the name in other part of the novel.