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January 30, 2008

The Strategy of Female Voice to be Unmarked, as oppose to chose the Visibility

What was the strategy used by some Spanish Women Writers?

In front of a weak position of the women inside society, writers such as Maria de Zayas choose both the stylistic and politic solution of dispersing her voice (KAMINSKY, P. 488), as a way to avoid being too visible. As Peggy Phelan points out about the risks of the so valued concept of visibility in thinking about the subaltern subject, “there is an important difference between willfully failing to appear and never being summoned.� (In PHELAN, Peggy. Unmarked P. 11) In seems to me that de Zayas chose to failing in appear as conscious strategy that allowed her be read either by (especially) women and men.

Regarding with the last point, writers like Maria de Zayas and Ana Caro Mallen de Soto decide to hide them behind either other voices (de Zayas’ case) or the use of male dressings (de Soto’s Leonor/Leonardo character in Valor, Agravio y Mujer). It seems that their discourse should be indirectly (veiled, cross-dressed, hidden) to be accepted by the patriarchal system.

It is terrifying to verify that the unequal historical relations between women and men are reflected in the fact that even had been women writers (and signing their works) since fifteenth century in Spain, only recently it has started to exist a Spanish women’s literary tradition. What is the role of the critic, say it, of the archive in the existence of such a verification. I suppose that this fact has changed thanks to the work of both feminist writers and critics.

At the same time, the fact those women worked in the edges and not the center compelled them to search alternative writing strategies. The cultural and historical prejudices were reflected directly in their literary choices, as well in the themes chosen by those women. For that reason I see quite coherent Weissberg’s critic to scholars that don’t consider the historical conditions surrounded Spanish Women Writers of that time.

De Zayas’ concern upon women issues is also important to be pointed out. Despite the hard time she lived, de Zayas had a feminist position in defending female interests in front of male abuses. However, we should recall her lack of interest about both class and race issues. She was an aristocrat and this is a clear aspect in her defense of a given type of woman. (race, gender and class are complex issues in the way they mix together inside Latin American societies)

January 29, 2008


Ana Caro (through Valor, Outrage, and Women) is indeed an example of a woman feminist writer who is able to transcend the private sphere forced upon her, to successfully operate at the public sphere. She shows how honor is defined differently by men and women. Through Dona Leonor, Caro demonstrates that the very prowess that men often boast of and use to oppress women can be available to women as well. I liked Dona Leonor’s refusal of any gender category as she says to Ribete “I am who I am�. She further rejects the cultural perception of a woman as she says “You deceive yourself, Ribete, if you imagine I am a woman.� (p233) I am tempted to ask: “What would happen if she was to fight and avenge her honor not as a man in disguise?� But in the same breath, I think at this point she is neither a woman nor a woman – she is just who she is, a human being. But in the end, I’m not sure where the honor is: in the willingness to fight and kill or the winning back of the very man who mistreated her? In response to what she says on page 231: “…but it is my reason and not my love that will meet with the affront I have suffered…� (emphasis mine), at the end of the play, what is at operation here: love or reason? In my opinion she is overpowered by love!

I also like and agree with Zayas’s contention that bad women are those that team up with men to harm other women which is betrayal of one’s sex. I liked the fact that although she realizes the importance of the coalition of women’s voices, she does not generalize and assume homogeneity like most historians do. The various narratives of different women can be viewed as a challenge to this often assumed homogeneity; I therefore commend her for paying attention to differences in women’s perceptions of male supremacy.
I particularly liked Fili’s analysis of man’s mistreatment of women as just a front of men’s insecurities, inadequacies and perhaps the powerlessness which they conceal by using the only power (in my opinion) they have over women- physical power (which Caro challenges in Valor, Outrage, and Women).

Zayas also raises a very important issue of the double oppression nature of rape. When a woman gets raped, she suffers twice: personal dishonor as well as punishment her husband. This is analogous to a person infected with AIDS, who is sick both clinically and socially (because of the stigma attached to the disease.) It is insulting how the man turns around and plays the victim just because his masculine ego has been injured.

According to the introduction, Water Lillies is one alternative of making the invisible visible. It is a feminist rewriting of history of the Spanish literature as it raises the issue of historiography: who writes history? How does he/she determine what/who gets included and how it gets included? It points towards rehabilitated and innovative forms of gender attuned historiography oriented towards non-elite people whose historical roles are eclipsed, suppressed, forgotten or igonored. it aims at recuperating the lost literary history of Spanishwomen.

January 28, 2008

Feminists in the 16th and 17th centuries?

I really enjoyed reading Jasmine’s and Kristin’s entries and it made think if we should start by defining what feminism is. Kristin gives the example of Sor Juana being called the first feminist of the Americas and that reminded me of Isabel de Guevara who, in 1556, decided to write to princess Juana (in Spain) and protest about not getting lands that she considered hers after struggling to survive in the Río de la Plata area since the year 1536.

In her very short letter she establishes a connection with her reader (she assumes that reader will be another woman-- the princess) and pretty much says that the women in that journey worked a lot harder (even as soldiers) than the men. However, she has a way of saying all this that doesn’t feel disrespectful to men and I wonder if that is what makes us question the “feminist� side of Florencia Pinar and Ana Caro Mallén de Soto.

Are they respecting men’s way of writing in order to make their work known? Or did they just not know (as in “not have access to�) any other way of writing? Again, what does it mean to be/to be considered a feminist? And what does it mean to be a feminist writer? Doña Leonor (Ana Caro Mallén de Soto’s character) and Isabel de Guevara seem to ask the same question: “Where has the justice fled? Where is it? How is it possible that this evil pretends piousness in a traitor? It passionately calls out injustice.�

Cross-gendering in Pinar and Mallen de Soto

In Barbara Weissberger's "The Critic and Florencia Pinar," she takes on literary criticism that has either sought to essentialize Pinar's writing (to equate her writing voice with her authorial essence) or to applaud the feminist undertones of her poetry.

These analyses, argues Weissberger, oversimplify Pinar's positionality as a woman entering a male dominated aesthetic tradition. The more interesting questions, suggests Weissberger, are "how can we introduce her into that discourse in a way that does not trap her in an essentialized feminine position as either victim or evader of heterosexist ideology" and "why must we assume that she is incapable of...poetic cross-gendering"?

Although these questions are focused in the specifics of Pinar's poetic style and strategy, I also felt they spoke to Ana Caro Mallen de Soto's Valor, Outrage, and Woman/Valor, agravio y mujer. Certainly Dona Leonor/Don Leonardo embodies this cross-gendering, as she tells Ribete, "You deceive yourself, Ribete,/if you imagine I am a woman:/ this affront has changed my being" (233). But despite the subversive lines she gives to Dona Leonor throughout the play, its resolution into the marriage plot lies comfortably within genre norms. Indeed, the juxtaposition between the cross-gendering of both Leonor and Mullen de Soto's language throughout the play and the neat-and-tidy-conclusion bring us back to Weissberger's question: "How is it possible for a woman writer to interject herself into this discourse of masculinity?" and how do we discuss it without oversimplifying the tenuous relationship both women writers forge with the literary conventions of the day?

In addition to the subversive cross-gendering (which calls attention to the performative aspects of gender presentation), I very much enjoyed the class subversions taking place within the text (at one point Ribete asks, "Cannot the servant be the match of a gentleman?" (233)), as well as the metanarrative that is also given voice primarily through Ribete's character ("I am sick of bothersome playwrights/who put chickenhearted fools,/ dying of hunger, in their plays" (233). The lighthearted questioning of gender, class, and character stereotypes fit well into the lighthearted plot of the play itself, but not without offering an underbelly of biting critique. The combination of the cross-gendering and class critique--while resolving itself to a normative conclusion--reminded me of Shakespeare's tendency to do the same, specifically in Twelfth Night and Measure for Measure. Connected to this, it is also the servants and/or lower class characters in his plays that most directly question such norms. Distinctly, however, Mallen de Soto does not just have Ribete question, but also reinforce: "Just the poets offer some/notable novelty; they are innumerable, so many in fact that now even women want to write poetry, and they have gone so far as to write plays" (267). Perhaps it is this line, that most distinctively clarifies Wiessberger's point that when a critic seeks to essentialize a woman's writing voice as a sincere extension of her authorial essence, they may in fact be eclipsing some serious linguistic play!

on florencia pinar and ana caro mallén de soto

i agree with jasmine about the interpretation of a text revealing the reader’s biases—sometimes more so than those of the writer. and while i think it’s important to be careful not to impose our own ideas on authors from a completely different context, i also like to think of a feminist tradition as something much older than the concept of feminism. some call sor juana inés de la cruz (the 16th century poet/nun we discussed briefly last week) the first feminist of the americas. while it may be true that she was about as likely to self-identify as “feminist� as she was to march on the capitol demanding abortion rights, her writing arguing for women’s education and for a recognition of men’s culpability in women’s tarnished honor is quite consistent with feminist ideals.

in the case of florencia pinar, weissberger points out that labeling the poet a feminist is hasty and perhaps inaccurate. however, i don’t think it’s unreasonable to identify in pinar’s work feminist ideas: that as a woman one may be valued (courted, if not thought of as a person) yet trapped. (in fact, the honor code at the time meant only a woman who was trapped would be valued.) given the critical nature of her surviving poems, i really wonder about her writings that were lost, as well as how she lived her life. was she silenced because she wasn’t thought to be important or because she was thought to be dangerous?

most of what i’ve read about honor in medieval and early modern spain has located a family’s honor in the chastity of the women of the family—a woman who dishonored her family by being the subject of rumors that she had had sex could be killed to restore her family’s honor. the woman herself was only the vessel and had no honor of her own. so caro mallén de soto is somewhat unusual, i think, in creating a female character whose honor is her own to avenge.

i really wish we had access to more information about these writers. how much of their conformism was intentional and for the sake of self-protection and how much just reflected their place in history? what more might they have been holding back?

Enrtry1 Problems in feminist literary theory

The recovery of Spanish women’s writing appears to bring about various controversies in terms of the ways in which to approach, interpret, and represent these texts. Kaminsky points out that the paucity of early women’s writing that is available does not presume the non-existence of women writers in Spain. How then is it possible to create a narrative or literary history of Spanish women writers when there are so many gaps? Perhaps, these gaps and silences tell a variant narrative in which the silences, gaps, and contradictions voice more than the actual texts themselves? How then to read the texts that are available to us? Can literature be taken out of its context?

I think it might also be interesting to analyze not only the literature, but also to think about which women were able to write in terms of status , class, religion, and ethnicity as well as to which writing was able to be disseminated. In other words, as it can be presumed that this writing was meant to be distributed, how might this differ from writing that was largely private and personal? Florencia Pinar’s and Ana Caro Mallén de Soto’s pieces both reveal a need to think about who the writers were writing for. If their work can be interpreted as remaining in the traditional format that conforms to masculine authority, yet is subversive by the very courage to write and by the double meanings of their words, the meaning of their work changes by audience. Pinar and Ana Caro Mallén de Soto’s work can be seen as an assertion of female individual power (especially in the role of Doña Leonor) and an expression or at least acknowledgment of female sexuality. It would be very interesting if it was known how Valor, agravio, y mujer was perceived. While the idea of cross-dressing and gender play has been used by male authors, how can it be seen differently when written by a woman? Doña Leonor’s character affirms and defends her female honor only through the guise of masculinity and codes of masculine honor. It is interesting then that her vengeance is not achieved through violence, but through a reaffirmation and winning of Don Juan’s confirmation of love. This storyline can be seen as both radical and traditional in its relationship to gender roles.
However, as the same time, it is difficult to interject into the intent of this writing without revealing one’s own biases. As Weisseberg allides to in The Critics and Florencia Pinar, is it possible to read these texts without ascribing to an essentializing notion of women’s writing that reflects more of our contemporary time period and thereby, in some way silences the very women that critics are attempting to recover? Does looking primarily at gender replicate silence itself and help to distort the author’s voice? Can a women’s canon or a literary history be constructed at all?