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Wearing Gender Labels off: Resignifying The Female Subject in Gloria Anzaldúa

This article approaches a gender perspective to analyze certain mechanisms of feminine subjectivation by exploring the multifaceted roles and identities of Chicano women. It highlights the impact of gender expectations on women and emphasizes the need to redefine roles beyond marriage and motherhood. Gloria Anzaldúa denounces the female limitations of Chicano women in Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza 1987. In this major work of Chicano literature, Gloria Anzaldúa questions the perpetuation of traditional feminine roles, confronting the internalization of social norms that create a prism of expectation towards feminine behavior: "Culture forms our beliefs. We perceive the version of reality that it communicates. Dominant paradigms, predefined concepts that exist as unquestionable, unchallengeable, are transmitted to us through the culture. Culture is made by those in power-men." (Anzaldúa, 1987, p. 38). Through her literary works, Anzaldúa clearly opposes the acceptance of societal structures as they are: "My task is to guide readers and give them the space to co-create, often against the grain of culture, family, and ego injunctions, against external and internal censorship, against the dictates of genes." (Anzaldúa, 1987, p.7).

This study aims to explore the diversity of Chicano women's experiences. These ideas may be portrayed in some lines of the poem by Diana Tey Rebolledo La Loca de la Raza Cosmica 1993 that are selected for this study. This poem explores the complex roles and identities of a Chicano woman. It questions societal norms, exposes the conflicts she might experience and examines a range of topics, including parenthood, societal conventions, language, and cultural jokes. Both authors aim to empower women to challenge societal expectations and embrace diverse identities through their literary approaches. It could be argued that she chose that title because, in her understanding, a Chicano person's perspective on the "cosmic race" emphasizes the notion that the unique and diverse aspects of race and nationality should be embraced and celebrated as it englobes the collective destiny of humanity. Rebolledo shows the daily life of a young woman growing up in northern New Mexico:

La Loca de la Raza Cosmica , vv. 1-40

For as different as we all may seem,

When intracacies are compared, We are all one,

and the same.

Soy la Mujer Chicana, una maravilla

Soy tan simple como la capirotada

and at the same time I am as complicated to understand as the Aztec


Soy la Reina de la Raza Cósmica (al estilo Califas) . . .

Soy mujer soy señorita soy ruca loca

soy mujerona soy Santa

soy madre soy Ms.

Soy la India María

soy la Adelita

Soy Radical

. . .

Soy la que hecha chingazos por su Raza

soy el grito: "Chicano Power!"

soy United Farmworker Buttons

soy la Mexican flag

Soy la madre (El esclavo) de mi padre,

de mi hermano, de mi esposo,

soy la comida en al mesa cuando llegan

del jale

soy la que calienta los Tv dinners

soy tamales at Christmas time

Soy love-maker to my main man

soy dreamer

soy streetwalker

soy la good woman

soy la quien "mi carnal" hace rape

Soy shacking up

soy staying at home until I'm married

or dead

soy dumping my old man, even though I'm

pregnant with his child

soy getting married in Reno with

the kids at home

soy getting married with 15 bridesmaids

and champagne and cake

soy mother of 12, married at 14

soy staying together for the kids' sakes

soy la que se chinga pa' mantener a su familia

soy marianismo, living to love and support

my husband and to nurture and teach

my children soy la battered wife

In the cited lines of the poem, a feminist viewpoint on women's varied experiences is presented. It draws attention to the ways in which women are frequently constrained to conventional gender roles, such as mother, caretaker, and food provider. She even goes so far as to compare herself to the meals she cooks for her family. Even while these positions are important, they can also reinforce society's expectations and norms that restrict her independence and agency. She addresses herself as a woman on twelve occasions and defines herself in reference to her husband: "Soy love-maker to my main man"/ "soy dumping my old man, even though I'm pregnant with his child"/ "soy getting married with 15 bridesmaids". (Rebolledo, 1993) It also discusses the difficulties women have in relationships, such as instances of violence, pregnancies, and the pressure to meet social standards. It encourages the reader to confront the social institutions that support gender inequality and the marginalization of women by calling them into question: "soy staying at home until I'm married or dead" (Rebolledo, 1993). The sexist language and depiction of women in the verses portray women as commodities suggesting the objectification of women.

woman in white dress running
Figure 1: Woman in White Dress Running. (Cottonbro studio, 2020)

This study recognizes, then, that the gender role portrayed in the poem epitomizes the "feminine" that is dominant in many contemporary sociocultural contexts. In consequence, it provides a literary language through which one can investigate how societal expectations may affect how female subjectivity is formed in Chicano culture. This strategy is to be compared with Anzaldúa's description of female expectations. She calls for alternate forms of female representation by stating that in Chicano culture, the welfare of the family is above the individual: "The welfare of the family, the community, and the tribe is more important than the welfare of the individual. The individual exists first as kin–as sister, as father, as padrino–and last as self." (Anzaldúa, 1987, p.18) She denounces the existing social order by guiding readers to co-create from an imaginative perspective and situates domination from within the root of every individual private life: it comes from home. She encourages people to go beyond genetic limitations and embrace transformative expression by surpassing cultural standards, familial expectations, and internal/external constraints. In her view, gender expectations dictate the typecasts that conform to Chicano culture:

The culture expects women to show greater acceptance of, and commitment to, the value system than men. The culture and the Church insist that women are subservient to males. If a woman rebels she is a mujer mala. If a woman doesn't renounce herself in favor of the male, she is selfish. If a woman remains a virgen until she marries, she is a good woman. For a woman of my culture there used to be only three directions she could turn: to the Church as a nun, to the streets as a prostitute, or to the home as a mother. Today some of us have a fourth choice: entering the world by way of education and career and becoming self-autonomous persons. A very few of us. As a working class people our chief activity is to put food in our mouths, a roof over our heads and clothes on our backs. Educating our children is out of reach for most of us. Educated or not, the onus is still on woman to be a wife/mother-only the nun can escape motherhood. Women are made to feel total failures if they don't marry and have children."¡Y cuándo te casas, Gloria? Se te va a pasar el tren." Y yo les digo, "Pos si me caso, no va ser con un hombre." Se quedan calladitas. Sí, soy hija de la Chingada. I've always been her daughter." (Anzaldúa, 1987, p. 39).

The aforementioned assertions suggest a well-established, frequently used system of qualitative evaluations of gender roles. One's social acceptance could be in jeopardy if one veers from the courses outlined by this system because doing so could cause one to be shunned. Anzaldúa herself nonetheless struggled with gender-specific standards. The concept of new generations of women being able to exist and thrive without adhering to the conventional structure of marriage, in her view, may cause panic and horror. Through her analysis, she looks at the typical paths that women are forced to take, highlighting their limitations and stressing the necessity of creating an inclusive and empowered environment that challenges preconceived notions while recognizing and valuing the various identities of women.

a woman in denim jacket and a veil holding a baseball bat
Figure 2: Woman in Blue Denim Jacket. (Cottonbro studio, 2020)

Therefore, it could be argued that gender expectations prevalent in Mexican culture, among others, impose traditional motherly roles on women. This phenomenon will be examined in light of Nancy J. Chodorow's ideas presented in her book The Reproduction of Mothering published in 1999. The expectations placed on females, which originate from the family environment, serve as a mechanism that hinders women's individuality. Although her focus is primarily on the role of mothering, her work is brought into analysis because women have the primary role of motherhood in marriage, which shapes their gender identity and socialization; marriage perpetuates gender norms. The demands made on women in marriage lay a strong emphasis on their caregiving responsibilities, possibly obscuring other facets of their identity. Chodorow works toward a more inclusive and empowered atmosphere that supports women's different identities and goals by critically analyzing and addressing these relationships. She exposes these societal processes as cultural constructions that create a set of expectations centered around a female archetype, effectively establishing a cultural mandate that defines specific behavioral norms for women. She argues that female subjectivity is shaped within this context, with feminine identity flourishing primarily within the confines of the family structure: "Families create children gendered, heterosexual, and ready to marry. But families organized around women's mothering and male dominance create incompatibilities in women's and men's relational needs." (Chodorow, 1999, p.199). Golubov (2013) states in her work that family was recognized as the classic example of female oppression as well since gender identity is created within the home throughout the socialization process and is maintained via the practice of gendered work division. (p. 16).

Mexican cultural gender norms limit women's autonomy by relegating them to conventional motherly responsibilities. Marriage perpetuates women's main caring obligations, reinforcing these social standards. This literary analysis intends to shed some light on the fact that structural male dominance does not always imply overt or violent discrimination; it aims to remark that, currently, there are other, more subtle forms of control or subjectivation. As Gaviria et al. (2013) suggest, paternalism is the main justification for male superiority, representing the intellectual manifestation of patriarchy. This argument has two sides: dominating paternalism, which is hostile, and protective paternalism, which is charitable (p. 477). Hence, the benevolent side of sexism could be considered even more twisted, as it has an affective dimension that reinforces what is considered "traditionally feminine." These gender roles encompass the idealization of women as wives, mothers, or sisters who need protection and are seen as romantic objects. This portrayal of women sustains the social imbalance between genders. Thus, the combination of "woman-marriage" is based on established, entrenched, and socially accepted beliefs. Gaviria et al. show that the romanticization of women as partners, mothers, and objects of devotion by benevolent sexism presupposes their inferior status and their dependence on males for care and protection (pp. 477-478).

woman placing her finger on her lips indicating to be quiet
Figure 3: Woman Placing Her Finger On Her Lips (Smith, 2017)

Anzaldúa actively opposes the gender norms that society imposes on women and seeks to be freed from the expected behaviors that are tied to her gender. She regrets being subjected to established power structures by virtue of these roles. For her, a lesbian of color, the ultimate rebellion she can make against her culture is through her sexual orientation. She goes against two moral prohibitions: sexuality and homosexuality: "Being lesbian and raised Catholic, indoctrinated as straight, I made the choice to be queer (for some it is genetically inherent)". (Anzaldúa, 1987, p. 41) She uses her sexuality as a physical manifestation of her performative agency, giving her the chance to establish herself as a self-reliant person who actively opposes the normalizing of gender stereotypes. She opens up new paths that contradict gender stereotypes and heterosexual identities through this bold strategy, creating a platform for distinctive forms of individual expression. She actively fights against turning women into simple romantic objects through her writings, arguing for their agency and autonomy: "I abhor some of my culture´s ways, how it cripples its women, como burras, our strengths used against us, lowly burras bearing humility with dignity. The ability to serve, claim the males, is our highest virtue." (Anzaldúa, 1987, p.21).

By drawing comparisons to burdened animals, Anzaldúa articulates a fundamental critique of certain cultural behaviors that uphold women's oppression. She highlights the mistreatment of women's skills and the ideal of humble obedience as their highest virtue. Anzaldúa engages in a deliberate resistance against conventional gender standards that Rebolledo portrays in her poem. Her goal is to encourage women's empowerment by promoting the development and acceptance of new and alternative feminine representations. Her art provides new opportunities for self-expression and opens avenues for women seeking freedom from the limitations of roles that promote gender stereotypes. Rebolledo exposes her lack of freedom through irony and stereotypes to expose being trapped in marriage and becoming: "a socially desirable woman" in her culture. She explains that she takes on the role "of mother and angel of the home" and defines herself as a woman, a saint, a mother of twelve children who lives to support her husband and educate her children. These facts hinder that she is inevitably trapped in this feminine role.


The poem lines studied serve as an example of how marriage and motherhood are viewed by society. This recognition, which exists in a society where laws and conventions are largely created by males, may serve as the spark for change. The examination of sexism's beneficial aspects highlights the fact that it can appear in a variety of covert ways and not just as overt hostility or aggressiveness. The conclusion that sexism permeates society as a whole is supported by this analysis. Rebolledo, through her writing, denounces gender roles by shedding light on their existence and implications. She critiques and challenges these roles, highlighting their restrictive nature and the impact they have on women's lives. In doing so, she aims to raise awareness and provoke a critical examination of these societal expectations placed on individuals based on their gender.

This paper has studied Anzaldúa's exposure of benevolent sexism as the main root that still sustains gender inequality. Despite having different writing styles, it is clear that both authors are interested in sharing a common concern: they converge on envisioning the redefinition of the wife-mother role. Rebolledo uses humor to portray her own position to expose how she was nurtured with the idea that deviating from the accepted norm would be improper, whereas Anzaldúa chooses a different strategy. Her choice is performative; she raises her voice to rewrite the woman as an independent subject through her sexual behavior. Doing so, she openly confronts the normalization of gender roles opening a new path that breaks old sexual identities associated with gender labels. Her writing opens a path that opens a transition to new female identities, an invitation to a sexual and gender rebellion that strengthens the formation of non-normative gender identities. She examines the complexities of her sexual orientation as well as the pressures and expectations that society places on queer women. With the aim of defying strict classifications and embracing the diversity of her own identity, Anzaldúa explores the fluidity of identity in her art.

Bibliographical References

Anzaldúa, G. (1987). Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. First Edition, San Francisco: Spinsters/ Aunt Luke Book Company.

Chodorow, N. J. (1999). The Reproduction of Mothering. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Gaviria Stewart, E., Cuadrado Guirado, I., & López Sáez, M. (2013). Introducción a la Psicología Social. Segunda edición. Madrid: Sanz y Torres.

Goluvob, N. (2012). La Crítica Literaria Feminista Una Introducción Práctica. Coyoacan: UNAM.

Herrera-Sobek, M. (1985). Beyond Stereotypes: The Critical Analysis of Chicana Literature. Bilingual P/Editorial Bilingüe.

Ramírez Berg, C. (2002). Latino images in film: Stereotypes, subversion, resistance. Third paperback printing. Texas: University of Texas P.

Rebolledo, T. D. & Rivero, E. S. (1993). INFINITE DIVISIONS An Anthology of Chicana Literature. Arizona: The University of Arizona Press.

Visual Sources

Cover image: Taghipour, M. (n.d). Black and White Photograph of a Bride [JPEG]. Pexels.

Figure 1: Cottonbro studio. (2020). Woman in White Dress Running [JPEG]. Pexels.

Figure 2: Cottonbro studio. (2020). Woman in Blue Denim Jacket. [JPEG]. Pexels.

Figure 3: Smith, K. (2017). Woman Placing Her Finger Between Her Lips. [JPEG]. Pexels.


Author Photo

Daniela Sandoval

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