In Woman Hollering Creek, female characters both accept and push back against how men treat them. Sometimes they acquiesce to gendered expectations, but more often than not they find ways to subvert negative treatment and disingenuous attention, leveraging misogyny to gain power. For many of these women, this means embracing and even accentuating their own sexual attractiveness and, in doing so, reclaiming control over an otherwise imbalanced relationship. By highlighting this process, Cisneros suggests that being a woman in a patriarchal society often requires finding creative ways to navigate (and upend) the idea of male dominance.
The women in Woman Hollering Creek often find themselves at the center a man’s attention. Unfortunately, though, this attention isn’t always very genuine—in moments of lustful attraction, the male gaze becomes overwhelming and inescapable, a kind of attention that lacks authenticity. In “La Fabulosa: A Texas Operetta,” the narrator introduces readers to a woman named Carmen, writing, “Big chichis. I mean big. Men couldn’t take their eyes off them. She couldn’t help it, really. Anytime they talked to her they never looked her in the eye. It was kind of sad.” The fact that men are so singularly interested in Carmen’s large breasts colors the way they treat her, as they completely ignore her and focus only on one of her traits (and a rather superficial one, at that).
However, Cisneros suggests that this doesn’t necessarily have to bear completely negative consequences, since Carmen can leverage men’s otherwise unfortunately lustful attention. Indeed, the narrator of “La Fabulosa: A Texas Operretta” confirms this in a passage about Carmen’s single-minded boyfriend José, saying, “Yeah, sure, he was her sometime sweetheart, but what’s that to a woman who’s twenty and got the world by the eggs. First chance, she took up with a famous Texas senator who was paving his way to the big house. Set her up in a fancy condo in north Austin.” In this passage, the narrator upholds that, though men objectify and thereby demean Carmen, she actually draws power from the very same circumstances working against her personal agency in the first place. And regardless of the good or bad that comes from this dynamic, Cisneros implies that navigating unsavory male attention is all too often part of being a woman. So while the women in these stories can’t seem to escape male chauvinism, they can sometimes subvert it and use it to their advantage.
Another illustrative example of the role female power and independence play in Woman Hollering Creek appears in “Never Marry a Mexican.” In this story, the narrator, Clemencia, writes the following about her married lover, Drew: “You’re nothing without me. I created you from spit and red dust. And I can snuff you between my finger and thumb if I want to.” The fact that she says Drew is “nothing without [her]” indicates that she’s far from willing to be seen as somebody whose agency can be ignored—indeed, it is his identity that depends on her, and not the other way around. She solidifies her power two sentences later, when she asserts that she can “snuff” him between her “finger[s]” if she ever “want[s] to.” Out of this mentality arises a sense of romantic agency all too often ascribed only to men, a sense that it’s up to Clemencia whether or not this relationship will proceed. Of course, it’s worth noting that she only feels empowered insofar as she has the opportunity to take her lover away from his wife. The idea of ownership, then, becomes highly tenuous, and it’s difficult to determine whether Clemencia really has as much control over Drew as she thinks. Nonetheless, her pride and sexual influence shows that she’s capable of using her lover’s lustful attention to her own benefit. She therefore transforms the male gaze—which otherwise threatens to rob women of their personal agency—into power.
By creating dynamic female characters like Carmen and Clemencia, Cisneros offers readers examples of women who manipulate the patriarchal system in which they live. In doing so, these women are able to gain independence and strength against oppressive men and an oppressive society. Beginning with the small wonders and insecurities of girlhood and moving all the way through the complexities of womanhood, Cisneros looks at what femininity means in a multitude of contexts and how each woman’s situation might require her to act differently in order to retain a sense of personal agency, power, and independence.
Female Objectification & Power ThemeTracker
Female Objectification & Power Quotes in Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories
Yours is the one with mean eyes and a ponytail. Striped swimsuit, stilettos, sunglasses, and gold hoop earrings. Mine is the one with bubble hair. Red swimsuit, stilettos, pearl earrings, and a wire stand. But that’s all we can afford, besides one extra outfit apiece. Yours, “Red Flair,” sophisticated A-line coatdress with a Jackie Kennedy pillbox hat, white gloves, handbag, and heels included. Mine, “Solo in the Spotlight,” evening elegance in black glitter strapless gown with a puffy skirt at the bottom like a mermaid tail, formal-length gloves, pink chiffon scarf, and mike included. From so much dressing and undressing, the black glitter wears off where her titties stick out. This and a dress invented from an old sock when we cut holes here and here and here, the cuff rolled over for the glamorous, fancy-free, off-the-shoulder look.
Every time the same story. Your Barbie is roommates with my Barbie, and my Barbie’s boyfriend comes over and your Barbie steals him, Okay? Kiss kiss kiss. Then the two Barbies fight. You dumbbell! He’s mine. Oh no he’s not, you stinky! Only Ken’s invisible, right? Because we don’t have money for a stupid-looking boy doll when we’d both rather ask for a new Barbie outfit next Christmas.
About the truth, if you give it to a person, then he has power over you. And if someone gives it to you, then they have made themselves your slave. It is a strong magic. You can never take it back.
I’m not saying I’m not bad. I’m not saying I’m special. But I’m not like the Allport Street girls, who stand in doorways and go with men into alleys.
All I know is I didn’t want it like that. Not against the bricks or hunkering in somebody’s car. I wanted it come undone like gold thread, like a tent full of birds. The way it’s supposed to be, the way I knew it would be when I met Boy Baby.
But you must know, I was no girl back then. And Boy Baby was no boy. Chaq Uxmal Paloquín. Boy Baby was a man. When I asked him how old he was he said he didn’t know. The past and the future are the same thing. So he seemed boy and baby and man all at once, and the way he looked at me, how do I explain?
The truth is, it wasn’t a big deal. It wasn’t any deal at all. I put my bloody panties inside my T-shirt and ran home hugging myself. I thought about a lot of things on the way home. I thought about all the world and how suddenly I became a part of history and wondered if everyone on the street, the sewing machine lady and the panadería saleswoman and the woman with two kids sitting on the bus bench didn’t all know. Did I look any different? Could they tell? We were all the same somehow, laughing behind our hands, waiting the way all women wait, and when we find out, we wonder why the world and a million years made such a big deal over nothing.
I know I was supposed to feel ashamed, but I wasn’t ashamed. I wanted to stand on top of the highest building, the top-top floor, and yell, I know.
They want to tell each other what they want to tell themselves. But what is bumping like a helium balloon at the ceiling of the brain never finds its way out. It bubbles and rises, it gurgles in the throat, it rolls across the surface of the tongue, and erupts from the lips—a belch.
If they are lucky, there are tears at the end of the long night. At any given moment, the fists try to speak. They are dogs chasing their own tails before lying down to sleep, trying to find a way, a route, an out, and—finally—get some peace.
I paint and repaint you the way I see fit, even now. After all these years. Did you know that? Little fool. You think I went hobbling along with my life, whimpering and whining like some twangy country-and-western when you went back to her. But I’ve been waiting. Making the world look at you from my eyes. And if that’s not power, what is?
We drag these bodies around with us, these bodies that have nothing at all to do with you, with me, with who we really are, these bodies that give us pleasure or pain. Though I’ve learned how to abandon mine at will, it seems to me we never free ourselves completely until we love, when we lose ourselves inside each other. Then we see a little of what is called heaven. When we can be that close that we no longer are Inés and Emiliano, but something bigger than our lives. And we can forgive, finally.
You and I, we’ve never been much for talking, have we? Poor thing, you don’t know how to talk. Instead of talking with your lips, you put one leg around me when we sleep, to let me know it’s all right. And we fall asleep like that, with one arm or a leg or one of those long monkey feet of yours touching mine. Your foot inside the hollow of my foot.
Dear San Antonio de Padua,
Can you please help me find a man who isn’t a pain in the naglas. There aren’t any in Texas, I swear. Especially not in San Antonio.
Can you do something about all the educated Chicanos who have to go to California to find a job. I guess what my sister […] says is true: “If you didn’t get a husband when you were in college, you don’t get one.”
I would appreciate it very much if you sent me a man who speaks Spanish, who at least can pronounce his name the way it’s supposed to be pronounced. Someone please who never calls himself “Hispanic” unless he’s applying for a grant from Washington, D.C.
Can you send me a man man. I mean someone who’s not ashamed to be seen cooking or cleaning or looking after himself. In other words, a man who acts like an adult.
[…] I’ll turn your statue upside down until you send him to me. I’ve put up with too much too long, and now I’m just too intelligent, too powerful, too beautiful, too sure of who I am finally to deserve anything else.
And in my dreams I’m slapping the heroine to her senses, because I want them to be women who make things happen, not women who things happen to. Not loves that are tormentosos. Not men powerful and passionate versus women either volatile and evil, or sweet and resigned. But women. Real women. The ones I’ve loved all my life. If you don’t like it lárgate, honey. Those women. The ones I’ve known everywhere except on TV, in books and magazines. Las girlfriends. Las comadres. Our mamas and tías. Passionate and powerful, tender and volatile, brave. And, above all, fierce.