- Mythological Constructs of Mexican Femininity by Pilar Melero
Pilar Melero's Mythological Constructs of Mexican Femininity opens with a startling anecdote. In the early stages of writing her manuscript of the book, she tells us, a male colleague informs her that she cannot use the term pensadora in her book because, he claims, "It does not exist" (14). Melero sets out to prove him wrong as she examines the narrative, poetry, essays, and journalistic writings of four Mexican women writers whose work dates from 1900-1940: Nellie Campobello, Juana Belén Gutiérrez de Mendoza, Sara Estela Ramírez, and Andrea Virreal González. Campobello and her work are extremely well known and studied; as such, Melero's greatest contribution lies with the latter three women who have not been as widely read and whose work merits greater critical attention. The unifying thread between all four writers for Melero is their strategic manipulation and navigation of the role of the mother and the mythical figures contained within it in Mexico (the Virgin of Guadalupe; the traitorous Malinche; the abject, passive Chingada; and la Llorona) in order to obtain their own social, political, intellectual, or personal objectives. In this way, Melero argues, they "carefully [construct] dissident positions … from the somewhat culturally privileged site of motherhood," creating "an affective and therefore effective space for discourse" (6).
The first chapter is devoted to Nellie Campobello's collections of short stories: Cartucho: Relatos de la lucha en el Norte de México (1931) and Las manos de Mamá (1937). Here, Melero presents two arguments: first, that Campobello reclaims and recasts single motherhood as a position of value and, in so doing, challenges "the Malinche and Llorona myths that portray single mothers as terrible mothers" in Las manos de Mamá (47). Secondly, through a reading of Campobello's earlier work Cartucho, Melero shows how Campobello situates the maternal figure as historians of the Mexican Revolution "rather than the minor, passive role of soldadera myth propagated by official and popular history" (64). Campobello narrates, as Melero says, "desde las faldas de la madre," which allows her a great deal of discursive freedom because she speaks with an unthreatening narrative voice (that of a young girl recalling "true stories" given to her by her mother) and from an unthreatening social position. In writing about a single mother whose fierce love for her children overrides the authority of the State (as in the short stories "Su falda" and "Su Dios" in Las manos de Mamá), or about her own mother's eyewitness accounts of the Revolution in northern Mexico passed on to her in Cartucho, Campobello [End Page 487] rewrites the norms of motherhood outside Mexico City and also outside the intellectual sphere of la ciudad letrada.
In the second chapter, Melero turns her attention to Juana Belén Gutiérrez de Mendoza, a journalist, poet, and activist from the state of Durango. In the first years of the twentieth century, Gutiérrez de Mendoza took on the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz, primarily through newspaper articles, editorials, and letters to politicians. Melero relates her compelling story: she sells her only possession—a herd of goats—in order to buy a printing press and relocates to Mexico City. There she founds and publishes the newspaper Vésper in 1901, which she uses as her primary platform for advocating for the rights of women, workers, and the indigenous population (80–81). Gutiérrez de Mendoza also takes on la ciudad letrada in her poem "Oficio ajeno," in which she rejects the tools of the male poet: "no necesito tu lira / Yo sé de rimas mejores […] Hasta la vista … ¡poeta! / ¡No me prestes tu herramienta!" (91). In her political writings, Gutiérrez de Mendoza shames the men into taking political, social, and revolutionary action, declaring that it is because of their cowardice that women must enter the battlefield to protect their children and their families when no one else will. By underlining a crisis of masculinity in the country as the reason behind many of the nation's ills—thus...