Intersectionality is a fundamental pillar for understanding gender issues and a key factor in feminist discussions today (as it should). But what is the role of US-centrism and Eurocentrism in this dialogue? When we talk about women and queer authors rewriting the male-gaze, do we consider other continents and cultures beyond the canonical ones?
What happens with the literary production of other women and dissidences around the globe?
They exist, but are not seen enough, talked about enough.
And to the surprise of many, their narrative exposes realities, emotions and problems faced by women and dissidents in the first world as well.
The first encounter I had with Marcela Serrano was through Ten Women, the Chilean author's eleventh book. Her work has been translated into several languages, made into films and awarded the Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Literature Prize, a recognition of women's literary work in the Spanish-speaking world.
When I picked up Ten Women I had no idea about any of this, I knew what was on the back cover: a book about nine women in Chile, completely different from each other. The only thing our protagonists have in common is that they go to the same therapist, Natasha (the tenth woman), who brings together these nine personalities of different ages, social status, economic condition and from different regions of the country, for a group exercise: to share their stories.
"I think that each one of them, by verbalizing and socializing their own story, and then receiving each other's story, somehow leave that place at night, with a light that they didn't have when they came in. [...] The experience of discrimination sisters you to the other". (Serrano for Casa de América, 2011)
What do we find, as we navigate through these nine lives?
While I can't go into all ten stories in depth, here are a few of those that especially left me with lessons and reflections through Serrano's writing. The tenth story comes from the psychologist’s assistant, who tells the story of Natasha, born in Minsk in the 1940s and who migrated to Latin America during the war, like many.
The first to tell her story is Francisca, 42, who shares that she is there because of hatred. She says it’s tiring, and that she never gets used to it. She considers that she is doing well in life, works in real estate, is faithful and has three daughters. Francisca sometimes has sex, her husband, Vicente, defines her as cold.
She also has a cat. Who doesn't pay much attention to her.
"Well, when people ask me why, of all the cats that populate the universe, I have chosen the one that makes me suffer the most, I answer: it's because, believe me, it's worth it. He loves me. Exactly what I would say about Vincente" (p. 22)
The second to tell her story is Mané, a former actress, who lives on her pension, is the eldest in the group and relives her memories as a theatre actress. We later learn that Natasha does not charge Mané for the sessions, or in other words, the wealthier people in the group pay for the poorer ones (these sessions being "pro-bono"). In this direction, we see how Serrano emphasizes the economic and social differences that prevail in the country.
The third woman is Juana, followed by Simona, a 71-year-old sociologist. She considers herself a left-wing feminist. Simona is from an upper class background, and has had the possibility of not being dependent on a man:
"The unheard of was that there were worlds out there, close by, next to me, in the same city, parallel to mine, breathing the same air and yet I didn't know, I didn't see them" (p. 118) Simona embodies a crucial part of intersectional dialogue: To deconstruct privilege and discrimination it is necessary in the first instance to recognize it, verbalize it as it is.
Then comes the story of Layla and the sixth is Luisa, a woman from a rural background, who gets married and her husband is arrested by the Pinochet dictatorship. She spends decades pretending to have been abandoned by her partner so that her children do not carry the stigma of having a father who was a disappeared detainee.
"The law and justice are not the same thing, Luisa. Remember, the law is not justice." (p.141)
I find this book so powerful, because as well as covering real historical contexts and the impact it had on women's lives, these stories, these reflections, are dialogues and issues that can be seen across the globe.
The disappeared detainees are part of the history of every country, unfortunately.
At last come the stories of Guadalupe, Andrea, Ana Rosa and finally Natasha's assistant intervenes to tell the story of the therapist, about how she was sheltered during the Russian invasion and then assisted to escape to Argentina.
The quote that stuck with me most in the book is the analogy one of the patients makes about ADHD:
"[...]she also suffers from the famous deficit. She calls it ADHD, as the gringos call it. She takes one Ritalin a day and works like a shot. And she defines it as follows: the inability to select what is urgent. She also says that being a woman is the same as suffering from ADHD. In her words, the range of stimuli we have is so wide that we cannot prioritize" (p.64).
Being a woman is equivalent to suffering from attention deficit in the culture of your choice, it is shocking to see all what gender demands around behavioural, academic, social, sexual, household (and I could go on for hours) expectations in each country.
And it is through supporting and listening to each other that we can reverse this global, patriarchal symptom.
Let's give the multicultural voice a chance, it has a lot to say.
Serrano, M. (2014). Ten Women. AmazonCrossing.
Casa de América. (2011, September 20). Marcela Serrano: “Todas las mujeres tenemos la misma historia que contar” [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J0d1tov8EbE