Woman. Certain images come to peoples’ minds when they hear this word. At her best, she is empowered, independent, successful, and free. At her worst, she is vindictive, spiteful, unsympathetic, and diluted. These ideas influence the way that women interact with each other. In fact, it can cause people to blame women for the experiences they are put up against. If a woman is beaten by a man, she must have done something to deserve it. If a woman is cheated on by her husband, she must not have been pleasing him enough. It is these types of symbols that the female protagonists (and in certain ways and stories, antagonists) in the short stories in “Woman Hollering Creek” by Sandra Cisneros must confront. Cleófilas in “Woman Hollering Creek” is hurt by a man, and in turn comes to learn the strength that all women have within them. Clemencia in “Never Marry a Mexican” is also hurt by a man, but in her revenge, she falsifies herself into believing that she gains her strength through hurting another woman. While the relationships women have with each other are frequently complicated enough by the differences in their own personalities, backgrounds, and culture, often times, it can be the men in their lives who really shape these interactions.
In “Woman Hollering Creek,” Cleófilas Enriqueta DeLeón Hernández learned what a woman should be and what relationships should be like from the telenovelas she watched as a child. She would frequently go to her girl friend’s house to watch the latest episodes of her favorite telenovela, and the girls would imitate the style and passion they saw on the screen. These shows glamorized the beauty, hardships, betrayal, and most importantly, love the women experienced. Cleófilas aspired to be like the women that she saw and longed to have Lucía Méndez’s hair. She wanted to live her life in a manner equivalent to the title of the show, “You or No One.” She justified this attitude by saying, “Because to suffer for love is good. The pain all sweet somehow. In the end” (45). Obviously, due to what she saw being portrayed by the actresses, she believed that women gained their worth through their looks and that the suffering they experienced was worth the pain. Unfortunately, as she grew, she would learn that everything is not as it seems on the small screen. “Cleófilas thought her life would have to be like that, like a telenovela, only now the episodes got sadder and sadder. And there were no commercials in between for comic relief. And no happy ending in sight” (53).
Not only did Cleófilas have to confront the myths that she saw played out by actors, but she also had to deal with the images of women that legends themselves presented. The creek that ran behind her house was named La Gritona. Cleófilas had a sense of curiosity when it came to the name of this particular trickle of water. She contemplated the idea of the fable that it was most likely named after. La Gritona or the La Llorona (literally the screamer or the crier) was a woman drowned her children in a river to be with her lover. Some stories say the man was the children’s father and that he didn’t want them, thus she committed her crime. Others say that the man left her to be with another woman. Either way, the legend continues that she is now doomed to wander around bodies of water, constantly searching for her drowned children, weeping all the while. Most people in the area didn’t know where the creek got its name, and even fewer cared. “The neighbor ladies, Soledad, Dolores, they might’ve known once the name of the arroyo before it turned English but they did not know now. They were too busy remembering the men who had left through either choice or circumstance and would never come back” (47). Cleófilas judged these women because of the way that their men seemingly disappeared. When she (as a newlywed) crossed the river, she believed she would never end up like these women. She couldn’t understand why such a pretty creek (that at that moment in time symbolized her happily ever after) could have such a depressing name. However, she would soon find out that the things that she first saw as so beautiful could so easily come crashing down.
Shortly after her marriage to Juan Pedro Martínez Sánchez, she would be the one that would become caught up in the choices of a man. Cleófilas was most likely one of those women who judged other wives, mothers, and lovers who were physically beaten by their “loved ones.” Surely they could fight back. Surely they could call out to get help. Surely they could do something to stop the abuse. However, it wasn’t until this situation actually happened to her that she found out different. “The first time she had been so surprised she didn’t cry out or try to defend herself. She had always said she would strike back if a man, any man, were to strike her” (47). She didn’t cry out, but in this instance, it was the man, her husband, who would weep. Cleófilas found herself progressively more and more unhappy and bottled up all these feelings inside. She felt she had nowhere to go and that the town in which she lived perpetuated a lifestyle in which a woman needed a husband to depend upon. “There is no place to go. Unless one counts the neighbor ladies. Soledad on one side. Dolores on the other. Or the creek” (51). None of these were even options to her though. Soledad and Dolores would just remind her of how broken her dream of marriage had become. And that creek… Well everyone knew not to go there at night. She could hear crackling in its high voice of its own. From this, she once again recalled the stories of La Llorona weeping. She believed the weeping woman was calling to her. She wondered if something so seemingly quiet can drive a woman to darkness.
The relationship Cleófilas has with the women in myth and reality becomes much more complex by the end of “Woman Hollering Creek.” Cleófilas goes to a doctor to make sure her new baby is alright. While she didn’t mention her beatings explicitly, one of the women at the office took note. While some of her comments were harsh judgments against another woman, they actually ended up saving her from the man who was hurting her. While talking to her friend Felice on the phone, she describes Cleófilas as “one of those brides from the across the border” who was named after a Mexican martyr and pretty much lived a soap opera. Despite the small sting of some of those comments, all in all, the woman wanted to help her. She asked Felice to take her to a Greyhound station to get back to her family. Although it took some prodding, Felice finally agreed to help her. Especially after Graciela sayed, “If we don’t help her, who will?” (54). This is where the relationship between woman is at its best. Often times it is men who have made women feel like they have no one to turn to, and who made them think that other women will only judge and never help them. Felice was a type of woman that Cleófilas never knew existed. She was unlike the women she saw on television, unlike the women that she knew. Felice was an independent woman who drove her own truck, not some man’s. She hollered every time she crossed the arroyo, Woman Hollering, that was her. She laughed about how nothing was ever named after women. Cleófilas reminisced about her early thoughts about the creek and its screams. “Pain or rage, perhaps, but not a hoot like the one Felice had just let go. Makes you want to holler like Tarzan, Felice had said” (56). Maybe there didn’t need to be pain or rage. Maybe a woman could gain her strength without the influence of a man in her life. After this experience, Cleofilas not only gained a new lease on life, but also a different perspective on women in both myth and reality.
Clemencia from “Never Marry a Mexican,” on the other hand, had a much different relationship with both men and women from the beginning to the end of her story. In her childhood, Clemencia saw the corruption of marriage. Her mother taught her not to marry a Mexican because of how her first husband had been. Clemencia had a lot of distrust and decided that marriage itself was not an institution she would never enter. “Not a man exists who hasn’t disappointed me, whom I could trust to love the way I’ve loved the way I’ve loved. It’s because I believe too much in marriage that I don’t. Better to not marry than live a lie” (69). She saw how a marriage could corrupt a mother’s relationship with her children. How one man could change the relationship between three women. As unsafe as she sometimes felt being alone in a dangerous area with her sister and her children, they both knew that there was no turning back. “Because she knew as I did there was no home to go home to. Not with our mother. Not with that man she married. After Daddy died, it was like we didn’t matter. Like Ma was so busy feeling sorry for herself, I don’t know” (73). Her mom made excuses that she was so young when she married Clemencia’s father, that after his death, it was her now her chance to relive this youth, and she was pretty much done being a mother. Clearly, she saw from an early age just how much relationships with men can impact the way that women interact with each other.
Once she started relationships of her own, she took power wherever she could get, often times in the darkest of places. She gained her self-worth from men and what they said about her. She gained her strength by hurting other women. She described herself as a woman who had witnessed infidelities and even participated in them. “I’m guilty of having caused deliberate pain to other women. I am vindictive and cruel, and I’m capable of anything” (68). As far as her relationship with a man named Drew, she said she felt beautiful when he told her she was beautiful. They used to joke about him being Cortez and she being Malinche, his lover who was seen as a traitor to her own people. She liked to think that she had power over their relationship, but Drew ended up leaving her for another woman and another life. His marriage and his child were more important to him. But she continued to dilute herself by saying, “But all along it was me he wanted to be with, it was me, he said” (76). And here is where Clemencia believed she was gaining her strength – by doing small things to put a rift between him and his wife. Although she claimed she wasn’t waiting around for Drew and had power, in all reality, she was waiting, and powerless, in her own ways. She was crippled by the whole situation. She wanted to plot her revenge against the man and the woman alike. She wanted to spite the white woman he chose over her. She slept with Drew the night that his wife was going into labor. She felt no sympathy, especially considering the fact that she was not a Hispanic woman. She gained satisfaction out of secretly “killing” women like that. Because of one man, she would go on a trip of malicious actions against a fellow woman. She slept with their son. She judged his wife, Megan as being a Barbie, and saw herself as an animal. She went around putting gummy bears in the places that were most intimate to Megan around her house. All because of one man she did this. “Oh love, there. I’ve gone and done it. What good is it? Good or bad, I’ve done what I had to do and need to” (83). In Clemencia’s twisted, heart-broken mind, her actions were justified. To her, these actions helped her gain power. However, she felt this power when she would take away the power of another woman.
In conclusion, women and the relationships that they have with each other are shaped by much more than just the women involved. They are shaped by the actions they see played out by glamorous actresses in telenovelas. They are shaped by the myths that are perpetuated to them from a very young age. They are shaped by the relationships they see in their own family. However, it is what they decide to do with these images that truly make how they interact with their fellow sex. Cleófilas from “Woman Hollering Creek” was at first largely influenced by these symbols, but after she was hurt by man, she grew beyond these. She learned the power that women can have when they are independent. Oppositely, Clemencia from “Never Marry a Mexican” was influenced by the relationships she saw played out in front of her. After she was hurt by a man, she took a turn for the worst. She thought that women were powerful when they exerted themselves in a way that showed their might, but ended up hurting other women. So, we have to wonder just what makes women have the relationship with other women that they do. Why is it that all too often, despite the power that women believe they have, they still let men have control over this situation? Often times it is with the help of other women that we find our true strength and power. We learn that we must take action over our own safety and independence. We should work together to build this community as opposed to fighting each other, especially when the fights are spurred by men. In the end, we gain nothing from judging or hurting other women. We should holler not in pain or rage that is caused by the men who hurt us, but rather, holler in the spirit of our own freedom.
Cisneros, Sandra. Woman Hollering Creek. New York: Vintage Contemporaries, 1991.