Books By Women: The Lady Matador’s Hotel

Suki Palacios is a half-Mexican, half-Japanese female bull fighter. Cristina Garcia‘s novel only gets more intriguing from there. The story chronicles the lives of a cast of strangers (or near strangers) for the few days they all live in an unnamed Hispanic country’s most expensive hotel. The country has recently come out of a long and violent civil war.

Won Kim is a failing Korean businessman, at the hotel with his pregnant mistress. Aura is an ex-guerilla, no working as a waitress in the hotel’s restaurant. Gertrudis is a German international adoption lawyer. Martin is a colonel behind gross acts of violence during the civil war. Ricardo is a poet who, along with his wife, are adopting a baby girl.

lady matador

I first read this novel for a course I was tutoring and couldn’t devote the time to it I wanted. I was in the middle of taking my own college courses. When I made the commitment to read books by women for a year, this was on my list as one of the few books I planned to reread.

There are a four things which automatically make this book stand out as an inclusive feminist text.

1. Suki owns her sexuality.

As I’ve noticed as a trend in Garcia’s work (I’ve since read Dreaming in Cuban and will post on it shortly), her female characters do not shy away from sex or taking their own pleasure. For Suki, this means that part of her ritual before a bull fight is to find a male stranger with handsome feet she has sex with. In the novel, he pleasure her in a beautiful jarring scene between Suki and a man from room service.

Throughout the novel, all the male characters want to have sex with her, but Suki is always the one in control of how she uses her body. Better yet, there is no rape or coerced sexuality at all in the text.

2. Garcia plays with gender roles. 

Each character subverts or works from a gender stereotype. Suki, for all her beauty, competes in the masculine world of bull fighting. Won Kim wants nothing more than to study butterflies. Ricardo desires to be a great father, but no one trusts him because he’s male. Martin is the epitome of masculinity and we watch it consume his thoughts and violent desires. Although there are no queer, trans or gender divergent characters, Garcia purposely uproots our ideas about simple gender roles.

3.  Aura.

Aura’s my favorite. Garcia plays on gender expectations (again) when “the ex-guerilla” turns out to be female. Her plot arc, one of the most action based in the novel, is a revenge story which does not rely a gun in a female character’s hand for her to be strong. Her strength comes from her morality and her decisions. As Aura seeks revenge for her brother’s murder she has to really consider the consequences of jumping back into a life where she is a murderer: a life she gave up and does not want.

4. Aura. 

Aura provides the magical realism of the novel, adding just enough magic and mystery that I was engaged with both the characters and the world. Is Aura really speaking to her dead brother on the roof of the hotel? Maybe. Probably. But maybe not.

Garcia is the master of this in-between, ambiguous space. What I love the most is that, like Suki’s mixed heritage, everyone is more than one piece of  their identity. Everyone is messy and struggling. Without straying into dark plots that could never reach a happy ending or even a conclusion, Garcia takes each individual’s struggle seriously even the despicable characters we want to hate. Writing this humanity for even the darkest and most awful characters is what makes this novel a must-read.

Up next feminist nonfiction essays: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. Keep reading!

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Chelsea Manning: The US’s Warning to the Queer Community

Chelsea  Manning’s trial rages on and I didn’t think I could find something more disgusting than the fact that she was on trial in the first place. When I wrote Collateral Murder and Bradley Manning  a few months ago I thought I had seen it all and could firmly claim that the US cared more about the vague term “national security” than it ever would for its people.

The trial has gotten worse however. It is a small blessing that the government is not seeking the death penalty as Manning’s punishment, but the sentence now pending is 90 years in prison for six Espionage Act Convictions. Manning put out a confession recently saying:

I am sorry my actions hurt people. I’m sorry I hurt the United States.

Even if this confession is in the hopes of receiving a lesser sentence who did Chelsea Manning hurt? The pride of the US military? Boo hoo. How did Chelsea Manning hurt the US? By informing its citizens of war crimes? By her apology, she implies that she is guilty of treason. She has hurt the US. He has hurt people. This confession is sickening and I wonder what was done to her to make a person of her moral caliber turn around and take everything back. Yes, she could have gone through a more “legal” means of informing the American people of these war crimes, but she knew what was morally correct. I am terrified to think of what was done to her for him to come out with such a confession of guilt.

But even the confession itself is not the worst piece of the trial. Instead of focusing on evidence related to WikiLeaks, Dr. Michael Worsley has testified that Manning is diagnosed with Gender Identity Dysphoria. The military definition is someone who feels he or she is born into the wrong body (I do not know if this is the same as transgender although a lot of sources tend to conflate the two). Supposedly due to the gender roles associated with masculine army men, Manning felt isolated and had no resources to seek guidance. Her gender identity is spoken about not only as a disease. And even worse, it is used as evidence against Manning!

It is as if her gender identity is the cause of her supposed treason. Why else would such unrelated material about Manning’s personal life be brought into a trial concerning actions  of “aiding the enemy”?

This tactic of broadcasting her queer identity terrifies me. There is a message here to the queer community of America, spoken through Manning’s trial. We are being told with a subtle threat to keep our heads down. We are being reminded that we are the minority and should be on our toes. By linking Manning’s queer identity to her actions, standing up against the government, we are being told that any of us could also be traitors to the state. Queer = traitor.

If America wants to claim we are only a few steps away from being Chelsea Manning, then I have to say one thing:

We are Chelsea Manning.

 

 

 

Sexism: The Bane of Dark Knight Rises Review

I was phenomenally impressed when I went to go see The Dark Knight Rises, but even before it was released I knew there would be complaints. While most complaints I heard focused on comparisons to Heath Ledger’s performance in the previous film, a few had legitimate merit. The movie is not perfect and to uncover what could have been done better I’ve been reading various reviews of the  final installment of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy and came across one particular review in the New Yorker that struck me as sexist.

In the article, “Batman’s Bane“, writer Anthony Lane writes a scathing review that does nothing to critique the movie on its themes or plot or attempts. Instead, Lane only shows a sexist viewpoint that affects both the male and female characters of the film.

At the start of the review, Lane asks the audience:

Be honest. How badly would you not want Bruce-or Batman-to show up at one of your parties?”

Lane describes a Bruce Wayne who is dull and worse yet, awkward in his playboy role, a Bruce Wayne who when he

“…enters a reception with a girl or two on his arm, he looks deeply uncomfortable”

This point is only made because Christopher Nolan’s version of Wayne does not fit the masculine stereotype. Because Bruce is not perfect at portraying the role of womanizer he loses points on his masculinity. The counterpoint is never brought up as to whether this awkwardness around sexualizing Bruce is either a character choice by Christian Bale or a directing choice by Nolan. Lane instead attributes it to Nolan’s own sense of shame over such scenes insinuating that Nolan too is un-masculine. The solution to this problem of Bruce’s dull nature is an either or notion. According to Lane, the best way to bring out Bruce’s masculinity is either for him to have kids to “pull him out of himself” or get drunk with Iron Man.

These points are filled with sexism against men. Lane believes the film is lacking because Bruce Wayne is not a strong enough contrast to Batman (an argument which could be made), but his reasoning behind this is an attack on Wayne’s character for not being a proper man. This attack becomes worse when the solutions  are presented not only as jokes, but as harmful jokes that do little to address the issues being raised. It is meant to be amusing to imagine the stoic Bruce/Batman as a father figure and imagining this as a cure for his being a bore removes the legitimacy of fatherhood in child rearing. Getting drunk with Iron Man is an acceptable means of fun solely because the character is male and such action is excusable. Ironically, for all Lane argues that Bruce is the same exact character as his alter-ego, Batman’s sexual prowess and masculinity is never questioned. Batman is already masculine because he has gadgets (which Lane praises as a highlight of the film) and can beat people up.

Bruce’s emasculation at the hands of Nolan is brought up again when Lane voices the question as to who, or what, does the rising in The Dark Knight Rises. His answer is just as immature as one would expect and voices jokes I had been hearing ever since the title of this last installment of the series was made public. In a voice of extreme class, Lane argues:

“Carnally…[Bruce] seems about as risen as flatbread; over three films we waited for him to have Bat-core sex, hanging upside down from a rafter and emitting cries of sonar, and what has he given us? Not a squeak. “

It is apparently now a staple of good cinema to have extravagant sex scenes. This argument is no more impressive than the last one. In fact, Lane makes his stereotypes of masculinity quite plain and quite sexist. The film as a whole suffers in Lane’s eyes because Bruce’s one sex scene is “laughably chaste”, further diminishing him as a masculine character.

But I don’t disagree with Lane on all of his points. We both agree that Anne Hathaway was stunning as Cat Woman. Where we disagree is the reasons for her success. In a jab at Christopher Nolan, Lane makes the point:

“Christopher Nolan…wants to suck the comic out of comic books; Anne Hathaway wants to put it back in. Take your pick.”

I am thoroughly impressed that the parts of the review about Cat Woman were so tame, especially because it is all too easy to sexualize the character. What I take issue with is that nowhere does Lane give any hint that he knows comic books. As such he is using the term comic and the idea of comic books to mean less serious. By this interpretation, Cat Woman can save the film because, as a woman, her character can be less dark, less serious, and lead the audience away from the brooding canvas of Nolan’s Gotham City. It is accepted, that as a female character she will be seen as more comic booky, which although used as a compliment implies taken less seriously. This notion is entirely one of Lane’s as Nolan and his brother wrote a fantastic well rounded female character who was not sexist in the least. It is Lane who takes her character and fits her to female stereotypes to give the movie some credit as a film. Cat Woman is a fun foil for Batman, but it was not because she is a woman. Lane never talks about her witty dialogue exchanges with both Bruce and Batman or how complex her motivations and characterization were. To Lane, she is his version of a comic book: fun to look at and not as serious as other mediums of storytelling.

By Lane’s account, the movie was not good, though he never expressly says so despite almost all his comments being negative, because Bruce Wayne is not a proper man. But don’t worry, the movie was saved from total destruction because Cat Woman brought in the fun of a female fictional character.

This review is sexist to men, implying that real men have sex and are impressively confident about it, and that women are there to make up for the flaws of men as accessories. In response to Anthony Lane’s review, I tell him: either review without sexist points or don’t review at all. Take your pick.