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!

Chi-Chi and Dragon Ball Z

*NOTE*This is the first detailed installment of a series on the female characters of Dragon Ball Z. For the overview of sexism in the series click here. My analysis will be based off the manga not the original anime.

Although Bulma is the primary female character for most of the Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z, Chi-Chi is the character who is solely played for laughs, where Bulma is at least acknowledged as being a genius.

Chi-Chi is introduced as a fighter (as you can tell by her ‘warrior outfit‘) though despite her bikini armor she has very few action scenes. All she does is throw the spike on her helmet to kill a dinosaur and then shoot a laser from her helmet to disintegrate the body. This could potentially be a great display of ingenuity and skill, but when she fights a dessert bandit named Yamcha she is taken out with one hit. In this way she is dismissed as a competent fighter and is shown to have no skills on her own.

Although Dragon Ball itself is not meant to be taken seriously (especially in the earlier volumes) Chi-Chi is given dialogue like “Oo, this is ‘jes’ too dang freaky” and “Waah!! That was SCAAARY!!”. She is laughably stupid even compared to a character like Goku, who has no education and is typical of the  idiot hero trope. Chi-Chi’s ignorance is not cute or lovable, she is written off as a hick.

At the beginning of every volume of the manga there’s a page of main characters that gives a brief description of each in addition to catching the reader up on the plot. The description of Chi-Chi is as follows:

“A strange girl who Yamcah…ran into. She has a tendency to overreact.”

This is Akira Toriyama’s fall back for Chi-Chi: it will be funny if she’s the hysterical woman. And Chi-Chi is constantly ‘overreacting’ though in reality most of it is for her own safety. Goku, having lived in the woods all twelve years of his life does not know how to tell the difference between boys and girls except by patting their gentitals. When Goku does such, Chi-Chi responds:

“Get your hands off me!!!!”

and proceeds to push Goku off the flying cloud they’re traveling on and screams just before she crashes the cloud into a boulder. Once the two are traveling again, Chi-Chi’s dialogue shows that she is still upset, explaining that “[he] did plenty!!!” to deserve being pushed off the cloud, but the next panel of the manga she is blushing. Her inner thoughts read as such:

“But, thought the maiden, having been touched ‘there’ what else could it mean but that she would become this youth’s wife?”

Granted, Goku was not trying to molest her or make her uncomfortable, but it is wrong of Akira Toriyama to brush aside this complete disrespect of Chi-Chi as a female. Goku did not know what he was doing, but Akira Toriyama did. Akira Toriyama was well aware of how he treated Chi-Chi and was equally aware that Chi-Chi is a Japanese word for breasts. Because the author does not treat her with respect none of his characters do either. Not even her own father. Without her being present her father offers her in marriage to Goku. This is never addressed as being a sexist issue and toward the end of the Dragon Ball series, Chi-Chi comes back into the story after having spent the past six years of her life waiting for Goku to come back to her and claim her hand.

She is written as fully accepting of her weaker status as a woman, both as a fighter-who can never even come close to matching her male counterparts- and as a person-who revolves her life around a young boy who she barely knows. Goku and Chi-Chi do get married at the very end of Dragon Ball though it is seen as more obligatory on Goku’s part who, when he and Chi-Chi part ways,agrees that

“whatever [Chi-Chi’s father] wants to give me I’ll be sure to come an’ get! Count on it!”

Chi-Chi is referring to marriage, but Goku does not know what marriage is. He finds out six years later, when Chi-Chi demands he keep his promise and he agrees. To Akira Toriyama, marriage is something imposed upon men and is another example of the woman overreacting over nothing.

Throughout Dragon Ball Z, Chi-Chi becomes even more of a sexist character. Her role is diminished to being a constant worrying mother over her son Gohan. Her ‘overreacting’ as her emotions are played, are in fact quite reasonable. She does not want her 4 year old son being turned into a warrior or traveling the galaxy or being put into life or death situations with his father. Her concern is understandable, but it played as the hysterics of a ranting woman who cannot keep herself under control. As a woman she does not see the big picture that her son is needed to save the world. As a woman she cannot have the same scope of vision as a man.

Akira Toriyama does all that he can to discredit her opinions, demean her actions, and keep her uneducated and in her place as a side character written solely for laughs. This is unfortunate because Goku, Chi-Chi, and Gohan have the best chance in the series of establishing a stable family relationship where there can be a break from the constant fight scenes. If these rare family moments were taken seriously, a loving equal relationship between husband wife could have possible to portray. Chi-Chi was never taken seriously.