Perhaps because most myths and legends come from male-dominated cultures, the women in them somehow never come off so well as the men.
Women throughout history have been subject to the patriarchy and its different versions across the globe. In each culture, women are most likely to be abiding by a set of rules to become the perfect wife and mother. These rules get passed down from generation to generation through different ways, such as being told straight out by a family member or in the form of stories. This story is the same for La Llorona. La Llorona is a cautionary tale, not just for kids to come home on time and stay away from strangers but for young women to avoid becoming this villain. La Llorona embodies what men do not want their women to be, and by making her the folktale villain, girls avoid being like her.
As La Llorona is a Mexican tale, her tale is controlled explicitly by the Mexican patriarchy, otherwise known as the Machismo culture. According to anthropologist Richard Basham, "Machismo, itself, can be loosely translated as 'the cult of the male'" (127). The word "cult" automatically asserts itself as sinister and powerful through its connotations in the real world. However, a loose translation does not precisely prove this. Machismo narratives demonstrate the power and oppression that is held over women in Mexico. In an article written by the New York Times in 1977, an eleven-year-old named Robert Gomez states, "I like girls, but they're different from us...They're always trying to get something in exchange. So I have lots of girlfriends, but I wouldn't have just one." As the article states that this quote is from an eleven-year-old boy, it is evident that identity begins to form at a young age based on these children's influences.
According to the article On Female Identity and Writing by Women by Judith Kegan Gardiner, there is a difference between how boys' and girls' identities develop. Gardiner references developmental psychologist Erik Erikson,
"In his theory, the paradigmatic individual achieving a mature identity is male, whereas the female has a specialized role as childbearer... Therefore a young woman spends adolescence looking for the man through whom she will fulfill herself, and the maturational stages of identity and intimacy are conflated for her" (350).
Asserting that the male is mature as the female is only a childbearer disregards female identity without children. The male is regarded as higher, and the female no longer has an essential role without a child, deeming her unimportant and unworthy. This again proves that folktales can affect the child's identity as they mature since the young girl would now spend her adolescence finding a suitable husband, as is the norm. Another harmful notion shared in Machismo culture is, "There is a generalized conviction of male superiority… Expressions of machismo are notorious. The woman is seen as an object," according to the same New York Times article as before. Young girls are conditioned into this as they grow up, and if they do not abide by these social norms and rules, they are unfit to wed.
Social norms and rules in any culture dictate how a woman should act as a wife and mother, but there is not usually defiance to it, as will later be discussed. These identities are not an option in most cultures in fear of retaliation from the male. Instead, "The girl, however, achieves her socially accepted roles through marriage and motherhood, social and biological events that can occur independently of a personal identity crisis and that do not require its resolution" (354). Women are reduced to a two-dimensional character that men see but fail to take a woman for who she is, a human being with deep psychology, just as a male has. This further reduces female characters and females in the real world into objects to be had, to serve a purpose, and nothing else.
As a female, La Llorona is villainized but because she is a mother as well. Mothers typically are seen as nurturing and sweet. However, by making the mother evil, it truly is a shocking and hurtful twist because it is automatically compared to one's mother. Elizabeth Blair from NPR interviewed Maria Tartar, folklore and mythology professor at Harvard, who said, "Children do have a way of splitting the mother figure into ... the evil mother — who's always making rules and regulations, policing your behavior, getting angry at you — and then the benevolent nurturer — the one who is giving and protects you, makes sure that you survive." This gives a mother part that can be seen as evil and gives birth to the evil step-mother trope. As the person who is naturally supposed to protect their children, mothers become the villains when they do not follow through with the whole motherhood plan. When they do, they have to be strict, and the stern motherhood aspect can be set to be the villain. However, in La Llorona's case, multiple aspects of motherhood are villainized in different stories.
To fully understand this, the topic of how mothers are treated in Machismo must be discussed. Mothers in a machismo culture are good and respectful because of how the girls have been brought up. In the New York Times article, the author explains that "The mother naturally becomes the model for a wife, who must be a virgin, have a respectable reputation and be inclined to sacrifice. But since the wife can never match the mother's perfection in the eyes of most Mexican men, she can be "punished" through ill‐treatment and unfaithfulness." These women are forced into becoming the perfect wife and mother in fear of being punished, so there is a natural reason for retaliation from women against Macho Men.
Wives are often put aside when they become mothers because sex is looked down upon when pleasurable for the woman. Basham explains that the reason is, "From the macho's viewpoint, the woman's natural place is in the home. She is a mother first, a wife second, and a sexual being rarely. At marriage, she must be a virgin. Sex must be incidental to her, its primary purpose to produce children" (128). Although it takes sex to produce children, anything outside of it is not allowed, besides seeking a mistress or a prostitute put down for what she is doing. Macho men want to have a woman they can control, so they have to oppress them for the qualities they seek. Bashur states, "As a married woman in her role of mother and wife, the woman is expected to be the binding force within the family. She must be faithful to her husband. She should, however, expect her husband to be unfaithful to her and must overlook it for the sake of the continuity of the family" (128-129). These women in a machismo culture are already seen as objects. Yet, motherhood is where their identity stops because women are only made to produce children and are nothing after that to these Macho Men.
Sex, as one of the most common sins looked down upon worldwide, is easy to be villainized when it comes to women. According to Basham, "The anxiety of male-female relations is a central theme in many bodies of mythology. Frequently, myths portray women in their sexuality as seducers and thieves of man's potential for eternal life" (130). Women already have a hard enough time through myths and folklore, so it would be natural for this theme and belief to transfer to the real world or most likely transfer from the real world into multiple forms of media to spread a general misogynistic theme among a culture.
Joe Hayes' The Weeping Woman tells the tale of a beautiful young woman named Maria who wants only the best for herself, including men. She marries a wealthy and handsome ranchero, then has two children with the man. The ranchero then decides that he wants a wife in his class range and leaves Maria, but still comes to see the kids. Maria becomes furious that her children are getting all the attention from her husband and left her for his mistress. In her fury, Maria drowns her children. She immediately regrets her mistake and sinks to the floor, dying there. She is said to roam the river bank looking for her children, dressed in her buried clothes.
Maria is the villain of the story because she murders her children in a fit of rage. However, this is a message taken to the next level to warn young girls about acting. Maria was not the wife that Machismo men saw as ideal. She spoke out and was not modest in her clear search for a wealthier man. She still has an identity of her own, even though it was one of vanity and selfishness, outside of her identity as a mother. Instead of staying quiet about her husband's affair, she did not keep silent. Although her methods of demonstrating her anger were unconventional and generally illegal, she defied the wife and mother's general model in Machismo culture. Kegan writes, "I suggest that women writers and readers tend to approach texts differently from men" (357). This folktale takes a woman with general defiance to the culture. It then brings it to a level with the murder of children, making her whole character and identity undesirable to me and girls who may have seen someone similar in the real world as a possible influence. Yet, to men, this is a generic ghost story to keep your children inside at night.
Women are oppressed utilizing media, and folklore is not any different from that. Men control how women are perceived through storytelling, so it is no wonder that women do not have a voice and are looked down upon because it becomes a social norm not to show respect. Folklorists Rosan A. Jordan and F. A. de Caro wrote in their article Women, and the Study of Folklore discuss women folklorists and female characters in folktales. In the article, they quote another folklorist Claire Farrer "The general trend ... has been to rely on data from women for health information, some charms, some games, and various beliefs and customs but in other areas to use women informants only when men informants were unavailable... When a collector had a choice between a story told by a man, or as told by a woman, the man's version was chosen" (501). Not only in Machismo cultures but patriarchal societies in general, women are not respected. The men's stories are the ones that are collected, and therefore their opinions are passed on as well because the tales that they collect align more with what they believe.
This, in turn, spreads only the male-mandated folklore that affects young girls in their childhoods, shaping them to become the ideal adults that these men will then take up as their wives. These tales were approved to oppress women into becoming an object. "Folklore may even serve as a corrective to overtly express male opinions about women and their place and outlook" (Jordan, De Caro. 512). Just as wives and mothers are corrected through punishment by their husbands in Machismo Cultures, these stories serve the same purpose. They serve as an example of what and what not to do in their society, giving birth to this negative view of La Llorona as it was spread primarily by men instead of men where it could be changed into an upbeat tale about a woman.
Prietita and the Ghost Woman features an upbeat version of La Llorona that, instead of murdering a child in the story, helps the child get home safely. In the story, a young girl searches for a plant to help her sick mother but gets lost in the forest. A ghost woman appears and flies her through the skies to bring her home safely and quickly. When Prietita tells her family about the ordeal that she had just experienced, her family is concerned because she had just encountered La Llorona. Based on their previous beliefs, Prietita should not have survived this encounter. This version of the story was written by a woman named Gloria Anzaldúa. She acknowledges the generally agreed-upon story of La Llorona, a malevolent creature, and then turns that on its head, portraying a misunderstood spirit that saves the young girl and ultimately saves Prietita's mother. Assuming that this La Llorona is the same La Llorona that murdered her children in the past and is doomed to walk the Earth in search of her children, this demonstrates that she experienced some character growth or a change in identity. Anzaldúa moved past the standard two-dimensional version of La Llorona and gave just a little more to her identity as a woman and a person, demonstrating there can be a change after the death of her children.
Jordan and de Caro directly reference La Llorona and machismo culture, "Jordan interprets several legends told by Mexican-American women in the Southwest, including… women's fears of pregnancy, male sexuality, and male dominance in a society where the ideal of machismo prevails" (513). These folklorists prove a clear connection to how stories are told and passed on from generation to generation, my men and men only. This also demonstrates the fear of men and how Maria from the earlier La Llorona story would have been brave to stand up in her situation, but because of how men tell the story, they put her retaliation under extreme circumstances to turn the woman into a villain, which renders her as someone not to be like at all. They go on, "...the legends of La Llorona, the "weeping woman" of Mexican and Mexican-American ghostlore, surface in tales told by both women and men, but their emphases are subtly different so that there are virtually two different but overlapping traditions revolving around her" (513). Yet, as these authors have proved before, the men's version would be the one most told.
As mentioned before, women, in general, are disrespected and oppressed. In the NPR article, Blair writes, "Veronique Tadjo, a writer who grew up in the Ivory Coast, thinks there's a fear of female power in general." Veronica Tadjo is an international academic who studied folklore, so she has run into multiple different cultures in her travels. Fear of female power, in general, can go back to the fact that life is dependent on them. If women do not cooperate with men, civilization could crumble because no one can give life as women can. They must then be oppressed in their homes and conditioned through tales to act accordingly. In the Bible, Eve is the first woman and the reason people live in sin today. She initially disobeyed God and became a villain known across multiple continents.
Women and mothers are conditioned from the times of their childhood through the folktales that they are told. Folktales naturally give society a blueprint on how to function and act. As a male-dominated Machismo society says, La Llorona is a villain to keep women and mothers in line and oppressed as objects. La Llorona was an extreme case of retaliation to the ordinary circumstances that women face every day in machismo cultures, rendering her a villain and a model for young girls to act like adults. Although La Llorona can still be told as a cautionary tale for children, it holds a deeper meaning of misogyny and control.
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