Erasing Men from "Álbum de familia" by Rosario Castellanos

Victoria Carpenter


Out of a great number of critiques of Rosario Castellanos' short stories in the collection Álbum de familia, most focus on the woman protagonist of "Lección de cocina", treating this work from a traditional feminist perspective - as a portrayal of patriarchal oppression of women. The few analyses of the male characters in the three stories consider them representations of grotesque machismo objectifying women to protect the patriarchal status quo, fought against by women worldwide. Evelyn Fishburn, for one, sees Castellanos' "mocking repetition of patriarchal truisms" as an attack on machismo "not only because it is shown to be unjust but because it is unheroic and shabby" (Fishburn 1998: xiii-xiv).

However, a close reading of the three stories in Álbum de familia might cause one to question whether the men were solely responsible for the women's plight. Are the women being victimized, or are they the oppressors? If we consider the relationship between men and women in Castellanos' works as an example of the Self/Other dichotomy, a generally accepted view would make the woman the man's Other, thus subjugating the former and giving the latter the power to change the Other. This relationship locks the Self and Other in a rigid standoff, arguably perpetuated by both sides. According to Toril Moi, "[t]he promotion and valorization of Otherness will never liberate the oppressed. It is, of course, hopelessly idealistic  to assume that Otherness somehow causes oppression" (Moi 1988: 12). Most analyses of women as Other in Castellanos' work propagate the traditional hegemonic dichotomy of gender: men-oppressors vs. women-oppressed. It is time to challenge this approach.

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