This time around, their chosen book is "The House on Mango Street" by Sandra Cisneros. I confess that I'd never heard of the book. That's probably due, in part, to the fact that it was published in 1984, a good 10 years after I graduated from high school. (Cisneros is 2 years older than I.) Even if it's now required reading in high schools, that wouldn't have affected me.
I still haven't read the book, so I'm not really in a position to comment on the book one way or the other. However, after reading the pamphlet published by the City of Chicago, in which they interview the author (who will be speaking here at the Harold Washington Library tonight), I have to say that I think that she's appallingly ignorant and bigoted, in the way that people on the political far left are often ignorant and bigoted.
Here's the part which particularly stood out in my mind, from an interview (pages 4 and 5) with Cisneros:
In the following paragraph, Sandra claims that "many women don't even know what feminism is". (Here's a thought, Sandra: Maybe a lot of women know exactly what feminism is, and they just don't agree with it. Or at least they don't agree with your paranoid version of feminism.)
Q: The House on Mango Street so wonderfully portrays a young girl, Esperanza, discovering her identity. Do you think that such self-discovery is harder for a young Latina girl? Would Esperanza's story be different if she were growing up today?
A: I think it's hard for any woman in the world, regardless of her color, because the world is so patriarchal, especially now with the Christian Taliban taking over women and their lives on one extreme, and the media taking over women on the other polar opposite. It's hard for women to know what they want when they'ver never been asked, but controlled by Church, State, and consumerism. Add to that women are colonized and don't know their history, but in a sense, all women are colonized, don't you think?
It's hard for women to gain access to who they are when they aren't even allowed information about their own bodies, control of their fertility, church and state dictating choices that should belong to women themselves. I had to scavenge to find out about myself as a woman, and as a Latina. In many ways, it's simpler because of access to the web. In some ways it's harder, because women aren't even aware they are not in control of their lives.
Sandra states, "It's hard for women to know what they want when they'ver never been asked, but controlled by Church, State, and consumerism." I think that statement is incoherent.
Imagine anyone saying, "How am I supposed to know what I want to eat for dinner if you don't ask me?" Here's the obvious response to such a question: "If by your own admission you don't know what you want, then what would be the point of asking you what you want? If you don't already know what you want, then being asked what you want is not going to make the answer clear to you."
The idea that men are somehow responsible for the fact that some women don't know what they want is ludicrous, as is the idea that women have never been asked what they want. Believe me, a lot of men wish they knew what women wanted, but they've given up on the quest for such knowledge because it seems almost unattainable. If one repeatedly asks a woman what she wants, only to be told that she doesn't know (or only to be given contradictory answers which are indicative of cognitive dissonance), one will eventually grow weary of asking!
In any event, I'm not sure that it matters much. Women, in my experience, do not need to be asked what they want. They will gladly volunteer that information on their own, with or without being asked, as surely as the sun rises and sets in the sky. Unfortunately, prior to telling men what they want, they will often expect men to intuitively deduce such things without being told. A lot of women seem to think that men ought to have the ability to read minds. Then, if men (being mere human beings and not gods) fail to know what women want without being told, they're often accused of being "insensitive" and "uncommunicative". Give me a break!
(In all fairness, I should admit that women aren't the only people who are guilty of expecting other people to read their minds. However, I've noticed that that unfair expectation seems to be particularly common among women. Maybe they should try being more assertive right from the outset, and just tell people what they want, instead of waiting to be asked or waiting for other people to correctly guess what they want.)
In the context of other things she says in the interview, it seems to me that when she says that women don't know what they want, what Cisneros really means is that a lot of women don't want the things which she, as an ideologically committed feminist, thinks that they ought to want. I guess it's easier for her to tell herself that women who disagree with her just don't know what they want, rather than admitting that women don't all share her views or her values. (In particular, I suspect that the pro-life members of the organization known as Feminists For Life disagree with Sandra about some very specific issues.)
Regarding the aforementioned interview, Cisneros appears to be a very poor listener. Her answers were only vaguely related to the questions posed to her. She chose instead to go off on a self-indulgent tangent, seeing the interview as an opportunity to promote radical feminist ideologies.
The interviewer's question was about whether or not being Latina made self-discovery harder for young girls. In Cisneros' answer, she mentioned being Latina, but she never really answered the question with regard to whether or not being a young Latina girl made it harder to experience self-discovery.
In all fairness, it's conceivable that she ducked the actual question because it was a stupid question. Self-discovery is never easy for anyone, regardless of gender or ethnicity, because one's true identity is known only by God, who knows us far better than we can ever know ourselves. People who equate their "identities" with gender or ethnicity or nationality or cultural heritage will never know who they truly are. When we see ourselves through the eyes of God --- to the extent that our human limitations will allow us to do so --- only then can we discover our true identities. That's a lifetime quest, partially because our identities are not fixed and unchanging things. As we mature, our identities change --- sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worse. To passively allow other people to define us in terms of our identities is the worst kind of irresponsibility and immaturity. This is true regardless of gender or ethnicity.
Secondly, the interview question ended on an emphasis on societal changes, in-between the time period covered by the book and 2009, which might have affected the story which Sandra told in her book. From what I could see, Sandra didn't say much about that either, but what she did say seemed to suggest that she thought that things had historically been bad for women, and that things were getting worse. (In the third paragraph, she implied that many women now see Paris Hilton as a role model, and she lamented that situation, saying, "At least when I was a young woman there was a feminist movement.")
Cisneros' reference to the Christian Taliban particularly puzzled me. I'd been a Christian ever since accepting Christ as Savior in 1969, and I'd never once heard of such a group. So I have to assume that she's demonstrating her ignorant bigotry by suggesting that fundamentalist and conservative Christians are comparable to members of the Taliban.
I can't say that I've ever known any Christians who forbade women from attending school (as the Taliban was inclined to do) or forced them to almost completely cover their faces in public or done any number of other things which have often attributed to the Taliban in Afghanistan. (I also read a recent news story about an incident in which the Taliban executed a couple for having the audacity to elope! Hmmm, I don't recall ever reading about a similar atrocity being committed by Christians, fundamentalist or otherwise.)
I've known some fundamentalist Christians (such as the students at Baptist Bible College in my hometown), and I have sometimes disagreed with such people with regard to the manner in which they interpret the scriptures. Nevertheless, the disparity between such people and the members of the Taliban was and is enormous. It is utterly specious to insinuate that any significant Christian group in the United States comes remotely close to the Taliban in terms of oppressing women or anyone else.
Women have been in the work force for many years in America, and many of them have risen to positions with far more pay and prestige than any job I've ever had or any job I could ever hope to aspire to have. Over the years, I've had a lot of bosses on the job, and many of them were women. I've never been anyone's boss. But apparently none of that is enough to satisfy Ms. Cisneros. It's as if she's living in some alternate universe in which radical feminists haven't already gotten their way in most major respects (including the recent election of a president described by Ms. Magazine as a true feminist).
Women are oppressed and controlled? Cry me a river!
What's all this stuff about women not being allowed to have information about their own bodies? (I'm tempted to use a much stronger word than "stuff".)
Apparently, Cisneros thinks (quite incorrectly) that gynecological textbooks have been outlawed in America. Presumably, Cisneros has never heard of the pro-abortion book "Our Bodies, Our Selves" which first published in 1970 (long before the web was ever invented) by the Boston Women's Health Book Collective. It is still being published, in revised form, to this day. I strongly disagree with the ideological commitment to legal abortion which is expressed in that book, but the book contains extremely explicit information about women's bodies, and it has been in publication for nearly four decades. I know of no laws which have hindered its publication or penalized women for reading it. I know of no attempts on the part of conservative Christians to hinder the publication or distribution of that book, even though they may vehemently disagree with parts of the book. So regardless of whether one is talking about the information in that book or the information in the numerous other textbooks pertaining to the female anatomy, it seems to me that the only thing preventing women from being informed about their bodies is their own laziness.
Cisneros claims that women aren't allowed "control of their fertility". I know of no public or private program in which fertile women are involuntarily rendered infertile, or vice versa. Therefore, I would find her claim to be extremely confusing, if not for my awareness of the fact that pro-abortion feminists often use the phrase "fertility control" as a disingenuous euphemism which really means legal access to abortion at virtually every stage of fetal development.
Abortion is indeed opposed by conservative Christians such as myself, but it is a demonstrable fact that abortion has nevertheless been legal since 1973. Apparently that's not enough to satisfy Cisneros, since she says that she still believes that female fertility is being controlled by church and state. One cannot help but speculate with regard to what would satisfy her. Perhaps she wishes to follow Barack Obama's lead, with regard to his opposition (when he was a senator) to legislation written specifically for the purpose of making infanticide illegal in the state of Illinois.
The fact is that even if conservatives such as myself succeeded in outlawing abortion, it would have no effect on women's fertility! The issue, with respect to the abortion issue, is not whether or not women are allowed to control their fertility. The issue is whether or not women who are obviously fertile (and who become pregnant as a result of that fertility) ought to be allowed to deliberately kill their unborn children! Incidentally, certain so-called contraceptives, such as RU-486 and the "morning after" pill, are more correctly described as abortifacients. They do not affect a woman's fertility one way or the other.
Sandra says that "women aren't even aware that they are not in control of their lives". I don't know whether or not she claims to be a Marxist, but that statement sounds awfully similar to the propagandistic condescension which is typical of Marxists who believe that their goal ought to be to "enlighten" previously happy and contented people so that those people understand just how bad off they are, so that they are willing to rise up in rebellion against their ostensible oppressors. That kind of garbage is still being spewed by fringe groups of Communists here in Chicago and elsewhere. Hardly anyone takes such groups seriously, due in part to the failure of the Soviet Union, and also due to an awareness of the deplorable abuses historically perpetrated by that regime and by other Communist regimes throughout the world. But that fact doesn't seem to detract from their zeal in the slightest. To say that such people are clueless would be a massive understatement. The same thing could be said for someone who thinks that the way to "liberate" women is to persuade them that they aren't in control of their own lives.
It's difficult to understand how such people think that they're helping other people by telling them that they ought to be angry and miserable. Isn't there enough unavoidable unhappiness in the world as it is, without fanning the flames and adding to the misery?
As for the idea that women are "colonized," I don't even know what Cisneros means by that. I doubt that she knows either. It sounds as if she's taking a mishmash of Marxist propaganda, using a variety of words which she only dimly understands in order to promote the idea that women are oppressed in America, even though nothing could be further from the truth.
It's a shame that the City of Chicago has chosen to honor a woman who is so thoroughly confused, and who engages in shameless slander by insulting Christians and others who believe that our society should treat all living human beings, including both women and unborn children, as if they have value because they are created in the image of a loving God.