Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Mariano Azuela's Los De Abajo: Patriarchal Masculinity and Mexican Gender Regimes under Fire

Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Mariano Azuela's Los De Abajo: Patriarchal Masculinity and Mexican Gender Regimes under Fire

Article excerpt

Patriarchy is the single most life-threatening social disease assaulting the male body and spirit in our nation. (hooks 2004: 17)

Hay hombres que no son sino pura hiel .... Y esa hiel va cayendo gota a gota en el alma, y todo lo amarga, todo lo envenena. (Alberto Solís in Los de abajo, 134)

Two initial impulses lie behind the present study. The first is a desire to provide an innovative gendered reading of a novel that has never previously been analysed from a feminist perspective in any significant degree of detail. Having appeared in serial form in 1915 in the Texas-based newspaper El Paso del Norte, Los de abajo attracted little critical attention until Monterde cited it as 'proof' of the fact that Mexican writers were capable of producing 'virile writing' or, to be more precise, of articulating a masculinist discourse at a clear remove from the representations of 'effeminate masculinity so familiar in modernista literature' (see McKee Irwin 2003: 123; 130).1 Since that time, Los de abajo has continued to attract critical attention but has largely remained outside the purview of feminist cultural critique. Clive Griffin (1993: 68) referred to the character and role of La Pintada as an appropriate topic for discussion; but he also chose not to develop his perception any further: 'In her unmanning of men and outswearing of troopers, her perspicacity, fearlessness, independence, decisiveness, and her ability to impose herself on that most male of institutions, an army, she could well prove an intriguing subject for feminist critics'.2 It was not until the first decade of the twenty-first century that radical gendered perspectives on Los de abajo and other canonical Mexican texts were brought to the fore in Mexican Masculinities. In that groundbreaking study, one of McKee Irwin's central arguments, compellingly articulated with reference to a wide range of texts, is that 'the important allegorical metaphor of homosocial bonding in the history of Mexican literature has made the homoerotic an inevitable feature of national literature' (2003: 130). Consequently, although Los de abajo was once central to the 'great virility debates' of the 1920s and important politically in the climate of Mexican cultural nationalism that granted literature a significant role within the project of building a 'strong' nation and a 'robust' sense of national identity, it would be impossible today to read the novel without at least considering McKee Irwin's view of it as 'startlingly homoerotic' (31).3

The second impulse behind this study is a desire to gauge and explain, for scholars of Latin American fiction, the usefulness of Connell's sociological work on men and masculinities in a way that transcends a relatively straightforward use of 'hegemonic masculinity' as a concept in textual analysis.4 Hegemonic masculinity can be understood as 'the pattern of practice (i.e., things done, not just a set of role expectations or an identity)' that allows 'men's dominance over women to continue' (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005: 832). Emphasizing this last point, Connell and Messerschmidt posit (832) that the concept is only intelligible within 'the logic of a patriarchal gender system' and that it is inextricably linked with 'the global subordination of women to men'. In relation to these claims, one organizing principle of this study is the firm belief that no engagement with Connell's theorizing can be considered adequate unless it moves simultaneously at a micro and a macro level, drawing on a theorization of masculinities within the theory of 'gender as a structure of social practice' (Connell 2005: 71).5 If hegemonic masculinity is used in analyses of Azuela's novel in isolation from any understanding of the historical dynamics of gender relations it will tend to run the risk of coming to function as an intellectual straightjacket that forces excessive attention onto the representation of acts of machismo.6 In what follows, therefore, discussions of the representation of hegemonic masculinity are developed through the use of the associated categories of 'complicit', 'subordinated' and 'marginalised' masculinities, as well as Connell's account (2005: 73-74) of the 'three-fold model of the structure of gender' and the idea of a 'structural inventory'. …

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