Chicana Women: A Qualitative Examination of Sexuality and Self
The purpose of this project will be an examination of how culture affects women of Chicana descent and how one’s cultural upbringing impacts sexuality and sense of self-worth. Chicana women face unique hardships when it comes to recognizing their sense of self-worth and their sexuality. For a long period in history, Chicana women grew up in a culture that viewed women as subservient to men (Aldama, 2003). This culture did not radically promote women’s sexuality and contributions to society. Rather the patriarchal society many Chicana women were brought into suggested that women should be content to live a life dependent on others for happiness, self-worth and self-discovery. That is changing however in modern times, as more and more Chicana women are starting to recognize their own need for fulfillment. This is evident not only in recent literature examining Chicana culture but also in the words of Chicana women themselves, who are beginning to express the need to be active and appreciated members of society (Aldama, 2003).
Though I do not have any personal connection to this project I felt the subject interesting and worthy of investigation. The project will include a comprehensive literature review of previous studies that examine the subject, combined with information gathered from field research in the form of interviews.
There are numerous studies, which have attempted to review or comment on the culture of Chicana women. A majority of these suggest that Chicana women are currently in a state of flux; they are moving from a role where they were subordinated and repressed to one where they are more comfortable expressing their sexuality and self-worth (Aldama, 2003). The aim of this paper will be a comprehensive exploration of Chicana culture in an effort to determine what factors have impacted Chicana sexuality and to identify what aspects of Chicana culture currently dominate society today.
Background to Subject
Of late there have been numerous studies that suggest that a feminist movement of sorts is occurring within the Chicana culture. Specifically, girls are moving from a state of subordination to a place where they are more empowered, more likely to express themselves and more likely to use their sexuality as a means of identification and self-expression (Aldama, 2003).
Much of the information available regarding Chicana culture is evident in the form of fictional stories, which depict the Chicana girl or woman as someone who is constantly searching to identify her role, her purpose in society and her sense of self (Aldama, 2003). Other works of fiction address the Chicana as someone reflecting on her life experiences to learn from them.
In times of old much of the literature available with regard to Chicana women suggested that women were subordinate, however more recent works suggest that Chicana women are starting to take a more aggressive and assertive role in society, and they are starting to recognize their sexuality and right to be sexual, alive, and important human beings. The aim of this research will be to identify what patterns have contributed to the Chicana woman’s failing sexuality and sense of self in the past, and what factors might contribute to her freedom in the future.
The researcher will attempt to answer several research questions as part of this research project. Specifically the researcher will attempt to identify the following: (1) what obstacles have prevented Chicana women from realizing their sexuality and self importance in the past, (2) how do Chicana women view themselves as members of society in modern culture, (3) what are the most critical factors contributing to a Chicana woman’s sense of self and discovery?
To answer these questions the researcher will investigate the history of Chicana women through a comprehensive literature review that focuses in part on the role Chicana women have depicted in fictional literature up until the present. Fictional literature very often portrays metaphorically the real life subordinations or freedoms that people experience. The researcher also intends to interview one or two members of the Chicana culture in order to determine what their perceptions of their sexuality and sense of self are, and how these perceptions compare with information gathered from the literature review.
From the combined literature review and the information gathered from the field research, the researcher hopes to make grounded conclusions regarding the role sexuality and self-awareness have in Chicana women’s life and lifestyle.
This study is limited in that it will rely primarily on observational analysis and close interview with one or two subjects. A more realistic study would incorporate interviews of a much larger number of people, so that the Chicana culture could be more adequately represented. However due to time constraints and the small nature of this study, it is impossible to interview a large number of women. As such, the generalizations made about Chicana women that result from this study may not be indicative of the entire population as a whole. Future studies will be needed to confirm or disprove the ideas and theories that result as part of this research investigation.
The research studies that have been conducted in the past with regard to Chicana culture have focused on literary works of fiction as a means of identifying trends in Chicana culture. Thus part of this literature review will examine critical commentaries of Chicana works of fiction to analyze to what extent Chicana women and their sexuality is represented metaphorically in works of fiction. In addition the researcher intends to uncover factual information regarding Chicana culture that will be combined with information gathered from interviews of Chicana women.
Factors That Influence Sexuality and Self-Worth
There are a number of factors that impact one’s sexuality and self-worth. This is extraordinarily evident in Chicana literature and among women growing up in the Chicana culture. Several researchers have investigated Chicana culture in the past, the majority of whom were interested in exploring women’s sexuality and sense of self-worth. A majority of these researchers conclude that the role of Chicana women in society is changing (Aldama, 2003). Women in Chicana culture face numerous obstacles to realizing there sense of self-worth and sexuality, not the least of which is a strong society that is infused with stereotypical beliefs about the roles of men vs. women.
Aldama (2003) notes that there are several factors that influence a Chicana girls empowerment and ultimately their sexuality, including their “emancipation from restrictive gender roles” and independence afforded by membership into groups, whether gangs or civil service organizations. Either way, Chicana girls are looking according to some research for any outlet that will empower them without oppressing them, or viewing them in a violent or racist manner. This perhaps is largely due to a history of oppression and subordination (Aldama, 2003). Women are much more willing to be open and bold about their sexuality and role in society today, but this was very different in recent history as many women felt they lived under the domination of a patriarchal society (Aldama, 2003). This difference in attitude is evident when talking with young Chicana girls compared with older women who have lived more of their life subjected to the stereotypical beliefs that men are providers and women are the supporters or keepers of the home (Aldama, 2003).
As much of the fictional literature and true life accounts of Chicana life show, Chicana girls in the past traditionally took on the role of subservient wife to their husbands (Aldama, 2003). They were afforded little freedom, little sense of self, and as such little sense of sexuality as their desires were by and large inhibited. It is important to examine some of the fictional works written by Chicana women and other stories about Chicana women, because many of them fairly accurately and factually depict the struggles that many Chicana women have faced their entire lives. Though fictional, many of the women protagonists in literature are women that real life Chicana’s can relate to on several levels (Aldama, 2003).
One element of sexuality and sense of self that is important to explore is Chicana communities, which tend to support or diffuse the predominant belief system that exists within a society. Chicana women have traditionally been heavily involved in their communities, though their involvement has not always been recognized as many grow up in a patriarchal society that values the contributions of men more than the contributions of women (Dicochea, 2004). In fact even though Chicana women have played an important role as members of society, in the past their contributions are hardly ever recognized or mentioned, which is why it may be difficult to find factual information regarding Chicana women’s achievements historically.
The primary role women have held historically within the Chicana community is as caregiver and keeper of the home, as was discussed earlier in the literature review. However, times are changing, and more and more Chicana women are starting to realize the importance of searching out their sense of self, emancipating their sexuality, and enjoying their role as active and contributing members of the community (Dicochea, 2004).
Female Sexuality and Self Development in Chicana Culture
Eysturoy (1996) points out that studies of women’s sexuality related to Chicana culture have focused on the quest “for authentic female self development.” She notes that this process involves environment and psychological factors combined, and involves “coming to terms with multiple social and cultural forces” in addition to coming to terms with internal and external issues that often impede Chicana women from realizing “individuation” or understanding their sense of individual self (77).
The author notes that a recurrent theme in much of Chicana literature centers on the evolvement of a child into an older women, and that in fact a majority of the literature related to Chicana women focus on the process of self development that is not just a search for identity, but rather a method for engaging Chicana readers and exploring or articulating a process that will ultimately lead to the awakening of the female lead in a work (Eysturoy, 1996). This process is often seen as a means to inspire Chicana women in their rite of passage.
Other narratives and works focused on Chicana women that focus on older rather than younger women tend to be according to Eysturoy, more “confessional in nature” suggesting that a Chicana women as she grows old must re-examine their past heavily in order to arrive at a better understanding of her female self, both as an individual and as a sexual being.
The focus of much of Chicana works seem to be an emergence of the self via interactions with oneself and the world at large according to many. The path toward self development and definition for many Chicana women is often portrayed as connected to the process of creation (Eysturoy, 1996). This is perhaps the result of a new movement toward feminism and self recognition for Chicana women.
Chicana women have for some time faced masculine domination and the notion that women are weak passive and should be dependent on men for their livelihood and to find meaning in life (Canut et. al, 1993). This sentiment is evidenced by many Chicana women who believe that their sexuality in some respect in the past has condemned them by enslaving them to men, and this very act of enslavement often lead to self-hatred (Cantu, et. al, 2003). To find their sense of self and personal identity, Chicana women often have to first overcome the myth or notion that they are in some way inferior in part because they are women (Canut, 1993). That is why much of the literature aimed at Chicana women attempts to liberalize them by freeing them from oppressive roles handed down by a patriarchal society (Cantu, et. al, 1993).
Women have for years in the Chicana culture been subject to the concept that they should be barefoot and pregnant, subordinated and under-appreciated, resulting in a lack of unit between men and women (Vidal, 1972:31). This is an old belief that perhaps has led to some suppression of women’s sense of sexuality and self-worth.
Martinez (2002) points out that Sandra Cisneros adequately captures the image of a Chicana looking to discover her sexuality and own path in her work, “The House on Mango Street.” In this work the author portrays the Chicana woman as someone who stares out of a window, waiting inside locked doors for their spouses to return or for something extraordinary to occur within the course of a day (Martinez, 2002). Women are images of what many Chicana women see their reality to be … A life where they do not initiate their own lives and do not get to chose their own spouses, a life where they do not get to choose whether or not they have sex or get pregnancy, and are for the most part considered ‘bad girls’ (Martinez, 2002).
This book however like many others takes on the standpoint however that this method of existence is not acceptable, that women need to create her own path and her own sexual choices. There is much urging among the Chicana community for females, whether characters in novels or in real life to make their own sexual choices and “control their erotic fantasies” (Martinez, 2002).
The modern Chicana woman does not find shame or disappointment to herself, and does not feel the need to marry to find respect within her culture. Rather she is independent, strong and sexually alive (Martinez, 2002). The later depictions of Chicana’s show characters acting on their own sexual desires and determining how their lives should be structured, without the help of masculine role models (Martinez, 2002).
In fact, the Chicana woman as a sexual being can best be described as ‘blossoming.’ As Martinez (2002) points out, recent portrayals of women as intellectuals in control of their destiny and in control of their sexual desires and experiences act as a metaphor for the real life actions of feminism within the Chicana culture (Martinez, 2002).
More and more Chicana’s, particularly those living in the United States, are “deconstructing the traditional and patriarchal roles” and using their bodies as a means of sexual expression (Martinez, 2002). IN literature this is reflected metaphorically by social and sexual interaction that occurs between the sexes, where the female body is now seen as the primary focus, something that needs to be recognized in order for the Chicana woman to realize her true sense of self and ability in the world.
The primary intent of this research is to determine how sexuality is represented among Chicana women, and the extent to which Chicana women recognize their sense of self and sexuality as members of society. As part of this research a qualitative investigation is carried out. Qualitative research is appropriate for identifying patterns and themes that are emerging from given phenomena. As part of this research the researcher interviewed two members of Chicana descent to determine what their opinions were regarding sexuality, and how their opinions co-aligned or differed from the material gathered from the literature review.
The primary method of data collection was a review of the literature available on Chicana women and sexuality, with specific emphasis on examining how Chicana women have been represented both in real life and in the literature. Very often, one can determine what the primary beliefs are about a society or subject by reviewing works of fiction as well as works of non-fiction written about a particular group of society.
The evidence collected from the literature review was combined with information gathered from the interviews so that scientifically and well thought out conclusions could be drawn with regard to how Chicana women view their sexuality and role in the world.
It was difficult acquiring information on Chicana women as their have been relatively few studies that directly examine sexuality related to Chicana women. A majority of the studies that have been conducted related sexuality in terms of fictional stories about Chicana women, which are supposed to metaphorically represent what actually goes on in society.
The information gathered from this research project indicates that the role of Chicana women is changing. I found it most interesting that more and more Chicana women are using their sexuality as a means of expressing themselves. A feminist movement aimed at supporting the self-worth and importance of women in society seems to be adopted among a majority of Chicana women in society today. This movement is reflected in the literature as much as it is reflected in the every day actions of Chicana women.
Historically the literature review reveals that in the past women’s sexuality and sense of self or self-worth has been repressed (Aldama, 2003; Canut, 1993). The literature reveals that many women of Chicana descent grew up in a patriarchal society that emphasized the role of women as caregiver and wife, not as an independent and even sexual being (Dicochea, 2004). This attitude, while still common in many works of fiction and among many women of Chicana descent is slowing changing as women are starting to realize their true power and the influence they may have on society as contributing, sexual, independent and important women.
Interviews of Chicana women show that Chicana women are no longer adopting the attitude that they need to be subservient to men. Chicana women are more and more on the question for their sense of self and self-identity, a fact supported by information gathered from the literature review. As pointed out in the literature review, many older women of Chicana descent still fall victim to the ideal or notion that they hold a role in society that is less important than or subservient to men. However younger Chicana women are adopting a new attitude, one that promotes exploration of ones sexuality and sense of self.
The Chicana women interviewed confirmed that they are growing and learning, and coming to a place in life where they recognize that they are powerful, and that there sexuality can be a powerful tool. However discussions about the dominant culture they were brought into when young confirms the information uncovered in the literature, which suggests that Chicana women still face many obstacles if they desire to express themselves freely and their sexuality. There is still an underlying sense among Chicana women that they feel that they should be subservient, or are at the very minimum unequal with regard to their male counterparts.
There is adequate evidence to suggest that Chicana women are very interested however in pursuing any opportunities to view themselves in a new light. This is present in the literature review as well, which reveals that women’s roles and portrayals in works of fiction are changing (Dicochea, 2004). Women are slowly starting to be depicted as independent thinkers with the capability of contributing more than their housekeeping skills to society.
More and more women are taking an active interest in exploring their identify and sexuality, and presenting this identity to the world around them. This is evident both in talking with Chicana women and in more recent literary works which herald women who boldly announce and flaunt their sexuality and their role in society. The results indicate that Chicana sexuality and sense of self is evolving and changing, and will be a more dominant factor in the lives of Chicana women in the years to come, particularly if trends continue as they are in the present.
It is important in the future that researchers make every attempt to identify any obstacles any member of society has to realizing their true potential for contributing to society. This research is important because it identifies what aspects of Chicana culture influence a woman’s livelihood, sense of self and sexuality. The research conducted indicates that the role of Chicana women in society is changing, and it is changing for the most part for the better. Women are starting to become more independent and realize themselves as independent, sexual and worthy human beings. Future research should be conducted to determine what if any changes need to be made with respect to embracing Chicana culture that might encourage women to continue on the path toward self-exploration and discovery.
In the future if time allotted, I would recommend interviewing at least a dozen different Chicana women in order to gain more in depth insight into women’s various experiences, thoughts, beliefs and desires related to their sexuality and culture. It is important that all women regardless of their cultural background have the opportunity to realize their true potential. Anything inhibiting that potential should be investigated. Future research should focus on discovering what techniques specifically can be adopted to improve self-esteem and sense of self among Chicana women in the United States and elsewhere.
Aldama, F.L. (2003). “Gang Nation: Delinquent Citizens in Puerto Rican, Chicano, and Chicana Narratives.” Melus, 28(4):242
Canut, N., Cardenas, G., Cordova, T., Garcia, J. & Sierra, C. (1993). Chicana voices:
Intersections of class, race, and gender. Albuquerque: New Mexico Press.
Dicochea, P.R. (2004). “Chicana Critical Rhetoric: Recrafting la Causa in Chicana
Movement Discourse, 1970-1979.” A Journal Of Women’s Studies, 25(1): 77
Eysturoy, A.O. (1996). Daughters of self creation: The contemporary Chicana novel.
Albuquerque: New Mexico Press.
Martinez, E.C. (2002 — Spring). “Crossing gender borders: sexual relations and Chicana
artistic identity: Critical essay.” Melus, Retrieved April 24, 2005: http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2278/is_1_27/ai_89929577
Vidal, M. (1972). “Chicanas speak out: Women: New void of La Raza.” Feminism and Socialism, New York: Pathfinder Press.
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