Gender Performance in Cisneros’ “Down There”

In “Down There,” Cisneros effectively various uses literary devices to compare the actions of the genders. Cisneros uses literary devices including consonance, dissonance, similes, and metaphors to present a favorable perspective of aspects of femininity that the society despises while disparaging features of masculinity that men celebrate. Cisneros presents a picture of masculinity and femininity that is opposed to that which the society holds. Furthermore, the following paper sets out to show that Cisneros addresses gender issues that society is often unwilling to discuss. Cisneros is not afraid to use various poetic devices to confront the perceptions that society holds about gender and address some of the issues that society considers shameful.

Gender Performance among men

In starting the poem with the line “Your poem thinks it’s bad,” Cisneros intends to present the man as being a person who is proud of his performance when he should be ashamed (19). Mattiello explains that in English slang, “bad ironically means good” (18). Cisneros proceeds to describe some of the unacceptable actions that the man partakes in, including farting in the bathroom, urinating in the swimming pool, and inappropriately touching his testicles. Cisneros uses the word “poem” as a metaphor for masculinity. Thus, after considering the slang meaning of the word “bad,” the statement “your poem thinks is bad” means that the man is proud of his actions as they show his masculinity. Cisneros uses the word “thinks,” showing that she might not agree with the man’s perspective on the appropriateness of his behavior as a way of proving his masculinity. Cisneros believes that the uncouth behaviors that the men exhibit do not show their masculinity.

Cisneros tries to determine the cause of the dysfunctional behaviors that men exhibit. She alludes to the fact that men are not willing to accept responsibility for their lack of manners. Cisneros explains, “It blames its bad habits on the Catholic Church” (20). Catholic priests have in the past been implicated in the sexual abuse of minors. Thus, the statement is significant in that it shows that society is a significant influence on the behaviors that people adopt. It can be expected that the institutions in which men are brought up will affect their actions. Cisneros acknowledges the role of society as a potential factor that influences gender performance.  Consequently, Cisneros implies that the institutions that have the duty of inculcating young children with moral values have failed. The institutions are thus partly responsible for some of the bad behaviors that men have adopted.

On the other hand, it is noticeable that it is only the men that place the blame of their behaviors on the society. Cisneros elaborates that men have a choice in determining the practices that they will adopt. Cisneros notes that men “picked up words, learned words, fell in love with words” (20). The statements show that the man consciously took up bad habits including using words that “stung like fists or stank like shit” (20). The use of similes enables Cisneros to create a mental picture of the abrasive and abusive words that the man uses. The man uses words that Cisneros finds unacceptable. Cisneros elucidates that the man adopts the words willingly without compulsion. She argues that the man should not give an excuse that the Catholic Church influenced him. The poem shows that since women do not blame their gender performances on society, men should as well stop blaming society and act appropriately.

In society, masculinity is associated with rebellion. According to Cisneros, gender performance in males includes an aspect of rebellion. In explaining another cause of the unacceptable behaviors among men, Cisneros states that “because someone said don’t do that you like to do that” (21).” The statement seeks to address the rebellious nature of men who are often unwilling to follow advice. Male performance requires the men to assert their position by rejecting any rules that they consider as limiting their freedom and masculinity. Cisneros is thus accurate in depicting men as seeking to break the rules that the society has created as long as it enables them to uphold their machismo. Cowan describes that machismo means manliness (1). Cowan associates the term with “hyper-masculinity” (1). A man is required to display characteristics that uphold his masculinity.  Cisneros’s poem acts as an effective reflection of everyday society in which masculinity is associated with traits such as strength and disobedience.

Gender performance among women

In society, menstruation is considered a part of female gender performance that should not be discussed with other people. Cisneros seeks to dispel the secrecy that women tend to keep about their menstrual cycles. She explains that menstruation is not a filthy event, but an important part of womanhood. Cisneros describes that her menstrual flow is “gelatinous, steam, and lovely to the light to look at” (22). She then continues to compare the menstrual blood to chocolate. Cisneros presents the picture that menstruation is a natural event that is pleasant to witness. However, Cisneros presentation of menstruation as pleasant may not be held by all the members of the female gender. Roberts et al. explain that a significant proportion of the people consider women as “polluting” during their menstrual period (134). Furthermore, Women will often complain about the unpleasant changes that occur to their bodies during menstruation. Thus, Cisneros may be giving a false picture of how women experience menstruation. However, Cisneros effectively addresses an aspect of gender performance that is considered taboo, and which is impressive.

Another aspect of gender performance that the poem addresses is the nature of communication between men and women. In society, women are often considered talkative and able to express themselves freely. Men, on the other hand, may often not be ready to open up about their emotions. It emerges that Cisneros is aware of this difference as she explains “I want to talk at length about menstruation” (24). The statement shows that women express themselves openly without being influenced by the nature of the message that they want to pass. Cisneros then takes time to describe that men are not always ready to engage in open communication stating, “I’m indulging, but indulge me if you please” (Cisneros 26). The statement implies that the women are ready to talk about some of the sensitive issues that they experience and expect that the man will listen. The depiction of the communication styles of the two genders is as would be expected in society.

The second part of the poem addresses gender performance regarding women. The decision to use explicit language allows Cisneros to present an aspect of women’s story that society often avoids discussing. Cisneros describes the experiences of women during menstruation. However, Cisneros does not seek to present menstruation as an event that women hate. Instead, Cisneros presents menstruation as a part of the female performance of which women are proud. In describing the smell of menstruation, Cisneros states that it is “a sweet exotic snuff from a prehistoric center” (23). The picture that Cisneros describes, however, differs significantly from that which society holds. In society, women avoid discussing menstruation due to societal taboos (Roberts 132). Consequently, Cisneros may be seeking to present a false claim to the effect that women enjoy menstruation.

It is vital to consider sexuality in analysing gender performance. Cisneros ability to address sexuality is aided by the fact that she does not shy away from addressing topics that society considers to be private. As earlier pointed out, Cisneros uses explicit language to describe some of the sexual events that occur. Other people may consider the use of sexual language as unnecessary, yet it adds value to the poem in enabling it better present how men and women handle their sexuality. In this regard, Cisneros explains, “Baby, I’d like to mention the Tampax you pulled with your teeth” (21). The statement presents the view that society has about female sexuality. Pulling the Tampax with teeth is a graphical representation that other people may consider filthy. Cisneros discloses the event occurred in an issue of the Playboy magazine. Playboy is a magazine that contains images of scantily dressed models. Thus, the statements show that society has transformed the female body into a sexual object. Roberts et al. present a similar perspective explaining that even though women are considered inferior due to their reproductive functions, their bodies are regarded as “objects of beauty and desire” (131). The society has objectified the female body and transformed it into a sexual object.

In conclusion, Cisneros presents her perspective on gender performance between the genders. Cisneros associates gender performance in men with rebellion, influence from the society, and personal choice. In women, menstruation is a major biological process that influences how society views the sexuality of women. Menstruation also affects how women view their femininity. The society impacts on the interactions between the male and female gender because the social rules define the behavior that is expected of each of them.

 
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