Study Guide

How the García Girls Lost Their Accents Gender

By Julia Alvarez

Gender

She has sat back quietly, hoping she has learned, at last, to let the mighty wave of tradition roll on through her life and break on some other female shore. She plans to bob up again after the many don'ts to do what she wants. (1.1.44)

It's interesting to think of the rules about gender that this family follows as a "tradition." It's powerful, like a wave, so you have to decide if you're going to roll with it, or let it smack you down.

Yolanda makes out an undertow of men's voices. Quickly she gets in the car, locks the door, and pulls back onto the road, hugging her right side. (1.1.60)

When out on her own on the Island, Yolanda seems pretty nervous anytime she encounters men. Makes us wonder why men are portrayed as being such a threat.

All the grandfather's Caribbean fondness for a male heir and for fair Nordic looks had surfaced. There was now good blood in the family against a future bad choice by one of its women. (1.2.9)

Even though he tries to cover up his disappointment at having four daughters by repeating, "Good bulls sire cows," it becomes pretty obvious at the birth of his first grandson that he thinks male children are superior.

"I don't want loose women in my family," he had cautioned all his daughters. Warnings were delivered communally, for even though there was usually the offending daughter of the moment, every woman's character could use extra scolding. (1.2.13)

It's almost like Papi expects his daughters to do things he thinks are bad. Papi thinks he needs to scold his daughters and watch their every move, just to keep them from behaving totally immorally. Because women don't have a moral code, obvs.

Every year after that, the daughter came for her father's birthday, and in the way of women, soothed and stitched and patched over the hurt feelings. (1.2.32)

So here's another generalization about women, this time from the narrator's perspective. It's a flattering statement—that women are naturally good at reconciling after a big fight—but we have to wonder: is it really fair to make broad generalizations about the "way of women"?

Carlos, looking very much like a little girl in his long, white christening gown, bawled the whole time, and his poor mother had not a moment's peace between serving the dinner she'd prepared for the whole family and giving him his. (1.2.35)

It's funny how big of a deal it is to Papi to finally have a male heir in the family. And yet, in his little baptisimal gown, little baby Carlos looks... just like a baby girl. So doesn't it seem rather silly to go around projecting all of these masculine traits onto him?

No one really knew if he was secretly displeased in his heart of hearts that he had never had a son, for the father always bragged, "Good bulls sire cows," and the mother patted his arm, and the four girls tumbled and skipped and giggled and raced by in yellow and baby blue and pastel pink and white, and strangers counted them, "One, two, three, four girls! No sons?" "No," the mother said, apologetically. "Just the four girls." (1.3.2-3)

"Good bulls sire cows" is the line Papi always uses to reassure everyone that he's not disappointed by not having a son. But that seems like a big, fat lie after we see how excited he gets about his first male grandchild.

For the benefit of an invisible sisterhood, since our aunts and girl cousins consider it very unfeminine for a woman to go around demonstrating for her rights, Yoyo sighs and all of us roll our eyes. (2.1.84)

Yoyo and her sisters are feminists, but they can't get any of their female relatives on the Island to join their cause. That's because their Dominican cousins think it's "unfeminine" to demonstrate for their rights... but does it mean they follow all the gender rules?

When he's in the States, where he went to prep school and is now in college, he's one of us, our buddy. But back on the Island, he struts and turns macho, needling us with the unfair advantage being male here gives him. (2.1.121)

To make matters even more complicated, we can't even rely on a character's attitudes about gender to stay the same. Mundín completely changes his tune depending on whether he's in the U.S. or in the D.R. Do any other characters do this?

These Latin women, even when the bullets are flying and the bombs are falling, they want to make sure you have a full stomach, your shirt is ironed, your handkerchief is fresh. It's what makes the nice girls from polite society great hostesses, and the girls at Tatica's such obliging lovers. (3.1.51)

Victor Hubbard's creepily sexist ideas about women being good for cooking, cleaning and love-making are combined with his creepy ideas of "Latin" women being exotic. He seems to prefer "Latin women" as sexual partners because they come closer to his ideas about ideal femininity. Gross.

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