Portrait of A Feminista – Marissa Rodriguez

“Portrait of A Feminista” was born from AnaYelsi Sanchez’s desire to to see herself and her story reflected in others; an unwillingness to settle for a feminism that doesn’t reflect Latin@s shared history and experience. It began in November 2013 as the #SecretLivesOfFeministas twitter conversation addressing the absence of Latina voices in mainstream feminism and the unique struggles faced by feministas and is on it’s way to becoming a published anthology. Read about the twitter movement that led to this series.

Today’s portrait…

Marissa Rodriguez

marissaI remember fighting back tears in the middle of an overcrowded party store on one humid late-October Miami day. My four-year-old and I were on a last minute costume-shopping excursion, and we’d taken what felt like a dozen laps around the costume section searching for the right one for his preschool’s costume parade. After offering up each age-appropriate outfit – fireman, police officer, doctor, lumberjack (!) – every one would be rejected with a firm, swift “no” (my child is nothing if not decisive).

As the selection dwindled down to our final options, the “nos” got quieter, softer and more desperate. At my wits end, I squatted down to ask him what was wrong. He crumpled into my lap, and bottom lip trembling he looked me in the face and said “But mommy, I want to be something beautiful.”

Right next to the simple boys’ costumes were the glorious little girls’ costumes. Feather boas, tiaras, fairy wings, everything coated in a thick layer of glitter – that section was certainly hard to ignore and outshone the boys’ costumes – the most extravagant of which was a knight.

It’s no secret that Halloween is a pink-for-girls, blue-for-boys holiday. Girls are things of beauty in dreamy dresses and little plastic heels. Boy’s costumes reflect strength and achievement, all tiny professionals or conquering heroes. There’s little in between, and there’s no nuance. But, what of the little girls, are they not achievers? And, what of the little boys who want to be beautiful?

As a parent you are forced to face your own values at moments like this. I’m a cool, feminist mom … right? I can buy him fairy wings … can’t I? In my mind, my best version of myself would. We’d march up and down those neighborhood sidewalks, head held high and scream ‘Trick or Treat’, like everyone else – outside opinions be damned. But when my mom asked for pictures, could I show her her grandson in pink wings? Could I tell my dad (who was proud that his grandson loved salsa as a toddler because, he joked, it would put hair on his then 2-year-old chest) about our Halloween adventure?

My husband wouldn’t care. He’d hold his son’s hand and grimace intimidatingly at anyone who glowered. My white, Athiest, liberal, artist husband wouldn’t mind. He wasn’t raised in the knee-socks and saddle shoes of Catholic school, or in the shadow of a tacones-and-red-nail polish mom. No, the hesitance doesn’t come from the male force in my heteronormative relationship. I have seen the discomfort, the resistance to variations in these pink and blue gender norms more within my own culture, and though it’s hard to admit, within myself.

For me, the decision to identify as feminist was layered and complicated. As I awakened to my strengthening feminist perspective, I felt as if there was a falling away of parts of my cultural heritage, faith and ultimately, self.

My son is a preschooler and just forming concepts about gender roles, and I consciously make an effort to instill in him the ideals of equality. Unfortunately, that also means I omit sharing parts of my culture that don’t reflect those values. You could argue that all parents do that — make the distinction between what they want to share of their identity with their children and what they don’t. But it doesn’t make it any easier.

I am keenly aware that I am the strongest tie my bicultural son has to Latinidad, and the self-inflicted pressure to pass on my heritage is enormous. But because I am the strongest tie, I also have power. I find myself picking and choosing what I present as cultural models, and cultivating an idea of what it means to be Latino who values equality and who values women.

My attempts are not without their missteps. I still call him papito and find myself outfitting him primarily in blue in spite of myself. I consciously think twice about what it means to be a little boy today, and think more often than that about what it means to be a strong, feminist Latina and a mother.

How many of us deal with this? How many of us feel the pull of our old time religion and are still coming to terms with our rejection of machismo and marianismo? We are out there and through #SecretLivesofFeministas we can see each other. We can hear each other. We can take heart in the voices of other women who are choosing to embrace feminism, Latinidad and motherhood, and who are creating a space in that intersection.

Together we may be able to raise a new generation of Latino sons who don’t feel bound to meet some idealized vision of manhood, or who expect our daughters to be princesses. Our boys (and girls) need feminism to discover that they are beautiful, with or without fairy wings.

 

Marissa Rodriguez is a journalist and editor whose works focus on the Latina community in the United States. Texas-born and raised, Marissa lived and worked in Miami for more than eight years working in national magazines before returning to her home state. She is working on launching a blog focusing on Latina empowerment, progress and feminism, and raising a feminist son. She can be heard on Twitter at @MarissaRodz.

 

Are you a feminista and want to add your portrait? Know a feminista whose story needs to be heard? Contact AnaYelsi at brwneyedamzn@gmail.com. 

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 Don’t forget to use #secretlivesoffeministas when sharing this series on facebook and twitter. Help to keep us connected.

 

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