The dictatorship of gender


Argentine novelist Cecilia Szperling – whose Natural Selection has just hit the shelves – would prefer it if readers did not know the gender of a writer

T>HE ARGENTINE novelist Cecilia Szperling, whose fast-paced Selección natural has just been published in English translation, recently took the message of feminist intellectuals in her country to the Ibero-American Book Fair in London. Despite having a woman on top in the form of President Cristina Fernández, women writers, journalists and intellectuals in Argentina believe they are still not being treated as equals. Szperling is among the founding members of the “cedula revolucionaria feminista”, a group formed last year to press for change. Women are prominent in Natural Selection, which tells the blunt and bloody story of a group of young people tearing at the flesh in the middle-class food chain of Buenos Aires. She is also the creator of the popular Confesionario, Historia de mi vida privada series of interviews with literary figures that has been adapted for television. Here, the author tells the Latin American Review of Books about her ideas and work.What is the “cedula revolucionaria feminista” and why was it formed?

It is a group a female writers and journalists who decided to rethink the feminist movement. We are trying to focus on our particular interests as intellectuals and at the same time to be connected with the general concerns of women today.

Who belongs to it?

We are all women writers or journalists involved in cultural matters, active in the cultural landscape of Buenos Aires.

The name sounds ominous: is this group proposing some form of “direct action”?

Meetings started this year and we have not had any actions until this moment, but our group has already gained attention and the provocations of part of the cultural community.

What has been your role in its development?

I was the first to be called in by a female friend who received strong attack on her first book because of her condition as a woman. It seems that recognition as a serious writer is not something a female can achieve. Or at least it is ten times more difficult than it is for a man.

Surely with the election of a woman, Cristina Fernández, to the most powerful position in the country, the presidency, Argentine women do not need such an initiative?

Cristina did not set herself up as someone representing women. Her political statements have more to do with the dictatorship and the desaparecidos, placing herself in that same political confrontation as the seventies, than with putting new issues on the national agenda. For instance, we do not have an abortion law: abortion is illegal in Argentina in almost any situation. And, remember, that even if Cristina is brilliant, she is the wife of the former president, Néstor Kirchner – so Argentina is more oriented towards a powerful couple, as in the times of Evita and Perón, than it is to a powerful woman who raises herself up alone.

Progress under the left

Has the progress of women under the left in Argentina been limited, and if so why?

The left in Argentina does not address, even more think about, the existence of gender problems, tensions, or the specific needs of women. They are very much absorbed in fighting their rightwing enemies!!! Although progress has been huge, as in the rest of the western civilization, at the same time there are some places that are very difficult for a woman to access. In our field, for instance, there are women everywhere with the exception of the opinion columns in newspapers, especially supposedly leftwing, progressive literary supplements. So we have almost not got a voice in the formation of subjectivity.

Are women writers in Argentina held back by men or by the content of their work?

Some of them started to be harsh on us as our work developed and gained a greater place in society. Various men say that there are no good female writers in Argentina, and there are practically no women included in the writers’ canon.

Feminism seems to have gone particularly quiet in Latin America since the left began to make gains across the region. Why is that?

Because we got the politically correct backlash, but we never got its benefits!

What do the members of the “cedula revolucionaria feminista” have in common with North American and European feminists, and what as Latinas differs about your our approach?

The Latin American woman is more in contact with their animality, so it is not so easy to distinguish between seduction, offence or harassment … For instance, most women feel it necessary to make it clear that they are not feminists as if in the popular imaginary feminism is related to frigidity and ugliness. Yet we need desperately to empower women, because of violence against them, pregnancy prevention etc. There still exists a cultural barrier creating this misunderstanding.

Borges and Cortázar

You were recently in London to participate in the Ibero-American Book Fair. What were the themes you were discussing?

Women in Latin American literature, and the literary legacy of Borges and Cortázar.

The English translation of your novel Selección natural has just been published by Aflame Books. What does it mean for an Argentine woman writer to be translated in this way?

It is very empowering! It is completely uncommon, new, and outside the box. By contrast with France or Germany, where people buy books all the time, because their governments subsidise the purchase of Latin American books, there is no such approach in the UK.

Is the Argentine government supporting the efforts of women writers?

Not specifically.

Would you agree that, in some ways, the novel follows the style of such notable male, and indeed macho, writers as Irvine Welsh and Charles Bukowski?

I do not know!!! I was very influenced by Roberto Arlt, an Argentinean writer now in the literary canon … and, probably, I did play with my male voice inside, but I would prefer it if readers did not know if the writer were a woman or a man.

Is it important for a woman writer to take on men in this way?

I think both men and woman can enjoy our different approaches to the universe, which means enjoying the female and the male side within oneself. We can be free enough to change our voice and point of view and not to live under the dictatorship of gender.

What are you working on at the moment?

I have almost finished a very Buñuelesque memoir … a kind of new realismo mágico with a Japanese twist.

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