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Anzaldua & Sapphire: Write in Your Language!

Written by Tiffany McFadden

In the speech “Speaking In Tongues…” Gloria Anzaldua addresses women writers of color and the “dangers” that they must confront in order to make their voices heard. As women of color, their status is one of invisibility. They are not seen in the white male mainstream world and or the white feminist world. In the beginning of the speech, Anzaldua tells her audience that their risks are different from white women because being colored means “we don’t have as much to lose – we never had any privileges”. To be colored is to be invisible. And to be invisible is to be “inaudible”. Therefore, women writers of color are not seen and are not unheard.

Anzaldua states that some women writers of color “are in danger of contributing to the invisibility of our sister-writers” in the process of trying to make their voices capable of being heard in the white feminist world. The message is for women writers of color to not sell-out, but to embrace their own language and culture; to not conform to the standards of a world that does not want to hear or see you. For women writers of color to conform to the standards of the white male mainstream world and or white feminist world will only perpetuate the invisibility and silencing of the class. The women writers of color must “forget the room of one’s own—write in the kitchen, lock yourself up in the bathroom” and write in your own tongue.

There are many parallels that can be drawn between Anzaldua talks of the dangers that must be confronted by women writers of color in “Speaking In Tongues” and Sapphire’s Push (1996). I feel that Sapphire tackles the issues of invisibility and inaudibility head-on by using the Precious actual voice; the voice of a young black female that has been unable to excel in school due to the emotional and physical abuse of her mother and father. Although Precious does not speak standard American English, she still has a story to tell about her experience. In her tongue (language), Precious is able to capture the minds and hearts of audience.

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Aside

“The danger i…

“The danger in writing is not fusing our personal experience and world view with the social reality we live in, with our inner life, our history, our economics, and our vision.”

        Throughout her letter, Andalzua admonishes the woman of color to write about her experiences, to write about what she knows, how she lives, thinks and breathes. Basically to write about life as she knows it. I’m definitely big on writing, even if it’s penning a simple sentence as My day sucked into a journal that’s opened once a month. While I agree with Andalzua, I couldn’t help but think of books that are meant to represent the reality of life.

       To prove a point, or maybe somewhat contradict Andalzua’s statement, I’ll briefly discuss ‘urban fiction.’ There’s been a recent surge in the aforementioned and even talks of introducing the genre (I’m not too sure if I’d call it a genre, but that besides the point) into the public school’s curriculum. In relation to Andalzua’s statement, the authors of ‘urban fiction’ are primarily African-American men and women writing about the struggles of Blacks living in the urban community. I certainly don’t have any reservations against such books, and I’m definitely not opposed to anyone reading them.

I haven’t read, nor do I ever intend to read every single one of these ‘published’ books, (a lot of which are filled with page after page of grammatical errors and multiple fonts). In my experience, the few that I’ve read, briefly skimmed, or asked others about all have very similar plots, characters and life situations. Read one, and you’ve pretty much read them all.

Now I’m not suggesting that these books be banned, or the authors completely halt their writing process. I’m all for creativity, self-expression and writing reality. Yes, write about the challenges of living in the inner city; write about what you know; write about you. But seriously, must the majority of these books be so similar? Why must the Black woman depend on welfare or other government-issued programs?  Why must all her children have different fathers? Where are the stories of Black males who are not selling drugs, shooting each other, pimping fatherless females or serving time in prison? Where are the stories that don’t reinforce the negative ‘White-world stereotypes Andalzua speaks of in her letter?

 

Third World Woman

Similar to Cixous, Anzaldua speaks firmly, assertively, vulgarly and directly to her target audience. As I read, “Speaking in Tongues” my mind immediately jumped to ” The Laugh of The Medusa” and I began to appreciate this form of writing compared to the other works we have read these past couple of weeks. The passion Anzaldua demonstrates in her letter made it easier to read but also relatable through phrases such as, “my dear hermanas” and “dear mujeres de color, companions in writing”.

She begins by broadcasting the division within the feminism community from highest, white women, to lowest, the lesbian of color. Anzaldua makes it clear that she is uncomfortable with this division stating, “my dear hermanas, the dangers we face as women writers of color are not as those of white women though we have many in common. We don’t have much to lose–we never had any privileges…..the beginning woman of color is invisible both in the white male mainstream world and in the white woman’s feminist world….the lesbian of color is not only invisible, she doesn’t even exist”. (165) This powerful statement begins to open the eyes of a naive audience who believe that there is no division. She reiterates this division by mentioning the stereotypes that are given to third world women, “the Black domestic, the lumbering nanny with twelve babies sucking her tits, the slant-eyed Chinese with her expert hand– ‘they know how to treat a man in bed,’ the flat faced Chicana or Indian, passively lying on her back, being fucked by the Man a la La Chingada” (167). For me, these stereotypes brought to mind the expectations for Spanish women that I am familiar with. On the first day of class someone mentioned that in the Spanish community it is expected for the woman to keep and maintain the house “house broken”. You are suppose to know how to cook, clean, and care for the children. With these expectations in mind it is easier to understand the division Anzaldua is referring to.

Next, Anzaldua begins to list the tedious daily task that third world woman have in comparison to the white woman. Quoting Cherrie
Morgan:

“if you are not caught in the maze that (we) are in, its very difficult to explain the hours in the day that we do not have. And the hours that we do not have are hours that are translated into survival skills and money. And when one of those hours is taken away it means an hour not that we don’t have to lie back and stare at the ceiling or an hour that we don’t have to talk to a friend. To me it’s a loaf of bread” (168).

She demonstrates that time is valued among third world women perhaps more so then white women. Later she states that third world women are engulfed in the ideas of white feminist instead of proposing their own. Stating that third world women are “reduced to purveyors of resource lists” and “we cannot educate white women and take them by the hand. Most of us are willing to help but we can’t do the white woman’s homework for her” (168).

Anzaldua’s Letter to 3rd World Women Writers

By Amber Laraque

 

As a woman of color, and a writer, I was able to identify with Gloria Anzaldua’s letter Speaking in Tongues.

Anzaldua highlights the challenges of being a woman of color in the writing world. While reading the other theory pieces, it seemed that the topics were more based on the idea of male and female, man and woman. Reading Anzaldua’s piece, she speaks not only of being a woman in a man’s world, but being a woman of color in a white feminist world.

The points that Anzaldua addresses are eye opening and important because, though women face a lot of the same issues, when race and class come into play, a lot of those issues differ. Anzaldua says: “The dangers we face as women writers of color are not the same as those of white women though we have many in common. We don’t have as much to lose—we never had any privileges.”

Anzaldua also goes on to write about the lack of understanding when it comes to white people and people of color. Her title, Speaking In Tongues, reflects that. In her letter she says, “Because white eyes do not want to know us, they do not bother to learn our language, the language which reflects us, our culture, our spirit.”

It is interesting to think about what Anzaldua is saying in terms of the work Push by Sapphire. Anzaldua speaks of white people “learning our language. Could the feminist literary world of today be more united if cultural languages were understood? Though Anzaldua addresses her letter to 3rd world women writers, it gives all women writers a lot to think about.

A Resisting Writer

By: Kaydian Campbell

In “Speaking In Tongues: A Letter To 3rd World Women Writers”, Gloria Anzaldúa expresses that the dangers women writers of color face are not akin to obstacles because, “We can’t transcend the dangers, can’t rise above them. We must go through them…” (165). I believe she means that these dangers are embedded within us, within our lives, or within our thoughts. Anzaldúa reminisces on her own struggle with her right to write, “Who am I, a poor Chicanita from the sticks, to think I could write?” (166). She explains that it is so easy to question our right to tell our story, whether our story is even worth telling. Her advice is that we should “Write of what most links us with life, the sensation of body, the images seen by the eye, the expansion of the psyche in tranquility: moments of high intensity, its movement, sounds, thoughts” (172). She essentially means we should write what we know, write what we live, with the understanding that it will be true and meaningful. “Nothing is too trivial”, she asserts, “Even though we are hungry, we are not impoverished of experiences“, we do have something to contribute, and it is worthwhile (170, 172). There is no need to transform into into “male-women”, “go to the university”, or “Bow down to the sacred bull, form” (167).

One of the dangers of writing, she asserts, “is not fusing your own personal experience and world view with the social reality we live in, with out inner life, our history, our economics, our vision…The danger is in being too universal and humanitarian and invoking the eternal to the sacrifice of the particular and the feminine and the specific historical moment” (170). Our writing is at risk of falling into the abyss of intellectual musings that are so general and theoretical that what we produce loses its essence and its intimacy. “Precious” almost echoes this idea when she explains what she thinks about the usual approach to writing: “… you an do anything when you talking or writing, it’s not like living when you can only do what you’re doing. Some people tell a story ‘n it don’t make no sense or be true” (3).Therefore as you write, Anzaldúa warns, “Don’t let the pen banish you from yourself…. Don’t let the censor snuff out the spark, nor the gags muffle your voice” (173). Instead, she encourages women writers of color to “throw away abstraction and academic learning, the rules, the map and compass (173). She expresses that not only does society make us think our story is not worth telling, that our story is not glamorous or profound enough to share. There are also voices that seek to censor what you write, and sometimes those voices are our own, because we have been taught what is “valuable”. Anzaldúa explains that “the schools we attended or didn’t attend did not give us the skills for writing not the confidence that we were correct in using class and ethnic languages” (165). Instead, she finds that school, in its own way cripples our writing. Even in writing  this letter, she finds that her first draft was “wooden”, a result she says, of having “not yet unlearned the esoteric bull**** and pseudo-intellectualizing that school brainwashed into [her] writing (165).

I titled my post, “The Resisting Writer” in homage to Judith Fetterley, who wrote The Resisting Reader. I found that there was a huge parallel between Fetterley’s admonition that we should not let the misogynistic works we read cause us to hate our sex, but that we should be skeptical of the way women are portrayed in men’s writing. Similarly Anzaldúa proclaims and encourages our rejection of “the guilt, self denial and race-hatred” that has been “force-fed into us” (167). However, Anzaldúa’s vision is that women writers of color should resist the narratives of “valuable” or “intellectual” writing, and instead to write what is real to us, otherwise, according to “Precious” Jones, “What’s the f***ing use?” (4).

Aside

My initial reac…

My initial reaction to “Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to 3rd World Woman Writer” by Gloria Anzaldua first makes me reflect on how I have felt when, in a religious setting, watching someone speak in tongues. I feel as though I dont understand where this is coming from, I’m totally confused as it happens and I want a better understanding of what these people are going through. Anzaldua shows me that these same feeling are felt by people trying to understand female writers, but she is also reacting to the eyes that have been set apon her and others.

Anzaldua uses words of Cherrie Moraga to explain her “lack the language”. Even though Anzaldua and many other woman of color have “degrees, credentials and published books” she does not want to be “reduced to purveyors of resource list”. Through her writings and the writing of colored women Anzaldua does not want to tokenize the life and trials of womanhood that is not white.

She notes there is a differance between races but is afraid of making it too easy to make the blight of all races equal and even is afraid of becoming a sellout.”White eyes do not want to know us, they do not bother to learn our language, the language which reflects us” she realizes a lack of writing of the third word experience. Anzaldua is afraid of leaving behind the feelings and truths of the non-white female write to adopt the language and feeling of the white writer losing her native tongue when trying to enlighten others to the experiences of the third world. Speaking in tongues revealed itself to me as a soul search on what tongue to use in conveying ones feelings and life experiences.

Anzaldua feels that the the female third world writer has been stifled making her question herself Why am I compelled to write?” She finds strength in writing because she feels that writing “validates us a human” and encourages third world female writers to write fusing “personal experience and world view with the social reality we live in”

Donzell Evans

If writing is so empowering, why don’t some women want to write?

As a strong female personality, an aspiring writer, and a future teacher, the works of Helene Cixous and Gloria Anzaldúa illuminate a beautiful power that writing has, and personally resonate with me. The transformative power of female writing has been explored in our readings a lot from Cixous’s arguments we read last week about women’s writing empowering women and healing women on a personal as well as institutional level, to Gloria Anzaldúa’s self-professed intimate and immediate call to women to write, to even the coming of age victory of Precious Jones coming from writing. I happen to have faith like these women that writing is cathartic, empowering, and is an exceptional way for women to transcend societal limitations and lay claim to the power to their individuality and minds. All of these writers seem to agree with me, so I believed that this was a widely accepted belief.

However… I discovered that this is really not the case for all women.

I happen to teach a creative writing class to visually impaired students, and this weekend, I encountered particular resistance from one of my students. As female, from a traditional Chinese family, with a visual impairment, she could use the power of writing. She is the type of young woman Gloria Anzaldúa speaks to. Since October I have been trying to get this 16 year old girl to express herself, I have been giving her choices, and making it optional to share. I have basically been operating under the assumption that I am giving her the gift of empowerment. She does not agree. She groaned when she realized she was coming to my class and when I addressed her concerns openly she said the class was too much like school, that she usually felt stuck, and that maybe we could just talk or I could find some other hobby to share with the class.

My initial reaction was confusion, that turned to being a little pissed off. I thought I was helping her to claim her part of the world as a young woman of color with a disability. I have been working my butt off to help her overcome the boundaries of society, just like Sapphire and Helene Cixous and Gloria Anzaldúa would do, so why wasn’t she grateful and inspired?

“Speaking in Tongues” helped me to sort through this idea some more. If this young woman has the opportunity to write, why wouldn’t she take it? I looked at Anzaldúa’s commentary on the power of writing,

Writing is dangerous because we are afraid of what the writing reveals: the fears, the angers, the strengths of a woman under a triple or quadruple oppression. Yet in that very act lies our survival because a woman who writes has power. And a woman with power is feared, (Anzaldúa, 171)

This is potentially indicative of a bigger problem. Many women are resistant to reinventing ideas and taking claim through writing because they are afraid of being feared. Also, many women may have learned to be helpless and are comfortable in their role where they are without power. This is a worthwhile risk to give women the option to take charge and make their own world, however, what happens when the system itself has created women who do not like the feeling of being feared? What happens when we have women who have learned to feel the safety and accept the negative consequences of being submissive?

In many ways, I think I cope with this power and the resulting fear of being a female writer by becoming one of the “male-women” (167) that Anzaldúa refers to. I create an alter ego, a different self, that performs a more aggressive and male role. I enjoy the liberation and power of this when writing, but I would be wrong to think that this risk never scares me and that every female would respond to this type of gender performance and raw aggression and autonomy that writing gives. When it comes down to it, many women simply do not want this power. To be fair, many men do not want power and to be feared either, so does this mean that not all women can be empowered? Is writing/ feminism not for everyone?

I hope to empower this young women, transform her like Precious was transformed though the world of writing, but I am unsure how to tell her it’s ok to be scary, it’s ok to act a little like a guy, and it’s ok to be in control– even if you are afraid the whole time. Forcing her to write defeats the purpose of empowering her, and maybe writing is not the way for her, or many women to empower themselves because it is so inherently risky.