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Feminism in the Novel “In the Time of the Butterflies” by Julia Alvarez: Analytical Essay

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It has been argued over many years, that women are no less than men, that women are strong, powerful and that women do not need a masculine figure to represent them in any way. How correct are those statements? Do women really need to prove/argue to society the power they have in life? Since the very early years, no matter the race or social status, women have been sexualized in ways that have impacted their lives dramatically. Of course women have not remained quiet, but in order to make a difference and claim their rights, women have given their all into fighting for what they stand. A remarkable life example is brought out in the novel “In the Time of the Butterflies” by Julia Avarez. In this fascinating and powerful novel, feminist criticism is one of the ways in which one is able to grasp at the importance of how these woman were treated by all sorts of men. Some with high power and some with not as much, yet still being able to impact these women one way or another.

This issue has been going on continuously throughout the years. Not to mention that until this day, it is still a part of the list of problems people are trying to resolve. However, this topic can potentially be very controversial due to the fact that many also believe there “are feminist who argue that women should be treated just like men…once women are permitted the same ambitions and opportunities as men, ability should ideally take precedence over gender and sexual bias will become wholly indefensible” (Capps. Pragmatism, Feminism. 1996). While on the other hand, also as feminists, there are those who like to stress “the differences between the sexes…point at the male bias of our social institutions and to the difficulty a woman has on being both a mother…and a professional” in order to “create a more level playing field” (Capps. Pragmatism, Feminism. 1996). Some women want to be treated the same way men are and obtain the same opportunities to prove that they are capable of doing everything men are able to do. At the same time though, women also wants society to take into consideration their responsibilities and accept that it is okay for them to be differentiated from the way men are treated. Both ideas are different, but in some aspects the same, and that is why it could be found to be a controversy for this topic. It could potentially be argued that no matter the treatment women expect/receive from men, there will always be an opposing feminist point of view. Julia Alvarez actually displays several events that show the reader the different types of treatment women receive from men throughout the novel. It is important to analyse these events and compare the kind of treatment women have been receiving and the effect this had in their lives.

One major example found in the novel “In the Time of the Butterflies”, is the one that unveils the three sister’s dad Enrique. Enrique is a man that would most likely be classified into the group of “machistas” which according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary is a “strong sense of masculine pride : an exaggerated masculinity athletes displaying their machismo”. This is typically a part of Latin American Culture, displayed by men. It could be seen as a very obsessive or possessive quality to have, however it has become normalized throughout the centuries. Evidence of this can be found when the dad starts to talk about how Patria becoming a nun “would be a waste of a pretty girl” (Alvarez,11). Without saying much, with this comment, he is basically implying that women as pretty as her should probably take advantage in marriage just as most women do and not just become a nun. Having said this, one is able to see the type of mindset he has and what he expects from women, in this case his daughters. In a way, Enrique sorts of expects his daughters to grow the desire to help around the house and please them as parents all along. He continues to question the girls when he says “If all my little chickens go, what will become of me?” (Alvarez,12). This seems like an accurate representation of a man who takes pride in the role he has as “the man of the house”. Asides from having this attitude towards his daughters, it is most accurate to point out the situation Mercedes, as the mom of the girls, is dealing with. According to the Encyclopedia of Race and Racism, “Mexican women and other Latinas are seen as submissive women who are not only forced into this type of situation but also accept this position” (Machismo. Encyclopedia of Race. 2013). This is very much the type of situation most women are living through since previous years. Mama was a woman that throughout the novel starts to recognize the place she is stuck in, and also defends the girls motivation on going after an education. When the girls are trying to get their approval for moving out, she gets the courage to tell Papa that the girls going away to get an education is not a bad idea, she expresses how she feels when she says to him “Look at us”, implying that, the way they were living was not what she wanted for them. And as Minerva added to her comment, “Mama had never admitted it, but I suspected she couldn’t even read” (Alvarez,12). As one analyses all this from a different point of view, one is able to see the submission a woman has come to develop towards men, especially as husbands. This is just one of the many examples that proves that even within one’s household, men’s authority can have quite an impact on the women of the family.

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The impact men have on women, can keep going up on levels into a much larger scale. As The Companion to Latin American Studies mentions in its article over gender and sexuality, “there are clear gender hierarchies where women are perceived to be the ‘weaker sex’” (Craske. Gender and Sexuality. 2003). A perfect example of this, yet not a very pleasant one is the one Trujillo plays in this novel. The actions this man took were without a doubt unacceptable, but did put out a great message to society. As it is known, Rafael Trujillo the dictator of Dominican Republic, was a very powerful man, and according to the Journal of Feminist studies in Religion “At his direction, tens of thousands of people were tortured and brutally killed including all who opposed his policies”, making this time period “one of the bloodiest in the American history” (Pineda-Madrid. Celebrating Our Latina.2011). However, even with having this as its background, this man managed to have girls follow all he said and even fall in love with him. In the beginning of the novel it is quite evident the many affairs he is having. Papa assures Minerva that Trujillo has “got many of them, all over the island” and Minerva has nothing in her head but the thought of Trujillo himself being a devil (Alvarez, 24). Throughout the entire novel, the reader continues to see injustice for women over and over. Moments full of embarrassment, such as when Trujillo,s men humiliated Sina by stripping “off her clothes in front of the prisoners”( Avarez,232). It comes to reach a point in which the maltreatment and torture these victims suffered was so bad they started to “feel even less human” (Alvarez,227). Being a woman throughout these years was most likely already heard enough, not to imagine how horrible it must have been living under a government that is constantly putting women down, humiliating them and even murdering them. There were many times in which Trujillo did not personally take advantage of these girls, but it is obvious that he really did not have to be present to get away with what he wanted, because everything that was happening was due to the tremendous amount of power he had over not only women, but the entire people under his government. Rafael Trujillo was without a doubt a woman’s worst nightmare.

The elements analyzed have without a doubt changed history and made feminist criticism a more important subject. Even in the works of writing, men always had better options and opportunities. That is why it was very important for women to start stepping up and defending their voice in literature.In the Encyclopedia of Latin American and Caribbean Literature, it is mentioned how women’s literary work “achieved significant recognition only at the end of the twentieth century. Driven by a predominantly male-dominated culture, the literary canon and literary history obliterated women’s production in previous centuries” (Trevizan. Women’s Writing. Encyclopedia 2004). Even though it does seem like a long time to finally be able to be recognized through literature, the important part was that these women were able to achieve their goal. In addition to that, it is only accurate to bring back a very small but powerful excerpt from In the Time of the Butterflies, when Minerva mentions that what the country really needs are “skirts in the law!” and that “it’s about time we women had a voice in running our country” (Alvarez, 10). The reality of all is that her words were right, the government does need the input of women. That being in a political or also in a simple artistic form of expression.

The way men have been treating women has caused a lot of irreparable damage throughout the years. However, as time has passed, women continue to grow in society and have worked hard into trying to better their education and knowledge about what it is needed for them to make an impact in society and also to continue making themselves a better woman, a woman that can decide for herself without anyone else choosing for her. Matter of fact, times have changed in such a great manner that even the women from older generations have been able to see the movement and the achievements being made by the present women. For example, feminism has become a very approachable way of expressing and never forgetting the real meaning of being a beautiful woman. In the” Encyclopedia of Women and Gender:Sex similarities and Differences” it mentions the different types of feminist thories that have been adopted since around the 17th century. In the excerpt “Feminist Theories” it talks about many theories such as “postmodern feminist” “Liberal feminism” “cultural feminism” and many others (Enns. Feminist Theory, 2001). Till today, women stand firm for other women who still do not have a voice, and The Companion to Latin American Studies mentions briefly how “women have long resisted the gender hierarchies imposed upon them and have struggled to become subjects of rights on the same terms as men. Although not all women participate, women’s organizations have been an important development of the twentieth century” (Craske, 2003).

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