A few days ago I was invited to the "First Conference of Chingona women". In the Spanish dictionary the word chingona means "Proficient in an activity or area of knowledge". In English the translation is something like kick-ass women. I couldn’t decline the invitation. The organizer, my dear friend Elena (who is also a writer) was inviting me because she regarded me as a chingona. I was flattered and didn’t want to disappoint her. Besides, I always wanted to be a chingona (something that frequently happens to those who are the middle child -or sandwich- among nine siblings).
My specific assignment was to talk about any woman writer whom I consider to be a chingona. I thought about many but in the end I chose the nun who wrote with her own blood in walls of her convent "I, the worst of all." Yes. That Mexican feminist poet, who at the age of three learned to read and write and later, when she was only eight, she wrote her first eight loa. I am talking about Juana Inês de Asbaje y Ramirez, better known as Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Sor Juana defended the right to freely write until her death, despite being exposed by the patriarchal society. She lived during colonial times when Mexico was part of the Spanish Empire. She is an icon and collaborator of the Golden Era of our Spanish literature. Today she continues to be an inspiration to artist and writers everywhere.
I was so excited with my literary choice that I even dressed as the "Tenth Muse". Here is my picture with Elena (dressed as a real chingona).
In this blog I want to share Elena’s welcome speech. I am certain that if Sor Juana had attended the conference she he would have embraced her with compassion. It's amazing that more than five hundred years after her famous reprimand to those "foolish men" we, women, still do not we enjoy the same rights and privileges enjoyed by them.
Here are Elena’s words. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. And I hope that you, wherever they are, will organize your own chingona conference. Above all, I hope that someday my granddaughters will live in a world inhabited by wise (and not foolish) men and women.
After reading please tell me, are you a chingona? are there any chignonas in your life? Tell us about you and them!
It is my great honor to be surrounded by so many beautiful and capable women. I am grateful you accepted the invitation to this, our first conference of chingonas.
Without any particular order we have the presence of: Lawyers, Homemakers, Architects, Artists, Dancers, Singers, Chefs, Scientist, Counselors, Consultants, Accountants, Decorators, Sportswomen, Designers, Doctors, Editors, Writers, Engineers, Instructors, Mothers, Teachers, Musicians, Nannies, Painters, Teachers, Chemists, Therapists, and Volunteers.
A lot of chingonas, right?
So here is the thing, I think that those of us to whom modesty was fed in a bottle, like our mother’s milk, and who were rewarded by it, we find it hard to achieve a balance between modesty and pride for our successes.
In the dictionary, modesty is defined as the quality of being humble, avoid of conceit or vanity.
So I wonder: In the spectrum between humble and conceited, where does the term chingona fit? I think we each must try to find it, because in the end it is a very personal position. In our Latin culture, particularly that of Mexico, where I grew up, society is sexist and women are taught that "the more quiet we are, the more beautiful we look"
The interesting thing is that this not only what men expect of women, but how women expect other women to behave. In other words, we better be modest, because if not, we may find ourselves without friends.
Even here in the United States, where the feminist movement began half a century ago, women still cannot shine without being judged.
About 2 or 3 years ago I talked about this with a chingona here present. I think it would be good to read that book by Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, she told me. A few days later I got the book “Lean In: Women, Work and Will to lead.”
I loved how Sheryl teaches women about our challenges and great opportunities. She devotes a whole chapter to Success and likability. She shares a 2003 study conducted by Professor Frank Flynn from the business department of Columbia University. He did a case study at the School of Business at the University of Harvard. The case study was Heidi Roizen, a businesswoman. He described how she became successful venture capitalist by using her "extroverted personality, and vast personal and professional network that included powerful leaders in the business area and in the technology sector." Half of the students were assigned to read the story of Heidi and the other half were given the same story with one difference-they changed the name Heidi to Howard.
A survey was made to students regarding their impressions of Heidi and Howard. The students assessed Heidi and Howard as equally competent. This was no surprise because "their" achievements were completely identical. But while students respected both Heidi and Howard, Howard seemed like a more captivating choice. Heidi, on the other hand, was perceived as selfish, and not the "kind of person you'd want to hire or have as a boss." The same information with one difference-gender-created a difference of views.
The author explains that this experiment supports other research that has clearly shown that success and likability are positively correlated with men, and negatively correlated with women. She believes that this is the primary reason why women hold themselves back from seeking success. Sheryl delves into why this occurs, and suggests actions that we can take to not be punished for our achievements. I agree with her that we can start by sharing the success of other chingonas.
The book resonated deeply with my experience and concerns. I am grateful that chingonas like Sheryl share of their way and vision of the future. Here are the Lean In groups.
In my ideal world the success of a chingona will not intimidate us, but inspire us. In my ideal world we define, share, and celebrate our success. In my ideal world the chingonas are happy being homemakers, managing companies, or simply doing what they like.
I organized this conference as a small contribution towards that world.
Thank you for being here.