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”Dr. Abelard Cabral, where is that delicious daughter of yours?”: Gender During the Trujillo Era in the Dominican Republic

          This quote appears in The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, a novel about a family who lived during the Trujillo era and how later on it affects their lives. The author, Junot Diaz uses the word “delicious” to describe Oscar Wao's aunt Jacquelyn, as if she were a piece of meat. Diaz italicizes the word in the book to emphasize what Trujillo's intentions are with her. This description of Jacquelyn, uttered by Diaz’s fictionalized Trujillo, exemplifies Diaz’s depiction of gender roles during the Trujillo era.  

          Gender roles have always been a controversy worldwide. Women have always had to fight for their rights and go through a lot in order to have a say nowadays. During the era of Rafael Trujillo in Dominican Republic, women didn’t have much power to implement their opinions. The era of Rafael Trujillo was known to be one of the bloodiest eras (G. Pope Atkins). Although he brought stability to the Dominican Republic, by building new roads, schools and hospitals, the price to pay was high for the citizens. During the Trujillo era, human rights were nonexistent. According to G. Pope Atkins “human rights violations were routine.” Especially if you were a woman (A&E Television Networks). But why were women often treated as inferior to men during this era? Rafael Trujillo found women to be disposable and only good for his personal use. Since the fall of the Trujillo era, caused by his death, many forms of literature have been written to show the world what kind of leader he was and how he affected the way women were viewed in the Dominican Republic. 

          According to Lauren H. Derby, in her scholarly article “Latin American Popular Culture”, she says, “Trujillo’s power was based as much on the consumption of women through sexual conquest as it was on the consumption of enemies of state through violence” (Derby 214). The Trujillo era ran from 1930 to 1961, and even though it has been fifty-four years since it has ended, the stain it left still cannot be removed from the Dominican Republic. Women still have to work harder to prove themselves in order to succeed in a place where everything is programmed for them not to.  For example, a woman’s job was said to be there for sex and have kids. “He passed one law allowing children to be disinherited and another one enabling divorce after five years of childless marriage.” (Derby 215). But why should someone have the right to get a divorce because there are no children involved in the marriage? Having kids is not what marriage is all about. Women shouldn’t be criticized or judged for the way they choose to live their lives, even if it’s as simple as the way they dress.  A woman should always have the right to choose who she wants to be intimate with. During the Trujillo era these privileges were taken away solely on the fact that they were women in a country ruled by men. 

          The book How the Garcia Girls Lost their Accent, written by Julia Alvarez in 1991, shows the first hand effects on how gender during the Trujillo era in Dominican Republic affected a family, mainly four sisters. Although the novel is fiction, it’s based on Alvarez's experiences in the Dominican Republic when she was a little girl during the Trujillo Era. The text is about a family, which consists of four sisters who are forced to leave the Dominican Republic because their father was against Trujillo’s dictatorship. The plot focuses on the Dominican attitudes towards women, and how close-minded people in the Dominican Republic were. For example, the book illustrates the double standards placed between males and females. Throughout the book, their uncle criticizes the four sisters. In one instance, he criticizes Sofia’s behavior and way of dressing. She was told to be more conservative because she was being too liberal for a woman (Alvarez 93). In addition, the book illustrates how disagreeing with Trujillo affected the Garcia family. Not only were they forced to move out of the Dominican Republic but also had to find a middle ground between the feminism in the United States and sexist Dominican culture favoring men.  

          Junot Diaz, the author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao gives many examples of how Rafael Trujillo behaved during his dictatorship. Although this novel is fiction, based on the research I have done on this topic, I found that many of the events Diaz depicts actually occurred. With his book and all the details that he provides, Diaz makes you feel what it would’ve been like to be living in the Dominican Republic when Rafael Trujillo was the dictator. For instance, Diaz uses exaggeration to describe Trujillo as “A portly sadistic, pig-eyed mulato who bleached his skin”(2). Trujillo did not like homosexual people and also had an obsession with women. Diaz writes, [He] Believed that all the toto in the DR was, literally, his. It’s a well-documented fact that in Trujillo’s DR if you were of a certain class and you put your cute daughter anywhere near El Jefe, within the week she’d be mamando his ripio like an old pro and there would be nothing you could do about it!”(217) In the novel, Trujillo tries to meet Abelard’s daughter Jacquelyn who had grown to be a beautiful young woman: “Adolescence had struck her with fury, transforming her into a young lady of great beauty” (216). Trujillo wanted to meet Jacquelyn in order for him to have sex with her like every woman he wanted in the Dominican Republic. In his book Diaz talks about Jacquelyn’s father, Abelard hiding her from Trujillo, and later explains through Oscar however since, the Fuku has cursed the family. According to Diaz, “Hiding your doe-eyed daughter from Trujillo, however, was anything but easy.” (217) Diaz uses “doe-eyed” to be more descriptive about Jacquelyn, showing that she is young and innocent, also comparing Trujillo to Sauron, the dark Lord from Lord of the Rings. The Trujillo era was filled with sexism; women were often viewed as an object more than anything else. 

          In conclusion women were viewed as inferior to men because of the lack of concern for a woman’s wellbeing. During this era women lost their rights and their voice in society. For those women who revolted against Trujillo, the result was death. According to G. Pope Atkins, "The brutal murder on Friday, 25 November 1960, of the three Mirabal sisters, Patria, María Teresa and Minerva, who opposed Trujillo's dictatorship, further increased discontent with his repressive rule." Which tells you that women weren’t able to fight against the way Rafael Trujillo ran the country, because as mentioned before, women were viewed more as an object. This prevented women from revolting against injustice because their opinion wasn't valued. Trujillo did everything in his power to shape the country in his own image, even if it meant degrading women along the way. The regime of Rafael Trujillo may have ended in 1961 but the impacts of his actions still affect the Dominican Republic today. Because of his lack of respect towards women, there’s still a double standard with how women and men are treated. According to Alejandra Baez, “Gender roles in the Dominican Republic designated males as the financial providers and the decision-makers, while the women are seen as the nurturers and caretakers of the home”. Even though, women were granted the right to vote in the Dominican Republic in 1942.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                    Works Cited 

Díaz, Junot. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. New York: Riverhead, 2007. Print.  

Alvarez, Julia. How the García Girls Lost Their Accents. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin of Chapel Hill, 1991. Print. 

Derby, Lauren H. "Latein American Popular Culture." (n.d.): n. pag.Www.sscnet.ucla.edu. Web. <http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/history/derby/breezley_latin_american_pop_cul...

 

"Gendered Cultural Norms in the Dominican Republic." Gendered Cultural Norms in the Dominican Republic. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Dec. 2015. <http://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/letters/gendered-cultural-norms-in-t...

 

"Rafael Trujillo." History.com. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.<http://www.history.com/topics/rafael-trujillo>.  

 

 

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