I’ve been spending a lot of time with Sandra Cisneros’s work lately. Last week my Master’s program discussed her short story collection, Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories. Overall the stories are captivating, unique, and spiced with Latinx–particularly Chicana–charm and passion. “Woman Hollering Creek” and “Never Marry a Mexican” depict striking moments of female empowerment, but “Remember the Alamo” has stuck in my mind. Given the timing, I think it’s fitting that I write about Cisneros for this “Writers on Writing”.
I’ve chosen a quote by Cisneros which hearkens back to Virginia Woolf:
For a writer, for the solitude to write, you don’t need a room of your own, you need a house.
She has many quotes on writing, her early life, culture, etc., that are worth reading. You can find several on BrainyQuote. I picked this quote because I find her expansion on Woolf’s original comment to be thought-provoking.
As I discussed in a previous “Writers on Writing”, Woolf’s comment originally applied to effects that women’s duties and financial/legal dependence on their husbands have on their writing. Cisneros may also be referring to female writers, particularly those from cultures similar to hers, given the subjects of several of her stories.
Honestly, I don’t think there’s much “may” about it. Many of her works highlight the oppression and discouragement of speech towards women in Mexican cultures. It’s been the subject of several academic essays, including Jacqueline Doyle’s “Haunting the Borderlands: La Llorana in Sandra Cisneros’s ‘Woman Hollering Creek'” (which is available to read on JSTOR).
Cisneros’s suggestion about needing a house of one’s own to right is not too different from Woolf’s original comment. Rather, it’s an extension. Cisneros is implying that it’s not enough for female writers to just have a room of their own. Instead, they must have their own entire house, they must be in charge of their entire households.
I can’t disagree with this extension, especially after reading Cisneros’s stories. A woman can have a room that appears to be her own in the house but, in reality, it’s a ruse. If she does not have a house of her own, one which she can at least claim as much rule over as her partner (particularly a husband), even “her” room is not truly her own. Therefore, to have only a room of her own is not enough freedom and independence–spatially, financially, emotionally–for a female writer to reach her potential.
I also explained that while Woolf’s initial intent still rings true today, the sentiment can be expanded to include all writers. With this interpretation in mind, Cisneros’s words suggest that all writers need an incredible amount of space, seclusion, and independence.
This idea is one with which writers have wrestled for a long time. How much space is enough space? How much independence do we need to write?
All writers need a space where they can retreat and write without interruption. It can be a room, an office, a rented house. We’re all different and so we all need different zones of personal space to get work done. In regards to space, then, Cisneros’s words could be true or false depending on the individual writer.
The financial aspect, however, is not such an easy or pleasant answer.
Unfortunately, society’s views on writers and their financial independence can vary based on many things, including age, race, and, yes, gender. My post on #ThingsWomenWritersHear revealed that female writers still hear such comments as “oh, aren’t you lucky that your husband supports you so you can write” (even if they don’t have husbands). It’s assumed that female writers have to–or just do–rely on their husbands for money while they write. However, they need financial independence so that they avoid being scrutiny for being a “bad” wife and/or mother for focusing on their writing. That’s without mentioning that many, many female writers just don’t have husbands and support themselves anyway. A dependence on a husband, partner, parents, or even a day job financially can detract from writing time, and so tremendous financial independence is necessary for a female writer to succeed in actuality and under societal criticism.
There’s another side to this coin for male writers. Men are still seen as the breadwinners, no matter what their situation actually is. If anyone finds out that they don’t make much money or contribute the most financially to their families, the men are ridiculed. Writing, quite truthfully, is not seen as a high-earning job. The resulting income is unreliable at best. If a male writer with a family focuses on his writing, he will be considered selfish for not bringing home more for his family or weak because his wife or partner provides the primary income. They’re considered failures. Financial independence–i.e. a bachelor life in which no one depends on them and they don’t depend on anyone–appears to be the only solution.
I realize that this post has presented society as horrible and writing as a lonely career path. The sad thing is that such scenarios cannot only happen but are common. Complete financial independence seems to be the only way for anyone to write without distraction, judgment, or societal restraints. (That last way probably still isn’t true as negative stereotypes and expectations follow us so long as we are who we are and society remains the way that it is.) However, I don’t think that you should walk away from this post in total despair.
A “house of one’s own” is not necessarily a physical house that you control, alone space, or even complete financial independence. Instead, it is a state of life in which you feel free, confident, independent, and supported. It can be a house out in the suburbs with a white fence and a nuclear family, only the husband and wife run the household and their lives together and support each other’s ventures. It can be an apartment in the middle of an overpopulated city where a single woman writers with student loans still looming over her but a secure job with flexible hours and parents who live nearby and will always support her and help her no matter what. It can even be a mobile tiny house parked in a field, the owner a writer who writes all day, is debt-free, and whose only family are pets and friends. A “house of one’s own” is the perfect set of circumstances, whatever those may be for you. It is wherever and whenever you can write without life, burdens, and societal expectations weighing you down.
I doubt that Cisneros and Woolf intended anyone to have this interpretation. But hey, so long as it gets us writing, does it really matter?
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