Ana Castillo

Ana Castillo

Monday, March 7, 2011

Excerpts From My Close Reading of "Women Don't Riot"

Although an avowed advocate of Xicanisma, committed to voicing the struggles of the silenced Chicana woman, Ana Castillo moves into a more global brand of feminist discourse in her poem “Women Don’t Riot,” written in 1998. “Women Don’t Riot” begins as a sort of international survey of largely unquestioned female oppression, mentioning the women “in manquilas in Malaysia, Mexico, or Korea,” as well as those “in sweatshops in New York or El Paso” (1-2). The flow of the poem is marked by unmodulated free verse, ebbing and flowing at Castillo’s command, almost hypnotic when read by Castillo herself.”


“Castillo builds up the ending of “Women Don’t Riot,” gaining momentum with her phrasing and word choice in the final stanza only to quickly withdraw, leaving the reader stunned and somewhat disheartened. The conclusion of the poem begins as a response to the penultimate stanza’s suggestion of a stop to women’s “endless misery” (44). Because instead of joining together, women will (and do) quietly “[take] the offense,/ rejection, [and] bureaucratic dismissal” characteristic of the institutionalized oppression they face (48-50). More than societal “rejection” and “bureaucratic dismissal[s]” though, Castillo reminds her reader of the real, day-to-day, violence, the “shove[s]” and “blow[s] to the head” that women routinely sustain and “won’t even scream” about (51-53). This movement from passive to active forms of brutality taken out against women, creates the tensional build-up that marks the final stanza. Castillo moves quickly, literally paring down the length of lines as she transitions from bureaucratic oppression to physical violence. However, just as the action reaches climax, as the unnamed oppressor holds “a knife at her throat,” Castillo finally offers her reader a reason for women’s inability to defend themselves (52). They have been inculcated in an ideology that prizes passivity in women, taught for generations to “be brought down as if by surprise,” to quietly accept systematized assault (55). Interestingly, Castillo moves from first-person narration back into the third-person in her assertion that women won’t fight back, perhaps suggesting that she, alongside those aforementioned enlightened university women, will defend themselves when necessary. Castillo removes herself from the “she” of the penultimate line, the girl who will “die like an ant passing beneath a heel” (56). This metaphor, which compares the average battered woman to an ant, furthers Castillo’s concept of the nameless multitude of women represented by the abuses in the poem. Castillo finishes the stanza with the chilling, “Today it was her. Next time who” (57). This line, while obviously disconcerting in its sentiment, is made more so, however subtly, by Castillo’s choice of final punctuation. Her decision to place a period, rather than a question mark, at the end of what reads as an interrogative sentence, articulates Castillo’s view that violence towards women has become more than an impending threat; it has become absolute reality. She is not asking whether or not a woman will be violated; she is asserting that all women face consistent violation, but are unable to unite because violence and oppression have become the standard.”

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