Female specific gender roles found in Central America, and many patriarchal societies, deter women from having freedom and reaching their full potential. Over generations, society has placed specific gender expectations for women. These expectations undermine them and don’t allow them to be equal to men. Gender roles have become social norms, which means that women are expected to live their lives a certain way. The only way to escape this trap, is for women to break these gender expectations. In my paper, I will do an in-depth analysis of the female specific gender roles that are found in the film La Yuma by Florence Jaugey. I will present how Yuma, the main character, faces setbacks due to her community placing certain gender expectations. However, she is able to prevail by breaking these gender expectations and creating her own happiness.
There is a string of societal norms and expectations that burden and trap Central American women. Gender expectations and roles rob Central American women of freedom of choice, control within their lives, and the chance to chase their dreams. Central American women endure the gender expectations, roles, and impositions given to them by their communities for generations. These gender roles force women to act and live their lives in a way that they have no control over. One without freedom and choice. Their life and destiny are chosen before they are even born and this cycle continues. Through the film La Yuma by Florence Jaugey, people witness how gender expectations serve as a string that tries to hold back Central American women and how they need to cut this string. La Yuma tells the story of a girl named Yuma, she lives in Nicaragua and is pursuing her dream of becoming a boxer; however, along this path she faces criticism and setbacks due to gender roles. These gender roles claim that women cannot and should not be boxers. She faces many challenges in many aspects of her life, which show her that she has to break these gender roles and expectations in order to overcome them. She will not allow gender roles to dictate her life. Female specific gender roles and obstacles found within a community can deter women from having freedom and reaching their full potential; therefore, women need to break these gender expectations and make sacrifices as shown in La Yuma in order to overcome the struggles they face and to have a better life.
Being a woman, contributes to Yuma facing criticism for pursuing her dream of becoming a boxer. Gender roles place boxing as something a man can do not a woman. Women are seen as weaker than men and they are perceived to be gentle, which means boxing is not for them. Yuma being a woman already means she should not try to be a boxer, but instead she should pursue a more appropriate career for a woman. In her community of Nicaragua, Yuma is told that women cannot be boxers and that she needs to stop pursuing her dream. In La Yuma, there is a scene, in which a group of guys she knows mock her for working in a clothing store and she responds by saying that she’s doing that job in order to pay for her boxing. Culebra, who Yuma has a relationship with, responds, “You’re still doing that craziness? When have you ever seen a woman boxing?”, (La Yuma 23:53-23:57). This shows the mindset Culebra and other people in her community have. They believe in gender specific roles and criticize Yuma for trying to not follow them. They mock her and discourage her for being a boxer and for the simple fact that she is a woman. In another scene, when Scarlet, who Yuma works for, finds out that Yuma is practicing boxing she says, “So girls are boxing now? What will we see next?”, (La Yuma 39:32-39:36). When Scarlet makes this comment, it is evident that some women also believe in gender roles and allow it to dictate their life. Instead of fighting against it, some women accept and follow the gender roles given to them by society, which can prevent them from having freedom and doing what they want. On the contrary, even though Yuma involuntary listens to these types of comments and mockery daily. She however, does not get discouraged and continues to follow her dreams. She does not allow gender expectations to define her, on the contrary, she realizes that she must break these gender roles in order to do what she wants and to have her own choice.
Yuma does not follow gender norm expectations, which would be allowing Culebra to control her life. Gender norms place men as the powerful and dominant of the two genders. Gender norms expect a woman to do what men want them to do. Culebra is a guy in Yuma’s neighborhood, whom she has a relationship with. Culebra is a part of a group of guys who use violence, are mischievous, and get themselves in trouble with the law. Yuma does not do whatever he tells her to do, neither does she follow in his path. One scene in La Yuma shows Culebra questioning Yuma about her whereabouts during the weekend. Yuma responds by saying, “Since when do I have to report to you?” Culebra says, “Since you became my women.” Yuma responds by saying, “Nobody owns me. I do whatever I want,” (La Yuma 46:49-46:55) This suggests that under gender norms, women require to tell men what they are doing instead of having the freedom to make their own choices. Culebra believes that Yuma is her possession because she is a woman. He even believes that by being a man he has the right to dictate her life. Additionally, under gender norms, since Yuma has a relationship with Culebra that means she must give up her freedom. However, Yuma breaks these gender expectations by being independent and not letting herself be treated like a possession. She lives her life the way she wants to.
Yuma is seen hugging her sister as she says, “I want to die”...
Yuma desires the idea of leaving Guatemala and moving to the United States. Yuma does not want to continue living in Nicaragua and wants to escape from the many struggles she faces there. She desires to escape from the financial problems, negative treatment from her family, poverty, and violence found in her hometown. She has hopes of having a better future for herself and not letting her circumstances deter her from what she wants. In La Yuma, there is a scene that shows Yuma and Ernesto, who is a guy Yuma has a romantic relationship with, at the beach. Ernesto mentions how his dad lives in Miami but he says he has no desires to leave his hometown; however, Yuma says that she would want to have that visa in order to leave Nicaragua. Yuma once again is breaking gender norms by wanting to leave. Under gender expectations, women are supposed to endure their life situations and not think of taking such a huge step. On the contrary, women are expected to stay in their hometown and deal with obstacles life throws at them rather than trying to overcome them. However, Yuma does not allow these gender expectations to take control of her life. She realizes that these gender expectations are a way to keep her trapped and prevent her from overcoming her struggles. Due to this, she takes her life into her own hands. Yuma symbolizes a powerful and independent woman who decided what to do with her own life.
Yuma realizes that at times it is necessary to let go of certain people in order to be happy. Yuma and Ernesto engage in a romantic relationship; however, due to a misunderstanding their relationship ended. Yuma did not chase after him to fix the problem instead she let him go. In the film La Yuma, Jaugey provides a scene that shows Ernesto confronting Yuma and accusing her for being responsible for the attack against him and his girlfriend; however, Yuma was not aware of the boys Culebra sent to hurt them. During the confrontation, Ernesto says to Yuma, “How many have you slept with for a watch or a backpack? …I’m going to wipe you out of my life because your worthless,” (La Yuma 1:01:23-1:01:41). After hearing this, Yuma does not chase after him to prove her innocence. This is an example of her breaking gender norms because it is accepted for a woman to chase after men and also to be dependent on them. Gender expectations suggest that Yuma should have started crying and chased after Ernesto in order to keep him by her side. It does not matter that the man insults her. She should have still stayed by his side and endured whatever he did to her because that’s how women should act under gender expectations. However, Yuma instead chose to break these gender expectations. She refuses to chase after someone who insults her and treats her badly. She did not try to prove her innocence because he was not worth giving an explanation to. By letting go of Ernesto, Yuma became stronger and more independent. Breaking gender expectations saved Yuma from someone who thought little of her, did not understand her, and did not care about her.
Yuma comes to the realization that she has to confront and stand up to her step-dad. Yuma lives with her mother, step-dad, two brothers, and one sister. Her step-dad stays home all day and does not help the family financially. Yuma’s mother neglects her children and does not care about them. She always protects Yuma’s step-dad whenever Yuma says anything negative about him. Due to this, Yuma becomes defensive; however, she endures the treatment she receives from them. Though, things change when she finds her step-dad trying to abuse her younger sister. In one scene of La Yuma, Yuma brakes the locked door of her house and finds her step-dad coming out of the same room Yuma’s sister was in. He comes out with a bat in his hand and then her younger sister runs out. He was abusing Yuma’s sister. Seeing this, Yuma punches her stepdad , (La Yuma 1:10:05-1:10:46). Yuma once again breaks gender expectations by standing up to a man and even hitting him. Gender expectations portray women as being submissive and not questioning the authority of men, rather than obeying them. It also sets standards such as women not being able to hit men even in cases of self-defense. Women hitting men is always seen as taboo and it is something unheard of. On the contrary, Yuma does what she thinks is best rather than what societal norms say she should do. She does not allow her stepdad to no longer insult her, mock her, and get away with abusing her sister.
Yuma no longer tolerates her mother’s treatment and places an end to being neglected by her. Yuma’s mother has never taken on a mother role. She fails to provide her children with love and protection. Her children have felt neglected and unloved. In La Yuma, Jaugey showcases a scene that shows Yuma taking her siblings to her friend’s house after she found out her step-dad abuses her younger sister. Knowing this, her mother goes there and tells Yuma to send her siblings back home. Yuma responds by saying that her siblings will stay with her because they will be safer with her. Her mother says, “Don’t talk back to me! I’m your mother too.” To this Yuma responds by saying, “I’m not a child anymore,” (La Yuma 1:12:26-1:12:28). Under gender expectations, Yuma should not have talked back to her mother; she should have instead agreed with her. Socially, it is known for daughters to listen to their mother even though their mother could be wrong. They also are not allowed to talk back to them. However, Yuma has grown up developing into an independent woman who no longer cares how she should behave. She confronts her mother for all the pain she had caused for her and her siblings. In this process she is able to feel less defensive. She has taken control of her life and overcame the family struggles she faced, which causes her so much pain. She makes a sacrifice by deciding to take the responsibility of taking care of her siblings. She struggles to financially provide for all of them on her own. However, she makes this sacrifice because she knows it is the right thing to do. This is the way to overcome her family problems, ensure the safety of her siblings, and to start a new and better life for all of them. She is going to be the mother, her mother failed to be.
Yuma becomes a mother figure for her siblings. Yuma and her siblings do not receive love, attention, or care from their mother. She is never there when her children need her and she does not provide them with protection. Instead she protects the man living with them, who treats her children badly, insults them, and abuses them. Their mother fails to be a mother. Therefore, Yuma takes a mother figure for her siblings. She is the one who makes sure they are sleeping, are safe, and go to school. She protects her younger sister from her step-dad. Yuma saves herself and her siblings from her mother and her stepdad. In La Yuma, there is a scene where Yuma comforts her younger sister as there are sexual noises coming from her mother’s bedroom. Yuma is seen hugging her sister as she says, “I want to die,” (La Yuma 51:43-51:48). This shows how much Yuma cares for her siblings and is by their side when they need her. She ensures them that they are not alone and everything will be fine. She symbolizes a sense of hope and a better future for her siblings. By taking on this mother figure, Yuma is making a sacrifice. It means that she has to take on more responsibilities and put their needs ahead of hers. However, Yuma does this without complaint. Through her love for her siblings and the mother role she took, she is able to stand up to her parents and stop all those years of negative treatment they received from them.
Yuma places her boxing dream on hold in order to protect her siblings. After deciding to take care of her siblings on her own, Yuma needs more money in order to provide for all of them. In La Yuma, there is a scene in which Yuma decides to take a job in the circus, which includes being a part of a boxing number for women. She decides to take this job in order to be able to take care of herself and her siblings; however, this meant that she had to place a hold on her dream of being a boxer. She now had to focus on taking care of her siblings instead of her boxing career. By making this sacrifice, Yuma is able to get a fresh start. Gender expectations and her family problems can no longer hold her back. Her life experience and this sacrifice she made, helped her grow into an adult. She now is a responsible, independent, and powerful women.
Yuma endures the gender expectations of her community and the many struggles she faced in her life. This could have had a positive or negative effect on her. In Yuma’s case, it had a positive effect. By breaking these gender expectations, she can reach a state of freedom and to overcome the struggles she faced. She creates a better life for her and her siblings. She did not allow gender expectations and her struggles to consume her. On the contrary, she fought against these forces and came out being a much stronger woman. People cannot allow gender expectations placed by society overpower them and trap them. They need to have the strength and courage to break these social norms like Yuma did. The struggles people face in their lives can sometimes make them into a better person and help them overcome their struggles.
Jaugey, Florence, director. La Yuma. Ivania Films, 2009. www.amazon.com/LaYuma/dp/B007KDA334.
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