How does Flora Tristan reflect the superiority of women through the Camp Followers (ravanas) and the Women of Lima in her Utopian work?
Early since the beginning of her work, Flora Tristan quickly delves into the description of different groups of women within the Peruvian context, and by describing the different methods through which they challenge societal norms, she outlines how they demonstrate superiority over men. Tristan introduces her audience to the Camp Followers, who are Indian women called ravanas, and to the women of Lima, both of which have distinct characteristics, but both ultimately lead their reader to regard them as being superior to men as they challenge their surroundings.
The ravanas are early since the beginning attributed characteristics that are universally known to belong to men, and are thus portrayed as challengers of norms and ultimately as superior individuals. Tristan take an unusual approach to describe these women, she explains how they are the “provisioners in South America” (16). Accustomed to a patriarchal society, where men are the heads of households and the source of income, the readers are surprised to read such an extraordinary perspective of these women’s position; women in this case, and not men, are the engine that keeps the South American society running. Tristan continues to highlight how “they load the pots, the tents all the baggage ultimately, onto mules” (16), and how they “make their mules set off at a full trot, follow them on the run, climbing in this way the high mountains covered with snow, swimming across rivers, carrying one and sometimes two babies on their backs” (16). Tristan describes the women as carrying out duties that are commonly associated to males. Loading “pots,” “tents,” and “all the baggage” is a task which requires a significant amount of physical strength, and depicting women performing this suggests that men are absent in such laborious tasks. Tristan thus sets forth the image of an almost inhumane being, who “climbs” and “swims” and even carries babies in her back while doing so. More than that however, Tristan depicts them performing both tasks associated with males and females. Besides laborious work, they also have their maternal duties and carry their children. Hence, Tristan presents an uncommon image of a woman of extraordinary quality, who assumes responsibilities that are both within and without the common duties of her gender, and becomes thus a defier of standard societal norms, evidenced in how Tristan explains “they [ravanas] are creatures outside of society” (17). Displaying such an extraordinary set of qualities, the ravanas become naturally superior in the eyes of the reader.
Similarly, the women of Lima are portrayed as individuals that challenge society, but instead of only depicting superior qualities (like ravanas, who both perform tasks associated to males and also to their maternal duties), they also depict a superior lifestyle, free of the constraints that men endure. The women of Lima, Tristan explains, wear “a kind of sack called a manto that covers the shoulders, arms, and head” (27). She explains how this gives these women a sense of freedom, as when they go out in the streets they “are free and independent in the midst of the crowd, much more than the men, whose faces are uncovered” (31). Tristan presents the idea these women use their clothes in order to hide from the obligations that society presents; with their faces covered, they are incognito, and thus not obliged to act contrary to their real wants because of societal pressure. Having the face exposed reveals identity, which makes individuals act in accordance to how they want to be perceived. Because their identity is hidden however, women can act according to their natural instincts and drives, without jeopardizing external judgement of them. Tristan thus presents how they challenge society (by wearing their manto) and in doing so live without many of the constraints that men have. Tristan continues to explain how these women differ from European women who “from childhood are slaves to laws, values, customs, prejudices, styles, and everything else” (32). Tristan then suggests that Lima women in the contrary, are born free from what society states are the “laws,” “values,” “customs,” and all norms. By referring to them as “slaves,” Tristan paints European women’s position as something unfavorable, and the reader can also infer that men are also subject to all those norms. Hence, by describing how they wear their mantos, Tristan successfully outlines how these women challenge society, and live a superior, free, lifestyle as a consequence.
“I have neither received nor given unauthorizes assistance during the completion of this work.”
Tristan, Flora, and Doris H Beik. Utopian Feminist. Bloomington [u.a.]: Indiana Univ. Press, 1993. Print.