Pilar Quintana’s short stories proclaim the arrival of a contemporary Little Red Riding Hood capable of devouring the wolf. As readers, and particularly as women, we begin a little apprehensively, maybe even skeptically, as we look to the text to see just how true this declaration might be. We find that up to a certain point we may agree: some Little Red Riding Hoods do attempt to control and partake of their wolves. However, we also find that our skepticism is not unfounded, that reality might not be quite as easily broken as we might hope. There are still a lot of Little Red Riding Hoods who are instead themselves eaten by wolves. Where is the seat of this lupine supremacy? The answer, it turns out, is self-evident. Their power stems from their male status and the support of patriarchal norms that offer possession and control over female bodies and sexualities. Thus, the way in which these wolves dominate, abuse, and violate women is normalized. Quintana’s stories open up the possibility of corroborating these observations, particularly in the face of conservative detractors who would defend our hierarchical, patriarchal society and write off the concerns of women as over-the-top female hysteria.
I would like at this point to make clear that the patriarchy to which I refer is a structure of domination in which male subjects appropriate female bodies and their productive and reproductive forces. One tangible example of this can be found within the context of narco-patriarchies. Quintana’s story “El hueco” exposes how the narco-patriarchy operates, including its arbitrary methods of domination and the broad reach of its violence against women and other subjugated individuals. Although the narrative makes no mention of a specific geographical or temporal setting, I will exercise my license as a reader to situate the story in Colombia during the 1980s, a period during which the narcos took control of the Colombian economy and several sectors of national society.
The connection between narcos and wolves lies not only in their shared cold-eyed cunning but also in their modes of organization. Narcos and canis lupus alike group themselves under alpha leaders, heads of a hierarchical order who demand special privileges and the submission of other members of their circle. In Colombia, these wolves emerged from the margins of society and established a more-or-less authoritarian order that brought the state literally to its knees. At the same time, the narcos promised a lavish, bacchanalian lifestyle that proved attractive to many. The capos imposed a feminine beauty standard that fit their own personal preferences, a corporal aesthetic dictating that women should have voluptuous figures with wide hips and large breasts, often shaped in operating rooms, as is documented in narco-telenovelas and series that are broadcast nonstop on networks throughout Colombia. This aesthetic has crystallized in our national psyche and is still present today.
Not only did the capos devour Little Red Riding Hoods, they also commodified them and turned them into just more property to own. The narcos used women to show off their purchasing power, as they did with their cars, planes, horses, and other extravagant items. In “El hueco,” Mariángela is typical of these Little Red Riding Hoods whose bodies were possessed by the narcos. The narrator tells us that Mariángela “was a girl from the barrio. One of the many that Víctor bought with jewels, with clothes, or even more directly with cash. […] Mariángela was nobody. But she had a nice ass” (Quintana, 13). This last phrase, though commonplace, comes as a shock and indicates that the narrator, subordinate to Víctor, reproduces the narco practice of objectifying women. He denies Mariángela’s identity and uses a body part as synecdoche for her entire being. For him, this is her most valuable attribute.
Meanwhile, Víctor is symbolic of the narco-patriarchal order. The narrator tells us, “He had so many properties in so many cities that not even he knew how many there were. He had a ranch [that…] in a fit of ostentation he named Víctor Country and, in fact, the only laws in force there were his own.” (12). This narco is primarily characterized by his property, his delusions of grandeur, and his desire to “play God.” Víctor reserves the right to punish Mariángela and the narrator for the sin of having sex with each other. He unabashedly orders the narrator’s testicles cut off and Mariángela’s eyes removed. Thus, Víctor exerts his violent power and control over the bodies of subjects who run afoul of the rules of his narco-patriarchy. Specifically, he punishes Mariángela’s infidelity, but more so the fact that she has made her own decisions about her erotic desire, which in Víctor’s mind no longer belongs to her but rather is just one more item in Víctor’s storehouse. The woman’s eyes are destroyed in order to foreclose on the possibility that she will consume other men, even if only with her gaze.
The narrator is castrated in order to punish his disloyalty and his audacity for accessing Mariángela’s body, exclusive property of their boss. In this way, Quintana suggests that, in the narco mentality, betrayal is considered a feminine trait. Thus, the masculine subject who commits such a crime is feminized and punished with a form of sexual violence that emasculates him, in the case of the narrator. Unsatisfied with these punishments, Víctor imprisons the offenders in “the hole.” There, the characters are animalized—left outdoors and fed on scraps. Mariángela identifies the situation as like “a supplemental torture” (12). The setting is reminiscent of detention and torture cells run by totalitarian regimes. Such regimes present another modality of patriarchy—the military court—in which men are also feminized and women are punished for insubordination, which is considered a betrayal of the established order.
This analogy leads me to another of Quintana’s stories: “Una segunda oportunidad.” We bear witness as a police officer named Martínez tells, in first person, the story of how her romantic partner Donaldo resorts to domestic violence in order to punish her infidelity. We see in this story how Quintana again points to the betrayal-punishment dyad and presents a masculine subject acting as judge. Sexual violation is the corrective instrument utilized by Donaldo, which raises the question of why this method of punishment is used and highlights the absence of punishment for masculine subjects who commit the same type of offense. In fact, Martínez notes that the man with whom she had an affair is not going to tell his wife to avoid putting their marriage at risk. Thus, the story makes it clear that men are the ones who define norms of fidelity and gender within monogamous relationships. Beneath this dynamic also lies the idea that adultery is an option for men but a crime for women.
The fact that Donaldo commits rape as a corrective instrument is not new. In the historical continuum of patriarchal domination, rape has been the most effective weapon for punishing and subjugating women. The discovery of the phallus as a weapon to instill fear and subsequently to control female subjects constitutes, along with the discovery of fire, one of the most significant developments of prehistory. It is a distinct possibility that rape has been the driving force in instituting the patriarchy and the establishment of hierarchies that favor the idea of women as private property and other related frameworks that define interactions between men and women up to the present day (Brownmiller, 14-18). Because of this, when rape and other sexual violences occur in relationships of cohabitation or marriage, such acts become minimized, even nebulous. Likewise, another contributor to this haziness is the imposition of the patriarchal order that appoints a man as the exclusive owner of a woman and her sexual rights. Thus, when a woman consents to give access to her body to a subject other than her husband, she violates the pact of monogamy. At the same time, her partner, in his own mind, justifies his violence in punishing her, as he believes he is claiming his rights and affirming his position of power. It is in the name of these patriarchal principals that men brutalize their female partners within the intimacy of the home.
In the story, Martínez is portrayed as a woman who is simultaneously desired and hated. She is desired in the sense that her partner chose her and marked her as his possession. On the other hand, she is hated because after her infidelity, this mark of exclusivity and possession becomes altered as the private property it is meant to protect loses its value. Thus, rape affirms the loss of her body’s value and the possibility of accessing it through violence. Rape as a signifier, moreover, represents an invasion of female bodies and choices. As such, rape is used to demonstrate male strength and to display a power that women do not and will never be able to access due to anatomy and social understanding.
This unequal physicality is precisely the reason for women’s acute fear of rape. In fact, Martínez describes exactly this when she says, “I was afraid of him and tried to put distance between us. He cut me off at the door and, when I tried to get away, he grabbed my neck. I tried to break free with a self-defense technique but he didn’t loosen his grip even a little bit. Donaldo is strong and I, I’m an embarrassment to the police” (Quintana, 40). It is clear that the narrator finds herself unable to avoid her rape because of what she feels is a disadvantage in physical strength. She also undervalues herself by thinking that this disadvantage means she doesn’t deserve her place on the police force. It must be noted that the norms of feminine performance also instill the idea that masculine subjects are more physically powerful. As a result, women conclude that through a kind of biological determinism they must therefore be in a position of disadvantage or defenselessness—an idea that facilitates male violence toward or access to women’s bodies, as Martínez experiences.
Toward the end of the story, Martínez drinks a potion that magically turns back time and returns her to the beginning of her narrative, a moment before the violent episode with her partner. The magic allows her to remove the memory of her infidelity from his mind. Thus, she symbolically returns to the past and undoes her offense in order to avoid being punished and abandoned. With this ending, Quintana makes us question whether the story really happened or if it was just fantasy about the possibility of an affair and its potential consequences that Martínez has dreamed up. Here, the author demonstrates the way some women sometimes prefer to submit to patriarchal norms in order to avoid punishment and violence. There is, of course, another possible interpretation: that the infidelity did in fact occur and that Martínez, along with her lover, decided to forget the matter in order to continue their relationship.
At this point I would like to highlight the masterful and candid way that Quintana, within the confines of short fiction, is able to encapsulate stories that expose the violent consequences faced by women who courageously challenge patriarchal norms. She pulls back a curtain that reveals the personal characteristics and dynamics of patriarchal hierarchies and their strategies of control over female bodies and those of other subaltern subjects within everyday places like the home and other private spaces, such as those used by narcos. These stories expose how violence, and especially sexual violence, is used as a punitive instrument for the maintenance and reinforcement of patriarchal norms. In doing so, Quintana shows us that, although some Little Red Riding Hoods do devour their wolves, the wolves never really give up their fight for control of the woods.
Translated by Will Morningstar
Brownmiller, Susan. Against Our Will. Men, Women, and Rape. New York: Fawcett Books, 1993.
Quintana, Pilar. Caperucita se come al lobo. Barcelona: Literatura Random House, 2021.