Who is in Control?: Power Struggles in the World of Love and Sex

They grappled near the edge of a dark chasm. They were both sure they would be the one left standing, and their lover, their lover would be laying at the bottom of that lightless chasm. They struggled further, and like out of some comic book, they spoke in grunts as they vied for better footing, an advantage over their opponent, on this springy ground. These lovers negotiated like the German and Russian leaders of times past, on how Poland would be divided amongst them. Would they stop grappling and speak peacefully to form some lover’s accord, or would they continue to openly fight for ultimate control, only one left standing in the end, on this bed? Power struggles between the sexes are a common theme in entertainment, including film, television, and literature. These struggles can be resolved in several ways, often based on real life relationships and situations. Writers often use what they know, what they have experienced in their own lives. In Sandra Cisneros’ “Never Marry a Mexican,” from the collection Woman Hollering Creek, Clemencia drops her lover’s wife’s toy into a creek as an act of spite. Cisneros, in an interview, speaks of how she had similarly taken a toy from her lover’s apartment and dropped it down a storm drain. Raising Victor Vargas is based on writer/director Peter Sollett’s life growing up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. These power struggles between the sexes exist between characters in both Raising Victor Vargas and in Woman Hollering Creek. In Raising Victor Vargas Melanie and Harold vie for power in their emerging relationship. In Cisneros’ “Never Marry a Mexican,” Clemencia struggles for power over her mother’s ghostly advice, never marry a Mexican, in her relationship with her lover, Drew. The power struggles in these two stories vary in how they are worked out or not worked out.

In an early scene in Sollett’s film, Melanie and Harold do not start off on the right foot. Harold and the eponymous Victor, egos on the line, try to act smooth and introduce themselves to Melanie and her best friend, “Juicy” Judy while at the community swimming pool. The girls do their best to show no interest in the boys, later claming to each other that they need no one else. These girls have to deal with boys their age, and men as well, both with no class, hitting on them, telling them the sexual acts they want to perform on them. There is a complete lack of respect for them as females. This is why Judy and Melanie feel they must stand fast when males approach and why Judy lies and says she has a man.

A later scene has Melanie and Harold talking in her bedroom and Harold trying to get what most young men want, sex. Melanie is dorky, but pretty. She wears glasses and her hair partially drops over the edges of her face. Harold, a bit stocky and also in glasses, tries his hand at sweet talking her, asking her to take off her glasses, so he can see how pretty she is. She responds with a comment about how they are not in Shakespeare. She tells him she will take off her glasses if he takes off his and so they both do. Quid quo pro. More flirting ensues, as she begins to warm up to him, but he pushes his luck and she says he has to go. He tells her, not before he to kiss her on the cheek, but sneaks one on her lips. She tells him he has to leave and when asked why, Melanie tells him he is her bitch. She acts like she is in charge and can tell him what to do. They push and shove each other playfully.

Spending more time together Harold asks if he can take off his shirt. He asks. He does not strip without permission. This shows respect for her. He asks if he can take off his pants. Then Melanie agrees to take off hers and they joke about the ducks on her underwear. They are both wearing no pants now, quid quo pro. The scene soon fades and it is impressed upon the audience that the two have had sex. They had both given up some power and control to get there. Harold gave up his ego and Melanie let down the wall she had up around her. It seems even young people lacking proper role models, from the ghettos of the inner city can successfully and amicably negotiate power in a relationship where they can treat each other as equals.

Cisneros’ story is much different. Clemencia has trouble truly finding herself in her relationship with her married lover Drew or with other men as well, the story seems to reveal. Her troubles likely began during her childhood. Her mother was a Chicana, born in the United States and had married a middle-class Mexican immigrant at a young age. Clemencia’s mother had told her never marry a Mexican. Clemencia’s father died, seemingly while she was still fairly young and she was incredibly upset, seeing him in the hospital in such a weakened condition, with death sitting on his chest. The reader does not know how young she was, but perhaps she lost her father too early, possibly evidenced in her later relationship with Drew. Before her father was even dead, her mother was seeing a white man who she later married, while also withdrawing into herself. Even though she was remarried, she did not seem happy. Did she suffer depression, a hereditary condition? After the remarrying of their mother, sisters, Clemencia and a divorced Ximena moved into a crumbling apartment in a barrio, seeking a romantic escape from where their family was headed, their white half brothers living in what should have been their house.

Drew was an older man, and Clemencia’s teacher. He was also her lover and perhaps a father figure. He did not treat her as an equal. He may have called her his doradita, his little golden one, but he also called her his Malinche and courtesan, not very endearing terms, not very respectful. They may have been lovers, but he did not need to refer to her as the indigenous traitor who had given Cortez the conqueror, the killer, the secrets of the indigenous land, even if she thought he looked like Cortez, with has blackest of beards. He laughed at her, the book says.

Clemencia does not seem to think much of herself. Her mother’s word haunted her. Clemencia is half Chicana, half Mexicana. Never marry a Mexican. She tells the reader that when Drew spoke to her in her language she felt as though she could be worth loving. He validated her and her language, because he was a white man in the United States, a representation of power, the dominant culture. To her, only he had the power in that relationship, to make her feel loved, and not as a piece of meat that men came to her house to sample, but never buy.

She mentions how she is useless with words when he is around. In that situation he is not trying to exercise his power, nonetheless, she gives him a power over her, losing her ability to speak, in essence her abilities to argue, to stand up for herself, to take control over her life, whatever hold she claims he has always had in her heart.

Upon meeting Drew’s wife, he stabs Clemencia with her name, “This is Megan.” Men always let her down. She was too romantic for marriage. She could never be loved as she loved others. This was her way of dealing with what she felt were her own inadequacies. She did not say she was not good enough for them, but the opposite, though with Drew, the one she cannot let go of, it is just the opposite.

There were very few times when Clemencia exercised power over Drew. When he would watch her “sleep” as he got dressed on the corner of the bed, she would look over and ask him, what is it? forcing him to stop stealing looks at what he called her beautiful brown skin.

In one passage, she claims that she created Drew and she remade him and that she could blow him to kingdom come. Clemencia claims people see him through her eyes, and says, if that is not power, she does not know what is. Though she knows Drew can take the blame or pass it on, Clemencia, during their final intimate encounter, tries to sabotage his marriage to what she sees as Drew’s quality red-haired Barbie Doll wife with skin that smells of milk and hand lotion.

With Drew’s son, she claims to hold great power. She feels she allowed him to happen and surely she is a god over him. She takes the son on as a student and as her new paramour, in a way, taking the son, very alike in appearance to his mother, from his mother. This is an attempt at control over Drew, Megan, and the power they represent as whites and as people who can maintain a relationship over man years, something she says she does not want, but is likely incapable of. Surely because she felt unworthy of ever being Drew’s wife, never marry a Mexican; she says she convinced Drew to let his wife have the baby. She told him not to leave his wife. If she felt worthy she would have convinced him otherwise. Clemencia is damaged goods. She has seen and done too much to believe she could be in a marriage, let a lone a happy one.

At the close of the story, she says she sees people on the street, who are all beautiful and she wants to strum them like guitars, perhaps to play them, to play people like they were instruments, to be in control of the sounds they make, of them. She also says she wants to reach out and stroke someone, telling them things will be all right. This looks like some vestige of the possibility of true caring and love in her heart. After all of this, she still really wants to love someone.

Power struggles in relationships between men and women and be negotiated or fought over in many ways. Above are only two examples of power plays. Many factors tie into the way humans interact with themselves and with their lovers. How one is raised, where one is raised, parents’ relationships and a plethora of other factors mold us as children and often what we see when we grow up is what we do when we are adults. Some can break those molds, molds that seem hereditary, genetic and inescapable. It is often said that a son will marry his mother and a daughter her father. Perhaps this has been a human condition for thousands of years and the stories of Oedipus and Elektra, are based not on real life events, but the ageless characteristics of human relationships. Literature has a lot to say about real life.