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The shrewdness of Mexican women

Maggie Van Ostrand

At the turn of the 20th century, a scandal erupted in Mexico City. It was called "The Famous 41," and occurred on November 17, 1901.

Police raided a private party on La Paz Street and arrested 41 men, half of whom were dressed as women. Talk about frilly frocks on burly frames, I've seen wounds dressed better than that. The event was considered nefarious then, but today, we'd just say, " ¡Caramba! A drag ball. Let's go."

Men dressing like women might have shocked Mexican society in those days, but not any more. At the turn of the 21st century, we fight for invitations to parties like that, parties with a little creative flair and lots of interesting people bejeweled and bedecked in feathery finery.

Ultimately, who can blame the minority of Mexican men, the ones who aren't out fighting bulls or their wives, driving a smoking taxi or a lopsided truck or farming their land with a hoe and a hacksaw, for wanting to be perceived as women or at least dressing like them?

The shrewd women of Mexico have run things since the beginning of time. Despite appearances to the contrary, Mexico is a matriarchal nation.

Only the shrewd women of Mexico could steward their families in such a subtle manner that the men remain totally unaware of who's really in charge. They believe they are. It's clever to let them think that. It's also expedient and painless. A Mexican woman's best-kept secret is how to get what she wants by making the man think it's what he wants.

Of the many lessons I've learned from my inspiring Mexican daughter-in-law, Keiko, my favorites are how to let a man think he's running the show, and how to pick the time to make your stand.

When they were buying a refrigerator for their new home and Keiko had her heart set on one specific model but her husband favored another one not much to her liking, she said nothing. They bought the one he chose. "Why didn't you insist on getting the one you wanted?" I asked, having been invited along for the family event.

She replied, "If it makes him happy to have that one, then I am content. A refrigerator is only a refrigerator."

On the other hand, when it comes to something that is important, she takes a stand so gentle and so filled with wit and humor, he believes he changed his mind on his own. Married to her, my son is a fulfilled and happy man, utterly convinced of his stewardship. It's okay to brag if it's the truth.

Keiko is as clever and shrewd as many other Mexican women, including Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a self-taught rebel nun known as "The Mexican Phoenix," who unleashed a storm of ecclesiastical condemnation with her scandalous poetry, and still ended up on today's 200 peso bill; President Porfirio Diaz' first wife, Delfina Ortega y Reyes, who carried a pistol of gold adorned with Mexico's symbolic snake and eagle and might've used it to convince Diaz to get out of town; and actress Dolores del Rio, who amassed a large fortune with her superior business acumen.

Balancing "The Famous 41," we have Frida Kahlo, who in her youth often dressed as a man without being arrested, and Amaranta Gómez (born Jorge Gómez) who campaigned in 2003 as Mexico's first transgender congressional candidate. She wasn't arrested either. Or elected.

What makes a man manly? It's not how he dresses, it's how well he listens to a woman.

Published or Updated on: July 1, 2005 by Maggie Van Ostrand © 2005
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