Feminist Prophecy: A Hypothetical Look into Gloria Anzaldúa’s “La Conciencia de la Mestiza: Towards a New Consciousness” and Sara Ruddick’s “Maternal Thinking”

Joshua Alma Enslen
University of Georgia

And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. (Exodus 15.20)

In this paper, I will explore the use of “prophecy” in two distinct and influential critical feminist texts: Gloria Anzaldúa’s “La Conciencia de la Mestiza: Towards a New Consciousness” and Sara Ruddick’s “Maternal Thinking.” Anzaldúa’s essay, drawing on the Jose Vasconcelos idea of la raza cósmica, seeks to create a unity among mestizas in order to reconcile the fragmented nature of a “racial, ideological, cultural, and biological cross-pollinization (sic)” (179). Specifically, Anzaldúa’s text proposes how the mestiza can transcend the resulting many-sided dualities of this existence. Likewise, although dealing less with the issue of cultural identity and more with the “sexual inequalities of power and privilege,” (361) Ruddick’s essay attempts to propose a way to go beyond the traditional mother/father duality by creating “mothers of both sexes” through the practice of maternal thinking (362). Whether it be principally along cultural lines in the case of Anzaldúa, or the more condensed sociological in the case of Ruddick, each of these texts identifies a specific oppressed group, outlines the major problems facing it, and proposes a solution in hopes of consolidating the group’s socio-political and cultural power. What results is a complex web of prophecy and myth, merged with history through images of chaos and reconciliation, and the resulting bigenderization of the texts, all inextricably linked with and authorized by the rhetoric of prophecy.

By bringing into question the (mis)representation of minorities and differences, Audre Lorde, in “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,”contends that feminist theorists must “descend into the chaos of knowledge and return with true visions of our future, along with the concomitant power to affect those changes which can bring that future into being” (26). She argues that these “true visions” are necessary in order to plot a course of non-dominant interdependence where otherwise “there are no charters” (26). Yet, Norma Alarcón, in her critique “The Theoretical Subject(s) of This Bridge Called My Back and Anglo-American Feminism,” explains the primary difficulty of such a project where there is no anterior precedent.

To be oppressed means to be disenabled not only from grasping an “identity,” but also from reclaiming it… to grasp or reclaim an identity means always already to have become a subject of consciousness. The theory of the subject of consciousness as a unitary synthesizing agent of knowledge is always already a posture of domination. (411)

This paradox – needing to be a subject in order to speak and needing to speak in order to be a subject – leads Anzaldúa and Ruddick to seek voices that emanate from outside this impossibility. Thus, the relationship between chaos and vision describes the locus of the paradox for these oppressed groups, mothers and mestizas. Yet, it also provides the impetus for their transcendence. In the dark recesses of these particular feminist discourses, in the conflict between the personal and the political, the chronological and the psychological, prophecies emerge distilled from the melancholy residuals of the past. They emerge as hope resting on the other shore. It is a shore, these texts propose, which despite having only rarely if ever been envisaged in the past, may still one day be.

Prima facie, it appears that prophecy is the first in the process of three distinct movements that together create the discursive power of these texts. First, prophecy generates a position upon which a myth can be subsequently constructed. This myth, once being constructed and then interpreted by society, gives these texts their political organization. In other words: the texts prophesy, the prophecy mythicizes, and the myth politicizes. Prophecy is in its most basic form a predictive utterance. It is causal. It states that if a then b; however, the difficulty of prophecy is not in its causality or in this equation at face value, but rather in the bracketed source of its logic: [absolute knowledge]. Prophecy claims its authority from sources that lay outside of the tangible (divination, revelation, vision, et al). As Enrico Mario Santí put it in the introduction to Pablo Neruda: the poetics of prophecy:

…broadly understood, the term prophecy describes not simply the predictive posture that one normally associates with the figure of the biblical prophet, but the more general and less specialized figure of the poet in the act of articulating significant and sometimes absolute knowledge. (14-15)

Prophecy as an “overpowering external discourse,” (16) as Santí would go on further to describe it, is a violent production of meaning. Incipiently tautological, prophecy knows what it knows because it knows it. It is circular and it is hermetically sealed.

Following Gayatri Spivak’s logic of strategic essentialism, I propose that prophecy creates a “provisional and polemical” rhetorical position that is “necessary in order to take a stand” (Spivak 77). Thus, if I may modify Santí slightly, prophecy as it pertains to our analysis is not actually “the act of articulating significant and sometimes absolute knowledge,” (15) but it is rather the act of articulating a strategically essentialist position that poses provisionally and polemically as absolute knowledge in order to give place to the mythical and subsequently cultural and socio-political constructs of these texts.

In this way, the prophetic causality of if a then b may acquire the element c, the because of myth. Or rather, prophecy and myth share the following relationship: if then b, because of c. Roberto González Echevarría, in the article “Cien Años de Soledad: the Novel as Myth and Archive” states that “myths are stories whose main concern is with origins” (359). These stories of origins play a significant role in the development of group identity. Within society, myths become symbols or beliefs that bring people together into communities. They are reductive and as such, they are powerful. Echevarría states:

…the novel, having no fixed form of its own, assumes that of a given document endowed with truth bearing power by society at specific moments in history… The power to endow the text with the capacity to bear the truth is shown to lie outside the text; it is an exogenous agent that bestows authority upon a certain kind of document owing to the ideological structure of the period. (360)

Thus, according to Echevarría, the novel gains its power in society because it resembles a truth-bearing document. And likewise, Anzaldúa’s and Ruddick’s essays gain power not by assuming the form of a specific document, but rather the form of a specific discourse “owing to the ideological structure” (Echevarría 360) of cultural beliefs exogenous to the text, beliefs that are vested in the image of the prophet, beliefs that evoke our faith. It is exactly this image, one with the potential to emerge from the beyond with “absolute knowledge,” which Lorde suggests when she states one must: “…reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives there. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices” (28).

As prophecies these texts propose to have tapped into the knowledge that rests in the deep personal, political, and ideological currents of Western society. This movement potentiates their authority. According to Teresa de Lauretis in “The Violence of Rhetoric,” this space created by Lorde’s descent into chaos is a principal element of constructing the gender of a mythical text. This movement is explicitly masculine. The mythical subject, after having descended into the dark, emerges possessing the illuminated feminine object of its design: knowledge.

In the mythical text, then, the hero must be male regardless of the gender of the character, because the obstacle, whatever its personification is (sphinx or dragon, sorceress or villain), is morphologically female – and, indeed, simply the womb the earth the space of his movement. As he crosses the boundary and “penetrates” the other space, the mythical subject is constructed as human being and as male; he is the active principle of culture, the establisher of distinction, the creator of differences. Female is what is not susceptible to transformation, to life or death she (it) is an element of plot-space, a topos, a resistance, matrix and matter. (251)

By descending into this chaos andretrieving knowledge, these texts’ mythical identities become “constructed as human being and as male” (de Lauretis 251). The texts pose as the hero of the myth dominating an “absolute knowledge” to be shared with society. Conversely, the knowledge retrieved is feminine; it is “not susceptible to transformation, to life or death” (de Lauretis 251). It is fixed

Almost every sentence of “La Conciencia de la Mestiza: Towards a New Consciousness,” first published in Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza in 1987,contains some element of prophecy. It is extremely literary in style possessing a tangible lyrical quality. It also has a distinct politico-cultural focus, that of creating a new identity for the mestiza. In this analysis, I will focus on one specific element of the text, its duality. Keeping in mind the previous quote from de Lauretis, a curious relationship emerges between the decisively feminine voice of the narrator and the decisively masculine position of the narration. The narrator of the text is without question female. From the first page, the text states: “I, a mestiza” (178). By speaking in the first person “I” – an “I” that is a female, a mestiza – the narrator defines her gender. This femininity of the narrator contrasts with the masculinity of the narration. The rhetoric of the text emanates from a decisively masculine position, a prophetic position of knowing and of possessing knowledge. The narration descends to retrieve a vision and returns with the absolute knowledge that “en unas poucas centurias, the future will belong to the mestiza” (181). The narration in this way is cast as the “hero” having “cross[ed] the boundary” to the unknown and retrieved from there an absolute knowledge of the future (de Lauretis 251). Consequently, the narrator as mestiza is filled with this knowledge and her consciousness is mythicized by it. She is possessed by it. “I am possessed by a vision: that we Chicanas and Chicanos have taken back or uncovered our true faces, our dignity and self-respect. It’s a validation vision…Seeing the Chicana anew in the light of her history” (Anzaldúa 186).

This vision articulates a myth, the myth of the new mestiza consciousness. The narrator is the medium through which the voice of the narration, bearing this knowledge from the beyond, is heard. “She reinterprets history and, using new symbols, she shapes new myths” (Anzaldúa 183). In this way, the relationship between the prophecy and the myth emerges: If then b, because of c. If the mestiza can heal “the split that lies in the very foundation of our lives, our culture, our languages, our thoughts” then “en unas poucas centurias, the future will belong to the mestiza” because “la mestiza creates a new consciousness” that will change “the way we perceive reality, the way we see ourselves, and the ways we behave” (Anzaldúa 181).

Just as the dual character of masculine and feminine is a vital quality in the narration, in the myth, the new mestiza consciousness posits the implications of its own duality. The mestiza, “being tricultural, monolingual, bilingual, multilingual,” is “torn between ways” and the new mestiza can only cope “by developing a tolerance for contradictions, a tolerance for ambiguity” (179-181). The new mestiza, by refusing to be labeled by a single cultural or racial heritage, “turns the ambivalence into something else” (181). This something else, the text contends, is “a third element which is greater than the sum of its severed parts” (181). The text itself, by refusing to be easily identified with the masculine or the feminine, becomes a product of this same new mythical consciousness. It engages in the break down of paradigms. Its duality gives it an otherly quality, existing outside of the binary.

In “La Conciencia de la Mestiza,” the new mythos which is the “straddling of two or more cultures” (181) combined with the text or rather with the logosdemonstrates a functional duality much like the third element proposed by the text. This duality of mythos and logos, existing between a feminine narrator and masculine narration, forms a new mythology. Mediating the spaces between the masculine and feminine among many other subject-object dualities, “La Conciencia de la Mestiza” establishes its explicit politico-cultural organization. This new mythology emerges from the text possessing the provisional and polemical knowledge to show at least “through the images of her work” if not actually “in the flesh…how duality is transcended” (181).

In a similar attempt to transcend duality through prophecy and myth, Sara Ruddick’s “Maternal Thinking” (1980) seeks to imagine its own vision of the future and likewise form its own mythology. This mythology is an attempt to combine into a subjectified whole of the mother “the passions of maternity [that] are so sudden, intense and confusing” with the “thought that has developed from our mothering” (342). In the darkness of this discourse manifested as the personal and the historical, the narrator in “Maternal Thinking” formulates a prophetic position. According to the text, between historical misogyny and the resulting psychological trauma resides the primordial material needed to articulate a vision of power.

It is difficult when writing about motherhood – or experiencing it – to be balanced about both its grim and its satisfying aspects…We must bear these memories in mind if we are to understand that neither the world’s misogyny nor our own related psychic dramas have totally prevented us from acquiring an image of benign maternal power. (345)

In the same way that Anzaldúa’s text presents a “vision…in the light of her history” (Anzaldúa 186), Ruddick’s text renders an “image” of the future by understanding “memories.” It is an image of power, the power to “…reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing” (Lorde 28) related to misogyny while at the same time synthesizing the psychological trauma. This synthesis becomes “maternal power.” In order to possess this power, the mother must become “the active principle of culture, the establisher of distinction, the creator of differences” and in this way she becomes a masculine mythical subject (de Lauretis 251).

Analogous with Anzaldúa’s mestiza, who is wholly possessed by the narration while at the same time possessing the knowledge of it, the mother of “Maternal Thinking” also possesses and is possessed by her own knowledge. Ruddick states: “Cultural myths and our own dreams tell of us (sic) a connection we would wish to make with a mother who is socially as well as personally powerful” (345). In this manner, there emerge two mothers within the narration: one masculine and the other feminine. On the one hand, there is the possessor. She is the masculine mythical subject that formulates a vision of “maternal power.” On the other hand, there is the mother that is the body through which this vision arrives. She is the space through which the prophecy is mediated. Within the socially powerful and prophetic one, resides the myths and dreams of the other.

This dual mother, masculine and feminine, envisions an apocalyptic day characterized by the practice of maternal thinking by all. In this prophecy, another duality, this time not actually masculine and feminine but rather male and female, is formulated as a result of maternal thinking.

On that day, there will be no more “Fathers,” no more people of either sex who have power over their children’s lives and moral authority in their children’s world, though they do not do the work of attentive love. There will be mothers of both sexes who live out a transformed maternal thought in communities that share parental care –practically, emotionally, economically, and socially. Such communities will have learned from their mothers how to value children’s lives. (362)

Here, the duality of the narration, masculine and feminine, echoes the duality of the prophecy, male and female: “mothers of both sexes.” This new duality reveals that there are now not only two categories of mothers in the narration, but three. First, there is the mythical mother that will teach the others “how to value children’s lives” (362). This mythical mother has authority over the others owning the knowledge that will grant them the status of maternal thinkers. S/he possesses the power to assimilate the other two subjects. These two are the “mothers of both sexes,” one male and one female (362). They will learn from the mythical mother this “transformed maternal thought” and, in this way, maternal thinking like the new mestiza consciousness, turns the duality into “a third element which is greater than the sum of its severed parts” (Anzaldúa 181).

This prophecy of the extinguishment of fathers and the forthcoming abundance of maternal thinkers of both sexes, is clearly characterized by an if a then bcausality. If “communities will have learned from their mothers how to value children’s lives” then “there will be mothers of both sexes who live out a transformed maternal thought” (362). This “transformed maternal thought” that “include[s] men equally in every aspect of maternal care” is proposed to be able to demolish unwanted social hierarchies of the patriarchal system (360). Within the space of this vision the myth of maternal thinking takes shape expressed in the following manner:

Maternal practice responds to the historical reality of a biological child in a particular social world. The agents of maternal practice, acting in response to the demands of their children, acquire a conceptual scheme – a vocabulary and logic of connections – through which they order and express the facts and values of their practice… Intellectual activities are distinguishable, but not separable from disciplines of feeling. There is a unity of reflection, judgment and emotion. It is this unity I call maternal thinking. (348)

As a myth, maternal thinking is a construct of intellect and feeling that, according to the text, is derived from the historical reality of responsive child care (348). It is constructed as a form of higher thought rearticulating the Janus-like faces of motherhood: passion and thought. To the prophecy we can add the because of the myth: maternal thinking. This reflective, judgmental, and emotional practice possesses the power to reorganize society.

Once the prophecy has created this space for the myth, the text can take on its socio-political organization. “Maternal Thinking” is a myth of supremacy, a supremacy that is supposedly born out of a socially constructed necessity to mother. Yet actually, as we have seen, emanates from a mythically constructed mother. According to Chela Sandoval in “US Third-World Feminism” this construction can be a political tactic.

Once the prophecy has created this space for the myth, the text can take on its socio-political organization. “Maternal Thinking” is a myth of supremacy, a supremacy that is supposedly born out of a socially constructed necessity to mother. Yet actually, as we have seen, emanates from a mythically constructed mother. According to Chela Sandoval in “US Third-World Feminism” this construction can be a political tactic. (87)

It is this claim “to a superior evolutionary level” in “Maternal Thinking” that places the mythical mother, the originator of maternal thought, in a dominant position over others (Sandoval 87). The power of this strategic position reflects the declaration that: “Feminist utopias are apt to assign government to mothers” (Ruddick 345). Consequently, this assertion has a distinct objective that is, as described by Sandoval, to provide at least in the abstract “the social order with… a more effective leadership” (87). Thus, we can make a final comparison between the texts. Whereas the myth of the new mestiza consciousness seeks to displace cultural hierarchies, the myth of maternal thinking seeks to replace social hierarchy with a new but still stratified order.

Even though “La Conciencia de la Mestiza: Towards a New Consciousness” and “Maternal Thinking” are written in different styles and have different ideological foci, they nonetheless are the same in significant ways.  By buttressing their abstract, experimental, and philosophical nature via the rhetoric of prophecy, these texts relieve themselves of the burden of proof necessary to substantiate the claims made within them. Indeed, although these texts make a number of social and politico-cultural affirmations, the “absolute knowledge” in them proposed cannot so readily be created by any other discourse than that of prophecy. In this way, the mythical worlds created do not need to seek validation in the tangible. Their “truths” rest in exogenous beliefs vested in the image of the prophet. By adopting such a position of knowing, these texts, in a circular motion, extinguish the need for any other evidence while at the same time create and maintain control over the polemical knowledge contained in them. It is this rhetorical position making possible the abstract transcendence of duality through the articulation of “absolute knowledge” that I have at least provisionally if not polemically called feminist prophecy.


Alarcón, Norma. “The Theoretical Subject(s) of This Bridge Called My Back and Anglo-American Feminism.” Feminist Theory Reader: Local and Global Perspectives. Eds. Carole R. McCann and Seung-Kyung Kim. New York: Routledge, 2003

Anzaldúa, Glória. “La Conciencia de la Mestiza: Towards a New Consciousness.” Feminist Theory Reader: Local and Global Perspectives. Eds. Carole R. McCann and Seung-Kyung Kim. New York: Routledge, 2003

De Lauretis, Teresa. “The Violence of Rhetoric.” The Violence of Representation: Literature and the History of Violence. Eds. Nancy Armstrong and Leonard Tennenhouse. London: Routledge, 1987: 239–257.

Echevarría, Roberto González. “Cien años de soledad: The Novel as Myth and Archive.” MLN, Vol. 99, No. 2, Hispanic Issue (1984): 358-380.

Lorde, Audre. “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” Feminist Theory Reader: Local and Global Perspectives. Eds. Carole R. McCann and Seung-Kyung Kim. New York: Routledge, 2003

Ruddick, Sara. “Maternal Thinking.” Feminist Studies, Vol.6, No.2 (Summer 1980): 342-367.

Sandoval, Chela. “US Third-World Feminism: The Theory and Method of Oppositional Consciousness in the Postmodern World.” Feminist Postcolonial Theory: A Reader. Eds. Reina Lewis and Sara Mills. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2003.

Santí, Enrico Mario. Pablo Neruda: the poetics of prophecy. Ithaca & London: Cornell University Press, 1982.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics. New York and London: Methuen, 1987.

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