As women defended their right to an intellectual, artistic life during the 1800s in Latin America, the debate became centered around two symbols: the needle, representing the traditional feminine expression of embroidery, and the pen, symbolizing the intellectual life women longed for. Embroidery came to mean long, solitary hours devoted to adornment of objects ultimately consumed and discarded. Writing, on the other hand, implied education, being part of an intellectual community, and the chance to make a lasting contribution to society. Silvia Fernández (Argentina, 1857-1945) tries to reconcile the needle and pen, affirming both in their respective roles.
Thus said one day
The vain needle to the pen:
"Get out of the busy home
Of industrious woman!
You will be snubbed by her,
You should be convinced
That you will never be loved
Where I am the center of attention.
Women know how to make
Exquisite things with my help,
Don't think that shetll praise you,
Or seek your favors."
The proud pen heard the needle,
And quickly went away from there,
And ever after has shown itself
Disdainful toward needles.
And since every woman employs
The needle, skillfully or not,
The pen avoids her too
Because the needle annoys the pen.
Was the chattering needle
Wise in judgement? Who knows!
Perhaps men think so,
But women deny it.
Because the needle and the pen
Are tools equally beloved by her:
While one serves her dress,
The other serves her mind.
Translated by the Palouse Translation Project
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This is an excerpt from Reading
About the World, Volume 2, edited by Paul Brians, Mary Gallwey, Douglas Hughes, Michael Myers, Michael Neville, Roger Schlesinger, Alice Spitzer, and Susan Swan and published by American Heritage Custom Books.
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