Kiss of the Spider Woman

by Manuel Puig

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What is the attitude toward gender roles?

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Your question can refer both to the writer Manuel Puig's authorial attitude toward gender roles in general and the one that is presented by him through this particular novel—they do not necessarily have to be one and the same. When it comes to Puig, he is known for deliberately subverting traditional gender roles, especially those within deeply traditional cultures (for example, in his native Argentina). Through his novels (including Kiss of the Spider Woman) Puig often playfully and sometimes cynically questions the traditional masculine model of behavior—the one which dictates that the man should be unemotional, principled, and tough—by infusing his male characters with what used to be considered typically feminine traits. His female characters, on the other hand, become “spider-women”: predators in search of (male) prey.

In Kiss of the Spider Woman, Puig presents us at the beginning of the novel (through dialogue) with a typically macho male character, Valentin, who is a revolutionary, and Molina, a female impersonator who may be a transgender woman. However, over the course of the novel, they subtly “change roles”—Molina becomes more proactive and domineering, while Valentin embraces his own gentler side. In this way Puig shows us that gender is a construct which is molded through our perceptions and expectations, and in this novel he manipulates the characters so that we find our own ideas about gender roles a little bit destabilized.

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