Closing the Gender Gap by Honoring Blanca Varela
We set out to write a blog post about literary references to Peruvian pisco since the word “pisco” was first documented in Peru in the 16th century. It was pleasantly surprising to find that many prominent writers from around the world have written about Peruvian pisco over the course of five centuries.
However, our euphoria soon dissipated when we realized that none of the historical texts we studied were written by women. While we do appreciate the literary contributions of males, especially when the subject is pisco, we decided to scrap our original blog idea. The absence of women in this realm compelled us to discuss a subject that is even more pressing for us: the gender gap.
Gender inequality is not just a historical phenomenon and it is not limited to published works. It is prevalent and oppressive in present day, from the way we divide household duties to the lack of women in management level positions. As explained in Global Issues: Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, “Globally, women have fewer opportunities for economic participation than men, less access to basic and higher education, greater health and safety risks, and less political representation”. This issue affects every country. In fact, it is so ubiquitous that it will take 108 more years to close the gender gap around the world (World Economic Forum).
Although this may seem dire, there are ways to accelerate equality between the sexes. One way is by celebrating the achievements of females. The National Women’s History Alliance encourages people to recognize the dignity and accomplishments of women because it promotes higher self-esteem in girls and greater respect toward women in boys. As a result, girls perform better in school and communities become less violent. Greater self-esteems and appreciation of women are not universal cures, but they are an important part of the process of achieving gender equality.
Taking this advice of the National Women’s History Alliance, we would like to highlight the accomplishments of one admirable female poet, Blanca Varela. As a bonus, we will demonstrate how Peruvian pisco played a role in her artistic exploration.
Considered one of Peru’s greatest poets, Blanca Varela was born in Lima in 1926. Her mother, Serafina Quinteras, was a composer, poet, writer, singer and journalist. Following her mother’s footsteps and with persuasion from Octavio Paz, Blanca published her first poetry book in 1959. She won many awards in her lifetime, including the Federico García Lorca International Poetry Prize in 2006. She was the first woman to ever receive that prestigious award.
In a short note titled “Amigos, fantasmas y recuerdos”, written in 1974, Blanca discussed the pisco cocktails she frequently drank at the Peña Pancho Fierro, a gathering place in the Plaza de San Martín in downtown Lima. She didn’t reveal the “secret recipe” of the pisco concoction with macerated fruit. However, she did discuss how inspired she felt in the intimate company of Peru’s most prominent artistic figures. The “magic circle” included Sebastián Salazar Bondy, Teresa Carvallo, Emilio Adolfo Westphalen, Martín Adán, César Moro and Fernando de Szyszlo. In “Amigos, fantasmas y recuerdos”, Blanca sentimentally recalls the time she spent at the Peña Pancho Fierro (Jochamowitz). We are happy pisco was part of that experience.
Recognizing Blanca Varela is a small advancement in closing the gender gap. We hope her accomplishments will forge a path for other females in the future so the next time we revisit written works about pisco, we will find contemporary female’s names next to men’s. We know we can’t change history, but we can influence the future.
To close this post, we would like to share a poem written by Blanca Varela, Curriculum Vitae:
say you won the race
and the prize
was another race
you didn’t savor the wine of victory
but your own salt
you never listened to hurrahs
but dog barks
and your shadow
your own shadow
was your only
and disloyal competitor
“Blanca Varela.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 21 Apr. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blanca_Varela.
“Global Issues: Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment.” Global Issues: Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, www.peacecorps.gov/educators/resources/global-issues-gender-equality-and-womens-empowerment/.
The Global Gender Gap Report 2018. World Economic Forum, 2018, The Global Gender Gap Report 2018, www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GGGR_2018.pdf.
Jochamowitz, Luis. “’Una Pequeñísima Puerta’.” Caretas Ilustración Peruana, www2.caretas.pe/Main.asp?T=3082&S=&id=12&idE=1263&idSTo=774&idA=75746#.XN1kNaZ7mu4.
Varela, Blanca. “Curriculum Vitae.” PoemHunter.com, 27 Aug. 2016, www.poemhunter.com/poem/curriculum-vitae-4/.
“Why Women’s History?” National Women’s History Alliance, nationalwomenshistoryalliance.org/why-womens-history/.