Ecuadorian author Monica Ojeda. Via Cinema and Literature.
Ecuadorian author Mónica Ojeda. Photo: Cinema and Literature.

Monica Ojeda's "Jaw": Flesh, Adolescence and White Horror

One of the most promising voices in Ecuadorian literature, Mónica Ojeda explores the darkest aspects in women's relationships in "Mandíbula".


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For Ecuadorian Mónica Ojeda, writing is like opening your eyes under water and holding your breath. Her work, reminiscent with that of authors like Mariana Enríquez, Fernanda Melchor or Ariana Harwicz, pulls us by the leg. It takes us with it underwater so we can see the horror that lies in beauty and vice versa. 

In her latest novel, "Mandíbula" (ed. Candaya), which will be available in U.S. bookstores in 2021, she explores the dark areas of relationships between women- mothers and daughters, teachers and students, and teenagers in the oppressive atmosphere of an Opus Dei school for girls in Guayaquil. There, a series of terror-loving quinceañeras invent a primordial deity to which they pay a strange, sadomasochistic cult, while provoking terror in a bitter Spanish teacher who is haunted by the ghost of her own mother.

Both lyrical and evil - as all horror literature should be - "Mandíbula" confronts the violence and terror engraved on women's bodies by religion, and shows adolescence as a space for borderline experiences that terrify us. Why? Because where there is whiteness, there is also the possibility of stain. 

"Mandíbula" ('Jawbone') is a pure women's novel, but it is also an act of cannibalism...

I was very interested in exploring the emotions in women's bodies by taking it to the extreme limits of experience. We have always been given the ethics and emotional responsibility of the family and that has become a possible scenario of terror. Our psychology, because of this responsibility, has been broken many times and filled with opacities and dark areas. 

As you say, this relationship between teachers and students, mothers and daughters, and even between students themselves is very passionate and therefore very close to violence. It's a bit uncomfortable to say, because we are at a moment when we are trying to rewrite love, but literally, it is a subject that interests me: the dark sides of this relationship between women — the way we harm those we love most, and the recreation in an atmosphere of confinement and repression between upper-class women and girls that is very marked by Opus Dei's discourse on how we should be. 

Is the violence exercised by women different from that of men?

I believe that violence is a human condition and, since women have been denied the right to exercise more physical violence, we have found our own tactics.

The violence in women's socially repressed bodies has not been so much in hitting as in more subtle areas that have to do with isolation and control; with putting psychological pressure on the other person. 

Showing our darker, more aggressive side is a political act. What do you think?

When we talk about feminism, we understand that there is a very specific type of violence exercised towards women's bodies. What is indeed unhealthy for the analysis is to ignore that women are human beings rather than victims and that does not exclude that we may also be victimizers. If we do not take this into account, we are seeing reality from a limited perspective. 

"Women have been denied the right to exercise a certain type of violence and we have found our own tactics."

You also address the primal fear, the "white horror", of which the protagonists speak and which is closely related to Lovecraft's "cosmic horror." And especially with adolescence...

I'm fascinated by religions as a response to fear and I found it interesting that if I had teenage horror fanatics and creepypastas educated in an Opus Dei school, they would want to notice where the fear was and play at creating their own religion by designing their White God and using the same religious discourse in which they grew up.

But notice that we do not know if this god is male or female, because at one point they name it " White God of Womb Wanderer."

Then there is that other dread, that of adults who fear their daughters' adolescence because at puberty sexual desires arise and sex comes to stain everything — that which is gleaming white. I linked this to a curious relationship that exists between horror literature and the color white, which for us is linked to purity but from Lovecraft, to Machen, Poe and even in Moby Dick appears as a symbol of horror... The fear of being stained, of the tree becoming twisted.

The creepypasta, those horror stories that emerge from the Internet, have their protagonist in the book. In fact, as with Slenderman, their effect is to get inside our heads.

And some of them are terrifying, yes. When I first started reading creepypastas, I had nightmares and suffered from sleeplessness. Then I realized that words are capable of contaminating someone's head, like Annelisa's character, who inoculates her friends with contaminating words and is very manipulative and intelligent.

I am afraid of people who are able to use words in such a way that they make you doubt what you know, or even make you think that you think differently. Being under the spell of someone else's word. 

Would it have been a different novel if the characters were from a different social class?

It would be different, obviously. There wouldn't be the same oppressions in a public, co-educational school, for example, because those girls would have working mothers to begin with and would be educated to try to achieve another social status. Whereas, the women in the novel have mothers who are housewives and there is a strong oppression of bodies, and they are educated to be like their mothers: wives and good talkers.

In Ecuador, these schools for the elite cost about a thousand dollars a month and have huge libraries and access to books and knowledge that is not produced in other contexts, so it was important to place them there and understand that girls like Annelisa think and speak like adults because they have this privilege in some sense.

"I'm afraid of being under the spell of someone else's words."

And they also behave in a very subversive way through sexuality. Can sex be a weapon of rebellion?

Well, actually, it's also been a form of liberation of women's bodies.

I'm very interested in a phenomenon that occurred in the second half of the 20th century in the southern cone. The military dictatorships that existed were right-wing and had a discourse on women and mothers similar to that of Opus Dei. In that context, women writers emerged who began to write directly pornographic novels with female characters and even had to go into exile and the works were censored. Authors such as Armonía Somers, who sought in pornography a way to vindicate themselves politically.


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