Inés Pérez and Elizabeth Hutchison
The regulation of labor relations and social rights substantially changed workers’ lives over the course of the 20th century. Domestic service, however, was only poorly and belatedly protected under labor law, and its incorporation proceeded in a slow, ambiguous, and nonlinear manner. The specific ways in which domestic service regulation emerged in Chile and Argentina, respectively, offer insight into this process and also present some important contrasts, despite the nations’ geographic proximity. In Chile, although the rights recognized for household workers were limited, the Labor Code of 1931 included an article on domestic service. In Argentina, the first comprehensive regulation for this sector was a special statute sanctioned by decree in 1956. In both cases, the “special” nature of such regulation was attributed to the place of domestic service in family life. As domestic labor was reconceptualized through legislative reform in each country, household workers gradually came to enjoy some, but not all, of the rights guaranteed to other workers.
The 1960s in Argentina was a time convulsed by profound social, cultural, and political changes. Reflecting on the effect these processes had on the everyday, conceived as the spaces and routines involved in the reproduction of life that vary according to social class, generation, and gender, provides a valuable perspective for studying historical phenomena. It gives substance to and evidences the social nature of personal experience. Through that prism, the study of everyday life will be the gateway to understanding the turbulence produced by cultural effervescence, growing consumerism, the expansion of the media, the problems triggered by economic instability and escalating inflation, and the ruptures caused by political and social radicalization and the rise of repressive violence.
In the 1850s, Juana Catarina Romero, known popularly as Juana Cata, peddled her cigarettes on the streets of Tehuantepec in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, an activity that enabled her to serve as a spy for the liberals under the command of Captain Porfirio Díaz during the War of the Reform (1858–1860). By 1890, Romero (1837–1915) had emerged as an international merchant, sugar cane producer and refiner, philanthropist, and “modernizing” cacica of the city of Tehuantepec. As powerful women rarely receive credit for their achievements, popular myth attributes her success to the men in her life, a supposed youthful love affair with Díaz or a later lover, Colonel Remigio Toledo. In contrast, a study of her career helps to shed light on how women could attain and exercise power in the 19th century and the ways in which they participated in the construction of the nation-state and a capitalist economy. Her trajectory shows that when allied with these forces of modernization, women could take on a more public role in society. It also reveals that it is through the lens of local and regional history that women’s contributions and accomplishments, so often erased in national histories, can be made visible.
Jadwiga E. Pieper Mooney
The official histories of family planning and reproductive rights in Chile started in the 1960s, with initiatives by Chilean doctors to reduce maternal mortality due to self-induced abortions; Chilean women’s mobilization for rights surged in the 1970s, and the concept of reproductive rights became the focus within health policy debates only by the 1990s. Specific Chilean political developments shaped these trajectories, as did global paradigm changes, including the politicization of fertility regulation as a subject of the Cold War. These same trajectories also generated new understandings of reproductive rights and women’s rights. The goals of preventing abortions and maternal mortality, of controlling population size, and of protecting families all contributed to the public endorsement of family planning programs in the 1960s. Medical doctors and health officials in Chile collaborated with the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and founded the first Chilean family planning institution, the Association for the Protection of the Family (APROFA). Since 1965, APROFA, affiliated with the IPPF, has remained the primary institution that makes family planning available to Chilean women and couples.
The concept of “reproductive rights” is relatively new, globally, and in its specific national representation in Chile; questions of women’s rights gained unprecedented international prominence after the United Nation’s designation of the International Women’s Year (IWY) in 1975. International conferences, and the extension of IWY to a Decade for Women between 1975 and 1985, stimulated debates about policy norms that linked human rights, women’s rights, and the right to health to nascent definitions of reproductive rights. Just as international gatherings provided platforms for debates about rights, unparalleled human rights violations under military rule (1973–1990) interrupted the lives of Chilean citizens. Women in Chile protested the dictatorship, mobilized for democracy in their country and their homes, and added reproductive rights to the list of demands for democratic restructuring after the end of dictatorship. While family planning programs largely survived the changes of political leadership in Chile, the dictatorship dealt a lasting blow to quests for reproductive rights. The military’s re-drafted Constitution of 1980 not only compromised effective political re-democratization, but also imposed such changes as the end of therapeutic abortions, which have remained at the center of political activism against reproductive rights violations in the 21st century.
Sueann Caulfield and Cristiana Schettini
Over the past forty years, increasing attention to gender and sexuality in Brazilian historiography has given us a nuanced understanding of diverse ways in which women and men in Brazil’s past experienced patriarchy, racism, and other forms of oppression. As gender historians have shed light on how racialized and patriarchal gender and sexual roles have been reconstituted in different historical contexts, empirical studies in the field of social history have focused primarily on the historical agency of women, particularly non-elite women, who lived within or pushed against the confines of prescribed gender roles. Pioneering histories of sexual minorities have accompanied this trajectory since the 1980s, although this subfield has grown more slowly.
A few nodal themes help to explain transformations in gender relations during each of the major periods of Brazil’s social and political history. Under the empire (1822–1889), honor is the entryway for analysis of gender and sexuality. Gendered standards of honor were critical tools used to mark class and racial boundaries, and to traverse them. Historians of the imperial period also stress the centrality of gender to the social, cultural, and economic networks built by members of various occupational, familial, and kinship groups. During the First Republic (1889–1930), the focus shifts to state vigilance and social control, together with debates over modernization of sexual and gender norms, particularly regarding urban space and prostitution. In the Vargas era (1930–1945), patriarchy and racialized sexuality formed the core of intellectual constructions of the nation’s history and identity, at the same time that homosexuality and women’s and worker’s rights generated intense debate. A new emphasis on domesticity emerged in the context of developmentalism in the 1950s, helping to spur a reaction in the form of the counterculture and sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. The dictatorship (1964–1985) went to great lengths to suppress challenges to gender and sexual norms as part of its broader strategy to demobilize society and repress oppositional political movements. These challenges reemerged in the 1970s, when feminists and sexual minorities gained much greater visibility within a new wave of social movements.
The 1988 constitution articulated these movements’ aspirations for social justice and equality through its foundational principal of human dignity. Significant legal changes followed over subsequent decades, including recognition of equal labor rights for domestic and sex workers, affirmative-action policies, and the legalization of same-sex marriage, in 2011. Despite notable setbacks, the momentum toward gender and sexual equality at the start of the 21st century was remarkable. This momentum was halted by the political coup that ousted the first woman president in 2016. The anti-feminist mood that accompanied the impeachment process underscored an overarching theme that runs through the historiography of gender and sexuality in Brazil: the centrality of gender to the major legal and political shifts that mark the nation’s history.
One of the leading figures who pioneered and promoted changes toward modernity in Mexico City was Laura Méndez de Cuenca. Laura dared to transgress the traditional Catholic norms of her time. She was a teacher, a leader of a feminist movement, and an avant-garde writer. Above all, she dared to live a modern life. But, what was a modern life? Méndez chose an audacious path in order to live a modern life, a life of hard work, determination, and freedom––a freedom for which she paid a high price.
Lucha libre, or professional wrestling, has become a staple of urban Mexican culture over the course of the 20th century. In the past twenty years, it has gained international acclaim for its distinctive style and culture. Best known for the masks that luchadores often wear, lucha libre has become a distinctly national rendition of an imported product. Along with Japan and the United States, Mexico is one of the most influential nations in the world of professional wrestling. The sport allows fans to root for técnicos, rudos, and exóticos and it provides theater that upends societal norms in Mexico. Banned from performing on television by Federal District authorities from the 1950s to the early 1990s, wrestlers like El Santo and Blue Demon took to the silver screen to film “Mexploitation” horror and science fiction films. Although the sport has become an urban tradition, it reflects the cosmopolitan nature of working-class urban culture as well as the influence of Mexican culture on other nations.
Robert M. Buffington
The Porfirian era (1876–1911) marked a watershed in social understandings of manhood. New ideas about what it meant to be a man had appeared in Mexico by the middle of the 19th century in the form of self-help manuals intended primarily for middle-class and bourgeois men who sought to distinguish themselves in a post-independence society that had done away with legal distinctions, including aristocratic titles. Marks of distinction included cleanliness, good grooming, moderation, affability, respectability, love of country, and careful attentiveness to the needs and opinions of others, including women, children, and social “inferiors”—an approach that artfully combined longstanding notions of masculine responsibility and authority with modern ideas about self-mastery and citizenship, especially the sublimation of volatile “passions” in all domains of social life. Modern qualities also mapped onto traditional concerns about male honor predicated on the fulfillment of patriarchal duties, especially the control of female dependents. The socially validated, “hegemonic” masculinity produced by this amalgamation of modern and traditional ideas proved burdensome for many middle-class men, who struggled to maintain an always precarious sense of honor or who rejected the constraints it sought to impose on their behavior. For men from less privileged classes, it represented an impossible ideal that they sometimes rejected through the adoption of antisocial “protest” masculinities and often satirized as delusional or unmanly, even as they too came to define their masculinity in relation to a modern/traditional binary. The modern/traditional binary that characterized ideas about masculinity for all sectors of Porfirian society has persisted until the present day, despite the epochal 1910 social revolution that inaugurated a new era in Mexican social relations.
Nicole von Germeten
Female occupational and economic choices help clarify understandings of colonial historic agency, especially in the lives of Mexican women who made their income as alcahuetas or “bawds.” These women hosted and managed other women in the marketing and selling of sex acts in the Viceroyalty of New Spain. Viceregal bawds manipulated both the sex lives of their clients and the paternalism of crown justice in hopes of exoneration in court. They walked a precarious legal tightrope, negotiating the fluctuating margins of legal procuring and the transition to more stringent laws against sex for sale. The examples presented here, drawn from contemporary archival documents, show that these women’s lives span most of New Spain’s history, ranging from 1570 to the independence era in the early 19th century. In the 16th century, bawdry resembled the clandestine personal mediation that was common and familiar in medieval and early modern Spain. Bawds working in the 1st century of Spanish rule in Mexico carefully defended their social respectability to contradict evidence that they solicited for clients in the street. Reputable hospitality featured prominently in the early 17th-century procuring, while indigenous-influenced sorcery and love magic dominated the understanding of 17th- and early 18th-century alcahuetas. Lastly, in the 19th century, profitable market exchange characterized professional brothel operations, granting bawds honorable status within their economic and occupational community. Bawds recorded in the archives demonstrate communication skills, entrepreneurialism, and a concern for reputation through all of these eras. These intelligent female survivors offer compelling representations of viceregal women who exercised their personal agency to forge their own economic prosperity.
Since the founding of the Mexican republic, women have been politically engaged in their respective communities. The creation of a modern nation-state during the last decades of the 19th century and first half of the 20th century marked an increase in women’s formal and informal political participation in the country. During the Mexican Revolution of 1910 and particularly in the post-revolutionary period, Mexican women took a much more active role in engaging the state, formed political alliances and organizations, pressed for labor and political rights, and worked collectively and individually to secure suffrage. Women have been part of an array of political parties and have played a key role in the slow and uneven process of democratization in Mexico. In and outside the bounds of formal political parties, and in the greater sphere of electoral politics, women participated in multiple ways in the post-1953 period. Even during the years when women lacked the right to vote, they were engaged politically in the local, regional, national, and international spheres. They did so by participating in all political parties, and participated in voting drives, actively promoted issues that concerned them, and pushed for gender equity in the greater electoral process. Despite lacking suffrage, women in Mexico were engaged citizens in the broadest sense of the word.
By the eve of the 21st century, women had served in almost all municipal, state, and government positions and had also competed for the highest office in the land. Yet the limits in electoral reform legislation, unequal and uneven economic development, gender and sexual violence, and continued distrust of the nation’s political system, as well as widespread insecurity caused by a violent drug war that was being strengthened by the influx of US weapons, remained major challenges to women’s continued participation on the country’s long road to democratization.