Elizabeth Dore, Maxine Molyneux, eds. Hidden Histories of Gender and the State in Latin America. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2000. xiii + 381 pp. $24.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8223-2469-0; $89.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8223-2434-8.
Reviewed by Virginia W. Leonard (Department of History, Western Illinois University)
Published on H-LatAm (December, 2002)
Whither Gender Justice for Women?
Whither Gender Justice for Women?
This book is in response to Joan Scott's call to examine politics and gender. It grew out of a 1996 conference held at the University of London, and is based on twelve case studies of "gender relations" in Latin America. This conference was organized by the co-editors Elizabeth Dore, professor of Latin American History at the University of Portsmouth, England, and Maxine Molyneux, professor of Sociology at the Institute of Latin American Studies, University of London, England. Molyneux is also the Senior External Adviser of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development project on Gender Justice, Development and Rights.
There is a special twist in the book's title, preface, and two introductory chapters in that they emphasize the role of the state in defining gender attitudes and relations. Elizabeth Dore begins by examining four definitions of the state as Marxist, Foucauldian, Neoliberal, or a new Global stage wherein the state is withering away.
Whatever form the state took, women were subordinated. Dore's introductory chapter is a chronological and historical view of women in the colonial era and the nineteenth century. Dore takes heart that in the twentieth century women began to mobilize, sought changes in laws that subordinated them, and became actors within the state as citizens, voters, office holders, and members of organizations. The results of this depended on "different political contexts." She concludes that Latin Americans will continue to promote gender justice in the twenty-first century (pp. xii-xiii).
Dore finds the Catholic church's doctrines more favorable toward gender equality than the secular state in the nineteenth century. The Roman Catholic Church upheld marriage as "a sacred union of equals" (p. 22), while the secularization of the state by Liberals in the nineteenth century undermined women's status as equals in marriage and gave husbands a legal dominance in marriage that they had not enjoyed during the colonial era. Civil codes legalized adultery as a capital offense for females and tolerated that of males, whereas the church had considered adultery as equally sinful for both in ecclesiastical courts. This thesis should be examined rigorously by a review of ecclesiastical court cases. Did the church really practice what it preached? If a woman wanted to marry a Jew or Protestant against her parents' wishes would the church side with her? Did the Catholic church ever raise the issue of gender justice? The fact that women could not be priests certainly could not have advanced their equal rights in the colonial era.
Molyneux reviews the history and position of women in the twentieth century, which she typifies as the waning of patriarchy with a concomitant assumption of greater authority by states in determining "the gender order" (p. 71). She concludes that rights have been won by Latin American women because of "conflicts with the state and with society," and "in the broader context--international, political, and social--that women in Latin America will continue to pursue and define their goals" (p. 71). Molyneux does not see the state as representing the elite as much as Dore does. Although she finds that "gender relations are founded on an inequality of status and means" (p. 39), the twentieth-century democratic neoliberal state allows pluralism and equality
Illustrating the struggle for rights within the broader context of the state are the twelve case studies written mainly by historians. They focus on states, households, individuals, and organizations. All but one focuses on women as if gender studies only meant women's history. Three-fourths of the case studies deal with the twentieth century, where both editors find more progress for women's rights. The studies of court cases are the most fascinating and show women asserting their rights against state laws that defend patriarchy and elite dominance. Unlike their counterparts in Europe and the United States, Latin American feminists were slow to separate their rights from that of the family (pp. 69-70). Motherhood was still the essential female goal.
While this book makes a good distinction between gender (social definition) and sex (biological construct), it uses too much postmodernist jargon and some outdated concepts. Dore writes that women are "oppressed" rather than subordinated, and has a negative-Marxist view of the state. A sequel to this book is needed to explain the main concept of gender justice. What does this mean? Should women be treated equally according to laws of religion and the legal system, or should women seek equality beyond the home?
. Joan W. Scott, "Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis," American Historical Review 91 (December 1986): pp. 1053-75.
. The twelve case studies are as follows: Eugenia Rodriguez, "Civilizing Domestic Life in the Central Valley of Costa Rica, 1750-1850"; Maria Eugenia Chaves, "Slave Women's Strategies for Freedom and the Late Spanish Colonial State"; Rebecca Earle, "Rape and the Anxious Republic: Revolutionary Colombia, 1810-1830"; Elizabeth Dore, "Property, Households, and Public Regulation of Domestic Life: Diriomo, Nicaragua, 1840-1900"; Donna J. Guy, "Parents Before the Tribunals: The Legal Construction of Patriarchy in Argentina"; Mary Kay Vaughan, "Modernizing Patriarchy: State Policies, Rural Households, and Women in Mexico, 1930-1940"; Laura Gotkowitz, "Commemorating the Heroinas: Gender and Civic Ritual in Early Twentieth-Century Bolivia"; Ann Varley, "Women and the Home in Mexican Family Law"; Karen Alejandra Rosenblatt, "Domesticating Men: State Building and Class Compromise in Popular-Front Chile"; Maxine Molyneux, "State, Gender, and Institutional Change: The Federacion de Mujeres Cubanas"; Jo Fisher, "Gender and the State in Argentina: The Case of the Sindicato de Amas de Casas"; and Fiona Macaulay, "Getting Gender on the Policy Agenda: A Study of a Brazilian Feminist Lobby Group."
. Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986). Lerner prefers the phrase "subordination of women" because there is no connotation of evil intent, and women have often "collaborated in their own subordination through their acceptance of the sex-gender system" (p. 234).
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Virginia W. Leonard. Review of Dore, Elizabeth; Molyneux, Maxine, eds., Hidden Histories of Gender and the State in Latin America.
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