Gender in Postcolonial Latin America
- LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2013
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0100
- LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2013
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0100
Gender, along with such variables as social class, race, and nationality, is viewed as a primary vector of difference across societies worldwide. Feminist analysts have shown that gender is socially constructed, varying over time and place, and must be understood in its broader context. Just as gender studies is a fairly young field, dating to the late 1960s–1970s, research and writing on gender in Latin America has emerged largely during the past four decades. The earliest work focused squarely on women as an underrepresented group in historical and social analysis, but later work turned increasingly to gender as a social relationship, often one of inequality, understood in terms of power held respectively by men and women in different social spheres. While much of the literature has continued to focus more attention on women than on men, with the rationale that men’s lives have long received substantial attention, masculine experience and identity recently have been given new consideration from the vantage point of feminist and gender-conscious scholarship. The history of the Latin American region suggests that gender relations, and feminine and masculine identities, may vary from those found in the global North, although scholars also point to a number of similarities. Analysts have questioned whether gender “complementarity” prior to European colonization meant that men and women performed culturally valued yet distinctive roles, or whether gender inequality is more deeply rooted in indigenous societies. Some argue that colonialism introduced male supremacy where it had been absent, while others maintain that Westernization offered women far greater opportunities than they knew in precolonial times. The postcolonial period has also been subject to interpretation regarding the last two centuries of urbanization, capitalist development, and globalization. Much of the work identified here reflects on the last few decades of social, political, and economic transformation, notwithstanding enduring inequality, including changes in communication, education, production, and exchange, as well as new social movements. Given space limitations, discussion does not extend to the Caribbean or to sexuality, which are taken up in other Oxford Bibliographies Online articles. With the rapid growth in scholarship, books are privileged over articles and readers are encouraged to consult journals for other valuable sources. The emphasis is on the social sciences and humanities rather than arts and literature, and there is, regrettably, less representation of non-English material published in Latin America, given the scope of this article.
There are relatively few general overviews of gender in Latin America, but those offered here comprise a useful point of departure. Navarro and Sánchez Korrol 1999 presents the broadest historical overview from precontact through postcolonial times, showing the salience of gender analysis. Miller 1991 has a powerful and broad sweep, covering two centuries and focusing on women in movements for change. Chant and Craske 2003 presents a unified gender perspective on the major dimensions of social life, while Dore 1997 examines provocative theoretical and political debates concerning gender. Arizpe 1989 and Aguiar 1990 consider some of the central questions relating to gender and economic development in the region. Jelin 1987 encompasses broad matters of women’s participation in social movements and their quest for full citizenship rights. Wade 2009 is less centrally concerned with gender per se, but offers an insightful approach to conceptualizing race and sex in Latin America, which has implications for developing a gendered perspective.
Aguiar, Neuma, ed. Mujer y crisis: Respuestas ante la recesión. Caracas, Venezuela: Nueva Sociedad, 1990.
Edited by a pioneering feminist scholar in Latin America, this volume contributes to discussions of women, social conditions, and economic development in the region. Special attention to problems facing women at a time of structural adjustment and recession, identifying the unequal gendered effects of broad policy making.
Arizpe, Lourdes. La mujer en el desarrollo de México y de América Latina. Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1989.
Useful discussion of issues surrounding women and development by one of Latin America’s leading anthropologists and contributors to discussions of gender and society. Considers the case of Mexico as well as the region more broadly.
Chant, Sylvia H., and Nikki Craske. Gender in Latin America. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2003.
Coauthored by a geographer and a political scientist, the volume aims to take stock of gender in Latin America at the turn of the 21st century. Topics include families and households, livelihood, poverty, health and sexuality, political participation, and migration.
Dore, Elizabeth, ed. Gender Politics in Latin America: Debates in Theory and Practice. New York: Monthly Review, 1997.
Multidisciplinary writings on Latin American gender, family, household, social class, and society, past and present. Emphasis on theorizing by leading analysts and critics who discuss debates that continue to resonate in the region.
Jelin, Elizabeth, ed. Ciudadanía e identidad: Las mujeres en los movimientos sociales latinoamericanos. Geneva, Switzerland: UNRISD, 1987.
This collection, edited by a leading feminist and social scientist in Latin America, offers a broad discussion of questions that are central to understanding gender in the continent, including social conditions, politics, and economic development, with special attention to social movements and citizenship.
Miller, Francesca. Latin American Women and the Search for Social Justice. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1991.
A pioneering and panoramic overview of Latin American women’s history during the last two centuries, with particular attention to women in movements for social change. A very useful and readable introduction to women in the region and their quest for gender and social justice.
Navarro, Marysa, and Virginia Sánchez Korrol. Women in Latin America and the Caribbean: Restoring Women to History. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999.
Two historians cover broad ground in two extended essays, one on women in the precontact and colonial periods and the other on the 19th and 20th centuries. The questions they raise point to the urgency of incorporating gender analysis, which will transform historical understanding.
Wade, Peter. Race and Sex in Latin America. London: Pluto, 2009.
British social anthropologist’s overview of the critical relationship between sex and race in Latin America, from precolonial to postcolonial times. Drawing on psychoanalysis, he argues that race and sexuality are mutually constituted, constructing difference as something to be both feared and desired.
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