The House, the Street and the Brothel: Gender in Latin American History

Elizabeth Kuznesof


Abstract


This article delineates scholarship in Latin American history (mostly in English) defined by gender relations and/or focused on women. From 1492 until 1750, the honor code, the process of miscegenation or race mixture, and property rights are emphasized. Scholarship has overturned the traditional view that colonial households and production were invariably patriarchal, since between 25 to 45 percent of households were headed by women. Illegitimacy and consensual unions were found to be prevalent principally among the non-white and non-elite populations.

From 1750 to 1930, profound and contradictory changes included a secularization process that caused women’s loss of many colonial protections. However, new opportunities developed for women’s employment and control of property. Women were essentially controlled within the private sphere during the colonial period, but that control moved to the workplace in the nineteenth century, and to the state in the early twentieth century. Gender was an important discourse in struggles to define the nation-state, with prostitution and disease as central themes. In the twentieth century social historians have demonstrated the differential gender impacts of economic and technological change brought by development projects, industrialization, and shifting strategies of multinational corporations. The most striking contributions of recent books on gender in Latin America include the continuing significance of honor after independence. Motherhood is another recurring theme in writings about women and their history in Latin America.


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