Based on Perez-Rosario’s Article Beauty and Protest, How Do European-Based Notions of Beauty and Social Class Division Affect Women of Color and Indigenous, and Communities in Latin America?
Beauty seems to matter a lot in Latin America. Whenever I arrive in the region I am struck by the disproportionate number of attractive and stylish women and men who seem to be just walking around. I am always even more taken aback by airport bookstalls crammed with magazines devoted to plastic surgery and the celebration of all things beautiful. And then there are the countless posters and billboards advertising beauty accessible to all. There is plenty of less anecdotal evidence too that beauty is big business. According to the industry database Euromonitor, Brazil is now the fourth biggest market for beauty products in the world, after the United States, China and Japan. Mexico was ranked seventh and Argentina sixteenth.
Latin America has the most unbalanced distribution of resources of all regions in the world. This review defines a set of common elements characterizing social structures on that continent, suggests some lines for analysis and theorizing, and supports the integration of regional studies into broader discussions of stratification. The classic queries of the discipline concern the distribution of power and resources; who gets what and why remain the fundamental questions we must ask. Nowhere are the answers more startling than in Latin America, a place we call the lopsided continent. Not only does its shape resemble an inverse pyramid, but the allocation of goods, services, and basic opportunities is equally unbalanced. In part because of its extremes, Latin America has been largely absent from the standard theoretical discourse on stratification and inequality in the United States. The consequences of this distributive system are made even worse by the fact that, with some significant exceptions, these are relatively poor societies. Thus, not only do the poor, the darker, and the female receive smaller slices, but the social pie is not large to begin with. The UNDP calculates that more than half of the population in several countries lives on less than $2 per day. The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean estimates more than 200 million are living in poverty. The true levels of poverty and individual levels of inequality in the region are likely considerably worse than the above household consumption figures indicate because these values do not account for the number of household members in the workforce, overlooking a trend of increasing “auto-exploitation” featuring a higher percentage of household members working for longer hours and depending on nonmonetary transactions.
Latin American feminism, which in this entry includes Caribbean feminism, is rooted in the social and political context defined by colonialism, the enslavement of African peoples, and the marginalization of Native peoples (Schutte, Ofelia, 1998). Latin American feminism focuses on the critical work that women have undertaken in reaction to the forces that created this context. At present, the context is dominated by neoliberal economic policies that, in the environment of globalization, have disproportionally impacted the most vulnerable segments of society. Against this political backdrop, Latin American feminism is grounded in the material lives of people, often women, as it explores the tensions engendered by the confluence of histories that generate relationships among gender, citizenship, race/ethnicity, sexuality, class, community, and religion. Latin American feminism broadly encompasses multiple positions, many of which are in tension with each other. As a result, many refer to Latin American ‘feminisms’ in the plural. The diversity of feminisms is owed to the various regions and their histories which demanded social, cultural, governmental, and organizational transformations in their own capaticies. Hence, the present discussion of the general concept of Latin American feminism methodologically necessitates historical sensitivity to apprehend the intimate relationship between the development of different ideas and the heterogeneous political conditions that give rise to them. In the U.S., tracing the history of Latin American feminism and its ideas is an urgent task. While growing interest in the broader Latin American philosophy calls for increased textual representation and access, the role that women have played in the evolution of Latin American philosophical ideas has been largely neglected. Yet, there exists a wealth of critical feminist ideas for theories of identity, politics, and culture.Most historical genealogies of Latin American feminism trace their origins to the social movements beginning in the 1960s and 1970s centered around women’s liberation. However, feminist ideas in Latin America are much older than those which have been documented as part of feminist political action. The origins of Latin American feminist ideas can be found in reflections on conditions of otherness that emerge as a result of colonialism and in critiques of norms that render the category of man the entry point for humanity. By the 60s and 70s, feminism in Latin America had a firmly rooted history concerned with articulating difference and alterity from a non-dominant perspective (Gargallo 2004: 80).
Ultimately, as a culture, we give lip service to the notion that what matters is inner beauty when in fact it’s the outer version that carries the real social currency. The new outlook on beauty dares us to declare someone we haven’t met beautiful. It forces us to presume the best about people. It asks us to connect with people in a way that is almost childlike in its openness and ease. Modern beauty doesn’t ask us to come to the table without judgment. It simply asks us to come presuming that everyone in attendance has a right to be there.
Gargallo, Francesca, 2007, Feminismo latinoamericano, originally published in Revista Venezolana de Estudios de la Mujer, 12(28) (2007): 17–34.
Schutte, Ofelia and María Luisa Femenías, 2010, “Feminist Philosophy”, in Susan Nuccetelli, Ofelia Schutte, and Otávio Bueno (eds.), A Companion to Latin American Philosophy, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 397–411. doi:10.1002/9781444314847.ch28
Ungo Montenegro, Urania Atenea, 2000, Para cambiar la vida: política y pensamiento del feminismo en América Latina, Panamá: Instituto de la Mujer, Universidad de Panamá.
Schutte, Ofelia, 1998a, “Cultural Alterity: Cross-Cultural Communication and Feminist Theory in North-South Contexts”, Hypatia, 13(2): 53–72. doi:10.1111/j.1527-2001.1998.tb01225.x