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Women in Latin America

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Women in Latin America were expected to adhere to extreme cultural and social traditions and there were few women who managed to escape the burden of upholding these ridiculous duties, as clearly shown in “Chronicle of a Death Foretold”. First, Latin American women were expected to uphold their honor, as well as their family's honor, through maintaining virtue and purity; secondly, women were expected to be submissive to their parents and especially their husbands; and lastly, women were expected to remain excellent homemakers.

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The contributions that Latin American women have made to the development of Latin America have traditionally been overlooked. Historians of Latin America have tended to focus on the exploits of the conquistadores, leaders of the independence movements, dictators, and revolutionaries, the large majority of whom have been male. Likewise, there has been a tendency within other disciplines, such as political science and economics, to dismiss gender issues in analyses of the region’s underdevelopment and instability. With the growing interest in women’s studies brought about by the women’s liberation movement, however, many Latin Americanists began to apply a gendered perspective to their research. Despite the amount of research that has been done on Latin American women in recent years, incorporating the discussion of gender issues into Latin American studies courses is often quite difficult. There may be a tendency to include such discussion only in those portions of the course that focus on the family and machismo in Latin America, while neglecting to consider the female perspective in teaching about the history, politics, and economic development of the region. Throughout the past five centuries, there have been a number of prominent female figures that have played a part in shaping the course of Latin American history. For instance, an indigenous woman, known as Doña Marina, or La Malinche, served as the guide and interpreter for the conquistador Hernán Cortés and is believed to have played a crucial role in the conquest of Mexico

Another example is Eva Perón, the wife of Argentine president Juan Perón (1946-1955; 1973-1974), who became a heroine to the working class and garnered political support for Juan Perón. There are a multitude of other Latin American women who have been agents of change in the region.

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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. Latin American feminism focuses on the critical work that women have undertaken in reaction to the forces that created this context (Ochoa, Enriqueta, 1987). 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 (Palacios, Antonia, 1949).

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Finally, while growing feminist coalitions and heightened attention from international organizations are putting pressure on governments in Central and South America to reconsider severe abortion restrictions and take seriously the problem of gender violence, the rise of right-wing religious and political leaders throughout the region presents a powerful counter-current. Conservative leaders opposed to abortion rights are now in power in Brazil, Colombia, and Bolivia; last year Chile’s conservative government gave hospitals wider latitude to refuse to perform legal abortions for religious reasons. As the Argentine writer Claudia Piñeiro described recently, this political climate not only makes the work of expanding rights more challenging: it also discourages women from exercising rights that already exist, at least on paper. Girls and women in Argentina, Mexico, and other countries that do permit abortion in cases of rape, for instance, are routinely denied care by medical providers, judges, or other authorities.

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Millán, Márgara, 2014, “Politics of Translation in Contemporary Mexican Feminism”, in Alvarez et al. 2014: 149–167. doi:10.1215/9780822376828-009

Moreno, Marvel, 1980, Algo tan feo en la vida de una señora bien, Bogotá: Pluma.

Ochoa, Enriqueta, 1987, Retorno de Electra, México: SEP-Diógenes, Colección Lecturas Mexicanas n. 72.

Palacios, Antonia, 1949, Ana Isabel, una niña decente, Argentina: Ed. Losada.

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