Gypsies in Madrid: Sex, Gender and the Performance of Identity

Synopsis

Throughout the twentieth century, Spanish people have deployed conflicting sexual moralities in their struggle for political supremacy within the state. The Spanish Gypsies or Gitanos, who live at the very bottom of the Spanish socio-economic scale, have appropriated this concern with gender morality and, in the process, have reinvented themselves as the only honourable Spaniards. Although the Gitano gender ideology has a distinctively Spanish flavour, it revolves around a conceptualization of the female body that is radically different from that of other Spaniards.The subtle exploration of these acts of cultural invention is one of the original features of this important new ethnography. Another even more striking aspect of the work is the author's vision of the 'impermanent' nature of the Gitano social order and the absence of any representation of 'community' or 'society'. Unlike their non-Gypsy neighbours, Gitanos do not use concepts of tradition, territory or social harmony as bases for their singularity. Instead, they focus on the evaluation of personal moral performances in the present. In a cultural universe where all activities are markers of shared identity, and where personhood is always sexed, men and women continually enact the superiority of Gypsies over non-Gypsies. Through dress, manner and the management of emations, or at wedding rituals where the virginity of young brides is put to the test, the body works as the site of these processes.

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