Deco Body, Deco City: Female Spectacle and Modernity in Mexico City, 1900-1939

Deco Body, Deco City: Female Spectacle and Modernity in Mexico City, 1900-1939

Deco Body, Deco City: Female Spectacle and Modernity in Mexico City, 1900-1939

Deco Body, Deco City: Female Spectacle and Modernity in Mexico City, 1900-1939

Synopsis

In the turbulent decades following the Mexican Revolution, Mexico City saw a drastic influx of female migrants seeking escape and protection from the ravages of war in the countryside. While some settled in slums and tenements, where the informal economy often provided the only means of survival, the revolution, in the absence of men, also prompted women to take up traditionally male roles, created new jobs in the public sphere open to women, and carved out new social spaces in which women could exercise agency.

In Deco Body, Deco City, Ageeth Sluis explores the effects of changing gender norms on the formation of urban space in Mexico City by linking aesthetic and architectural discourses to political and social developments. Through an analysis of the relationship between female migration to the city and gender performances on and off the stage, the book shows how a new transnational ideal female physique informed the physical shape of the city. By bridging the gap between indigenismo (pride in Mexico's indigenous heritage) and mestizaje (privileging the ideal of race mixing), this new female deco body paved the way for mestizo modernity. This cultural history enriches our understanding of Mexico's postrevolutionary decades and brings together social, gender, theater, and architectural history to demonstrate how changing gender norms formed the basis of a new urban modernity.

Excerpt

During and after the armed phase of the Mexican Revolution (1910– 20), which claimed over one million lives and displaced many more, Mexico City experienced a drastic influx of female migrants. Some hoped to escape the ravages of war in the countryside, while others sought refuge after losing male protection due to the death of their husbands, fathers, and brothers. Poor female migrants generally settled in crowded vecindades (slums) or in viviendas (tenements) in the city center. For these disadvantaged women new to the capital, the informal economy of street vending, domestic service, and prostitution often provided the only means of survival. Destitute, vulnerable, and sexualized as mujeres callejeras (women of the street), they were seen by upper- and middle- class residents as shameful spectacles of poverty and a powerful reminder of revolutionary upheaval in the heart of the capital city.

The revolution, however, also carved out new social spaces in which women could exercise agency, propelled women to take up traditionally male roles in the absence of men, and created new jobs in the public sphere that were open to women. High levels of urbanization only added new opportunities for women. Swept up in the revolution, whether by force or choice, women became part of a transnational movement connecting them to both revolutionary politics and nascent consumerism. Like other early- twentieth- century burgeoning cities, Mexico City experienced the influx of a heterogeneous population that allowed for a rise in new activities that facilitated female mobility. By moving through new physical places and social territories, these women— especially lower- class women of rural origin— were . . .

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