Women, Feminism, and Social Change in Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, 1890-1940

Women, Feminism, and Social Change in Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, 1890-1940

Women, Feminism, and Social Change in Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, 1890-1940

Women, Feminism, and Social Change in Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, 1890-1940

Synopsis

Feminism has not been an alien concept for twentieth-century Latin American women. It has grown steadily, sometimes under adversity, and in this century's closing years it continues to be a matter of faith for some and a topic of debate or scorn for others.

Excerpt

Feminism has not been an alien concept for twentieth-century Latin American women. It has grown steadily, sometimes under adversity, and in this century's closing years it continues to be a matter of faith for some and a topic of debate or scorn for others. The roots of feminism in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, when women's writing for the public media intersected with their industrial work to undermine the confident assumption that the restrictions imposed on the female sex by law and custom were needed to maintain the integrity of family and society. Educated urban women began publishing poetry, novels, and other prose, mostly in newspapers and magazines, in the first sustained expression of their own minds. Even though many made no particular statements on the condition of women, their work was an eloquent expression of their readiness to be admitted into the most sacrosanct area of men's domain, the intellectual.

Yet women's world was not all writing and education. There was a growing demand for their physical labor beyond the home and its domestic chores. Industrial development, even the most meager, called for cheap labor, and women were a marketable commodity as wage earners. They were trustworthy, inexpensive, and docile. Urban growth and the development of manufacturing brought uncomfortable fluctuations in the value of money and the cost of living. To make ends meet, the young of both sexes were recruited, and women stepped out of the home to work in sweatshops and factories. The odd combination of education and labor, disparate as the two may seem, brought women into the light of public debate. Their merits as mothers and wives were added to their legal rights under the law and their role as objects and subjects of public policies. The meaning of womanhood gained an important dimension when mixed with affairs of state. And when working women published their first newspapers after 1895, they signaled that the gates of self-expression were wide open to all.

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