Restructuring Patriarchy: The Modernization of Gender Inequality in Brazil, 1914-1940

Restructuring Patriarchy: The Modernization of Gender Inequality in Brazil, 1914-1940

Restructuring Patriarchy: The Modernization of Gender Inequality in Brazil, 1914-1940

Restructuring Patriarchy: The Modernization of Gender Inequality in Brazil, 1914-1940

Synopsis

Susan K. Besse broadens our understanding of the political by establishing the relevance of gender for the construction of state hegemony in Brazil after World War I. Restructuring Patriarchy demonstrates that the consolidation and legitimization of power by President Getalio Vargas's Estado Novo depended to a large extent on the reorganization of social relations in the private sphere.

New expectations and patterns of behavior for women emerged in postwar Brazil from heated debates between men and women, housewives and career women, feminists and antifeminists, reformist professionals and conservative clerics, and industrialists and bureaucrats. But as urban middle- and upper-class women challenged patriarchal authority at home and assumed new roles in public, prominent intellectuals, professionals, and politicians defined and imposed new 'hygienic,' rational, and scientific gender norms. Thus, modernization of the gender system within Brazil's rising urban-industrial society accommodated new necessities and opportunities for women without fundamentally changing the gender inequality that underlay the larger structure of social inequality in Brazil.

Excerpt

Quite suddenly beginning in the post--World War I period in Brazil, women appeared everywhere in print. Dressed in the most modern styles imported from abroad, they adorned the covers of the abundant new glossy magazines, and their snapshots were sprinkled throughout the inside pages. Advertisers used their bodies to sell products and exploited their anxieties to increase sales. A veritable outpouring of normative literature defined their new "duties" as wives, mothers, and housekeepers and offered detailed instructions on how to fulfill the escalating requirements. Novelists and social critics established their reputations commenting on the behavior of "modern" women and the muchfeared blurring of gender distinctions. Educators, physicians, and psychiatrists built their careers defining and attempting to implement modern standards of female education and health. Jurists campaigned (in the popular press as well as in law journals and courts) to define and defend women's sexual honor as well as to "civilize" the passionate love that too frequently led to bloody crimes. The tabloid press flourished by offering lurid accounts of passionate crimes and voyeuristic details of scandalous private lives. Police journals spilled quantities of ink denouncing the styles and behavior of Brazil's "modern girls" and other "degenerate" women. Labor unions demanded protective legislation, and the Ministry of Labor undertook the task of defining and regulating appropriate female employment. Other government agencies worked to devise further means to guard against the "dissolution" and "perversion" of the institution of the family. Feminists succeeded in pressuring Parliament to pass female suffrage. The proliferating number of Catholic lay organizations demanded that the faithful adhere to the Church's conservative definitions of the "Christian family." Indeed, from the mid-1910s through the 1930s, there was hardly a prominent Brazilian professional, intellectual, or political authority who did not participate in the wide-ranging debates over the redefinition of gender roles.

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