The Women of Mexico City, 1790-1857

The Women of Mexico City, 1790-1857

The Women of Mexico City, 1790-1857

The Women of Mexico City, 1790-1857

Synopsis

This pioneering study poses three main questions: Were women's roles in this era as narrow and unimportant as has been assumed? To what extent were women dominated by men? Can significant differences be found betweeen younger and older women, married and single, upper class and lower class?

Excerpt

The law provides an essential framework for understanding women's lives. Although the Mexican legal system distinguished people on the basis of many factors, such as minor and adult, noble and commoner, legitimate and illegitimate, and Spanish, Caste, and Indian, gender cut across every one of these legal categories. in fact, women's distinct juridical status is a strong argument for studying them as a separate group. Granted, the relationship between law and behavior is far from simple: societies may interpret their laws differently at different times, individuals who fail to take advantage of their legal rights may in practice forfeit them, and, conversely, where local custom permits, individuals may have more freedom than the laws prescribe. Still, if legal systems rarely describe women's lives precisely; they establish boundaries within which women were supposed to operate and reflect ideas about women's roles and relationships to men. Changes in law, illustrating shifting social norms, in turn contribute to the further shaping of women's experiences.

The legal status of Mexican women thus illuminates several issues raised by this study. It demonstrates whether women were viewed primarily as wives and mothers and whether their activities were ideally restricted to the domestic home. It establishes areas where women exercised authority, with their right to make decisions formally sanctioned by law, and suggests those where they might exercise informal power, controlling the behavior of others by drawing on institutional resources provided by law. As lawbooks set forth restrictions on women's rights, they also explained the reasons for those restrictions. Modifications in . . .

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