Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Women and the Conquest of California, 1542-1840: Codes of Silence

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Women and the Conquest of California, 1542-1840: Codes of Silence

Article excerpt

Women and the Conquest of California, 1542-1840: Codes of Silence. By Virginia Marie Bouvier. (Tucson: The University of Arizona Press. 2001. Pp. xvii, 266. $40.00.)

In the literary and historical imagination of the Americas, the literary scholar Virginia M. Bouvier argues, the Spanish conquest of California is the domain of gendered and sexualized mythology, ideology, and violence concealed in codes of silence. Seeking to articulate women's voices and presence in the California missions and frontier society Bouvier finds that while women's texts are absent from the documents of conquest, the historical record is steeped with ideas about gender, women, and sexuality. Colonial officialdom occluded women's history behind codes of silence as thick as the adobe walls enclosing the monjerio, the dormitory where unmarried Indian girls and widows were confined in the missions.

Using gender as a category of analysis, Bouvier exhaustively re-reads the masculinized literary and historical record of the conquest of Spain's last outpost of empire. California, she concludes, is gendered, sexualized, and mythologized as it is "discovered," explored, and then subsequently, as it is evangelized, missionized, and colonized. From the beginning to the end of Spanish colonial rule, "gender ideology was one of the key ingredients in the glue that held together the conquest project" (p. xv). It was codified in the myth of Calafia, which became paradigmatic of a gendered dichotomy between Spanish male conquerors and native female subjects, the objects of conquest. Gender ideology, and its corresponding hierarchies based on male domination (patriarchy), naturalized conquest and provided a paradigm for Spanish domination.

Moreover, the gendered and sexualized language, religion, and other symbolic systems of the Spanish conquest were diametrically opposed to California Indians' religious and symbolic systems, and thus to their ideologies of sex and gender. Although not uniform in their cultural practices, Californian societies generally had a broader view of human sexuality, accounted for alternative genders, and were generally not male-dominated. Consistent with their respective cultures, women exerted religious, economic, political, social, and cultural power. To transform California Indians into colonial subjects meant the control of women and families. …

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