The Faces of Honor: Sex, Shame, and Violence in Colonial Latin America

By Lyman L. Johnson; Sonya Lipsett-Rivera | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SEVEN
A SLAP IN THE FACE OF HONOR Social Transgression and Women in Late-Colonial Mexico

SONYA LIPSETT-RIVERA

Fire, Water, and Honor joined together for a time. Fire could not stay still; Water also had to be in continual movement, and so Water and Fire insisted that Honor should travel with them. Before setting off on their trip, they agreed to give each other some signs by which they could find each other in case one got lost. "If, by any chance, I am separated from you," said Fire, "look for smoke and there you will find me, because that is my sign.""If you lose sight of me," said Water, "don't look for me in and or cracked ground, but rather where there are willows, poplars, swampland plants, or grasses that are very green and tall, there you will find me.""As for me" said Honor, "watch me carefully and never let go of my hand for a moment. Because if by some bad fortune I leave the road and you lose me, you will never find me again.1

This tale was printed in a magazine for Mexican ladies as a reminder of the ease with which honor could be lost. From the perspective of their class it was understood that elite Mexican women had honor to protect and that they grasped the social expectations associated with its retention. They upheld their family honor not only by remaining chaste throughout their lives, but by acting only in a reputable manner so that their conduct would reflect favorably upon their families. For women honor was intimately bound first to their virginity before marriage, then to fidelity to their husbands, and finally to their chasteness as widows. Their sexual behavior (or rather lack of it) reflected upon the men associated with them. Thus a woman who defied these rules not only stained her own honor but also that of her father, her brother, and her husband.

But honor was also related to a sense of social superiority, and therefore when women struggled to protect their honor they were also inherently trying

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