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Marguerite Guzman Bouvard. Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 1994. 278.
Motherhood: Marianistas and Supermadres
But the image of the black-clad mantilla-draped figure, kneeling before
the altar, rosary in hand, praying for the souls of her sinful menfolk,
dominates the television and cinema screens, the radio programs, and
the popular literature, as well as the oral tradition of the whole culture
Motherhood is a pervasive element of Latin American women's identity, far more so than in the United States and Western Europe. Traditional gender constructions situate mothers as symbols of self-sacrifice and moral superiority, and images of a "loving, forgiving" Virgin Mary are omnipresent in Latin American Catholicism. Marianismo, the belief in "female spiritual superiority" analyzed by Evelyn Stevens, functions as the counterpart of machismo, exaggerated manifestations of male virility and honor. According to a popular Mexican saying, "it is the wife who marries." The alternative female role is that of the bad woman/whore who defies social convention and flaunts her sexuality.(2)
Derived from these gender roles are familiar spatial relations: women in the casa, the home or the private sphere, and men in the calle, the street or the public sphere. Even when Latin American women enter politics, they often emphasize their role as mothers, reasoning that efficient homemakers wild effectively put the city, state, congress, or nation in order. The childless Eva Peron projected herself as mother of all Argentines.(3) In her successful 1990 presidential campaign, the devoutly Catholic Violeta Barrios de Chamorro "dress[ed] in white, all virginal, with her arms outstretched like the pope, and talking about `my children,'" a comforting maternal image to the divided Nicaraguan people, according to Sandinista Milu Vargas (in Randall, Sandino's Daughters Revisited, 138). Analyzing this phenomenon seventeen years ago, Elsa Chaney labeled these women supermadres (supermothers).(4) Thus, traditional constructions of gender roles even shaped women's entry into politics in Latin America, where most women continued to reject feminism. Conservative women related feminism to radical projects based on alien ideologies that threatened to destroy the family, while women on the Left considered it an import of European or U.S. imperialism.
From her study of women's political participation in Chile and Peru in the 1960s and 1970s, Chaney linked supermadre politics to a marked tendency toward political conservatism, arguing that women's political participation arose in waves, peaking at moments of crisis. When the crisis subsides, "the image of woman's role has not changed sufficiently to a]low more than a few to remain active on a responsible level." Chaney queried: if women began to enter politics en masse, would their sustained participation change politics as usual?(5)
Over the last 25 years, thousands of women, once content to be housewives and raise families, have taken to the streets to protest economic hardship, political repression, disappearances, and murder in Latin America. The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina, La Agrupacion and the Mujeres Democraticas in Chile, CONAVIGUA and the GAM in Guatemala, COMADRES in El Salvador, and many other grassroots groups have moved from the casa to calle, from home to the street, and even to the carcel, to prison, in search of social and economic justice and human rights.
A rich body of literature has recently appeared to narrate and analyze these events. On the one hand, these works attest to the emergence of the voices of Latin American women in the form of testimonies, life stories, and interviews. On the other hand, armed with what Nancy Fraser and Linda Nicholson have termed a "strategic engagement" between feminism and postmodernism (the power of feminist social-critical analysis combined with the postmodern critique of metanarrative) that transforms them both (cited in Marchand and Parpart, 9-10), scholars have presented new research. This review essay considers both types of literature to explore changing constructions of gender roles, dynamic spatial contexts, and new categories of economic and political analysis pertaining to Latin American women.
Taken together, these works demonstrate that far from being an essentialist category, motherhood as a basic component of Latin American women's identity is not only socially and culturally constructed but also, in the last two decades, a dynamic and contested terrain. As Nancy Saporta Sternbach has observed, Latin American women are "trespassing on . . . patriarchal space."(6) In response to Chaney's question, the books under review begin to substantiate the significant impact of the changing agency and identity of Latin American women.
Dialogue Across Difference: New Voices and Their Midwives
Denied the traditional mourning process, a ritual of grieving which includes
burial, here there is an unburial, an unearthing of truth which translates
into an invasion of the space occupied by official
history, necessary for future
generations of children, who need to know this buried, silenced, and
forgotten chapter of Argentine history.(7)
Confronting repressive military dictatorships, economic crises, the impact of globalization, and neoliberal restructuring, women of all classes, races, and ethnicities have become, in the words of one indigenous Guatemalan woman, "protagonists in our own struggle" (in Hooks, 74). Those once "backward," "tradition-bound," and "powerless" victims stereotyped by Western development "experts" are forging new economic, political, social, cultural, and spatial relationships throughout the hemisphere. Latin American women have invaded the verbal space of Western master narratives, the written space of official histories, the political space of public plazas, the economic space of the new world order, and the mental space of people's "subjective consciousness" (Magaly Pineda in Randall, Our Voices, 118). Their testimony has permitted us to hear the voices of women, children, and men, "screaming alone in the chambers of horror" (Agosin, 27).
All the texts under review share some aspects of testimony and/or the revelation of knowledge of or about marginalized female subjects. Maria Teresa Tula's collaboration with Lynn Stephens in Hear My Testimony, Margaret Hook's Guatemalan Women Speak, and sections of Margaret Randall's Our Voices/Our Lives attempt to present their testimonies with a minimum of interference. In Ruth Behar's Translated Woman, Margaret Randall's Sandino's Daughters Revisited and sections of Our Voices/Our Lives, and Sarah Le Vine and Clara Sunderland …