The Gendered Worlds of Latin American Women Workers: From Household and Factory to the Union Hall and Ballot Box

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The Gendered Worlds of Latin American Women Workers examines the lives of Latin American women who entered factory labor in increasing numbers in the early part of the twentieth century. Emphasizing the integration of traditional labor history topics with historical accounts of gender, female subjectivity, and community, this volume focuses on the experience of working women at mid-century, especially those laboring in the urban industrial sector. In its exploration of working women’s agency and consciousness, this collection offers rich detail regarding women’s lives as daughters, housewives, mothers, factory workers, trade union leaders, and political activists.
Widely seen as a hostile sexualized space, the modern factory was considered a threat, not only to the virtue of working women, but also to the survival of the family, and thus, the future of the nation. Yet working-class women continued to labor outside the home and remained highly visible in the expanding world of modern industry. In nine essays dealing with Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Guatemala, the contributors make extensive use of oral histories to describe the contradictory experiences of women whose work defied gender prescriptions but was deemed necessary by working-class families in a world of need and scarcity. The volume includes discussion of previously neglected topics such as single motherhood, women’s struggle against domestic violence, and the role of women as both desiring and desired subjects.

Contributors. Ann Farnsworth-Alvear, Mary Lynn Pedersen Cluff, John D. French, Daniel James, Thomas Miller Klubock, Deborah Levenson-Estrada, Mirta Zaida Lobato, Heidi Tinsman, Theresa R. Veccia, Barbara Weinstein

"Collection of well-researched articles effectively combines gender history and labor history and includes specialized studies of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Guatemala. Each article is thoroughly footnoted, revealing broadly-based sources including interviews, memoirs, and government publications, as well as authors' extensive reading in comparable published studies and theoretical literature. Editors also contribute introductory and concluding essays rich in historiographical and methodological insights"--Handbook of Latin American Studies, v. 58.

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Editorial Reviews

American Historical Review
This book represents a major contribution, even a milestone of sorts, for the new Latin American labor history that the editors have promoted and practiced, and it is certain to be widely read....The book's power resides in its ability to weave into a coherent whole the diverse experiences of women from a part of the world characterized by great social, political, racial, and ethnic diversity and to persuade us of the inextricable dynamic of gender and class....Few volumes so powerfully convey the complexities of working-class life and so convincingly expose the poverty of deterministic theories of working identity.
Journal of Latin American Studies
The Gendered Worlds of Latin American Women Workers is an illuminating collection, the diversity of which reflects the multiple gendered spaces inhabited by women factory workers and the multiple identities negotiated by them in their daily lives. It represents an important step towards the development of a fully gendered labour history which recognizes that the issues of class and gender are 'inside one another,' neither one more important or prior to the other.
Hispanic American Historical Review
These articles are representative of exciting, innovative, and suggestive new work.
[T]hese essays are a major step toward producing fully gendered accounts of working women and men, that is, of the whole working class itself....Traditional research methodologies and sources...are effectively complemented by wide-ranging use of oral history and testimonies that rescue the hidden voices of those doubly silenced by class and gender.
Luso-Brazilian Review
This fine collection of...fresh and innovative efforts of new scholars....should be required reading for anybody with an interest in the history of labor and gender relations in Latin America....[T]he essays in this collection are well crafted, provocative, and fun to read. This book will stimulate interest and debate among both specialists and students.
World Views
The articles in this collection strive to go beyond commonplace studies of 'women workers and women's work' in a far-reaching attempt 'to explore the articulation of gender and class in the lives of working-class subjects, both male and female.'
From the Publisher

"Now, at last, a collection that goes beyond simplistic notions of Marianism to show how factory work shaped Latin American women’s attitudes and how the women themselves negotiated for their dignity. Oral histories combined with more traditional sources give a fresh look at how gender operated in the workplace and in the home. No mere gap filler, this book represents a whole new line of inquiry."—Temma Kaplan, State University of New York, Stony Brook

"This work portrays the richly textured world of twentieth-century working women. They recall their memories of labor in male-dominated factories where they challenged pervading paternalistic attitudes. Their moving and intimate narratives are aptly contextualized by a group of historians deeply committed to creating a gendered view of a field previously dominated by men’s views and memories. A splendid collection."—Asunción Lavrin, Arizona State University

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Product Details

Meet the Author

John D. French is Associate Professor of History at Duke University.

Daniel James is Bernardo Mendel Professor of Latin American History at Indiana University.

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Table of Contents

Squaring the Circle: Women's Factory Labor, Gender Ideology, and Necessity 1
"Tales Told Out on the Borderlands": Dona Maria's Story, Oral History, and Issues of Gender 31
Women Workers in the "Cathedrals of Corned Beef": Structure and Subjectivity in the Argentine Meatpacking Industry 53
Unskilled Worker, Skilled Housewife: Constructing the Working-Class Woman in Sao Paulo, Brazil 72
"My Duty as a Woman": Gender Ideology, Work, and Working-Class Women's Lives in Sao Paulo, Brazil, 1900-1950 100
Talking, Fighting, Flirting: Workers' Sociability in Medellin Textile Mills, 1935-1950 147
Women and Working-Class Mobilization in Postwar Sao Paulo, 1945-1948 176
The Loneliness of Working-Class Feminism: Women in the "Male World" of Labor Unions, Guatemala City, 1970s 208
Morality and Good Habits: The Construction of Gender and Class in the Chilean Copper Mines, 1904-1951 232
Household Patrones: Wife-Beating and Sexual Control in Rural Chile, 1964-1988 264
Oral History, Identity Formation, and Working-Class Mobilization 297
Contributors 315
Index 317
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