lunes, 19 de octubre de 2009

Respectable workers, decent housewives.

Rosemblatt, Karin Alejandra. Gendered Compromises. Political Cultures and the State in Chile, 1920-1950. Introduction pp. 1-25. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.

This book revolves around the argument that the modernizing project in Chile during the first half of the twentieth-century was formulated as a gendered project, in which the state drew a line between respectable men (workers), respectable women (housewives and mothers), and the undisciplined "other". Moreover, they opposed rationality —linked to modern citizenship— to uncontained sexuality. This was in turn linked also to the racialized aspect of the national project: the whitening of the nation. Thus, trough the control over sexuality the racial boundaries of the nation were to be sustained.

Rosemblatt analyses diverse sources, such as state documents and fiction, to document the project of the popular front (the center-left coalition that governed in Chile between the 1920's and the 1950's). This project was immersed in the logic of progress, modernization and evolution that influenced most Western processes of nation-building. The state looked for rationality and science to become the grounds for social intervention. Professionals were indoctrinated in the idea of the educating state, and introduced a gendered professional practice, where women were incorporated as the 'social hygienists'. A healthy and well-constituted family were deemed as a requirement for the nation's advancement. Antagonist political projects all claimed the family as their ideal model of national conviviality and kinship. A gendered citizenship was promoted by policies and wage systems operated over the idea of the nuclear heterosexual male-headed family.

Rosemblatt looks at the processes of nation building as centered on the state as a site of contestation and negotiation of meanings with social and political actors. However, she recognizes that there are power structures at place that do not make this an equal bargain. State policies were shaped during this period both by the disciplining effort of the elites and by the ways that subaltern subjects negotiated with the state within these restrictions. That is, says Rosemblatt, there can be agency without autonomy. The state is not a monolithic entity either, but rather an heterogeneous body that reaches hegemony instead of complete control or domination.

The women who helped bring Allende down.

Power, Margaret. La Mujer de Derecha. El poder femenino y la lucha contra Salvador Allende, 1964-1973. Santiago: Ediciones de la Dirección de Bibliotecas, Archivos y Museos, 2008.

Power analyzes the right-women's movement, its role in the opposition to Allende's socialist government in Chile (1970-1973) and in the military coup itself. Power makes a convincing argument that gender ideologies were put at play and performed dramatically during the military coup and the events that lead to it. Women presented themselves as the a-political mothers who were defending their private homes (family) and public home (the Fatherland, the nation) and the opposition to Allende exploited this idea. Women interpellated men in their (lack of) masculinity to defend women and children. They used their kitchen pans as symbols of female domesticity to protest the government, which they accused prevented them from fulfilling their natural roles properly. The public performance of conservative women in acts like the Marcha de las Cacerolas Vacías provided a sort of "trascendental" legitimation for the supporters of the coup.

There is short episode that illustrates the way that gender ideologies dramatically shaped the conflict: Carlos Prats was the last high-ranked military officer that remained faithful to Allende, and was receiving a lot of public pressure from conservative women, who were constantly calling on his manliness (and the whole military's). Amidst a lot of tension, one day driving his car, he saw somebody sticking out their tongue at him. He lost his temper and started shooting his gun at the car. Later, he realized that whom he thought to be a man offending him, was actually a woman, Alexandrina Cox: an upper class woman that wore short hair and no make-up. His embarrassment (notably, only for pointing a gun at a woman, not for becoming violent altogether) was such that he resigned his position (allowing Augusto Pinochet to become the next head of the army).

Power argues that historically, the right-wing and conservative sectors in Chile have been more effective in obtaining women support by calling on their roles as mothers and wives, which define many women's identities given Chile's traditional dominant gender ideologies. Conversely, the Left has traditionally focused on organizing and politicizing men through their role as workers and heads of house-holds, and has tended to dismiss women as "conservative" by nature. During the elaboration of the "Terror Campaign" for the elections of 1964, the US and the CIA channeled generous funds for the dissemination of propaganda. Most of it, Power shows, targeted women as mothers, suggesting that communist were to kidnap their children from their families to be indoctrinated in socialist countries.