Race and Latin America Essay examples

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The role of women in colonial Latin America was very much determined by what racial group and social class they were born into. In her book, The Women of Colonial Latin America, Susan Migden Socolow identifies additional factors that caused differences in women's lives. These other factors include "demography, life cause, spatial variations, local economy, norm and reality, and change over time" (Socolow 1).

Socolow contends that among these additional variables, demography was the most important. This is due to the fact that the "ratio of men to women could enhance or limit women's choices" (Socolow 2). The experiences of women also changed as they grew older and moved into different roles in life, e.g. from childhood to marriage to widowhood. The economy of the area where the women lived also had an effect on them, since women in a more prosperous area (especially elite women) lived more comfortably than their counterparts in less affluent areas. Socolow argues that these women did not always follow the social ideal of women imposed by the patriarchal society, and of course there were different ideals for each race and class of women. And lastly, these ideals of women, in some instances, changed over time.

The social ideal for Iberian women, in the Old World and the New, was strongly influenced by the Islamic tradition, which was to keep the females cloistered in the home. Female virginity at the time of marriage also had an effect on the family's honor and was strictly monitored. This was especially true of the women in the Spanish elite, although many women did find ways to evade their chaperones to meet their lovers, as evidenced by the number of abandoned Spanish children. This cloistering of Iberian women was both a blessing and curse; while they did not have freedom to move around as the lower class women did, they did escape the social stigma attached to women who did appear on the streets. Also these Iberian women were not expected to work, at least not outside the home. Elite women did no work at all, other than supervising the work of the household servants and slaves. Iberian women also benefited from laws such as marriage and inheritance laws that were not extended to the other racial groups and social classes.

The role of women in pre-conquest Latin America varied according to the ethnic group she belonged to, but many native societies "controlled female sexuality in ways strikingly similar to the Spanish" (Socolow 19). Unlike Spanish inheritance and property laws, "generally land was held only by men" but women could own movable property (Socolow 21). Also like the Spanish, indigenous peoples had a strict sexual division of labor, although their views of what was women's and men's labor differed from Spaniards, and even from region to region.

After the arrival of the Spaniards, the role of indigenous women changed dramatically. The indigenous elite women became attractive marriage