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From H-World list, 23 February, 1995

Gertrude M. Yeager (ed.), Confronting Change, Challenging Tradition: Women in Latin American History

Review by Virginia W. Leonard, Department of History, Western Illinois University (, 23 February 1995

Gertrude Yeager is an associate professor of Latin American history at Tulane University, where she and her students worked on this book. It is meant for introducing undergraduates to the history of women in Latin America.

The book consists of articles published elsewhere, and is divided into two parts: Culture and Status of Women and Reconstructing the Past. A list of them follows this review.

In an excellent introduction, Yeager stresses that continuity rather than change determines the history of women in Latin America. She summarizes the constants of their lives as home, family, and honor. The marianismo model of femininity has two aspects: meaning and moral superiority imbue women's lives of sacrifice for home and family, yet there are limitations on their self-determinism and autonomy. This is a terrific point of departure for class discussion.

The main points of the articles are concisely summarized as introductions. Interestingly, Yeager found the nineteenth century to be the least studied period, made difficult because women did not write about themselves. Yet, there are no articles dealing with the colonial period per se. The reader is left thinking that three centuries of colonial rule were stagnant and uniform, and generalizations about women can be studied via colonial laws and concepts of marianismo and machismo. The bulk of these articles encompass the political, economic and legal changes in the lives of women in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. A couple of them are in the realm of popular culture.

Some reviewers might criticize this book for its perspective and its lack of recent research and articles that could be considered more radical and controversial. In addition, there are no articles by Latin American women that were translated specifically for this book. However, it could be argued that this book on Latin American women will be understandable to a great number of undergraduates, and this is of great value in itself. It is good for stimulating class discussion, it is very legible, and it is a good introduction to Latin American women.

There is an emphasis on legal changes in this book, and the explanations of the changes in Mexican family law by Sylvia Arrom were outstanding. The reader can only wish that the Cuban family law and its impact had been examined as thoroughly instead of being offered as de facto and de jure.

This book accomplishes its purpose--it can be utilized in a classroom to introduce undergraduates to the history of Latin American women, especially for the modern period. Instructors might want to supplement it with other articles. The instructor might also question some of the premises of the articles, such as "the question of personal identity is much less troublesome to Latin American women than to their North American sisters" (Stevens, p. 13), and "the war in Peru has radically transformed women's perceptions of themselves and their role in society, and, regardless of the outcome, the future does not augur well for the survival of the traditional patterns of gender oppression" (Daniel Castro, p. 223). Most of the articles will generate good class discussions.



At the end of the book there is a list of Suggested Readings that is topical, followed by a list of Suggested Films.