Latin Women Throughout the Colonial Term Paper

Download this Term Paper in word format (.doc)

Note: Sample below may appear distorted but all corresponding word document files contain proper formatting

Excerpt from Term Paper:

While Indian women and those of mixed races were certainly lower class citizens, they could easily become elite through their marriage to a white male of Spanish decent (Mabry 1990). Marriage was often seen to transcend any race or class issue, and thus prompted many women to act in non-virtuous ways in order to secure a future (Johnson 1998).

This difference in virtuous intent also relates to the very real danger for women in Bahia who committed acts considered to be sexually outlandish or improper, whether married or single. For married women, the punishment for adultery could include death until 1830. Prior to that time, men who killed their adulterous wives were often acquitted, since they were defending their honor in the eyes of the social system of the time (Caulfield 2000). Further, even single women found to be concubines could be killed by their families, to prevent a loss of the family honor (Johnson 1998). However, since many of these dangers related only to the women of Spanish decent, Indian women were not at risk for such violent repercussions.

In light of these serious punishments for a loss of honor, married Latin women of Bahia did not take a passive role in the defense of their honor. Rather than relying on the men of the community to defend their honor, women took a vested interest in their own and their families reputations. Women often acted together to protect their reputations through legal means, if they were higher-class citizens, or through the use of violence and deception. Elite women in Bahia often conspired to hide illegitimate children by placing them with married relatives or foster homes (Johnson 1998). Thus, while the strict rulings against sexuality in women certainly helped to stifle some, these regulations also created a contradiction in reality, since to be honorable, one often had to be deceitful (Johnson 1998).

The rights of elite women in Bahia marriages were also different. While they were expected to be "corrected" by their husbands, controlled few assets once married, and were allowed no legal proceedings, they were the petitioners in all divorce cases, showing a power for these women many lower class women did not have in other areas. According to the Roman Catholic Church, the reigning social institution at the time, women were the only persons allowed to bring "divorce" proceedings against their spouse. These "divorces" were simply separations, in which neither male nor female could remarry. Generally, these proceedings were requested in cases of abuse or mistreatment (Lavrin 1989).

Additionally, married women in colonial Bahia were entitled to half of the community property acquired during marriage, and had the power to control those assets. Dowries given to daughters often exceeded their male siblings' share of any family property, and those daughters still retained their rights to that family property. However, it is important to note that these dowries were not so much an expression of the life of the married woman, but were instead intended to attract a husband. Often, if a female were sexually active prior to marriage, the dowry actually increased to conceal or at least diminish the indiscretion (Nazzari 1991).

Another difference can be found in the way in which the male spouse was chosen for the female. In Mexico City, as discussed, the Church and other social institutions favored personal choice for the couple to be married. In Bahia, however, fathers often used the large dowries to entice suitors. Once a number of suitors showed interest, the father could then chose the best among them. Since females were a prime member of the productive family unit of Bahia in the 17th century, the maintenance of the status quo was a desired outcome. The Church rarely interfered with this practice, and arranged marriages were often the result (Nazzari 1991).

It is important to note that many of these sexual restrictions and lack of rights applied only to those in the elite status quo. Lower class or slave class women often fought against such restrictions on their sexual or marital activities. Since these families often had no dowry, their choice for spouses remained based on mutual attraction. Additionally, since there was no real honor to the slave class, slave women were not "expected" to remain virgins. Rather, these women often became concubines or lovers of their masters. In terms of free lower class women, they too often became servants to the elite males, and were often lovers (Hahner 1990).

It is clear that while there were some differences in the married and sexual lives of women in Bahia, Brazil during colonial times, they also shared many experiences with those in Mexico City. The elite classes were expected to be virtuous, the protection of a woman's honor was a primary factor in all daily life, women were often treated as the lesser class, and marriage often dealt more with the solidification of families than with emotion. However, because of the high level of mixed race sexual relations, there were some women who were removed from this highly restrictive lifestyle. Additionally, the elite women were allowed to control property, allowed to assist in their own "divorce" proceedings, and were less passive than their sisters in Mexico City.

In Buenos Aires, Argentina, women again experienced many of the same issues as those in Bahia and Mexico City. As in Mexico City, the Church held a high position of power, and through the late 17th century, continued to be the primary party in the approval of marriage. Once a declaration of marriage occurred, the couple's union could be objected to by family. Yet, as in Mexico City, the Church often sided with the couple, allowing marriages when objections were based on race or class issues (Lavrin 1989). This also meant that, similar to Bahia, women of lower social classes could marry outside of their economic situation, and thereby become more prominent members of society (Lavrin 1995).

Women in Buenos Aires often married early. Unlike in Bahia, where the female was a primary member of a productive family group even when single, the female in a family of Buenos Aires was often married as early as the age fourteen. It was not until the late 18th century that women were required to reach the age of 25 prior to marriage, or were required to have parental consent for marriage. It is important to note that even this step was not intended to allow the female any additional rights, but was instead instituted to allow more parental control over martial choice (Lavrin 1989).

As in Mexico City and Bahia, any female promised marriage by a male who did not follow through with the promise could sue the offender for breach of contract. This was again due to the high value placed on the reputation of the female in the daily life of Buenos Aires. However, it is important to note that there were some differences in the proceedings of these cases. In Buenos Aires in colonial times, issues of race were highly sensitive issues. Whereas in Bahia, members of the mulatto class were more or less accepted as part of society, the situation in Buenos Aires was far more delicate. Those found to be from mixed heritage often found themselves lowered in their class status, and those in the elite families were no longer treated as elite. Thus, while dissent cases were popular in Mexico City and while race issues were not as pressing in Bahia, cases before the courts for marriage dissent were not as common in Buenos Aires (Lavrin 1989).

As in other Latin areas during colonial times, the most frequent dissent against marriage was brought by the parents of the male, claiming a "non-virtuous" life of the female. As in Mexico City, the elite were often spared this humiliation, since their class and honor were to be highly guarded. However, for lower-class women in Buenos Aires, claims of highly active sexual lives, prostitution, venereal disease, and prior consensual unions and out of wedlock births were common (Lavrin 1989). Since lower class females did not have the resources to combat these charges, and since the legal and political system of Buenos Aires in colonial times did not protect the honor of the lower class, these women were often left with no hope of marrying outside their economic or social stations.

However, unlike in Mexico City, where the female was expected to remain a virgin until the actual marriage ceremony, those in Buenos Aires made clear distinction between sexual relations with the betrothed, and other relations. Certainly, honor was a highly valued trait for women, and a mainstay of their social standing. Yet sexual relations between those intending to marry were a common practice in Buenos Aires, even in the elite classes. This created a problem in cases where the male breached the marriage contract. If a female were to have sexual relations with the male, and the male were to breach the contract, the female was seen…[continue]

Cite This Term Paper:

"Latin Women Throughout The Colonial" (2005, July 23) Retrieved December 3, 2016, from

"Latin Women Throughout The Colonial" 23 July 2005. Web.3 December. 2016. <>

"Latin Women Throughout The Colonial", 23 July 2005, Accessed.3 December. 2016,

Other Documents Pertaining To This Topic

  • Colonial America Earle Alice M

    The result, however, seems less scholarly, less cold and professionally aloof than similar works by other more science-minded authors. Earle, however, operates with the intent to construct a true-to-life catalogue of the things that went into making up the lives of the Colonists. Earle's research does lead the reader to trust her sources and her findings, but the writing style can still distract from the overall impact - by

  • Latin or Caribbean Music

    steel drum, or steel pan, is a unique instrument commonly heard in Caribbean music today, and is one of the most recently "invented" instruments in the world, when taken in its current form. However, the roots of the instrument date as far back as the 18th century. This paper will examine the roots of the steel drum, as well as the evolution of the instrument its self. Additionally, this

  • Church and Colonial Latin America

    .. may not lack people to work their holdings for their maintenance, and may be able to take out what gold there is on the island;... And because this can better be done by having the Indians living in community with the Christians of the island, and by having them go among them and associate with them, by which means they will help each other to cultivate and settle and

  • System of Castas Latin American History

    System of castas/Latin American History Among many contributions of Mexico to the present American culture few are considered more significant than the concept of Mestizaje referring to the racial and cultural and synthesis. Mexico came out to be a fusion of the old and new world, particularly after the Spanish invasion during 16th century. Ever since the inception of the conquest the interracial sexual unions among Indians, Europeans, Africans and Asians

  • Spanish Literature

    Treatment of Women in Mexican Culture The choices for women have, across both time and space, almost always been far more constrained than the choices of men. They have in fact all too often been reduced to a single pair of opposing choices: The pure or the corrupt, the white or the black, the chaste or the sexual - the virgin or the whore. Mexican culture is certainly not exempt from this

  • Cuba After Castro Cuba Is

    Those officials who did look at the question of Japanese intentions decided that Japan would never attack, because to do so would be irrational. Yet what might seem irrational to one country may seem perfectly logical to another country that has different goals, values, and traditions. (Kessler 98) The failures apparent in the onset of World War II and during the course of the war led indirectly to the creation

  • Religion in Human Transformation of the African American

    Religion in Human Transformation of the African-American topic with a focus on the African-American Christianity experience. The writer explores the transformation to Black Christianity and uncovers some of the underlying features of its existence. The writer examines the patterns and experiences of spirituality for the Black Christian experience in North America as well as the ways that the particular historical experiences of Blacks in the United States assisted in

Read Full Term Paper
Copyright 2016 . All Rights Reserved