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Supermadres, Maternal Legacies and Women's Political Participation in Contemporary Latin America

  • SUSAN FRANCESCHET, JENNIFER M. PISCOPO and GWYNN THOMAS
Abstract

Elsa Chaney once argued that Latin American women turned to motherhood to justify their political participation. Now that Latin American women have gained unprecedented access to national-level office, we ask whether these cultural narratives of maternalism still condition female politicians’ access to political power. Using public opinion data, media analysis, and elite interviews, we conceptualise four strategic frames deployed by elite women to justify their national-level political careers: the traditional supermadre, the technocratic caretaker, the macho minimiser, and the difference denier. We argue that while today's female politicians have developed diverse responses to maternalism, their access to public office remains profoundly shaped by structural constraints and cultural narratives that privilege traditional feminine ideals of caretaking.

Elsa Chaney argumentó una vez que las mujeres latinoamericanas utilizaron la figura de maternidad para justificar su participación política. Ahora que las mujeres latinoamericanas han logrado un acceso sin precedente a cargos públicos nacionales, nos preguntamos si estas narrativas culturales maternales todavía condicionan el acceso al poder político de las mujeres en política. Utilizando información proveniente de la opinión pública, del análisis de medios de comunicación, y de las entrevistas a las élites, conceptualizamos cuatro marcos estratégicos desplegados por mujeres de élite para justificar sus carreras políticas de nivel nacional: la supermadre tradicional; la cuidadora tecnócrata; la ‘macho minimiser’, una posición que minimiza las características masculinas; y la ‘difference denier’, una posición que niega totalmente las diferencias de género. Argumentamos que mientras las mujeres en la política han desarrollado diversas respuestas al maternalismo, su acceso a cargos públicos sigue estando profundamente afectado por limitaciones estructurales y narrativas culturales que privilegia ideales femeninos tradicionales de cuidadoras de otras personas.

Elsa Chaney anteriormente propôs que as mulheres latino-americanas recorreram à maternidade para justificar sua participação política. Agora que as mulheres da América Latina conquistaram em números sem precedente a cargos políticos de nível nacional, perguntamos se essas narrativas culturais sobre a maternidade ainda condicionam o acesso de mulheres ao poder. Utilizando-se de dados de opinião pública, análises de mídia e entrevistas com ocupantes de cargos de alto escalão, criamos quatro categorias de estratégias empregadas por mulheres na política para justificar suas carreiras políticas de nível nacional: a tradicional supermadre, a cuidadora tecnocrática, a minimizadora da masculinidade e a negadora de diferenças. Argumentamos que apesar das diversas repostas ao maternalismo desenvolvidas pelas mulheres na política, o acesso delas a cargos públicos permanece profundamente moldado por restrições estruturais e narrativas culturais que privilegiam ideais tradicionais do zelo feminino.

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References
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1 Elsa Chaney, Supermadre: Women in Politics in Latin America (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1979) p. 21.

2 Initially coined by Chaney, Supermadre.

3 Articulated by Sonia Alvarez, Engendering Democracy in Brazil (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990).

4 Steve Stern, The Secret History of Gender: Women, Men and Power in Late Colonial Mexico (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1995).

5 Sarah Chambers, From Subjects to Citizens: Honor, Gender, and Politics in Arequipa, Peru, 1780–1854 (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999).

6 Lyman L. Johnson and Sonya Lipsett-Rivera, The Faces of Honor: Sex, Shame, and Violence in Colonial Latin America (Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 1998); Patricia Seed, To Love, Honor, and Obey in Colonial Mexico: Conflicts over Marriage Choice, 1574–1871 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1988); and Ann Twinam, Public Lives, Private Secrets: Gender, Honor, Sexuality, and Illegitimacy in Colonial Spanish America (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999).

7 Sandra Lauderdale Graham, ‘Honor among Slaves’, in Lyman L. Johnson and Sonya Lipsett-Rivera (eds.), The Faces of Honor: Sex, Shame, and Violence in Colonial Latin America (Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 1998), pp. 201–28.

8 Elizabeth Dore, ‘One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: Gender and the State in the Long Nineteenth Century’, in Elizabeth Dore and Maxine Molyneux (eds.), Hidden Histories of Gender and the State in Latin America (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000), pp. 3–32.

9 Florencia Mallon, Peasant and Nation: The Making of Postcolonial Mexico and Peru (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1995).

10 Dore, ‘One Step Forward’; Elizabeth Dore, ‘Property, Household, and the Public Regulation of Domestic Life: Diriomo, Nicaragua, 1840–1900’, in Dore et al., Hidden Histories, pp. 147–71; Donna J. Guy, ‘Parents Before the Tribunals: The Legal Construction of Patriarchy in Argentina’, in Dore et al., Hidden Histories, pp. 172–93.

11 Carole Pateman, The Sexual Contract (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1988).

12 Asunción Lavrin, Women, Feminism, and Social Change in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, 1890–1949 (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press,1995); Maxine Molyneux, ‘Gender and Twentieth Century State Formation in Latin America’, in Dore et al., Hidden Histories, pp. 33–84.

13 Jadwiga E. Pieper Mooney, The Politics of Motherhood: Maternity and Women's Rights in Twentieth-Century Chile (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009); Karin A. Rosemblatt, Gendered Compromises: Political Cultures and the State in Chile, 1920–1950 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2000); Molyneux, ‘Gender and Twentieth-Century’.

14 Elizabeth Quay Hutchison, Labor Appropriate to Their Sex: Gender, Labor, and Politics in Urban Chile, 1900–1930 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001).

15 Barbara Weinstein, ‘Unskilled Worker, Skilled Housewife: Constructing the Working-Class Woman in São Paulo, Brazil’, in John D. French and Daniel James (eds.), The Gendered Worlds of Latin American Women Workers: From Household and Factory to the Union Hall and Ballot Box (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997), pp. 72–99; Rosemblatt, Gendered Compromises.

16 Heidi Tinsman, Partners in Conflict: The Politics of Gender, Sexuality, and Labor in the Chilean Agrarian Reform, 1950–1973 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002).

17 Ibid., pp. 56–7.

18 Molyneux, ‘Gender and Twentieth Century’; Julia Shayne, The Revolution Question: Feminisms in El Salvador, Chile and Cuba (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2004).

19 Margaret Power, Right-Wing Women in Chile: Feminine Power and the Struggle against Allende, 1964–1973 (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002).

20 Lorraine Bayard de Volo, Mothers of Heroes and Martyrs: Gender Identity Politics in Nicaragua, 1979–1999 (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001); Karen Kampwirth, ‘Women in the Armed Struggles in Nicaragua: Sandinistans and Contras Compared’, in Victoria González and Karen Kampwirth (eds.), Radical Women in Latin America: Left and Right (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001), pp. 79–110.

21 Patricia M. Chuchryk, ‘Subversive Mothers: The Women's Opposition to the Military Regime in Chile’, in Sue Ellen Charlton, Jana Everett and Kathleen Staudt (eds.), Women, the State, and Development (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1989), pp. 130–51; Marysa Navarro, ‘The Personal is Political: Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo’, in Susan Eckstein (ed.), Power and Popular Protest: Latin American Social Movements (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1989), pp. 241–58.

22 Power, Right-Wing Women; Pion-Berlin, David and Lopez, George, ‘Of Victims and Executioners: Argentine State Terror, 1975–1979’, International Studies Quarterly, 35: March (1991), pp. 6386; Bunster, Ximena, ‘Watch Out for the Little Nazi Man That All of Us Have Inside’, Women's Studies Quarterly, 11: Summer (1988), pp. 485–91.

23 Alvarez, Engendering Democracy; Lisa Baldez, Why Women Protest: Women's Movements in Chile (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003); Michelle Bonner, Sustaining Human Rights: Women and Argentine Human Rights Organizations (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2007); Susan Franceschet, Women and Politics in Chile (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2005).

24 Diana Taylor, Disappearing Acts: Spectacles of Gender and Nationalism in Argentina's ‘Dirty War’ (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997); Gwynn Thomas, Contesting Legitimacy in Chile: Familial Ideals, Citizenship, and Political Struggle, 1970–1990 (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2011).

25 This was the termed used by Alvarez, in Engendering Democracy. For similar arguments, see Jaquette, Women's Movement; Baldez, Why Women Protest; Sallie Westwood and Sarah A. Radcliffe (eds.), Viva: Women and Popular Protest in Latin America (New York: Routledge, 1993).

26 Franceschet, Women and Politics; Baldez, Why Women Protest.

27 Magda Hinojosa, Selecting Women, Electing Women: Political Representation and Candidate Selection in Latin America (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2012), p. 4.

28 Jane Jaquette (ed.), Feminist Agendas and Democracy in Latin America (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009), Nathalie Lebon and Elizabeth Maier (eds.), Women's Activism in Latin America and the Caribbean (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2010).

29 Friedman, Elisabeth Jay, ‘Re(gion)alizing Women's Human Rights in Latin America’, Politics & Gender, 5 (2009), pp. 349–75.

30 Alvarez, Sonia E., ‘Translating the Global Effects of Transnational Organizing on Local Feminist Discourses in Latin America’, Meridians, 1: 1 (2000), pp. 2967.

31 Jennifer Piscopo and Gwynn Thomas, ‘Challenging Gender Inequality within the State: Policy Agencies and Quota Laws in Latin America’, preprint, 2014.

32 Mala Htun and Mark Jones, ‘Engendering the Right to Participate in Decision Making: Electoral Quotas and Women's Leadership in Latin America’, in Nikki Craske and Maxine Molyneux (eds.), Gender and the Politics of Rights and Democracy in Latin America (London: Palgrave, 2002).

33 Htun and Jones, ‘Engendering the Right’; Hinojosa, Selecting Women; Dahlerup, Drude and Freidenvall, Lenita, ‘Quotas as a “Fast Track” to Equal Representation’, International Feminist Journal of Politics, 7: 1 (2005), pp. 2648.

34 ‘Women in National Parliaments’, Inter-Parliamentary Union World Classification. Available at http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/classif.htm (accessed 16 December 2014).

35 Luis Felipe Miguel, ‘Policy Priorities and Women's Double Bind in Brazil’, in Susan Franceschet, Mona Lena Krook and Jennifer M. Piscopo (eds.), The Impact of Gender Quotas (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 103–18; Leslie A. Schwindt-Bayer, Political Power and Women's Representation in Latin America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).

36 Escobar-Lemmon, Maria and Taylor-Robinson, Michelle, ‘Women Ministers in Latin American Governments: When, Where, and Why?’, American Journal of Political Science, 49: 4 (2005), pp. 829–44.

37 Mireya Navarro, ‘The Widow of Ex-Leader Wins Race in Panama’, The New York Times, 3 May 1999; Kampwirth, Karen, ‘The Mother of the Nicaraguans: Doña Violeta and the UNO's Gender Agenda’, Latin American Perspectives, 23: Winter (1996), pp. 6786.

38 Elza Filha and Lennita Ruggi, ‘Baton na primeira página’, paper presented at the Brazilian Congress of Communication, Recife, 2011; author's personal communication with Rosemary Castro Solano, 26 March 2013.

39 Latinobarometer (http://www.latinobarometro.org) and World Values Survey (www.worldvaluessurvey.org) data can be accessed on-line. Neither survey consistently asks the same questions, limiting over-time comparisons.

40 The concrete employment opportunities may explain inter-country variations, as countries with higher levels of development (i.e. Argentina and Chile) may offer women more attractive work opportunities.

41 Natalia Martínez, La equidad en el empleo: el caso de Argentina (Córdoba, Argentina: CISCSA, 2007), p. 20.

42 Rosario Aguirre ‘Los cuidados familiares como problema público y objeto de políticas’, in Irma Arriagada (ed.), Familias y políticas públicas en América Latina: una historia de desencuentros (Santiago: CEPAL, 2007), p. 193.

43 Ibid., pp. 192–3.

44 CEPAL, Social Panorama of Latin America (Santiago: CEPAL, 2012) p. 123.

45 Martínez, La equidad; ELA, Equipo Latinoamericano de Justicia y Género, ‘Situación y percepción de las mujeres Argentinas acerca de su condiciónes de vida’ (Buenos Aires: 2006).

46 CEPAL, Panorama Social (Santiago: CEPAL, 2009), p. 176.

47 CEPAL, Panorama Social (2009), p. 176; (2012), p. 123.

48 Merike Blofield, Care Work and Class: Domestic Worker's Struggle for Equal Rights in Latin America (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2012); Débora Lopreite, ‘Gendering Welfare State Regimes in Latin America: Argentina in Comparative Perspective’, in Jordi Díez and Susan Franceschet (eds.), Comparative Public Policy in Latin America (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012), pp. 228–46.

49 Susan Franceschet and Jennifer M. Piscopo, ‘Gender and Political Backgrounds in Argentina’, in Krook et al. (eds.), The Impact of Gender Quotas, pp. 43–56; Franceschet, Women and Politics.

50 CEPAL (2009), pp. 176–8.

51 Martínez, La equidad, p. 21.

52 ELA, pp. 58–60.

53 Saint-Germain, Michelle A., ‘Paths to Power of Women Legislators in Costa Rica and Nicaragua’, Women's Studies International Forum, 16: 2 (1993), pp. 119–38; Schwindt-Bayer, Leslie, ‘Women Who Win: Social Backgrounds, Paths to Power, and Political Ambition in Latin America’, Politics & Gender, 7: 1 (2011), pp. 133. Patterns in Latin America generally match findings of studies elsewhere. See, for example, Black, Jerome H. and Erickson, Lynda, ‘Similarity, Compensation, or Difference? A Comparison of Female and Male Office-Seekers’, Women and Politics, 21: 4 (2000), pp. 138; and Dodson, Debra L., ‘Change and Continuity in the Relationship between Private Responsibility and Public Officeholding: The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same’, Policy Studies Journal, 25 (1997), pp. 569–84.

54 The differences are statistically significant in a chi-squared test at the 1 and 5 per cent levels, respectively.

55 The difference is statistically significant in a chi-squared test at the 1 per cent level in both cases.

56 The differences in family size are statistically significant in a chi-squared test for the chamber (at the 1 per cent level) and not the senate. The absence of statistical significance in the senate, however, may be due to the small sample size.

57 Author interview, Argentina, 22 Aug. 2014.

58 Author interview, Mexico, 15 Dec. 2009, #1.

59 Author interview, Argentina, 23 April 2009.

60 Author interviews, Chile, 18 Aug. 1999; 25 Aug. 1999; and 29 July 2002.

61 Author interview, Mexico, 15 Dec. 2009, #2.

62 Author interview, Argentina, 7 April 2009.

63 Author interview, Argentina, 15 April 2009.

64 Author interview, Chile, 2 Nov. 1999.

65 Author interviews, Chile, 8 Aug. and 20 Aug. 1999.

66 Author interview, Argentina, 9 May 2009.

67 Author interview, Argentina, 22 Aug. 2014.

68 Author interview, Argentina, 6 Sept. 2006.

69 Author interview, Argentina, 7 April 2009.

70 Author communication with Beatriz Llanos, 24 July 2012.

71 Author interviews, Argentina, 23 April and 29 April 2009.

72 Mala Htun, Inclusion Without Representation: Gender Quotas and Ethnic Reservations in Latin America (New York: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming), Table 2.3. See also Htun, Mala and Ossa, Juan Pablo, ‘Political Inclusion of Marginalised Groups: Indigenous Reservations and Gender Parity in Bolivia’, Politics, Groups, and Identities, 1: 1 (2013), pp. 425; The autobiography of Brazilian leader Benedita da Silva provides an in-depth look at the challenges faced by one Afro-Brazilian woman from the working class to craft a political career (Benedita da Silva, Medea Benjamin and Maisa Mendonça, Benedita da Silva: An Afro-Brazilian Woman's Story of Politics and Love (Oakland, CA: Food First Books, 1997).

73 While we focus on maternalism and women's political participation, we should note that paternalism may similarly shape men's political participation. For example, Thomas argues that male leaders in Chile constructed their qualifications as political leaders by invoking specific paternal frames (Thomas, Contesting Legitimacy).

74 Kampwirth, ‘The Mother of the Nicaraguans’, pp. 72, 67.

75 Joclyn Olcott, quoted in Randal C. Archibold, ‘Nomination Paves New Path in Mexico’, New York Times, 6 February 2012.

76 Archibold, ‘Nomination Paves New Path in Mexico’.

77 Author interviews, Argentina, 23 April 2009, and 13 Aug. 2014.

78 Author interview, Argentina, 21 Aug. 2014.

79 Televised Bachelet ad, aired 1 January 2006.

80 Patricio Navia, ‘La cariñocracia de Bachelet’, La Tercera, 4 July 2009. Available at www.latercera.cl (accessed 26 December 2009).

81 Thomas, ‘Michelle Bachelet's Liderazgo’; Valdés, Teresa, ‘El Chile de Michelle Bachelet ¿Género en el poder?’, Latin American Research Review, 45 (2010) pp. 248–73.

82 Author interviews, Argentina, 21 April 2009, and 13 Aug. 2014.

83 Author interviews, Mexico, 2, 8, and 9 Dec. 2009.

84 Author interview, Chile, 8 Nov. 2006.

85 Author interviews, Mexico, 8 Dec. 2009, and Argentina, 25 March 2009.

86 Author interview, Argentina, 23 April 2009.

87 Author interview, Argentina, 15 April 2009.

88 Rainbow Murray (ed.), Cracking the Highest Glass Ceiling: A Global Comparison of Women's Campaigns for Executive Office (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2010).

89 Pedro G. dos Santos and Farida Jalalzai, ‘The Mother of Brazil: Gender Roles, Campaign Strategy, and the Election of Brazil's First Female President’, in Maria Raicheva-Stover and Elza Ibroscheva (eds.), Women in Politics and Media: Perspectives from Nations in Transition (New York: Bloomsbury, 2014), pp. 167–88.

90 Mariana Verón, ‘Cristina Kirchner Endorsed the Business Sector’, La Nación, 5 Sept. 2007; Silvia Naishtat, ‘An Encounter with Economic Definitions’, Clarín, 5 Sept 2007.

91 Author interview, Mexico, 8 Dec. 2009.

92 Author interview, Argentina, 13 Aug. 2014.

93 Author analysis of spot; Bonilla, Juan Pablo Sáenz and Alvarado, Oscar Mario Jiménez, ‘La política televisada: análisis de los spots publicitarios en la campaña electoral 2010’, Revista de Ciencias Sociales, 4: 130 (2010), pp. 117–29.

94 Author interview, Costa Rica, 28 Feb. 2013.

95 Author interview, Chile, 24 July 2002.

96 Author interview, Chile, 8 Nov. 2006.

97 Author interview, Argentina, 5 Aug. 2014.

98 Author interview, Argentina, 6 Aug. 2009.

99 Author interview, Argentina, 13 Aug. 2014.

100 Amanda Bittner and Melanee Thomas (eds.), Mothers and Others (Vancouver: University of British Colombia Press, forthcoming).

* We are thankful for the insightful and astute suggestions from many readers, particularly the three anonymous reviewers from JLAS, Melanee Thomas, Lisa Lambert, Merike Blofield, Christina Xydias, Ito Peng, Patricia Strach, and participants at the ‘Mothers and Others’ Conference in Banff, Canada in 2011. Susan Franceschet gratefully acknowledges research funding from Canada's Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for field research in Argentina and Chile. Jennifer M. Piscopo thanks the University of California, San Diego, the Carrie Chapman Catt Center at Iowa State University, Occidental College, and the American Political Science Association's Small Grant Research Program for supporting fieldwork in Argentina and Mexico. Gwynn Thomas thanks the Baldy Center and the Gender Institute both at the University at Buffalo for supporting fieldwork in Chile and Costa Rica. All authors contributed equally to this article.

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