Partners in Conflict: The Politics of Gender, Sexuality, and Labor in the Chilean Agrarian Reform, 1950-1973.
This fabulous book offers nuanced, thorough, and incisive analysis of the gender politics of Chile's agrarian reform, one of the most extensive in the world in terms of its redistribution of land. The author adeptly tracks the transformation of family and sexual arrangements that accompanied the agrarian reform's massive redistribution of land and its political mobilization of the rural poor. Like recent works on the state and on working-class and peasant politics in twentieth-century Chile and Latin America, Tinsman's book draws on newspaper accounts and state archives to reconstruct changes in labor relations, state policies, political mobilization, and models of family. But the book moves beyond previous work by using oral histories and court records to document how these were related to the micropolitics of family patriarchy. By showing how changes in working-class mobilizations, employer tactics, and state policies undermined and rebuilt men's control over women family members, the author demonstrates how patriarchy affected, and was in turn affected by, reformist and revolutionary class projects. The book thus adds vital insights to feminist discussions of the gendering of class formation and the impact of class politics on gender. Especially noteworthy is the book's sustained attention to the diversity of patriarchal practices. Tinsman charts the motivations and unequal power of youths and adults, married and single women, supporters of the political center and left, and men and women of different classes.
Tinsman's painstaking analysis of the subtle and not-so-subtle continuities and changes in rural life is set in Chile's fertile Aconcagua Valley where dynamics, according to the author, paralleled those in other parts of Chile. Tinsman focuses on three periods. First, before 1964 largescale holdings in Aconcagua depended on an almost completely male laborforce made up of resident laborers paid largely through land grants and in kind (the inquilinos) and seasonal and permanent wageworkers. Though migrant seasonal workers made up an important proportion of all rural workers, Tinsman sees the system of inquilino labor as dominating labor arrangements, with permanent and temporary wageworkers often belonging to the families of male inquilinos. In the absence of labor unions, workers were dependent on landowner largesse for their survival, and ritual displays of subservience to the patron, or boss, identified rural workers as second-class men.
Emasculated at work, men nevertheless exerted power over women family members. Though wives and daughters were important to families' economic wellbeing, in a rural economy in which employment for women was virtually nonexistent and in which women had no independent access to land, the only survival option for adult women who remained in the countryside was marriage. Women's economic dependence on men, Tinsman tells us, reinforced longstanding ideas about men's sexual ownership of women, with control over sexuality linked to control over women's labor. Daughters were subject to the control of their fathers.
The agrarian reform, begun in earnest during the Christian Democratic government of Eduardo Frei (1964-1970), changed work and family in Aconcagua. Part of a Cold War, U.S.-supported effort to avoid revolutionary unrest, Chile's agrarian reform law sought to modernize the countryside and mitigate the exploitation of the rural poor. To this end, the law allowed the expropriation of large or inefficient farms and the distribution of land to former inquilinos, who were to farm the land collectively. A massive mobilization of both men and women in the countryside accompanied and hastened state expropriations, with new state-sponsored unions joining existing Catholic and Leftist labor organizations to demand improved wages and working conditions and to denounce retrograde labor practices in the countryside. In burgeoning all-male union spaces, men reaffirmed their sexual liberties as well as their virile ability to stand up to bosses and become "real men."
Although women were largely excluded from land ownership and union membership, the agrarian reform brought them increased opportunities for paid work in modernizing farms, greater access to health care and birth control, and new arenas of civic engagement. Along with rural education projects aimed at men, state-sanctioned mothers' centers disseminated norms of gender mutualism that undermined the most brutal forms of patriarchal privilege and validated women's domestic labor. As a result, women increasingly claimed the right to make decisions (in conjunction with their husbands) about children and household budgets, questioned men's sexual freedom, and aspired to their own sexual fulfillment. But men's augmented sense of entitlement, a result of their enhanced access to land and union activism, undercut women's authority at the same time that ideas of gender reciprocity reaffirmed women's essential responsibility for domestic labor and that enhanced wages for men made women's earnings seem less critical to family survival. At least some rural women found themselves increasingly isolated within the home.
With the election of the Socialist Salvador Allende in 1970, land expropriations and labor struggles multiplied as the rural poor took advantage of the lack of state repression to press their demands. Tinsman focuses on the diverse ways men and women experienced these conflicts, arguing that women's material vulnerability and dependence on men made them more wary of Allende's Popular Unity government. The long hours men spent away from home at political meetings made women fear their husbands' political involvement would provide sexual opportunities that could lead them to abandon their families. At the same time, children increasingly spent time away from parents and daughters showed a new desire for sexual autonomy that lessened mothers' control. However, Tinsman argues that despite many women's negative evaluation of the dynamics unleashed by the Popular Unity's rise to power, most rural women remained supporters of the agrarian reform because they valued the material benefits they had gained and their augmented spaces of political activism. Tinsman thus challenges generalizations about the conservative nature of "Chilean women" and their support for the military coup that toppled Allende.
Overall, Tinsman's book is exhaustive in its research, clear and careful in its arguments, and full of fascinating anecdotes and examples. It goes a long way toward debunking the notion of the patriarchal family as a static entity unaffected by politics. Perhaps most satisfying is the author's ability to document women's increasing autonomy without engaging in a teleological narrative. Tinsman's book shows us how messy change can be. It also shows us how vital individual and collective struggles were to dislodging entrenched forms of class and gender inequality.
Karin Alejandra Rosemblatt
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|Author:||Rosemblatt, Karin Alejandra|
|Publication:||Journal of Social History|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2004|
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