What did it mean to be a woman in colonial Spanish America?
Given the many advances in women's rights since the nineteenth
century, we might assume that colonial women had few rights and
were fully subordinated to male authority in the family and in
society-but we'd be wrong. In this provocative study, Kimberly
Gauderman undermines the long-accepted patriarchal model of
colonial society by uncovering the active participation of
indigenous, mestiza, and Spanish women of all social classes in
many aspects of civil life in seventeenth-century Quito.
Gauderman draws on records of criminal and civil proceedings,
notarial records, and city council records to reveal women's use of
legal and extra-legal means to achieve personal and economic goals;
their often successful attempts to confront men's physical
violence, adultery, lack of financial support, and broken promises
of marriage; women's control over property; and their participation
in the local, interregional, and international economies. This
research clearly demonstrates that authority in colonial society
was less hierarchical and more decentralized than the patriarchal
model suggests, which gave women substantial control over economic
and social resources.
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