Indigenous Women and Their Position in Nineteenth-century Ecuadorian History

 By: Allan Smith
While O'Connor explicitly states that this book is about Indigenous women and their position in nineteenth-century Ecuadorian history, she argues that it is not women's history. Rather, she tells us that gender analysis is the central feature of the book. This is a claim often made by authors exploring gender issues, but seldom accomplished. Using court records, O'Connor argues that the close association of men with agriculture gave them higher social status than women. The difference in the economic and social meaning of marriage on the haciendas illustrates her point. Marriage provided men with increased status and power over their wives.

For women, "marriage symbolized deepening dependence on their male peers as well as on the hacendado" (p.166). The relationship of Indian men to elite power structures was paradoxical in that they were depicted as both submissive (public) and violently domineering (domestic). Her analysis of this relationship, and the feminization of Indian men, is one of the aspects of this study that clearly demonstrates gender analysis and not women's history in disguise. In the final chapter, O'Connor ties together the threads that wind through the book.

Indigenous peoples actively resisted and subverted ideological, political, and social structures constructed by elites. Using the elite's lack of knowledge of Indian communities and social structures, Indians were able to maintain a coherent cultural and social structure that, while weakened by the patriarchal system, protected their communities from complete collapse. Indian women were able to defend community and individual interests by making "the most of elite ideologies whenever possible, often emphasizing their female vulnerability when they interacted with state officials" (p. 198). Women actively regained their voice in the mid-twentieth century when women like Dolores Cacuango began organizing hacienda workers.

This book is a worthy contribution to Ecuador's political, social, racial, and gender history. It shines a light on a period that is vastly understudied. O'Connor employs a rich, accessible, sophisticated gender analysis of the process of nation-building and intersections of gender, ethnicity, and class. The book helps us better understand the ongoing unbalanced gendered relations going on in Ecuador today. This book would be a valuable addition to courses in gender studies, Latin American history, and women's history.
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