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Carmen Miranda: Race, Gender, and Camp Culture  

Kathryn Bishop-Sanchez

Carmen Miranda (b. 1909–d. 1955) was a Brazilian singer and actress who made her debut on the radio in the late 1920s and soon became one of the most popular voices in Brazil. She recorded close to 250 singles, many of which were major hits, starred in five films (four with the Cinédia studio and one with Sonofilms), and gave innumerous performances on the most elite stages of Rio de Janeiro, such as the Urca and Copacabana casinos. Her signature look was a stylized version of the typical Bahian woman’s outfit, known as the baiana, complete with an abundance of bracelets and necklaces, platform shoes, and a whimsical turban that served as a base for all kinds of adornments. In 1939, she was invited by the Broadway impresario Lee Shubert to perform in his musical review The Streets of Paris and moved to New York with her band Bando da Lua to bring authentic Brazilian music to North America. A success overnight, Miranda would then be invited to star in her first US film, Down Argentine Way (1940), with 20th Century Fox, and would be cast in thirteen subsequent films. Carmen Miranda’s iconic look was immediately recognizable and became prime material for imitations by both male and female impersonators in theater, film, and cartoon media. Her excessive femininity, imbued with style, exaggeration, and playful deception, and her inclusion in musicals governed by theatricality and artifice, made her a productive site for camp interpretations that have remained in vogue to this day.

Article

Gender and Sexuality in Brazil since Independence  

Sueann Caulfield and Cristiana Schettini

Over the past forty years, increasing attention to gender and sexuality in Brazilian historiography has given us a nuanced understanding of diverse ways in which women and men in Brazil’s past experienced patriarchy, racism, and other forms of oppression. As gender historians have shed light on how racialized and patriarchal gender and sexual roles have been reconstituted in different historical contexts, empirical studies in the field of social history have focused primarily on the historical agency of women, particularly non-elite women, who lived within or pushed against the confines of prescribed gender roles. Pioneering histories of sexual minorities have accompanied this trajectory since the 1980s, although this subfield has grown more slowly. A few nodal themes help to explain transformations in gender relations during each of the major periods of Brazil’s social and political history. Under the empire (1822–1889), honor is the entryway for analysis of gender and sexuality. Gendered standards of honor were critical tools used to mark class and racial boundaries, and to traverse them. Historians of the imperial period also stress the centrality of gender to the social, cultural, and economic networks built by members of various occupational, familial, and kinship groups. During the First Republic (1889–1930), the focus shifts to state vigilance and social control, together with debates over modernization of sexual and gender norms, particularly regarding urban space and prostitution. In the Vargas era (1930–1945), patriarchy and racialized sexuality formed the core of intellectual constructions of the nation’s history and identity, at the same time that homosexuality and women’s and worker’s rights generated intense debate. A new emphasis on domesticity emerged in the context of developmentalism in the 1950s, helping to spur a reaction in the form of the counterculture and sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. The dictatorship (1964–1985) went to great lengths to suppress challenges to gender and sexual norms as part of its broader strategy to demobilize society and repress oppositional political movements. These challenges reemerged in the 1970s, when feminists and sexual minorities gained much greater visibility within a new wave of social movements. The 1988 constitution articulated these movements’ aspirations for social justice and equality through its foundational principal of human dignity. Significant legal changes followed over subsequent decades, including recognition of equal labor rights for domestic and sex workers, affirmative-action policies, and the legalization of same-sex marriage, in 2011. Despite notable setbacks, the momentum toward gender and sexual equality at the start of the 21st century was remarkable. This momentum was halted by the political coup that ousted the first woman president in 2016. The anti-feminist mood that accompanied the impeachment process underscored an overarching theme that runs through the historiography of gender and sexuality in Brazil: the centrality of gender to the major legal and political shifts that mark the nation’s history.

Article

Gender, Sexuality, and Identity in 20th-Century Costa Rica  

Patricia Alvarenga

Proposals challenging male authority gained strength in Costa Rica during the 20th century and, especially at the turn of the 21st century, and questioned naturalized sexual and gender identities. The effects of these discursivities are varied. The experience of feminists, of middle-class women outside these discursivities, and of women of the subaltern classes demonstrate the plurality of meanings attributed to gender relations as filtered through subjective experience. The introduction of alternative identity proposals destabilizes the established parameters of sexual and gender identities, but, at the same time, produces new conservative discursivities that limit the potential for change. Two feminist movements, one that reached its peak in the 1920s and a second that arose in the final decades of the 20th century, brought about substantive changes in female identities, revealing the power relations that underlie the discursive representation of patriarchal power as eternal and immutable. An assessment of contemporary feminism based on the experiences of its protagonists shows the movement’s significant gains as well as the challenges and weaknesses it has faced over its history, the most important of which may be how to reach beyond the sphere of well-educated, heterosexual, middle-class women. In conclusion, public discourses that have politicized gender and sexuality in Costa Rica are creatively constituted in the social world, according to what changes appear attainable at different moments of history. Carved out by actors committed to change, these discourses have achieved substantive transformations in institutional structures and subjectivities. However, present experience shows clearly that every affirmation of identity is precarious, and that the gains achieved require the ongoing, active engagement of civil society.

Article

Women, Politics, and Media in Uruguay, 1900–1950  

Christine Ehrick

In the first half of the 20th century, Uruguay was a relatively educated, democratic, and politically progressive South American country, and women there used old and new media for professional and political ends. Radical, Catholic, and liberal feminist women all utilized print media to promote their views and build support for their respective causes in publications aimed at both female and general audiences. Anarchist feminist María Collazo, for example, edited an important publication, La Batalla, from 1915 to approximately 1927. By the late 1920s, radio was an emerging mass medium, and women activists, journalists, and others sought to make their voices heard, literally and figuratively, on its airwaves. Starting in 1935, those airwaves included Radio Femenina, the first all-woman format radio station in the Western Hemisphere. One of the voices heard on Radio Femenina was Dra. Paulina Luisi, Uruguay’s leading feminist activist, who became a powerful voice of both the Socialist Party and the politics of the Popular Front in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Article

Working Women in the Mexican Revolution  

Susie S. Porter

From la Adelita to the suffragette, from la chica moderna to the factory girl dressed in red shirt and black skirt—the colors of the anarchist—women’s mobilization in the midst of Mexican Revolution was, to a large degree, rooted in their workforce participation. The evolution of gendered occupational segregation of the workforce, sex-typing of occupations, and gendered wage differentials marked women’s experiences and the way they organized to take control of their lives and to shape working conditions and politics. While women’s employment nationwide contracted during the period 1890–1930, it was nevertheless a moment of significant cultural change in the recognition of women’s work outside of the home. Women shifted public debates over their right to work and mobilized around the issues of maternity leave, equal pay for equal work, and respect for seniority. Across the workforce, women fought for the application of the rights afforded by the Mexican Constitution (1917) and then, in the 1930s, by federal labor law. By the fact of their work and because of their activism, women shifted the conversation on the rights of women—single or married, mothers or not, and regardless of personal beliefs or sexual morality—to dignity at work and the right to combine a life of work with other activities that informed their lives and fulfilled their passions.