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George Tsoukalas

Professor Jeanette Novakovich

English 213

November 2010

Transforming Gender:

Globalization’s Impact on Gender Ideologies in Latin America

Most contemporary political theories involve the introduction of a new global market as a

means to propitiate developing countries’ economies. The World Bank and the International

Monetary Fund are organizations whose scope is to successfully integrate such policies

effectively. However, a select number of theorists have argued that this approach to development

isn’t the ideal solution and instead of expanding countries’ economies it creates dependencies.

Nonetheless, modern economic policies have been promoted by lending funds to institutions

throughout the globe. In 1982, Mexico had a huge external debt of 80 billion dollars and couldn’t

pay it off. The country declared bankruptcy because it could no longer pay the World Bank. As a

result, the G7 had no choice but to terminate their debt propitiating Mexico into harmonious

economy. Similarly, other Latin American countries would now pay off their outstanding debts

with loans in hopes of economic prosperity. This affected the daily lives of many Latin

Americans: their way of life took new shapes and forms, their traditions shifted and their culture

was redefined. The development of the Latin American trade market has resulted in a swift

change in traditional and essential principles of the Latin American household. In an attempt to

identify such cultural and economic shifts in the household, I will examine how globalization has

affected gender relations in Latin America. The research provided will clarify how such

economic changes took place in the Latin American domestic sphere highlighting the importance
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of globalization and how it changed Latin America. Globalization impacts gender relations by

attributing new roles within the household, by redefining power relations and changing a

patriarchal way of life in Latin America. After a brief contextualization of how modern

globalization works, I will focus on globalization’s impact on power relations between men and

women within the domestic sphere, the shift away from traditional forms of patriarchy in the

domestic sphere and an alternate economic orientation within a modern global market.


According to various researchers, globalization is typically regarded as the global process

of an increase in exchange and the diversification of a country’s products, services, capital,

people, information, and culture. Martin Albrow defines globalization as “...the diffusion of

cultural practices within a global context....” (Albrow 2000). In 1944, the 2nd world war had and

ended and, at this time, the United Nations had been created, as well as other global economic

organizations, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The goal was for

these organizations to rid the world of poverty through means of free-trade. The G7 (Germany,

Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Canada, and US) were usually the countries with the largest wealth

rendering them important global monetary contributors. Theorists, such as, Adam Smith, a

Scottish economist, helped develop the notion of free-trade; who’s objective was to restrict

government involvement within global economy in order to ensure a modern form of oligopoly

of the G7. An initiative by G.A.T.T (General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade) imposed free-

trade policies on less wealthy economies rendering Adam Smith and his theory overwhelming.

The modernization of a global economy consisted of removing tariffs, regulations,

standards, laws, legislations and regulatory measures. Thus, restricting normative capital flows

and resulted in unstable economies around the world, i.e. ‘gridlock’. The attempt to privatize
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multi-national corporations gave the opportunity for lesser affluent countries to compete in an

evolving global market.

Certain activists, such as Elizabeth Martinez, believe globalization only reinforces a

nation’s dependency and binds them to a never ending cycle. Martinez, a dependency theorist,

explains how the rule of the market only prolongs a nation’s development because of its self-

regulating notions focusing on downward wealth distribution, as opposed to stable economic

plans. In order for the nation to achieve economic prosperity, they must first ensure stable and

harmonious economic growth. The role of the global market de-unionizes a nation’s labour

forces; ultimately, affecting their expenditures, income and political stability. Also, it cuts social

service expenditures by lowering investments in healthcare and education, it privatizes the public

enterprise and it allows market-forces to regulate themselves. Globalization’s greatest influence

within a society is how it changes public perceptions and leads to forms of totalitarian political

regiments regarding social responsibility and wellbeing (Harris, 2002).

Case studies from Nicaragua, Chile, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean are good

examples of how globalization’s impact on gender ideologies in Latin America. These nations

were first integrated into global markets of exchange; later, Structural Adjustment Programmes

(S.A.P.), offered by the I.M.F., were needed in order to diminish each country’s individual debt.

Due to a rapid integration of the above mentioned countries, Latin American populations

followed up to date policies in an attempt to further an already outstanding debt; ultimately,

populations from the earlier mentioned countries reduced the probability of contending with

wealthier nations. Globalization, now a common and almost necessary global economic policy,

may in fact be disadvantageous to Latin American communities because it only distances

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traditional domestic gender relations and results in a difficult transition from a lifestyle well

known lifestyle to a foreign one.

Globalization and the Latin American Household

Traditionally, Latin America was a male dominated society where men performed the

role of breadwinner. Globalization influenced societies from all around the world by promoting

individualist ideals creating gaps between communities in and outside the domestic sphere both

economically and culturally. This created a difficult transition from well-accustomed gender

ideologies to a more modern Latin American household. Women were now actively participating

in domestic financial affairs and contributing to their individual needs. Now, men and women

alike share the role of breadwinner in most sectors of Latin American, particularly the household.

As result of globalization’s effects on uneven wealth distribution, women were now considered

principle providers of the household economy and notions of patriarchy no longer existed in the

domestic sphere.

Let us review a few examples that will demonstrate the shifting roles of women. During

the 1980’s in Mexico, an industrial change occurred as a result of global trade’s impact on the

nation’s market; most factories were relocating themselves to the north of Mexico and closer to

the U.S. border. This helped improve political ties within Mexican and American companies’

economic policies which led to changes in and out of the household of the average Mexican

family. An indigenous tribe living in South Western U.S. and Northern Mexico, the “Navajo,”

could potentially shed a light on how globalization seriously affected the roles of men and

women in Latin America, particularly in the household. Cowen explains that the growth in the

weaving industry among the Navajo was a result of the global trade’s influence within this tribe.

This resulted in the dependence of the female within both the domestic and economic sectors of
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Northern Mexico changing her role from traditional housewife to main financial contributor

(Cowen 2002). Traditionally, Mexican families depended on the father as the sole economic

provider within the household, but due to the reconstruction of the weaving industry within the

country and the relocation of various factories. The magnesium oxide processing industry

(Quimica del Mar), and other textile enterprises produced more job opportunities for women

allowing them to become significant financial contributors within the household (Cravey 1997).

Within Mexican society, women are now considered as the principle economic providers

demonstrating a transition from their classic roles as mothers to both dominant economic

contributors and leaders of a Patriarchy.

Another important role of women in Latin America, the “Campesina,” was attributed to a

women living in rural Chile. In her article, “Globalization, grapes and gender...,” Bee explains

the role of a women living in rural northern Chile; women were confined within the household

restricting them to mundane tasks, such as performing household chores. Later, she confirms that

the role of females would not partake within a household’s economy, especially, in pre-agrarian

reform estates. Traditionally, the male was considered head of the household and the female

would help nurture and feed her family. Various conventional responsibilities, in Chile’s male

dominated society, consisted of raising animals, horticulture and tidying the household. During

this period, 76% of women were described as economically inactive or unemployed, because

they were dominantly household wives (Bee, 2000). Globalization and the introduction of new

industries in Chile have changed such ideologies by creating economic opportunities for women

in the fruit industry, specifically, in the grape sector. Although Chile is still considered to be a

patriarchy, women are now more often involved in the labour force and become valued financial

providers. Researchers have shown how the roles played by women outside the household were
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mostly located in the fruit and textile sectors. Although Chilean ‘campesinas’ now occupy

multiple roles being both worker and a mother, most Chilean women envision themselves as

mothers above all else. In an attempt to comprehend any form of distribution of wealth within

the household, portray themselves as mothers above all else seems to conflict with the scope

behind globalization and the changes within the Latin American household.

In Sosúa a popular tourist destination in the Dominican Republic, households greatly

depend on women as economic providers. Brennan explains the impact the global markets on

women’s careers and how selling themselves for money isn’t an unusual trend for mothers in the

Dominican. Here, sex workers contribute to their homes and families by selling their bodies and

creating relationships with tourists. Brennan explains in her article the life of a sex worker in

this tourist town. Andrea, a female sex worker living in Sosúa, sold herself to the tourists of the

town to provide for her two daughters. She hoped to meet a rich tourist to finally leave this city.

She met with a German tourist who wanted to bring her back to Europe, but she couldn’t leave

her children behind. Because Andrea was a full-time worker caring for her children was hard, for

this reason, she kept her daughters in her mother’s care while trying to economically provide for

them (Brennan 2004). This demonstrates how important females are in the lives of their children

and how grandmothers are family figures who help contribute to a single or married mother’s

career. Although women are still concerned with the upbringing of children, age is an important

aspect within the Dominican Republic in regulating household roles. An older mother or

grandmother will usually take care of the domestic chores, while a younger, career-oriented

women will work outside the home for wages helping her take care of her family’s wellbeing.

Although globalization affects women in the Dominican Republic by reconfiguring household

roles, it also helps create new roles for men, such as that of the “sponge.” Here, Brennan uses the
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term sponge to describe a man within the household who tends to feed off or sap his wife’s

wealth. In brief, the classic or ‘typical’ role of the male breadwinner not only shifts it inverts

towards a lesser role, possibly that of ‘sponger’.

Globalization did not only redefine the economic relations existing in Latin American

countries, but also created new household ideologies. Women were now dominant economic

providers within the household, supported their families’ needs and ensured a promising life

style for its members.

Globalization & Power Relations of Gender in Latin America

The shift of the global market has affected power relations within Latin American society

by influencing ideas about men and women should be. Society is the result of interactions within

its members, by observing other cultures a general ideology is formed of how they should be

perceived. For a woman living in Latin America, their contribution to society is more important.

For this reason, globalization enforces the change in gender relations of Latin American men and


In the Caribbean, globalization has created a larger economy and modified career

opportunities. Although most females still remain in the pink-collar field (female suited jobs),

various firms or companies attribute biological traits, which will be indentified later, to women’s

working style. An off-shore development officer put forth a biological explanation for why

women are preferred in his industry. He claims women are better suited for manipulating objects

and light assembly work which involves sitting, and unlike men, women have good hand-eye

coordination. Historically, women have been manipulating needles weaving shirts and have

smaller hands enabling them to be more precise. This man’s biological reasoning entails the

classical portrayal of how men are designated for heavier and physically demanding jobs, and
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women are designated for meticulous jobs. Freeman later explains that this biological rationale

creates an image for men and women and is used for their career selection. The fact that women

are passive, patient and dexterous makes them ideal candidates for electronic or cloth-weaving

factories. Also, such characteristics help women further distance themselves from men within

the work sector by according them sedentary, monotonous and meticulous work. Management

usually considers such reasoning as “commonsense,” further segregating the sexes and helping

create a larger gap amongst female and male employment opportunities in Latin America. Such

rationales are exhibited by many of the recruitment departments of various companies in the

Caribbean. Data Air is an example of how the majority of the recruited employees are women,

usually because of their slimmer fingers and delicate nature they can perform the task of typing

more efficiently. In a sense, globalization not only has affected the gap within Latin American

sexes, but has literally biologically categorized the employment opportunities depending on your

gender (Freeman 2002).

Such notions of power have also been demonstrated in other parts of Latin America and

have led to similar results. Safa explains “operation bootstrap” an industrial program which

attempted to augment Puerto Rico’s export program. Bootstrap enabled Puerto Rico to compete

within a global context and began in 1947 under the first industrial incentives Act. Its goals were

to give Puerto Rican economy a competitive edge through free-trade policies and no tariffs for

multi-national corporations. This was an early form of globalization and in most part was still

unclear. This entailed interesting results within the Puerto Rican community who strived for a

better future. Bootstrap was initially designed to provide job opportunities for male farmers, thus

creating development amongst the nation’s people by helping them re-adjust to the country’s

new economic policies. Because Bootstrap was an operation intended to introduce Puerto Rico
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to the competing global market S.A.P. policies were followed including reducing social wealth

distribution. For this reason, women and their passive nature were now the primary labour force

within the country’s employment sector, usually working in food processing factories. This is an

early example of how the sexes were segregated according to their working capabilities.

Globalization not only reinforced such ideologies, but made men and women adjust to their

appropriate working conducts. Starting in 1952, male dominated industries went into steep

decline. Unemployment was very high in Puerto Rico between 1970 and 1990. Men

outnumbered women in the country’s population and 90% of Puerto Rican males agreed with the

fact that it is easier for women to find jobs. With male participation rates declining

approximately 63.4% over the age of 16 were unemployed during this period (Safa 1995). The

majority of the men were unemployed and unable to provide financially for their families. This

meant that they greatly depended on their female partners’ contributions for their families. This

reality further accelerated the transformation of power relations by redefining the status of most

men from that of the agricultural breadwinner to that of a dependent one.

Cultural exchange within a global market

In Cowen’s book: Creative Destruction, he examines the impact globalization has on a

global level within cultures all over the world. He argues that culture has been modified to

enable the successful development of Latin American countries within a global context. This

race has transformed various practices and traditions within countries like Mexico. The practice

of Navajo weaving dates from the historical background of the Mexican Aztecs. This practice

was basically a type of work female Aztecs practiced which consisted of them weaving clothing

out of raw materials. Cowen later explains that the impact industrialisation has had within the

Navajo weaving practice was characterized by the creation of multiple Navajo weaving factories.
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This occurred in North-eastern Mexico which acted as a contributor to the female workforce.

Although this helped the Mexican culture’s economic development, the delocalization of such

American firms from the U.S.A. to Northern Mexico resulted in cross cultural exchange within

its population. Now, Mexican workers were able to earn money in the condition that they

followed the policies and work ethic of such factories; exemplifying the absorption of foreign

countries’ culture (Cowen 2002). Absorbing the cultures had a great impact on the Mexican

culture re-integrating the concept of a female worker amongst the Mexican society.

In a study conducted by Bellman, she demonstrated the impacts of globalism within the

female gender and how it affected culture in Nicaragua. Her results show that female work

participation rates are mostly accorded to the society’s awareness of gender differences. A

variable which showed the gender awareness of what is perceived to be an appropriate job for a

female versus male was the active increase of females within the garment industry. The need for

female involvement within a work union regarding a collective work approach rose from a 29%

rate to a 52% rate in the span of 10 years. This data indicates the cultural shift of a more

collective society of the classical female Nicaraguan to a rather individual mentality. The fact

that the typical female Nicaraguan worker is in accordance with the unionization policies of the

garment industry shows a drastic ideological shift occurred amongst gender ideologies of

classical patriarchal Nicaraguan cultural perception. Although female workers had more rights,

they understood the need to separate from the male industry to a more female industry, such as,

clothe weaving or fruit picking permitting a closed structural organism. This led to a larger gap

within the cultural perception of working styles accorded to the male and female gender. A

collective strategy amongst these female garment sewers helped them attain their goals.
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Latin America has had many impacts from European colonialism affecting their typical

lifestyles culturally. Globalization was a theory which helped provide its leading economic

nations with wealth and resources at a cheaper cost. Places like the third world have been the

ones which were affected the most, but other nations were also caught amidst the struggle for

economic development within a global economy. Gender ideologies have been greatly affected

by globalization and the vast global market increasing the shifts within gender in Latin America.

Globalization impacted Latin America by impacting the gender roles within a household, shifting

the cultural perceptions of Latin America’s nations who practice globalization increasing the

power gap within the sexes. A political commentator, Benjamin Barber, explained the world’s

current situation as being caught between Jihad and McWorld (Cowen 2002). This example

highlights the intentions of globalization, demonstrating the contemporary world’s struggle for

economic profit. Although many residents of cities like Rio de Janeiro, Bogota, Mexico City and

Sosúa can have a cheeseburger from time to time they still struggle for their future on a daily

basis. Having a dollar store has its perks, but does being able to buy almost anything for a dollar

really exemplify the success of the 21st century?