This month

May 2009

Women's Words as a Source of Political Disorder: Memorandum on the Need to Restrain Women's Excessive and Injurious Freedom of Speech
by Vivianna L. Grieco

Memoranda on restraint

Memoria sobre la necesidad de contener la demaciada y perjudicial licencia de las mugeres en el hablar, [Buenos Aires, 1813].

Adicional a la Memoria sobre la abusiva licencia de las mugeres, [Buenos Aires, 1813].

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John Carter Brown Library.
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Appearing in 1813, this article, "Memoria sobre la necesidad de contener la demaciada y perjudicial licencia de las mugeres en el hablar," was one of many published in Buenos Aires during the early years of the wars of independence that discussed proper gender roles.  This Memorandum, however, is perhaps the most eloquent example of the fear political leaders in particular–and men in general–felt when confronted with “gendered disorder.”  During the wars of independence, gendered disorder was widespread in Buenos Aires.  Demographically, women outnumbered men in unusually high ratios. Conscription, imprisonment, and death deprived families of young male members and potential suitors, increasing the numbers of young widows, complex families, and female-headed households.  Additionally, women found many opportunities to act publicly as warring factions demanded from them many services needed to maintain their armies.  Voluntarily or not, women made uniforms, washed clothing, and prepared food for the soldiers.  Moreover, women also discussed politics at salons and financed the wars of independence with their modest but frequent donations.  Finally, young men and women brought their parents to court to challenge parental objections over their choice of marrying partners and supported their claims on the grounds of free will and romantic love. 

Men used all the means available to fix gendered disorder.  They fought at court against their rebellious children; they funded pensions and dowries to place widows and orphan minors under state protection; they allowed law enforcement officers to control judicial procedures and restore public order, and they published articles and opinion pieces to introduce the porteño readership to the gospel of “republican motherhood.”

In the opening paragraph of the Memorandum, the author, who signed only with (presumably) his initials, M.G., claims to have found the “origins of the Argentines’ misfortunes that have hindered their march towards the sumptuous temple of freedom.” The author blames the “excessive and scandalous freedom that several women who, sheltered by their sex, find in insulting the respectable magistrate, the honorable citizen, the sacredness of the laws and the entire social body.”  “Such freedom,” he states, “is excessive, injurious and reverses the social order and, consequently it must be stopped by both the rule of law and the arm of the authorities.” “It is shameful,” he continues, “[to witness] the freedom with which a significant number of young females refer to political affairs and to the revered cause upheld with determination and discipline by the honorable sons of the motherland.” 

He proceeds to warn the readers against the “great influence the manners and appearance of the beautiful sex has had over the hearts of men” and delves into the historical record to sustain his assertion.  “Our first father,” he writes, “although endowed by the Creator with outstanding qualities, lost everything due to the seduction and influence of his female partner.  David, Samson and many others celebrated in lay and religious traditions perished victims of the compliments of their lovers.”  “Do you have any doubts,” he asks, “that the painful separation of the former Catholic kingdom of England from the church of Jesus happened due to the influence that the intriguing and evil Anne Boleyn had over the heart of the wretched Henry VIII?”  Quoting the Abbé Raynal, he informs the reader that “the passion felt by the American women for the Spaniards should be listed among the causes that contributed to the conquest of the New World as they commonly become their guides, supplied them and disclosed plots against them.” Marina, Hernando Cortes’ partner, was the best known among these women.  And he pronounces, “Eternal hatred to the evil traitor!”

Finally, the author provides a solution to keep the community safe from “such a contagious illness” and proposes the establishment of a “tribunal of conduct (tribunal de observancia) staffed with patriotic women who will follow men in their knowledge, drive and rigorous behavior.”

Not satisfied with the Memorandum, the same author published the Addendum to the Memorandum, also available at the JCB.

Viviana L. Grieco, an Assistant Professor in History at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, was a José Amor y Vázquez Fellow at the Library in the spring of 2009..


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