Commercializing Higienista Feminism

Updated: Apr 18, 2019

Defining femininity is always in question when promoting a feminist agenda, apparently even dating back to the 1890's -1940's in Latin America's Southern Cone (Argentina, Chile, & Uruguay).


In the midst of mortality rates and lack of GDP at an all time high, feminism was finally starting to embark. The need for industrialization came with an economically fundamental need to mitigate the patriarchy with patriarchal stipulations to brand feminism, starting with limiting feminism and commercializing femininity.


With the Roman catholic influences of praising the Virgin Mary, we see femininity magnify the essence of motherhood not only being a result of a biological function that would benefit the economy, but also a source of cultural praise for the gentle and selfless used to define feminine, validated by generations of Italian and Spanish immigrants in Uruguay and Argentina, and German Catholics in Chile.



Early documentation on self proclaimed Male Feminists embarked on describing feminists in the view of male fragility. Uruguayan Maria Abella de Ramirez challenged that patriarchal serving views of feminism rumored to be lacking in charm and grace for using intelligence to displace men, but in all honesty she proclaimed women claimed to be “feminine“ due to lack of low self esteem and submitting into oblivion when learning accountability. Feminists in her view did not pretend to the "absurdity" of becoming men, but they wished to be men's companions or their capable mothers. Looking deeper into working conditions we see the patriarchy taking advantage of motherhood and enforcing a gender wage gap to keep women in their place even when working in industrialized conditions and popping out babies. It would almost be patriotic to industrialize the southern cone if it weren't for the sake of marginalizing femininity in order to commercialize feminism.


Lavrin's Women, Feminism, & Social Change in Argentina, Chile & Uruguay 1890-1940 provides context to the social status of women in the 1920’s:


Before the 1920's suffrage was not a priority for feminists and reformers in the Southern Cone because they had nationality, but limited citizenship. By definition nationality was acquired at birth - or by adoption through legal mechanisms. Political citizenship was acquired or confirmed by qualifying for suffrage, and suffrage was limited by several requirements, including literacy, property, or service in the army.


Harsh and unsanitary working conditions and a gender wage gap brought Higienistas to the rescue. The teachings of social hygiene was made mandatory in all primary schools. On the national council of health you have 1927 bringing an administrative recognition bringing the foundation of a national public welfare. Later into early 30's we get Board of Public health, that replaces the National Council for public hygiene and the Institute for Prophylaxis of syphilis.


In Argentina alone, 116 out of 1000 infants died annually around 1907. Tuberculosis was the second cause of 52% of deaths. In 1936, 252 out of 1000 Chilean infants died. With no more immigrants and no legal abortions in the southern cone there were pros and cons to having no increases in the birth rate. As far as prenatal care goes the resources were limited. In 1939 144,251 women were pregnant, but only 91,650 relied on the own means for prenatal care.



Higienistas brought two goals for feminism: serve the country as mothers and serve women as health care professionals. The results were integration child care curriculum into schools to be known as Puericultura, clinics became child care centers, and publishing social hygiene books and giving context to treaties. Thanks to Argentine socialist Carolina Muzilli, women were given up to three days off on their menstrual cycle. Influences included parades of healthy children to mother's day to having private organizations pick up where the state left off. For a feminist agenda that was appropriated by the role of femininity, the pivotal role redefined the role of a woman in the southern cone through feminism.


Addressing women's rights brought the issues of policing women's bodies for labor at lower wages to keep nuclear families to working mother's not having breast milk being a national crisis to be fixed by higienistas. All this despite anti abortion laws. Democratic Socialism to the Uruguayan government slowly progressed via dispensing free milk though a public charity commission that purchased local milk from gotas de leche inc. An important right for working mothers was spelled out in Uruguay, one month leave before and after childbirth with half salary.



However, Sex Education on the higienista agenda never came without patriarchal prose. In the late 1880's venereal diseases were on the rise, so sexuality became the new topic of discussion. Abstinence was promoted by the church, along with abstaining while nursing because such emotions could effect the baby. But in Chile, leftist women countered back against promiscuity saying birth control should be implemented before demonizing all unholy women as sex workers, due to size of the families and lack of subsides for impractical costs. In 1926, anarchist El Sembrador stated "a woman will never be the mistress of her own body if she cannot choose the moment she wants to become a mother and will never be free if she does not know about contraceptive methods." Yet and still sexuality was taught in schools with the idea that girls should learn about male seduction, prostitution, and the degeneration produced by alcohol and syphilis to avoid national health crisis. Due to the feminine aspect of sexuality it was seen as a feminist cause.


The question of the state's influence on femininity will keep feminism from intersecting. As much as higienistas influenced feminism through femininity it was always within the stipulations of a male dominated government. However, it's still considered an extremely progressive time for women understanding that citizenship was in question prior to any national crisis. Which proves the more women with more economic and political power the more solidarity for nuclear family ideals that will no longer need male fragility to force them.






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