SYG 4060 1. Compare and contrast D’Emilio’s Capitalism and Gay Identity with the From Mary to Modern Woman reading. What patterns do you see that are sim

1.  Compare and contrast D’Emilio’s Capitalism and Gay Identity with the From Mary to Modern Woman reading.  What patterns do you see that are similar to the modern American society?  What can be said about global notions of gender in the modern age?  Feel free to invoke Foucault.

2.  How is the writer’s experience important in the story being told in Middlesex?  Describe your reaction to the reading and invoke some of the concepts discussed in the Queer Theory reading to try to make sense of sexuality when it does not match your own conventions.  Compare both readings, but go deeper to explore your own stereotypes and socialization.

Responses should be at LEAST 250 words each.

From Mary to Modern Woman: The Material Basis of Marianismo and Its Transformation
in a Spanish Village
Author(s): Jane F. Collier
Source: American Ethnologist, Vol. 13, No. 1 (Feb., 1986), pp. 100-107
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the American Anthropological Association
Stable URL:
Accessed: 08-01-2017 18:37 UTC

JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted

digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about

JSTOR, please contact

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at

Terms and Conditions of Use

American Anthropological Association, Wiley are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and
extend access to American Ethnologist

This content downloaded from on Sun, 08 Jan 2017 18:37:46 UTC
All use subject to

from Mary to modern woman:
the material basis of Marianismo

and its transformation in a Spanish village

JANE F. COLLIER-Stanford University

In 1963-64, the married women of Los Olivos (pseudonym), a small village in the mountains
of Huelva, southwestern Spain, seemed typical representatives of Mediterranean culture. When
housewives gathered at the public fountain to wash clothes, they wore drab, shapeless outfits,
and many wore mourning. Most were overweight. Washing clothes and attending funerals
were their most public activities. In the evenings married women stayed home or visited the
sick. Twenty years later, in the summer of 1984, the new generation of married women pre-
sented a very different picture. Instead of wearing drab, shapeless clothes, most wore outfits
that showed off their figures. And most had shapely figures. They worried about gaining weight,

although some were notably more successful at dieting than others. Married women no longer
stayed home every evening. Rather, they spent weekend evenings with their husbands in the
local bars, where they sat around tables dressed in their most fashionable outfits, with heavy
makeup and elaborate hairdos.

How do we understand such a radical shift in married women’s presentation of self? The

explanation offered by many ethnographers of Spanish villages-and echoed by residents of
Los Olivos-is that rural Spain has “opened up” (see Aceves and Douglass 1976). Massive
emigration from the countryside and the spread of television into remote villages have exposed
the present generation of rural Spaniards to ideas and choices not available to their parents and

grandparents. Villagers in Los Olivos, for example, say that 20 years ago their village was atra-
sado (backward). People followed outmoded customs, they say, because they did not know
any others. But now everyone has city relatives and a television set, and many people have

cars. Today’s adults have been exposed to city ways. Now everyone below the age of 60 wants
to be “modern.” Married women want to dress nicely and go out with their husbands. And

young adults think that former village customs, such as delaying marriage until age 30, or wear-

ing heavy mourning for 10 years after the death of a parent, are tonterias (stupidities). Such
“backward” village customs are to be discarded.

The “opening up” explanation is not wrong. But it is not very illuminating either. To begin,
the village was not isolated in 1963-64. There may have been only two television sets in town,
but everyone had radios. Women also had excellent knowledge of how urban fashion setters

In one generation, married women in an Andalusian village appeared to have
turned from emulating the Virgin Mary to emulating the modern woman of Spanish
advertisements and TV. Drawing on the notion that gender conceptions are aspects
of cultural systems through which people negotiate relations of inequality within
complex social wholes, I suggest that a concern for female chastity gave way to a
concern for personal capacities and preferences when inequalities in income and
life-style among villagers no longer appeared to rest on inheritance, but on the
urban, salaried jobs people obtained. [Mediterranean society, gender, political
economy, honor code, ideology]

100 american ethnologist

This content downloaded from on Sun, 08 Jan 2017 18:37:46 UTC
All use subject to

lived and dressed. Many girls worked as servants for wealthy families before returning to marry

in the village. And glossy magazines depicting royalty and movie stars circulated among village
women. Local dressmakers and hairdressers were, in fact, so successful at copying city fashions
for unmarried women that I had difficulty distinguishing dressed up village maidens from stylish

urban dwellers (see also Martinez-Alier 1971:208).

Given that villagers knew a great deal about the customs and life-styles of middle- and upper-
class urban dwellers in 1963-64, the “opening up” hypothesis cannot explain why married
women’s presentation of self changed drastically in 20 years. Rather, what is needed is an ex-
planation of why city ways became attractive to today’s adults when they had not been so for
their parents. In addition, the “opening up” hypothesis does not explain the content of the
“traditional” and the “modern.” Why should married women in 1963-64 have worn drab
clothes, cultivated plump figures, and stayed home in the evenings? And why should today’s
generation of married women wear bright clothes, try to stay thin, and join their husbands at
bars on weekends? Similarly, why should young people today think it “unnatural” to delay
marriage until age 30, and why should they call village mourning customs “stupidities”?

In this paper, I shall suggest answers to both the content and the change questions. As to
content, I will argue that cultural conceptions of gender must be interpreted as aspects of cul-
tural systems through which people manipulate, interpret, rationalize, resist, and reproduce
relations of inequality within complex social wholes (see Collier and Rosaldo 1981). To un-
derstand conceptions of gender, we cannot look at what men and women are or do, but rather
must ask what people want and fear, what privileges they seek to claim, rationalize, and defend.
To understand gender, we must understand social inequality. And, if gender conceptions are
idioms for interpreting and manipulating social inequality, then we should expect notions of
femininity and masculinity to change when one organization of inequality gives way to an-

Twenty years ago, Los Olivos seemed indistinguishable from the Andalusian village Pitt-
Rivers described in his 1954 book, The People of the Sierra. Their gender system was a typical
example of the Mediterranean values of “honor and shame.” A man’s honor was a function of
his mother’s, sisters’, and wife’s sexual chastity. A family’s reputation depended on the sexual
shame of its women and on the readiness of its men to defend, with violence if need be, its
women’s purity.

A cultural concern for female chastity is not unique to Mediterranean peoples. Rather, all
complex agrarian societies, including India and China, have forms of the “virginity complex”
(Ortner 1976). The association of virginity with agrarian systems thus suggests a first-level ex-
planation for its occurrence: in stratified societies where rights and privileges are vested in sta-

tus groups, female chastity becomes a cultural concern because legitimate birth is the primary
idiom people use to claim, rationalize, and defend status privileges.’ Legitimate birth is, of
course, not the basis of status inequalities. Such inequalities result from unequal access to the
means of production as maintained by coercive force. But individuals living within such soci-
eties rarely have occasion to contemplate the wider structure of inequality. Rather, people en-
gaged in everyday, practical action are concerned with asserting their own rights and privileges
against the challenges of particular others. As a result, people talk and act as if inheritance were
the basis of status inequalities.

In a world where people claim, defend, and justify privileges on the basis of legitimate birth,
illegitimacy is the idiom people use to challenge or deny others’ claims to precedence.2 To
question the chastity of a man’s mother is to question his right to the status he claims as his. In
such a world, women’s bodies appear as gateways to all privileges. But women’s bodies are
gateways any man may enter. Women’s penetrability is their most significant feature. The status

and reputation of a family thus rest on the degree to which its women are protected from pen-
etration-by women’s own sense of sexual shame, by being locked away, and/or by the cour-
age of family men in repelling seducers.

from Mary to modern woman 101

This content downloaded from on Sun, 08 Jan 2017 18:37:46 UTC
All use subject to

While an understanding of stratified agrarian societies may provide a first-level explanation

for “virginity complexes,” any particular instance of the complex must be understood within
its specific historical context. Women’s chastity may be a primary idiom used by people in
stratified agrarian societies for negotiating claims to unequal privileges, but it is not the only
idiom. Such societies are complex. They contain many status and ethnic groups. Women’s
chastity may not matter to some. And, as Mediterraneanists realize, the “values of honor and
shame” are not uniform throughout the area (Peristiany 1966; Herzfeld 1980). In order to un-
derstand how “honor and shame” are lived in any particular time and place, therefore, we need

to examine the specific privileges people seek to claim, rationalize, and defend.
In 1963-64, Los Olivos was a small village of less than 800 people where inheritance ap-

peared to determine people’s occupations, incomes, and life-chances. Although the commu-
nity appeared egalitarian (the wealthiest landowners lived outside in nearby, more significant
towns, and beggars rarely stayed overnight), the village was nevertheless divided into three
status groups: (1) a small number of resident landowners who hired workers and did not do
manual labor themselves, (2) a larger number of landowners who worked their own land but
did not have to work for others, and (3) many people with little or no land who worked for
others as day laborers. Long before 1963-64, Los Olivos was integrated into the capitalist world
system. The larger landowners produced for the market, and half the villagers worked for
wages. But inheritance still appeared to be the major determinant of people’s life-chances be-
cause, in a labor-intensive system of mixed-crop agriculture, workers knew as much or more
about the entire agricultural process as their employers.3 As a result, villagers lived in a world
where the most obvious explanation for differences in occupation, income, and life-style was
that some people had inherited capital (land or small industries) while others had not.

Although Los Olivos appeared to be a “traditional” Spanish village, the “tranquil” com-
munity we observed in 1963-64 was, in fact, only one moment in an ongoing historical pro-
cess. As Perez Diaz (1976) notes, change in Spain has been continuous. In Andalusia, a process
of class polarization, begun during the last century and intensifying as the accumulation of land
by entrepreneurial landlords created an increasingly large and impoverished class of landless
rural laborers, was contained by various mechanisms, including naked force (see Martinez-
Alier 1971). For a brief period in the early 1930s class warfare erupted in Los Olivos. An active

union of agrarian socialists wrested control of wages and working conditions from landowners
(Collier n.d.). But during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39, all vocal socialists were killed or
exiled and Franco’s victorious troops gave control of village government to the town’s wealth-
iest landowners, who thereafter ruled with the aid of a resident contingent of Civil Guards.

Before the Civil War, working-class women married at a younger age than women of the
propertied class, and many were pregnant at marriage. But after the war, these differences in
behavior by class disappeared (Collier 1983). Not only were many working-class women
forced to delay their marriages by the war and subsequent famine, but the town’s elites, who
enjoyed uncontested control of economic resources, focused on a woman’s virtue when con-
sidering her, or her family’s, requests for aid.4 It was also true that, even for working-class fam-
ilies whose estate consisted of labor power rather than capital, the wealth parents accumulated
determined children’s dowries and the spouses they could attract (see Price and Price 1966b).
In 1963-64, landowners’ uncontested control of village affairs ensured that all people, whether

from propertied families or not, lived in a world where the resources and reputations of parents
appeared to determine the status of their children.

Given the apparent role of inheritance in determining people’s occupations, incomes, and
life-chances, people’s actions, whatever their ostensible purpose, were always open to being
interpreted as statements about a man’s courage or a woman’s sexual modesty. Whatever prac-
tical reasons, for example, a couple may have had to delay marriage until the bride’s 29th or
30th year, such a delay offered visible proof of the bride’s ability to deny and control her sexual
impulses. Similarly, the woman who dutifully observed 10 years of mourning after the death of

102 american ethnologist

This content downloaded from on Sun, 08 Jan 2017 18:37:46 UTC
All use subject to

a parent demonstrated-by wearing heavy black wool summer and winter-her ability to mor-
tify the flesh. And the married woman who never spent a perra on herself demonstrated both
her capacity for self-sacrifice and her lack of interest in being sexually attractive to men. On
the other side, of course, the pregnant bride, the mourning woman who laid aside her shawl
while working in the sun, and the wife who bought herself a new dress were all appropriate
targets of gossip.

Although a woman’s sexual modesty was never without significance, maidens enjoyed a
freedom apparently denied to married women.5 Marriage marked a major turning point in peo-
ple’s lives. Due to the system of equal, partible inheritance, family estates were not maintained
through time, but rather constituted anew each generation with the birth of children who united

the separate inheritances of their parents. As a result, marriage, with its possibility for producing

legitimate heirs, marked the point at which a man and woman passed from dependence on
parental estates to responsibility for the future estate their children would divide. Unmarried

young adults, as people without responsibilities, were expected to divertirse (enjoy them-
selves). Maidens were thus encouraged to seek amusement and to follow the latest fashions-
as long as they did not violate community norms of modesty. Married people, in contrast, had

obligaciones (obligations). A married woman was expected to sacrifice herself to build the es-
tate her children would inherit. Divertirse and obligaciones stood in stark contrast. For a mar-
ried woman to “enjoy herself” was, by definition, to squander her children’s inheritance.

By 1984, Los Olivos was a different world. Heavy outmigration has reduced the permanent
population to under 300 and overturned the class structure. The migration of landless workers
to city jobs left landowners with the choice of farming their own land or migrating too. The
poorest and most overworked people in the village are now the landowners who stayed, while

poor workers who migrated first, and so participated in the industrial boom of the 1 960s, enjoy
month-long vacations in village houses they have renovated with cash from city jobs.6

The decisive break occurred in the mid-1 960s. 1963-64 was, in fact, the end of an era. Dur-

ing the 1960s, ongoing developments in Spain became “so acute that the point [was] reached
where the traditional framework, maintained for about a century, [lost] its fundamental char-
acteristics and [disappeared]” (Perez Diaz 1976:123). In Los Olivos, the labor-intensive agri-
cultural system finally collapsed, due to rising wages and competition from capital-intensive
agricultural enterprises elsewhere in Spain. Records beginning at the turn of the century indi-
cate a steady rate of emigration from Los Olivos before 1963-64, but the people who left were
either members of the wealthiest class-who were regionally, rather than locally, based any-
way-or landless laborers, many of whom had, in one way or another, lost their “honor.”
Given high rates of unemployment throughout Andalusia, and the general suspicion of
strangers, most people who could make a living in Los Olivos stayed there. In the mid-1 960s,
however, when the agricultural system collapsed, children of landed and honorable families
began migrating to city jobs. The generation of people who came of age in the 1960s, whether
they emigrated or remained in Los Olivos, thus entered a different world.

For members of this generation and their children, inheritance no longer appears to be the
major determinant of occupation, income, and life-style. Rather, people experience their oc-
cupations and incomes as determined by their personal choices and abilities. Schoolteachers,
nurses, postmen, policemen, and banktellers talk about how hard they studied and how well
they did on national or firm exams. Bus and truck drivers talk of learning to drive and acquiring
licenses. And villagers who inherited small enterprises talk of the skills they acquired and the
capital improvements they made. On the other side, people blame the poor and unemployed
for their failure. Everyone recognizes that Spain has a very high rate of unemployment, espe-
cially among young people, but when explaining why a particular youth has been unable to
find a job, people talk of his poor school record or his lack of initiative.

In short, the people of Los Olivos, both its migrants and those who are still in the village, now
live in a world where personal choice and ability is the primary idiom people use to claim,

from Mary to modern woman 103

This content downloaded from on Sun, 08 Jan 2017 18:37:46 UTC
All use subject to

rationalize, and defend inequalities in working conditions, income, and life-style.7 Personal
ability is, of course, not the basis of inequality. The distribution of income and jobs in Spain,
as in most of the developed world, is organized through a market shaped by the fiscal policies

of core state governments, maintained by coercive force. But, just as people living in stratified

agrarian societies talk about legitimate birth, so people facing an array of possible jobs talk
about personal desires and qualifications. And, just as in agrarian societies, a woman’s penetra-
bility is her most important feature, so in industrial societies, a woman’s most important feature

is the “womanliness” that differentiates her from, and makes her attractive to, men.

In a world where people’s inward capacities and preferences appear to determine their oc-
cupations, a woman’s biological capacity to bear children seems to determine her apparently
primary occupation of housewife and mother.8 And, in a world where a homemaker’s life-style

is largely determined by her husband’s income, a woman’s status and life-chances appear to
depend on the kind of man she can attract. As a result, a woman’s physical appearance is al-
ways open to being interpreted as a statement about her moral and social worth. A woman’s
appearance also provides evidence for assessing the judgment and character of the man who

is her husband or lover, although a man’s job tends to be the primary standard by which his
worth is assessed. Whatever a woman’s appearance, therefore, it is never without significance.

The woman who takes care of her body and dresses attractively, particularly as she grows older,

displays her “womanliness” and testifies to the good judgment of her man. The woman of slov-

enly appearance, on the other hand, suggests both inward and outward failure. Among Los
Olivos natives under 60, for example, a fat, uncared-for body and drab clothes are the sign of

a country hick. They proclaim a family’s status as unskilled laborers on the bottom of the social


Today’s parents are concerned-as their own parents were-to provide their children with
the resources children need for succeeding as adults. But today, education, not property, ap-
pears to be the most important determinant of a child’s future income and status-at least for

this population of working-, and lower-middle-class families. Many parents thus sacrifice them-

selves to enroll their children in private schools, and/or to provide music lessons, English les-

sons, typing lessons, and so forth. “Sacrifice,” however, has a very different meaning to modern

parents. Divertirse and obligaciones are no longer cultural opposites. Because investment in a
child’s education, unlike investment in family property, may or may not pay off, parents who

have done all they can for children see no reason not to spend leftover money on themselves.

More importantly, today’s adults are expected to spend their money and leisure time in ways

that enhance their enjoyment and enrich their experience. The consumer products people buy,

and the uses they make of leisure time, testify to their sense of taste and knowledge of modern


In this paper, I have focused on gender conceptions, arguing that notions of masculinity and

femininity must be understood with reference to the idioms people use in negotiating practical

social relations within complex social wholes. I suggested that the married women of Los Oli-
vos in 1963-64 wore drab clothes and ran to fat because they lived within a system of inequal-

ity where legitimate birth was the primary idiom people used to claim, rationalize, and defend
unequal privileges. In such a system, a married woman’s drab clothes and sexual unattractive-
ness testified to the legitimacy of her children and to her concern for building their future prop-

erty. As of 1984, in contrast, the people of Los Olivos, both migrants and those still in the vil-
lage, live within a system of inequality where a person’s capacities and desires appear to de-
termine the job or spouse he or she acquires. Today, the woman who keeps her figure and
dresses fashionably testifies to her own worth and to her capacity for attracting and keeping a
desirable man, even as the married woman who visits a bar with her husband demonstrates,
not a lack of interest in her children’s future, but rather her sophistication. Twenty years ago,

the women of Los Olivos were judged according to how well they emulated the Virgin Mary.

104 american ethnologist

This content downloaded from on Sun, 08 Jan 2017 18:37:46 UTC
All use subject to

Today they are judged according to how well they emulate the Modern Woman of advertise-
ments and TV.

Although I have used implicit models of “agrarian” and “industrial” societies to analyze the
content of gender conceptions in Los Olivos, I have also argued that the gender conceptions of
particular peoples can be understood only in relation to their specific historical experiences.
The Modern Woman of Spanish advertisements and TV may look a great deal like her North
American counterpart, but the lived experiences of Los Olivos women are not those of their
North American age mates. As Southern Europeans, the modern women of Los Olivos draw on

a different cultural heritage. They seem more concerned with dressing and decorating their
bodies than with their bodies themselves. They also seem-to me, at least-more self-confident
and less dependent on men than American women. Spanish mothers of young children, who
have difficulty finding and keeping jobs, are, like their American counterparts, only one man
away from destitution, but divorces among Los Olivos couples are still infrequent, and the few
women whose husbands left them are not blamed for having failed to keep their men. Even the
enemies of a woman whose husband left her with four small children blame the husband rather

than the wife. Similarly, mothers are pitied, not blamed, when their children turn out badly.
More importantly, the women of Los Olivos have lived, and are living, through a different

history. Today’s adults have, in their lifetimes, experienced a radical cultural break. The women

who came of age in the early 1960s grew up, courted, and perhaps married within the value
system of “honor and shame” (see Price and Price 1966a). They lived out the cultural require-
ment to enjoy themselves, expecting to assume later the obligaciones of marriage and parent-
hood. But their lives turned out differently. As the labor-intensive agricultural system collapsed,
many migrated to cities as workers and/or wives of migrating men, while those who remained

in the village found that farming shifted from a way of life to a way of making a living (see
Harding 1984). The generation of people who came of age in the early 1960s, who grew up
within a cultural system of “honor and shame,” have thus been living their adult lives within a
cultural system that emphasizes personal initiative and abilities.

Not only have today’s adults lived through a cultural break, they continue to live it each day.

Given that Los Olivos was never isolated from outside ideas, I expected to find evidence of a
gradual shift from one cultural system to the other. I thought that people who lived through the
1960s would embrace aspects of both systems, or at least understand them both. But I was
mistaken. Instead, individuals seem to live within one system, and to misunderstand the other.

The cultural break appears gradual because members of both generations act in ways they
hope will please the other. Elderly widows, for example, often exchange their mourning cos-
tumes for dark print dresses in order to please their children, even as younger women whose
parents have died will don black dresses to please elderly relatives, particularly when visiting
the village. But even as young and old act to please others they care about, they seem to lack
a deep understanding of why those others care.

When elderly widows explain why younger women have abandoned mourning costume,
they say that young women fear adverse gossip from urban dwellers who look down on those

who wear black. Young women, however, never mention gossip. Instead, they talk of grief as
an inward feeling. They see no reason to display personal grief publicly by wearing black. And
they actively condemn the “hypocrisy” of those who continue to wear mourning long after
grief could be deeply felt. I have often heard younger women explain their reasons to elderly
mothers, aunts, and grandmothers, but I have never heard an older woman who advanced the

“gossip” explanation either suggest she understood the younger woman or spontaneously pro-
duce the “feeling” explanation herself.

Similarly, young women seem to misunderstand their elders. Even those who came of age in
the 1960s, and so grew up within a cultural system of “honor and shame,” seem to misunder-

stand that system today. When explaining why elders adhere to traditional mourning customs,
young people say elders have otra mentalidad (another mentality). Elders, however, never men-

from Mary to modern woman 105

This content downloaded from on Sun, 08 Jan 2017 18:37:46 UTC
All use subject to

tion “mentality.” They say that people must show “respect” for the dead. Following mourning

customs has nothing to do with an individual’s desires, feelings, or intentions. Instead, wearing
mourning testifies to a person’s or family’s reputation. Given elders’ statements, young people
are not wrong when they attribute elders’ actions to their mentalidad. Elders do have a different

“mentality.” But in interpreting elders’ actions as testifying to their inward desires and inten-

tions (their mentality), instead of to the reputations of their families, young people reveal how
thoroughly they live within the cultural system of personal initiative and abilities, and how
thoroughly they fail to comprehend the cultural system of honor and shame.


Acknowledgments. George Collier’s and my 1963-64 research in Los Olivos was …

Looking for this or a Similar Assignment? Click below to Place your Order