On the Air and in the Kitchen: Women, Technology, and the State in Twentieth-Century Argentina

AHA Session 284
Conference on Latin American History 55
Sunday, January 9, 2011: 11:00 AM-1:00 PM
Arlington Room (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Oscar Chamosa, University of Georgia
Matthew B. Karush, George Mason University

Session Abstract

How can we understand the changing dynamics of daily life in early to mid-twentieth-century Argentina?  In this panel, the four papers will explore this question by focusing on a set of overlapping changes to the ways in which Argentines, in general, and women, in particular, created and consumed new forms of entertainment and domestic technologies.  Focused on the 1930s through the 1960s, the panel as a whole will analyze a period marked by the expansion of the mass media and domestic appliance market, as well as by the growing reach of female celebrities and the state into both of these arenas.

Christine Ehrick’s paper on female voice comic Niní Marshall will trace the gendered dynamics of radio in the Río de la Plata region from the mid-1930s through the early 1940s.  By placing Niní’s popularity, based on her caricatures of “uncultured” working class women, at the center of her analysis, Ehrick will reveal the tensions and changing “soundscape” of this era.  Whereas Niní Marshall defied gendered expectations by being a publicly funny woman, Doña Petrona C. de Gandulfo emerged as a public figure around the same time by championing existing gender norms and teaching other women how to cook on the new technology of gas stoves.  As Rebekah Pite will argue in her paper, Doña Petrona’s live cooking demonstrations, magazine columns, and radio demonstrations met with such an enthusiastic response from Argentine women during the 1930s because these public lessons tapped into women’s desires for a sense of community and a socially acceptable form of education. 

While private entities were the driving force behind the original expansion of the radios and gas stoves that facilitated Niní Marshall and Doña Petrona’s successes, the Argentine government would come to play an increasingly large role in mass media and manufacturing by the mid-twentieth century.  Turning to Peronist Argentina (1946-52), Natalia Milanesio will analyze the state’s role in setting the conditions for the manufacture and incorporation of household appliances into Argentine kitchens.  Specifically, she will argue that the state’s “democratization” of gas made possible the widespread adoption of gas stoves.  Katharine French-Fuller will analyze the connection between the resulting widespread use of household appliances in the 1960s with women’s expanding role outside of domestic life.  French-Fuller will argue that porteño intellectuals connected women’s changing roles with a newfound consumerism that supposedly emphasized material comfort over being caring mothers and wives.  As middle class women entered the job market and depended on household appliances in larger numbers during the 1960s, the media anxiously expressed concerns about the societal impact of these women’s new roles. 

Taken together, these papers will not only flesh out the shifting dynamics of daily life in mid-twentieth-century Argentina, but will also speak to a range of topics of growing historical interest.  That is, by exploring gender, technology, media, celebrity, politics, and consumption together, we seek to deliver a panel that will be of interest to fellow Latin Americanists and other historians of similar topics.

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