Alternative Masculinity: The Sainted Men of Colonial Mexico

Friday, January 3, 2014: 10:30 AM
Congressional Room B (Omni Shoreham)
Asuncion A. Lavrin, Arizona State University
I propose to examine the key features of an alternative form of masculinity constructed by the chroniclers of religious orders and biographers of sainted men in colonial Mexico. Twentieth century theories of masculinity establish parameters of hegemony and counter-hegemony. Historical analyses of religious masculinity in the medieval and early modern Europe offer nuances that are useful to interpret its emergence in the New World, especially in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The conquistadors and settlers of the New World brought concepts of secular masculinity different from the religious understanding of manhood, which remains neglected in the historical analysis of the Spanish American colonial period.

The friars who carried out the forced conversion of the indigenous represented living examples of manhood that had to prove itself by avoiding some of the accepted features of secular manhood.  Sexuality and procreation were officially closed to them; so was warfare or the use of arms. However, they had other socially acceptable avenues of expression with deep roots in the Christian tradition. Proof of manhood by voluntary renunciation of sex and control over the body was highly praised. The discipline involved in taming the body and use of the intellect to guide behavior was a trait available to men of the cloth which did not flourish among most secular men.  The body was a testing ground to prove masculinity through corporal penitence, fasting, the stoic acceptance of the challenges of traveling in inhospitable terrain and, ultimately, possible martyrdom. Learning and the dominion of knowledge; the ability to convey the word of God via  preaching and the power to convey spiritual condemnation or absolution were also part of the “alternative” masculinity of these men who used such forms of authority over other men and women of all races.

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