Defining Boundaries of Communal Behavior: Unruly Women in 18th-Century Mexico

Friday, January 5, 2018: 4:10 PM
Madison Room A (Marriott Wardman Park)
Elizabeth Gonzalez Jimenez, University of Miami
Stories of unruly women in eighteenth century Mexico shed light on the internal politics of indigenous community life. Furthermore, they showcase a distinct legal and criminal local process that did not always comply with the broader Spanish colonial system. Criminal trials of women denounced as rebellious, scandalous or unruly were often substantiated with ample neighbors’ testimonies that accused the culprit of threatening the community’s peace. Those testimonies oftentimes condemned women’s illicit behavior as the result of an impure racial or ethnic background. Unruly and erratic female behavior was also blamed on the lack of a father or husband figure, or the femininity of an existing one. And finally the testimonies moreover reveal that a specific behavior, such as the illegal selling of ducks, did not become of major interest to colonial Spanish authorities until such behavior created a widely known public scandal. In addition to the analysis of testimonies, this paper explores the local deployment of punishment and the intricate workings of the colonial legal system. Local indigenous officials who had no authority to deploy punishment but did it anyways, faced repercussions when the case files reached the higher courts. Thus, these cases are oftentimes stalled by local officials who fear that their actions will hinder their own status with the broader Spanish colonial authorities. Women’s crimes are significant for what they reveal about social, legal and criminal history. They provide an understanding of indigenous communities’ views on gender, race and ethnicity, as well as acceptable and unacceptable private and public behavior. Furthermore, the analysis of these crimes shed light on the colonial legal and criminal system, its organization and administration, as well as the gendered deployment of punishment.
<< Previous Presentation | Next Presentation