Domesticating Labor: Discourses of Home, Family, and Work in Ecuadorian Labor Journals

Friday, January 4, 2019: 10:30 AM
Salon 2 (Palmer House Hilton)
Erin E. O'Connor, Bridgewater State University
This paper applies gender analysis to Ecuadorian labor history through an examination of discourses on domesticity, combining two fields which have remained largely distinct in Ecuadorian historiography. At the heart of this study is analysis of two labor journals: La Aurora, a journal by and for male workers in the port city of Guayaquil, and La Mujer Ecuatoriana, created by the female branch of the same labor organization, the Centro Feminista “La Aurora.” Domestic discourses in the Ecuadorian labor movement, like those elsewhere in Latin America, tended to uphold the division of public (male) and female (private) spheres in order to bolster working-class men’s goals and dignity. Yet closer attention to these sources reveals several other undercurrents and purposes in working-class men’s and women’s employment of domestic themes. Women who organized La Mujer Ecuatoriana used domestic themes to face several challenges, seeking to dignify the work they did in the home, support peers working outside of the home, and earn the respect of both male workers and middle- or upper-class women. Men writing in La Aurora sought to find a balance between supporting women workers and identifying women with the home—over time, the journal tended to do the latter at the expense of the former. Interestingly, both male and female notions of honor orbited around self-sacrifice and abnegation—terms more often associated with motherhood and home life than with labor organization. This honor, however, did not extend to rural workers, especially indigenous peoples, in La Aurora, which reinforced interethnic paternalism. Rather than simply “adding women” to labor history, this paper argues that dominant gender ideologies shaped the contours and limits of the labor movement, and it underscores how working-class women adapted and challenged both male workers’ and middle-class femnists’ interpretations of the domestic sphere.
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