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Inventing the "Mulher Paulista": Politics, Rebellion, and the Gendering of Brazilian Regional Identities

From: Journal of Women's History
Volume 18, Number 1, Spring 2006
pp. 22-49 | 10.1353/jowh.2006.0028


This article considers the complicated relationship between women's mobilization and their recognition as political actors. In 1932 the state of São Paulo, long Brazil's dominant political center, took up arms against the federal government, headed by Getúlio Vargas, in protest against São Paulo's diminished status under the new dictatorship. A key feature of this short-lived civil war was the prominent role of women in the regionalist movement. Contemporary accounts emphasized the active participation of women—testimony that implies an expanded female presence in the public sphere. I argue, however, that identification of the movement's female supporters with an archetypical figure, A Mulher Paulista (The Paulista Woman) limited the subversive implications of women's mobilization. Far from celebrating women's new role in politics, women and men involved in the movement construed women's participation as exceptional and motivated by moral outrage, not politics. Furthermore, the figure of A Mulher Paulista had a specific class and racial valence; the paulista leadership represented her participation as emblematic of the modernity and civic superiority of regional culture, compared to the poorer, less Europeanized regions of Brazil that supported the dictatorship.