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Hispanic American Historical Review 83.4 (2003) 768-769
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Partners in Conflict: The Politics of Gender, Sexuality, and Labor in the Chilean Agrarian Reform, 1950-1973 . By Heidi Tinsman. Durham: Duke University Press, 2002. Photographs. Plates. Illustrations. Maps. Tables. Notes. Bibliography. Index. xviii, 366 pp. Cloth, $64.95. Paper, $21.95.
Like most social and economic policies, Chile's 1964-73 agrarian reform had various unintended consequences. Implemented primarily to increase agricultural production, improve rural income distribution, and reduce the political power of large landowners, the agrarian reform policies also disrupted and partially reframed rural social relations, including relations between men and women. Posing questions raised by various traditions of feminist scholarship, especially radical and psychoanalytical feminism's concern with gender oppression and Marxist feminism's focus on the intersection of gender and class, Heidi Tinsman seeks to correct the absence of women in previous accounts of the Chilean agrarian reform. She also wishes to overcome a theoretical blinder regarding the same topic: "Too little has been said about patriarchy and what makes it tick" (pp. 8, 11). Tinsman contends that Chile's agrarian reform "involved attempts by two governments to refashion gender relations and place them at the service of two distinct models of national development"; she asks whether Chile's 1964-73 agrarian reform programs "made patriarchy easier for women to live within and to negotiate." Her answer is that after 8 years of conflictive agrarian reforms and 17 subsequent years of dictatorship, "patriarchy remained, but the ways it had changed mattered, and they mattered to women" (p. 13).
Tinsman analyzes traditional gender relations and tensions in these relations created by agrarian reform programs, as well as conflicts among women and women's organizations owing to the ideological, political, and social cleavages created or exacerbated by the Christian Democratic (1964-70) and Unidad Popular (1970-73) governments. She skillfully melds a synthesis of the secondary literature with extensive use of archival materials, judicial records, contemporary press accounts, and oral histories collected from peasants in Aconcagua province. Effective use of archival materials and oral histories is a great strength of this book: anyone who has done research in rural Chile will immediately recognize the language, attitudes, and conflicting worldviews captured by this account. She captures the complexity, anomalies, and contradictions of social relations and politics—a refreshing escape simplistic generalizations about "workers," "peasants," "women," or other such categories.
The result is a highly readable account of the slow, grudging, and uneven changes in rural social relations, from household to union hall, from weddings, holiday rituals, and all-male drinking sessions to birth control, rural abortion techniques, and diverse modes of female participation in peasant struggles. Case studies of rural education programs, mothers' centers, and family-planning policies demonstrate how government programs reinforced elements of patriarchy at the same time they encouraged women to assert greater control over their bodies and their [End Page 768] lives. Tinsman is concerned with the ways in which government policies, church projects, the union movement, and the ideological polarization of national politics changed, or failed to change, relations between men and women in rural Chile. She concludes that although the agrarian program of the Christian Democrats benefited women in a number of ways, their model of "'family uplift' translated gender inequalities and sexual hierarchies into national policy as natural facts" (pp. 207-8). The subsequent Unidad Popular's "patriarchal stance toward women coexisted with visionary plans to revolutionize female roles" (p. 219).
Tinsman is clearly correct that the literature on the Chilean agrarian reform, the rural labor movement, and the breakdown of the Chilean political system in 1973 has neglected the role of women. Likewise, there is no question that policy makers and analysts were little concerned with "patriarchy and what makes it tick." Her study leaves no doubt that women's activities mattered to the agrarian reform and that many women benefited from it, despite the simultaneous reinforcement of certain aspects of traditional, patriarchal gender relations. More generally, Tinsman creatively tells an untold...