- The Age of Youth in Argentina: Culture, Politics, & Sexuality from Perón to Videla by Valeria Manzano
Valeria Manzano has written a fascinating, well-documented study of the post-Peronist years from the perspectives of culture, politics, and sexuality. She consulted a myriad of documents, interviewed people (mostly in Buenos Aires), and compared Argentina’s experience from the 1950s to the 1970s with other countries including European nations, the United States, and Latin America. Manzano argues that politics of the post-Peronist years, including the evolution of the Peronist Party, student groups, and the military dictatorship make the Argentine youth experience unique and exceptional. This conclusion will most likely arouse a lively discussion.
Beginning with a pioneering discussion of secondary and post-secondary students and their politicization, Manzano attributes the pedagogy of memorization, as well as the debate over whether education should be secular or religious as major factors, along with the expansion of university education under Perón. Some of the results included the feminization of higher education students, something she does not link to later revolutionary movements, which were quite sexist and led by young men. Indeed, the book cover illustration represents her perspective: out of six rebellious-appearing youths in the photograph, only one is female.
Among the new youth, sex before marriage became a given rather than an exception. The sex was heterosexual—in these early chapters, the presence of gay and lesbian people appears only in reference to a “homosexual panic” (pp. 137–38), even though Carlos Luis Jauregui, a pioneer in Argentina gay history, has recounted in La homosexualidad en la Argentina (1987) the long history of police repression of homosexuals through police edicts in effect since the early twentieth century. In many ways, the avoidance of the Jauregui book, brief as it is, ignores what came to be a template for arbitrary military and paramilitary arrests that included sexual torture during the Dirty War (1976–1983).
The author examines the impact and significance of the national ‘Rock’ movement and the parallel popularity of national folk music. The latter offered more opportunity for women to express their discontent, but the former was just as sexist as the later guerrilla movements. It was also accompanied by a sartorial revolution marked by the popularity of jeans (the middle class purchased US jeans, while the poor consumed national production, both true today). Boys rejected their common dress of grey slacks and blue jackets, and girls’ showed a marked preference for miniskirts, creating further divides in the body politic. [End Page 329]
The last three chapters of the book deal with the politics of culture, the body, and resistance, and it is here that Manzano emphasizes the supremacy of politics over culture and sexuality. She documents clearly the organization of resistance to the military regime, the formation of left- and right-wing Peronist groups, and the attacks against youths, mostly university students, during this era. Efforts by the military to suppress nudity led only to increased preoccupation with the body. Left-wing groups, following Che Guevara’s injunction to pursue a puritanical morality, often held courts to punish extra-marital affairs. Women’s roles were mainly limited to support positions, something that helped contribute to the rise of Argentine feminism, although that ideology often privileged the suffering of mothers personified by the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo over any feminist independence. Homosexuality became more visible, no longer simply a moral panic, when groups devoted to the rights of gays and lesbians emerged under the Frente de Liberación Homosexual in the 1970s. James Green has recounted the significant role of gays before, during, and after the Brazilian military dictatorship in Beyond Carnaval: Male Homosexuality in Twentieth-Century Brazil (2001), pointing to ways to research history in Argentina.
Manzano concludes her book with a reaffirmation that the Argentine experience was exceptional, and not solely because its demographic pyramid in the 1970s coincided with the highest concentration of youths in...