- Editorial NoteColonial Intimacies and Gendered Violence
This issue begins with Tamara J. Walker's account of a brutal knife assault on a free negra laundress in colonial Peru by her former lover, a Spanish sailor. By describing the cosmopolitan port city of Callao as a colonial contact zone where Europeans, slaves, and free blacks mingled in the streets, the taverns, and also in the bedroom, Walker introduces three themes that will reappear throughout this issue: colonial intimacy, sexual honor, and gendered violence. In "That Is How Whores Get Punished," Walker analyzes the testimonies provided during the 1774 criminal case that followed the assault on the laundress Marcelina Cordova, revealing how honor-based violence in late seventeenth-century Latin America drew on gendered ideas about female sexual respectability and men's ownership of women's bodies. One fateful evening, Marcelina Cordova walked by the local tavern in the company of another man, in full view of her former lover and his mates. The sailor responded to the perceived affront by calling her a "whore" and attacking her to within an inch of her life. In a world where the laundress's earnings depended on her reputation, to be labeled a whore was nearly as injurious as the assault on her body. Thus one year later, Cordova left the city of Callao, presumably to start her life over.
While Walker's account begins as a careful reading of legal documents, she closes by inviting us to sit with the indeterminacy of Cordova's story and asking us to consider how the laundress may have experienced the "embodied afterlife of violence." Did she leave home for the reasons we assume? Did the scars that crisscrossed her hands make it difficult to work as a laundress? Did her scarred face make it impossible to forget the trauma of her attack? After all, the Spanish sailor clearly expressed his desire to leave Cordova "scarred" and thus to mark her as a woman without honor. What did these embodied remnants of violence mean to Marcelina Cordova and to others who witnessed her disfigurement?
Different kinds of documentation permit more straightforward responses to questions like these. In "The Body and State Violence, from the Harrowing to the Mundane," Brandi Townsend explores how three women—Sylvia, Alicia, and Oriana—spoke about the violence they endured on their physical bodies while imprisoned under the Pinochet dictatorship (1973–1990) and, in turn, how societal ideas about gender and the body influenced their memories of these experiences. Using oral histories, Townsend confronts her subjects directly about their imprisonment, sexual assault, and other forms of torture, and discusses how they have coped with these living memories in the decades following Pinochet's demise. While this [End Page 7] history is far more recent than Walker's and its subjects are still alive, there are no easy generalizations to be made about the embodied afterlives of violence. Sylvia and Alicia explicitly linked their experiences under Pinochet to deeply seated ideas in Chilean culture that promoted men's domination over women's bodies and predated the dictator: abortion law, notions of sexual honor, and domestic violence. Their past and present politics, along with related life choices, challenged these gendered constraints by affirming bodily autonomy, particularly with regard to reproductive choices and domestic arrangements. For Oriana, however, whose embodied memories included multiple instances of rape, we are faced once again with the indeterminacy of historical narrative. Her testimony reminds us that sexual trauma, as well as recovery, does not lend itself to a coherent narrative.
The next article returns to colonial Peru, exploring gendered violence and sexual honor under slavery. In "Alien to my sex," Frank Trey Proctor III examines the charges of "abuse" that enslaved women brought against slaveholders in eighteenth-century Lima, as was permitted by Spanish imperial law. The law did not define abuse differentially for women and men. Proctor shows, however, that enslaved women and their proxies singled out certain kinds of labor and punishment as inappropriate for women—especially if they damaged women's sexual honor. Such offenses ran the gamut from hair cutting and raising women's skirts in public to sexual...