To what extent were the lives of elite white women in Spanish America more limited than the lives of Indian and black women? 

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pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I would argue that the lives of elite white women in Spanish America were much more limited from a personal point of view even though they were very much less limited from an economic point of view.

Of course, elite white women in this time were in some ways the women who had the fewest limits on their lives.  They did not need to worry about their economic prospects.  They did not need to go out and work.  They were not likely to be subject to physical or sexual abuse.  In many ways, they did not have the same worries than Indian or black women had.

However, we might say that they were put in gilded cages and were, therefore, more limited than the women of other races.  White women in Spanish American society were seen as symbols of Spanish civilization.  Their chastity was to be preserved at all costs as was their dignity (at least as it was defined by Spanish men).  Elite white women, therefore, did not have as much personal freedom as Indian and black women did.  They were not as free to move freely or to interact with whomever they chose.  They were kept more closely guarded because of their importance to the Spanish ideology of racial and cultural superiority.

In short, then, the elite white women of Spanish America lived lives of comparative ease and luxury.  However, they were at the same time constrained by cultural expectations and were therefore more limited as to what they were allowed to do on a day-to-day basis.

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alexb2's profile pic

alexb2 | eNotes Employee

Posted on

I think this all hinges on the definition of the word "limited". One obvious point is that elite white women were a tiny minority in a large population of indigenous, mixed, or black women. As elites of both genders tended to not mix socially with other populations, the white elite women's worlds would be smaller and more constrained. They would have less places to socialize, they would not generally have a workplace, and their daily interactions would likely be limited to their immediate circle. 

On the other hand, their lives were much less limited in that they enjoyed economic privileges that non-elites did not have. Ultimately they were not subject to the same limitations of the state, culture, and society which kept native and black women in very constrained circumstances. They had freedom that other women in the society could only dream of, and economic power to back that up. 

The link I've provided below is from a college level course and has some interesting background information such as:

The first document, “Scandal at the Church”, features a plebeian man and his wife, Josefa Cadena, who have seemingly accepted the ideology of the caste system because they are anxious to demonstrate that Cadena is not “a black whore,” as women of higher status have labeled her, but rather a castiza, a person of three Spanish and one Indian grandparents, who would have assumed a position of greater prestige in the sistema de castas. The couple does not challenge the validity of the system as a whole, but seek to show their more elevated position within it. The third document, “The Most Vile Atrocities”, on the other hand, illustrates how a free black woman rejects the notion of the racial hierarchy, declaring to a white woman of higher social standing, “I am free and I am as worthy as you are!”

Each of those linked documents should also be useful to your research. 

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amysor's profile pic

amysor | Student, Grade 10 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted on

Elite white women were more limited than a indian women or a black women. White women had to be acceptable in society by behaving a certain way. They also had to dress a certain way if they were elite, and if caught doing something that was "unacceptable" , they would be scorned. While indian and black women have much less higher limitations, and the scorn for misdeeds was much less. It also depended where you were geographially and during what time in history, although, this is more of a general answer.

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