The Democratic Self: Gender, Memory, and Human Rights under the Augusto Pinochet Dictatorship and Transition to Democracy in Chile, 1973-2010
Townsend, Brandi Ann
Rosemblatt, Karin A
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The Democratic Self asks how ideas about gender shaped the ways that Chileans reconstructed the affective, social, and political bonds the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990) sought to destroy. It intervenes in debates about the degree to which right-wing military regimes in Latin America eroded social ties during the Cold War. Torture targeted gendered and sexual identities and compelled victims to re-assess their roles as men, women, militants, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, mothers, and fathers. This dissertation argues that to reconnect the individual to collective struggles for democracy, survivors and their allies drew on longstanding, heteronormative gender ideologies within the left. Those ideologies gradually changed over the course of the dictatorship, and in turn, influenced memories during the subsequent transition to democracy (1990-2010). The dissertation draws on government and non-governmental documents and oral interviews with survivors, their families, and human rights workers. Between 1978 and 1990, mental health professionals working within human rights organizations provided psychological therapy to approximately 32,000-42,000 Chileans to help them work through their traumatic experiences as part of a collective project to repair the social connections that state violence ripped apart. These professionals translated psychoanalytic concepts of “the self” into the language of pre-1973 frameworks of citizenship grounded in the heterosexual, male-headed nuclear family. By the mid-1980s, Chile’s feminist movement changed the terms of the debate by showing how gendered forms of everyday violence that pre-dated the dictatorship shaped political violence under the dictatorship, as well as the opposition’s response. Slowly, mental health professionals began to change how they deployed ideas about gender when helping survivors and their families talk about state violence. However, the narratives of violence that emerged with the end of the dictatorship in 1990 and that were enshrined in three separate truth commissions (1990, 2004, and 2010) only partially reflected that transformation. The democratic governments’ attempts to heal Chile’s painful past and move forward did not always recognize, much less dislodge, entrenched ideas that privileged men’s experiences of political militancy. This dissertation shows how Chileans grappled with their memories of state violence, which were refracted through gendered discourses in the human rights movement.