Development Begins at Home: Women and the Domestic Economy in Brazil, 1945-1975
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A number of historians of twentieth-century Latin America have identified ways that national labor laws, civil codes, social welfare programs, and business practices contributed to a gendered division of society that subordinated women to men in national economic development, household management, and familial relations. Few scholars, however, have critically explored women's roles as consumers and housewives in these intertwined realms. This work examines the Brazilian case after the Second World War, arguing that economic policies and business practices associated with “developmentalism” [Portuguese: desenvolvimentismo] created openings for women to engage in debates about national progress and transnational standards of modernity. While acknowledging that an asymmetry of gender relations persisted, the study demonstrates that urban women expanded their agency in this period, especially over areas of economic and family life deemed "domestic." This dissertation examines periodicals, consumer research statistics, public opinion surveys, personal interviews, corporate archives, the archives of key women’s organizations, and government officials’ records to identify the role that women and household economies played in Brazilian developmentalism between 1945 and 1975. Its principal argument is that business and political elites attempted to define gender roles for adult urban women as housewives and mothers, linking their management of the household to familial well-being and national modernization. In turn, Brazilian women deployed these idealized roles in public to advance their own economic interests, especially in the management of household finances and consumption, as well as to expand legal rights for married women, and increase women’s participation in the workforce. As the market for women's labor expanded with continued industrialization, these efforts defined a more active role for women in the economy and in debates about the trajectory of national development policies.