The Secret History of Gender

Women, Men, and Power in Late Colonial Mexico

By Steve J. Stern

496 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 32 tables, 3 maps, appends., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4643-8
    Published: February 1997
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-6480-7
    Published: November 2000

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In this study of gender relations in late colonial Mexico (ca. 1760-1821), Steve Stern analyzes the historical connections between gender, power, and politics in the lives of peasants, Indians, and other marginalized peoples. Through vignettes of everyday life, he challenges assumptions about gender relations and political culture in a patriarchal society. He also reflects on continuity and change between late colonial times and the present and suggests a paradigm for understanding similar struggles over gender rights in Old Regime societies in Europe and the Americas.

Stern pursues three major arguments. First, he demonstrates that non-elite women and men developed contending models of legitimate gender authority and that these differences sparked bitter struggles over gender right and obligation. Second, he reveals connections, in language and social dynamics, between disputes over legitimate authority in domestic and familial matters and disputes in the arenas of community and state power. The result is a fresh interpretation of the gendered dynamics of peasant politics, community, and riot. Third, Stern examines regional and ethnocultural variation and finds that his analysis transcends particular locales and ethnic subgroupings within Mexico. The historical arguments and conceptual sweep of Stern's book will inform not only students of Mexico and Latin America but also students of gender in the West and other world regions.

About the Author

Steve J. Stern, professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is author of numerous books and articles on Latin American history.
For more information about Steve J. Stern, visit the Author Page.


"A remarkable work, theorizing patriarchy as ever-changing rather than static. It stands as a social history which couples conceptual power with quantitative data, qualitative assertions and glimpses into the everyday world of colonial Mexico.”--Canadians Journal of Latin American/Caribbean Studies

"Theoretically sophisticated and empirically rich. . . . Stern's study illuminates the complex relationship between colonialism and patriarchalism."--Latin American Research Review

"One of the most significant contributions to Latin American and women's history published in the past two decades."--Western Historical Quarterly

"This is a complex book well worth reading, and Stern provides important insights that scholars may debate for some time in the future."--Journal of Social History

"An elegant and convincing analysis of gender relations."--Colonial Latin American Historical Review

"This is a theoretically sophisticated and empirically rich study of gender and popular political culture in colonial Mexico. . . . It illuminates in a variety of ways the complex relationship between colonialism and patriarchalism."--American Historical Review