Imperialist Patriarchy and Gender Dynamics in the Dominican Republic

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By Val Reynoso

The Taino of Hispaniola were among the first to feel the wrath of Spanish imperialism and exploitation.

With European invasion came a counterrevolution to Taino primitive communism—which came in the form of the birth of capitalism, the enforcement of private property, the development and incorporation of chattel slavery, and the construction of a white supremacist empire fueled by colonialism and stolen Taino and African goods.

The political organization on the island had gone from one centered around matriarchy to one dominated by Spanish male colonizers and a capitalist, patriarchal system. Despite there being the existence of some patriarchal functions pre-colonially, capitalism upholds patriarchy through gendered violence, racism, subjugation of women, and exploitation of the social reproduction of women; Gayle Rubin makes this case in “The Traffic in Women: Notes on the Political Economy of Sex,” “ Engels in The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, Engels sees sex oppression as part of capitalism’s heritage from prior social forms.

Moreover, Engels integrates sex and sexuality into his theory of society. According to the materialistic conception, the determining factor in history is, in the final instance, the production and reproduction of immediate life. The term patriarchy was introduced to distinguish the forces maintaining sexism from other social forces, such as capitalism. But the use of patriarchy obscures other distinctions. Its use is analogous to using capitalism to refer to all modes of production, whereas the usefulness of the term capitalism lies precisely in that it distinguishes between the different systems by which societies are provisioned and organized.”

In Marxist theory, the emergence of private property and class society are rendered as the origin of patriarchy; according to Engels, women were converted into the property of the colonizers who would then do as they please with them. The forced marriages between Spanish settlers and Taino women to serve as a pretext for removal of land from those settlers by the Spanish colonial control board is indicative of how this new patriarchal system objectified Taino women as private property of the white men and rendered them as tools used to manage the privatized, colonized land.

The rape of Taino women by the Spanish imperialists demonstrates how under patriarchy upheld by capitalism, gender dynamics are informed by violence and coercion in order to maintain the subordination of women and the patriarchal status quo. Under Spanish colonialism is also seen the reduction of Taino women to their sexual capabilities, given that they were also then regarded as only valuable in terms of their reproduction of new life—who would also be exploited and oppressed at the hands of imperialism, capitalism and white supremacy.

The colonialist patriarchal political system in Hispaniola differs greatly from the previous matriarchal structures of Taino primitive communism primarily in terms of gender roles, societal expectations of women, and positions of power.

Behechio’s sister Anacaona is an instance of said differentiation from Spanish imperialist patriarchy. Danny Shaw’s Liberation School article “To Live among Broken Men: Theorizing Rape and Incest” explicates that cacica (chief) Anacaona led resistance and battled against the Spanish colonizers as her partner Caonabo stayed home and raised their children. Anacaona was captured and publicly executed in 1503 because she refused clemency in exchange for being the concubine of one of her captors.

The Spanish invaders sought to eliminate leaders of any resistance to Spaniard double enslavement of Native and African women. In the West and other patriarchal capitalist societies, domestic labor is typically seen as the work of women to do whereas men are expected to defend their families and go off to war. In Taino society it was the other way around—although Taino women did take responsibility for household duties, cooking and childbearing and Taino men did defend their people from enemies such as neighboring Caribs, Anacaona was a cacica, was high up in the sociopolitical Taino system, and stood up to Columbus and the other Spanish colonizers.

As Anacaona went off to battle in the resistance against colonialism and white supremacy, her husband Caonabo took charge of domestic work and raising the children because Taino men were not shunned for taking on roles typically dominated by women—Taino women were not necessarily condemned on the basis of their gender in precolonial society and hence toxic masculinity among men was not as pervasive seeing that women and their roles were not deemed inferior.

In Western capitalist cultures, however, men who take charge of domestic work are oftentimes viewed as effeminate and unmanly especially since social reproduction of male workers is another factor women are burdened by in the West due to patriarchy. Following the establishment of capitalist, patriarchal, imperialist white hegemony as the status quo and system on the island also came the development and normalization of what would become known as machismo in contemporary Dominican culture and society.

Machismo is characterized as blatant, hypermasculinized pride and exertion of masculinity—which has become the norm for men throughout Latin America including Dominican Republic; masculinity is how men understand themselves in relation to women, but doesn’t equate women to the value of men. Typical machista attitude is characterized by Dominican men viewing themselves as conquistadores (conquerors) of women, and a competition they have to see how many women they can “conquer” which would then further elevate their status as a man. It is evident that machismo is a product of colonialism and patriarchy upheld and enforced by Spanish imperialism on the island.

Machismo is also marked by a colonialist role play in which men characterize themselves as conquistadors, such as those who invaded the island, and regard women as their property with whom the conquering men would do as they please—which is also a product of capitalism due to private property and subjugation of women informed by violence from men. Additionally, it is also speculated that machismo originated in Spain and was brought to Hispaniola where it was normalized.

In his article “Machismo,” Hernando Villa states, “Although some believe machismo has ancient roots common in all ‘Latin’ cultures since Roman times, others argue that it is an ideology that originated uniquely in Andalusia, Spain, and was carried over the Atlantic Ocean during the Spanish Conquest.” As an explicit term, machismo dates back to the 20th century, however, it has an extensive legacy rooted in Spanish imperialism, capitalism and patriarchy, and this legacy unfortunately lives on in the Dominican Republic.

Val Reynoso is a Politics and Human Rights undergrad, journalist and Marxist-Leninist activist.

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