Making Market Women
Gender, Religion, and Work in Ecuador
- ISBN: 9780268107451
- Published By: University of Notre Dame Press
- Published: March 2020
What happens to dreams deferred? Jill DeTemple’s Making Market Women: Gender, Religion, and Work in Ecuador lacks the attention-getting title of its predecessor. However, it expands and updates her analyses of liberation theology, neo-liberal capitalism, and gender and faith-based identity, as they intersect or tangle in the 2010s. In her first study set among the Andes, Cement, Earthworms, and Cheese Factories: Religion and Community Development in Rural Ecuador (Notre Dame University Press, 2012), she examined this material trio as adapted for the sustenance and profit of a women’s cooperative. DeTemple benefits from familiarity with the Chillanes canton of Central Ecuador. She originally arrived there with the Peace Corps. She has based her fieldwork within these settlements.
For the women of Chillanes, their scheme to sell cheese, as narrated in DeTemple’s 2012 study, had floundered by the century’s second decade. DeTemple orients their cooperative at a recently exposed fault line. It perches between the late 20th-century construction of post-Vatican II base communities, and Ecuador’s socio-economic and political upheavals. Rafael Correa took power in 2007. His socialist government tried to stay stable while upending his predecessors’ privatization of state functions.
Correa’s policies, at least early in his term (coverage of Correa’s demise and his dependence on Chinese largesse could have enriched this study for those unfamiliar with the negative impacts of these dangers to Ecuador’s well-being), opened lending to smaller entities. Banking reform generated affordable housing. This glimpse of an equitable economy boosted consumer confidence. So did the remittances sent by emigrants who had fled Ecuador in its 2000 monetary crisis. A nascent middle class created family-owned enterprises, rather than rely on subsistence agriculture. Liberation theology could not compete with cash or credit. Nor could Marxian theories contend with e-commerce or neo-liberalism.
This backdrop situates DeTemple’s framework. She perceives “a transnational mechanism.” In her view, this capitalist imposition of power-dynamics subsumes the common people, “who then encounter, resist, appropriate, and reproduce it in various ways” (5). DeTemple measures a post-millennial decline in collectivist Catholic solidarity. She reports a reliance on NGOs, with their emphases on education, healthcare, and gender equity. Incorporation of these as local initiatives draws this community together.
Women enter this matrix as production workers and marketers. Instead of the expectation of a half-century ago that the cultivated land itself would ground these rural economies, a pivot towards entrepreneurship enables these wives, mothers, and daughters to gain autonomy. The modest production of worms and cheese, introduced through the apostolate of Italian Salesian clergy, has now faded. The Virgen de las Nubes Cooperative retreats from its post-Vatican II ideals. It seeks capital gain.
Aimed at academic audiences, DeTemple’s study remains accessible to a readership beyond think-tanks or anthropologists. By applying evidence from over a hundred interviews, she enlivens her scholarly narrative. In five chapters, DeTemple uses the rise and fall of the local cheese factory to illustrate how religious praxis and economic development competed rather than cooperated, from 1998 to 2006. She begins as the Chillanes women shift from textile expertise to cheese enterprise. Then she examines how Catholic assumptions about boosting a woman’s place within the neighborhood rather than within her household left feminine beneficiaries tied to their apron-strings, so to say, rather than truly liberated.
As the heart of the book, its third portion demonstrates the unintended consequences of encouraging the women to leave their homes for a joint occupation. While liberation theologians imagined that freeing people from traditional livelihoods would heighten their discontent with hegemony and their resistance to institutions, they did not account for reality. Left with double burdens of waged labor at the cheese factory with responsibilities towards children and husbands, wives and mothers wearied. De Temple explains: “What appears to have been risked, and lost, is a holistic vision of the liberationalist church—one capable of, and dedicated to, raising people up in social as well as spiritual spaces” (157).
Two final chapters map parallels between neo-liberal capitalism and contemporary Catholicism. Instead of mass movements generating international change in the socialist sense, the aftermath of the Sixties countered leftist ambitions. Globalizing economics edged away from collectivism to sell self-starter proposals. Catholics tired of class-based rhetoric and politicized priests. Charismatic versions turned towards personal approaches rather than progressive campaigns. Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians competed for allegiance. Latin America witnessed a large share of believers leaning away from their accustomed Church as well as its alliances with radicals. Preferential options for the poor diminished.
No longer idealized laborers of Christian communism, the families of Chillanes faced compromises. “Forced to ‘do it themselves,’ the women of the cooperative realized they couldn’t do it all, a point of contention when they asked” their overseers from a diocesan-sponsored human rights organization to consider that the women could allow men to work with them in their cheese-making operations (163).
DeTemple’s follow-up analysis of the cooperative reveals the ripple effects of capital. She agrees with economist Ben Fine that the state decreases its care for the public welfare under neoliberal policies (43). The accumulation of social capital by those in Chillanes weakens communal bonds. Profits generated through a capitalism grounded within gender roles increase individual initiative. This may reinforce rather than overturn stereotypes of women as home-based producers. While the overall economic well-being increases in these villages, those self-starting individuals find themselves dependent on their own industry to sustain their higher income, with the burdens of debt increasing along with their ambitions.
John L. Murphy teaches ethics at the Keller School of Management.
John L. MurphyDate Of Review:September 29, 2022