The Modernization of Femininity: Argentina, 1916–1926
The Modernization of Femininity: Argentina, 1916–1926
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter investigates the media images of women between 1916 and 1926, as they reflect political anxieties of a changing society. It explores the modernization of femininity in relation to the historical context of social unrest and the entrance of women into the work force. It looks more closely at how Plus Ultra presented women and femininity in its opening pages. Plus Ultra never dealt with politics, but what it did run after the Semana Trágica suggested another kind of danger. A December issue of Caras y Caretas suggests that Argentine feminist leaders are different from the Americans. It is clear that by 1926, a gender modernity was sensed to be a threat by those who served either oligarchy or patriarchy, or both. The real modern woman was walking straight past the images of her modernity and her femininity, into the public space of nationality and politics.
In 1926, the year in which Argentine women gained their civil rights, Plus Ultra, the glossy monthly supplement to the then leading national weekly Caras y Caretas, published a special issue in homage to Argentine women. This special issue (June 30, 1926) paid its homage principally through briefly captioned photographs or reproductions of paintings, edifying quotations, and poetry in praise of what the editors called “exquisite national femininity.” The photographs ranged from quarter- to full-page studio portraits of the young women of Buenos Aires high society to “album pages” with some fifty small photographs of leading women writers, painters, intellectuals, doctors, and feminists of the period. The potential female reader of the issue could browse from nineteenth-century president Domingo Sarmiento's comments on the importance of the education of women, to captions reminding her that “a woman at the swimming pool, more than a charming decoration, is also a brilliant promise of the vigor and excellence of the race.” She could contemplate notes on women journalists, aristocratic women of the Colonial period, leaders of charitable societies, nurses, women in “humble labors,” sportswomen, ballerinas, or seamstresses. On facing pages she could read an Alfonsina Storni prose poem about golf (and female despair) and poems by Ricardo Gutierrez on the serenity of women, Hector Pedro Blomberg on Amalia, and Horacio Rega Molina on “Ia mujer,” assuring the reader that only for her do men “desire life.” Finally, perhaps after noticing with appreciation the elegant layout of the magazine, with its curlicued cursive titles and page frames, the feminine reader could peruse at leisure equally elegant ink-drawing advertisements for rugs, perfume, clothing, gas appliances, Studebaker cars, medicine, corsets, crystal, cooking oil, linen, jewelry, furniture, and Standard bathroom fixtures.
Plus Ultra was in its tenth year when it published this issue; it was founded (p.75) in 1916, the same year of the first national election in which there was universal male suffrage (for Argentine citizens, not immigrant males), the election ending the oligarchy's longtime overt control of government and bringing to power the more middle-class Radical Party. Not surprisingly, the images of the Argentine woman that graced the inaugural pages of 1916 are not the same as those of 1926. In the second decade of the century, from the 1910 Centenario onward, the national print media conveyed the intensity and headiness of social change—from the sense of innovation created by political change at the national level and the spread of new cultural forms such as cinema, to the sense of danger associa ted with labor and feminist struggles and the sense of despair produced by World War I. Ten years later, in the mid- 1920s, the pace of change was different. Though the problems of urbanization and modernization were no less pressing and no less serious, Plus Ultra carefully eschewed all portrayal of conflictive social change in its 1926 special issue on women. Though their photographs are much smaller, the feminists and the intellectuals, who had a great deal to say about the social problems of the moment, coexist in these pages in decorous harmony with the ladies of society. In the year Argentine women gained their civil rights,1 after much legislative debate and after decades of street agitation, Plus Ultra attempted to set a tone minimizing any imminent social changes that civil rights for women might portend. Political rights (and possibly votes for the socialists) and seemingly anarchist morals (divorce, sexual liberation, and the like) were still threatening the horizon. But the differences between the 1916 and 1926 issues of Plus Ultra are not only those of the representation of political or sociological change. In ten years the magazine's visual preoccupations had changed. In 19I 6, Plus Ultra and Caras y Caretas were much taken with the “new urban woman” and with a new photographic image, the female film star portrait. In 1926, significantly, there are no female film stars in Plus Ultra's homage to Argentine women, but the photographic portraiture of the elegant young aristocracy is, in every shadow and highlight, read against film star modernity even as these stars' “exquisite femininity” is rejected.
What Plus Ultra registered in 1926 by its attempted omission of filmic images of Argentine women was an ongoing modernization of femininity. Postcentennial Argentine society had perceived itself to be a modernizing nation on its way to a preeminent position in the twentieth-century world economy, and in terms of the gender system this would have required, at the very least, a female labor force, intelligentsia, and aristocracy equal to Argentina's “modern times.” Yet the elite, as well as portions of other classes, generally also desired the maintenance of a hierarchal gender system in which women would never be truly coequal with men, and certainly not coequal as national political figures. Modern times, yes, but controversial new women, no; what were needed were examples of a mindful (p.76) modern woman. Thus, from the end of the nineteenth century onward, the presence of women in factory and labor struggles, the entrance of women into the professions, and the incursion of feminism into the public sphere together foretold a modern but less obedient Argentine woman. Yet at the same time a new discursive nexus was created: a “position available” for a modern woman who still embodied “eternal” (i.e., nineteenth-century) femininity.
With the introduction of film and its rapid institutionalization in national life, Argentina as a national society did gain exactly this woman, an idealized referent (or nexus of meanings) for its struggling real“new urban women”: the female film star was public but not political, daring without threatening the social order, national yet international. She was also beautiful, far distanced from any “ugliness” of everyday life, and therefore “attractive” to all sectors and classes of a national audience. To the extent the silent screen star's image synthesized modernity and ideals of femininity, it was imitated and circulated throughout the mass media; but to the extent this image synthesized modernity and democratic or feminist ideals, it did not reach the national press. In Caras y Caretas and Plus Ultra, the film star image has an interesting trajectory: it is an image embraced in 1916, fervently displayed in 1919, and, in the latter magazine's case, eschewed in 1926. I t is a trajectory that has much to tell us about related changes in the gender system and the nation as a State in these ten years.
To review this “gender modernization” process it would be best to return to 1916, to look more closely at how Plus Ultra presented women and femininity in its opening pages. Plus Ultra's first issue in March, 1916, included a glossy page of three sonnets framed by three photographs of elegant women, women with heads slightly inclined, eyes glancing upward and the slightest of smiles. The title across the top reads, “The Argentine Woman, Homage of the Poet.” The first two stanzas of the top sonnet, by Eugenio Díaz Romero, read:
- Blanca carne de lirio, ojos ígneos de estrella
- En que arden fulgurantes las llamas de amor;
- Boca fina y purpúrea donde la gracia sella
- Su encanto capitoso de roja rosa en flor.
- La sangre de las razas más nobles puso en ella
- Sus rasgos dominantes de belleza y valor
- Ungiéndola en el mundo mirífica doncella,
- Promesa del destino, Varona en Dolor.
- [Lilywhite skin, volcanic eyes of a star
- in which burn resplendent the flames of love.
- A dark and fine mouth where grace seals
- the enchantment of a flowering pink rose.
- (p.77) The blood of the most noble races are in her.
- Her dominant characteristics are beauty and valor,
- anointing her a surprising woman in this world,
- A Promise of Destiny, Masculine in Suffering. (emphasis mine)]
It is an interesting combination: in 1916 this all-inclusive “Argentine Woman” has the volcanic (igneous) eyes of a star-surely these must be smoldering, earthly, Hollywood volcanos—and is almost male in her ability to bear pain or sorrow—the unusual word “varona” is “varón”(male) made feminine by adding an a. She is physically very feminine, having all the appropriate (and then standard) poetic features of the perfect criolla: lilywhite skin, a fine roselike mouth. She is a perfect woman in terms of her class, having the requisite oligarchic grace and nobility beyond beauty. She is more sensual than a nineteenth-century symbolic ideal of woman: the white flesh is swiftly juxtaposed to burning love in the first two lines, and thus it is worldly love the poet describes (taking advantage of the relatively recent modernista reintroduction of explicit sensuality into Latin American poetry). But she has inherited from “the most noble races” (i.e., nonimmigrant/ upper-class stock) a masculine strength that makes of her femininity a promise for the future, a modern woman. Her literary foremothers, the Amalias of the previous century, had themselves a near masculine strength in the face of adversity, but their strength did not have the same suggestion of gendered independence to it: here in 1916 to juxtapose “Varona en Dolor” with “Promesa del Destino” is to suggest, beyond an established feminine endurance and suffering, a stalwart and independent modern woman.
In fact, the real “promise of Argentine destiny” was less likely to be a “surprising woman.” The director of the Commission of the Third National Census in 1914 wrote (as Catalina H. Wainerman and Marysa Navarro noted in their original study):
Hoy la mujer presta servicios en la municipalidad, en el correo, en la aduana, en el telégrafo y en diversas reparticiones públicas, Tiene, además, casi exclusivamente a su cargo el servicio de los teléfonos, Todo este censo fue tambien compilado por manos femininas. Aparte de su misión de maestra, para la que se encuentra admirablemente preparada, la mujer se abre cada día más camino en las industrias, en el comercio, en las profesiones. EI empleo de dactilógrafa está casi reservado para la mujer. …Existen mujeres rnédicas, masajistas, traductoras, abogadas, doctoras en letras, contadoras, notarias, etc.2
[Today women work for the city, the post office, customs, the telegraph company and in diverse public areas. The telephone service is almost exclusively their responsibility. This whole census was compiled by feminine hands. Beyond their mission as teachers, for which they are admirably prepared, women are each day making progress in industry, commerce, the professions. The job of typist is almost reserved for her. …There are women doctors, masseuses, translators, lawyers, professors, accountants, notaries, etc.]
There are four topics interwoven in the stanzas of the poem cited above: nationality—Argentine, of course; film stars—passionate, of course; beauty—gendered, of course; and health—in terms of vigor and strength, which, as will be shown, was not a matter of course. The emphasis on health subtly underlies much of the poem: in the final stanzas, in fine poetic form, this exemplary Argentine woman's voice is associated with purity of the sea, and “her brow like a temple breathes hope.” The weave of these four topics creates (or draws upon) a kind of politicized or civic sexuality-a strong, active, passionate new woman in homology with a vital nation, a “pure breath of hope”—but the repertoire of meanings against which the topic of health was read would have created a conflicted, even anguished view of the “health” of the nation and of modern womanhood. Not surprisingly, these four topics recur constantly in the pages of Plus Ultra and Caras y Caretas all the way through to 1926, so it is important to break them down and look at each closely, to find the rub of anxiety in this weave.
The most complex repertoire of meanings for these topics is the gender system itself: the topics of film stars and beauty depend directly upon the specific gender system in place at the time. By 1916, when this poem was published, the gender system of Argentina was under visible attack by the Argentine feminist community and visible stress by the changes of class structure brought about by immigration.3 Strikes of women workers were part of the closure of the nineteenth century, from the domestics' strike of 1888 to the women factory workers' strikes of the early years of the twentieth century. The activism of feminist leadership also dates from the turn of the century. For example, Dr. Cecilia Grierson, Argentina's first woman doctor, attended the 1899 Second International Women's Congress in London and established an affiliate organization upon her return; Adela, Fenia, and Mariana Chertkoff and Raquel Camaña, among others, founded the Centro Feminista Socialista in 1901; Julieta Lanteri-Renshaw's La mujer librepensadora was published in 1908; Gabriela Laperrière de Coni, a tireless reformer, presented for the Centro Feminista Socialista the law protecting women and children workers in 1903 (which was passed in 1907).
Indeed, the list of feminist organizers and activities from 1900 to 1926 is quite extensive. According to sociologist María del Carmen Feijoó by 1910, the centenario, feminism in Argentina had two clearly defined tendencies: one, more militant, that worked for improved work conditions, the vote, and the liberation of women (from what would now be called patriarchy), and the other, more cautious, that worked for an improved feminine role but not a change in female social status. Noting that these tendencies were part of the movement from the very beginning, she cites feminist organizer Carolina de Muzzili:
(p.79) Yo llamo feminismo de diletantes a aquel que sólo se preocupa por la emancipación de las mujeres intelectuales. …Es hora de que el feminismo “sportivo” deje paso a aquel verdadero feminismo que debe encuadrarse en la lucha de clases.4
[I call dilettante feminism that which is only preoccupied with the emancipation of women intellectuals. …It is time that “sportive” feminism give way to the true feminism that joins in class struggle.]
Feijoó also observes that while the First International Feminist Congress, organized by the Association of University Women, proposed a week before the 1910 Centenario celebration a factory reform law called “la ley de la silla” (which was finally passed in 19 I 9), the leading newspaper La Nacum gave the nod of approval to a less militant women's gathering, the Patriotic Congress and Centennial Exhibition, for its measured good sense. Fortunately, in a demonstration of a lack of “good sense,” in 1919 an international delegation of feminists attended the plenary session of the League of Nations, and then in 1920 women in the United States gained the vote. The impact of these gains was felt in the Argentine feminist community, if not in Argentina at large.
In response to the women workers, the feminist, socialist, and anarchist female organizers, the women intellectuals, the philanthropic-minded sector of upper-class women, and, finally, the numbers of immigrant women moving into the work force (and increasingly, as the 1914 census shows, into the service sector), the gender system necessarily reworked itself in the first two decades of the century into a configuration that could tolerate to a certain extent the lessening of overt male authority. Though motherhood and a homebound life might still be the ideal and every thread of social life steeped in patriarchal gender relations, it was time for a new patriarchal configuration. Shop girls rode the streetcar to work, and women ran for office, even if their candidacy was only symbolic; thus women in public life were no longer the equivalent of “public women” (i.e., prostitutes or “fallen” women). The gender system reconfigured the public/private split in Argentine patriarchy and simultaneously reworked the concept of feminine beauty. Public beauty was now film beauty: a certain tilt of the head, a slightly mischievous expression in the eyes, a worldliness, a determination of spirit, a seductive smile, a framed face that was more than photographic, a framed human image out of moving, modern time. This beauty, the female film star, had in Argentina much the same history as her counterparts in other national film industries.
The first public film showings of the Lurnière brothers in France was in December, 1885; the first film showing in Argentina was six months later, in July, 1886, and was organized by Eustaquio Pellicer, who later founded Caras y Caretas.5 Eugenio Py and Max Glucksmann initiated much of the film experimentation, and soon thereafter Mario Gallo and José A. Ferreyra (p.80) distinguished themselves as national film directors. In 1910, the Centenario was celebrated with numerous newsreels and documentaries, and the first fulllength feature was shown, the historical film El fusilamiento de Dorrego. Among the many films of the day were Amalia and Nobleza gaucha, shown in 1914 and 1915 respectively, the latter of which was a great commercial success. European and American films were imported and viewed with great interest, but it was the female film star who, in terms of the cultural representation of film, eventually overshadowed in the mass print media all other aspects of film culture. In the second issue of Plus Ultra (May, 1916), there is a full-page commentary on the police-suspense movie La mana que aprieta, heralded as an international success, shown by “Ia cas a Max Glucksmann, en los cines Petit Palace y Palace Theatre.” In the upper right corner is a photograph of a menacing hand; just below it and in the left lower corner are two smaller shots of the actors, Percy Bennet and Walter Jameson. But in the center of the page, drawing the reader's eye, is a high-contrast photo of actress Elaine Dodge: her face framed by a dark beret, a dark bow at her neck, and a half-smile on her lips, she is glancing slightly upward, not at the menacing hand, but past it to that point in some other world that only film stars can see.
It is not only historical hindsight that reveals the importance of this new but unattainable public beauty; it was a matter of contemporary comment. In 1919 Caras y Caretas initiated a column of film criticism titled “Los estrenos cinernátograficos.” It is one of the footnotes of literary history that the author of this column, generally credited with being Argentina's first film critic, was none other than writer Horacio Quiroga. In his very first column, December 6, 1919, under the interesting signature “the Husband of Dorothy Phillips,” Quiroga asked whether the beauty of the film stars was the source of their particular “encanto,” observing at the same time that all around the men of Buenos Aires were women of inexpressible beauty. He wrote:
¿Por qué, pues, la profunda ola de amor por las estreIIas mudas en que se ahoga y continúa ahogándose el alma masculina de las salas del cine?
Por esto, y he aquí la razón: porque la hermosa chica que toma el tranvía se lleva con ella el tiempo que hubiérarnos necesitado para adorarla. …Pero la estrella de cine nos entrega sostenidamente su encanto, nos tiende sin tasa de tiempo cuanto en ella es turbador: ojos, boca, frescura, sensibilidad arrobada y arranque pasional. Es nuestra, podemos admirarla, absorberla cuarenta y cinco minutos continuos …
[Why, then, this profound wave of love for the silent stars in which the masculine soul drowns and continues being drowned in the movie theaters?
Because—and here is the reason—because the beautiful girl who takes the streetcar carries away with her the time we would have needed to adore her. …But the film star gives over to us her sustained attraction, she provides (p.81) without measure of time all that in her is disturbing: eyes, mouth, freshness, enrapturing sensibility, passionate impulses. She is ours, we can admire her, absorb her forty-five minutes continuous…]
Quiroga ends with a wry comment, that were any Argentine woman to afford a masculine admirer such full contemplation he would know happiness far sooner than in any movie theater. Still, the import of his comments is that there now circulated in Argentine culture an imaginary woman who was beyond real women, but who was also the standard to which real women were compared. Indeed, nearly every week in Caras y Caretas in 1919 there was a page for the column “Teatro del silencio,” which featured, for example, “beautiful” backlit studio shots of Mary Pickford, Alice Brady, Marion Davies, Constance Talmadge, or Billy Burke,6 accompanied by paragraph length commentary on their lives and films. However, Quiroga notes the factor of time, seeing the irony that it is the moving image that is more available to the observer than people themselves in the hustle and bustle of the modern city. The measure of time has become such that it is an event (still) seemingly outside the routine of everyday life, a film, that affords a modern aesthetic of gender its development. That event, in that it is repeated in film theaters all over the city and around the world, becomes a national cultural referent in an international context. The feminine face Quiroga admires in the darkened theater now bears on much more than the question of beauty he raised.
By 1919 the pages of both magazines reveal the four topics of nationality, film stars, beauty, and health to have a more complex weave, to have in fact a new double twist: the association of feminism and State crisis. Politically the year is significant: January marks the Semana Trágica, the week in which an ongoing metallurgic workers' strike came to be a citywide, violent street confrontation between workers, police, and an oligarchic paramilitary, and the week in which an anti-Semitic, post-Russian Revolution hysteria was released. The play of meanings on any historical conjuncture can never be reduced to one master set of oppositions, but it is possible to detect that the anxieties of 1919 circulated around and through a sense of an opposition between foreign dangers and native strengths. In January of 1919 this sense of the foreign and the national was particularly acute. I t was the upper-class, "native Argentine" fear of the foreign—specifically, an exaggerated idea of the potential for a Bolshevik or Maximalist revolution, in combination with an anti-Semitic xenophobia—that produced the attack on the Russian Jewish communities by upper-class vigilante groups. The violence began with a sudden hour-long violent confrontation on January 7 at the Vasena factory between uniformed guards and a group of workers and their wives and children. Four or five were killed and twenty to forty wounded. The metallurgic workers called a work stoppage for January 9, and other unions responded.
(p.82) On the afternoon of the 9th, an estimated 200,000 joined the funeral cortege for the victims of the shooting two days before. Near the cemetery, they were fired upon, and rioting broke out. The city in effect shut down, and the Radical government, facing the prospect of its own downfall due to charges of inaction, decided on the tenth to deploy the army alongside the police against the workers and any other “suspicious” people in the streets.7 Sporadic violence and “peace negotiations” continued until the fifteenth. Rumors circulated in the national and international press that the violence had been instigated by a Bolshevik cell in Buenos Aires.
The Caras y Caretas treatment of the week is revealing as to the political climate and the discourses in circulation. The cover photograph of the January 18 issue is of the team of doctors and medical assistants who treated the victims, and our entrance into the story is therefore focused on questions of health and medical emergencies. The story of the week's events is told in some thirty pages of photographs (and a few drawings), four to eight on a double page, beginning with a shot setting the scene of the street corner where the violence broke out and a dramatic shot of the bullet holes in the wall of the house where one of the victims died. In fact, the entire photoessay has the narrative structure of a film documentary. On the first double page, the upper right quadrant is a shot of the caskets and dark-suited workers in the funeral cortege. The lower right quadrant seems a redundant shot, showing more dark-suited workers; but the caption reads, “Workers who accompanied the funeral cortege and a group of women of the ‘Feminist Committee.’” The figures in the photos are small, but it can be seen that two women are carrying banners or fronds; behind them, at a distance, are marching arm-in-arm rows of women in light-colored dresses. There are few other pictures of women in the photographic narration of events, and what is not said in the various captions leaves the impression that the week was the result principally of worker violence and lower-class aggression. Near the end of this photoessay, after shots of the police dispersing suspicious groups and army patrols on duty, again in the bottom right corner, is a small shot of armed civilians-men in suits with boater hats and two policemen with rifles-with the caption, “Commissions of young men belonging to the ‘Patriotic Committee of Youth’ covering the streets of the city in automobile with the mission of maintaining order.” I t seems that, like the feminists of the first pages, these young men, who no doubt joined the soon-to-be-formed Patriotic League (part of what David Rock has characterized as “the crystallization of a new Right with authoritarian and proto-fascist tendencies”8), did not need comment further than photographic portrayal. This is the discursive range of danger: foreign-influenced feminists and workers in the streets moments before violent disorder versus armed native-born, higher-class men in the streets maintaining order.
The intensity of this danger is signaled metonymically by a short story (p.83) included in the same Caras y Caretas issue. The story, by Conrad Casenave, is “De la mente enferma” [from the unsound mind]. It is the story of a medical student who, on duty late one night in the morgue, sees on the table before him two cadavers, a young man and woman who have committed suicide together and are locked in a final gruesome embrace.9 He observes that the dead woman is “celestiaimente bella” [celestially beautiful] and wonders, “¿Actuaría el amor sobre los cuerpos aun más allá de la muerte misma?” [would love act upon bodies after death itself?]. So he opens up the bodies to examine both hearts and brains. Finding no evidence for his theory, he angrily throws her heart onto the table, where it comes in contact with her lover's heart. The two seem then to beat together. The story ends with the medical student terrified and haunted by his discovery. Though the girl in the story is not a film star, her beauty is at least “celestial.” Both the characters of the suicide pact and the medical student have lived agitated, driven lives and have been antisocial in their acts. Juxtaposed to the photoessay of the violence of the Semana Trágica, the physical destruction of the two cadavers in the story becomes a macabre intensification of recent events. The two stories are similar: the rational mind and the rational society cannot tolerate young women committing suicide for love (her death is foregrounded in the story as somehow more important than her lover's), and thus a surgical intervention and investigation is required; the rational and orderly society cannot tolerate mass “antisocial behavior,” and thus a police intervention and an investigation of “foreign agents” is required. Gender and national identity, filmic beauty and social health are once again recombinant.
Plus Ultra, in its glossy pages, never dealt with politics, but what it did run after the Semana Trágica suggested another kind of danger. In January, it ran material most likely prepared before the violence, including an essay by Quiroga on women's smiles. In February, after double-page wide-angle photos of the summer vacationers on the boardwalk at the seaside resort Mar del Plata, it included a column titled “Feminismo norteamericano,” headed by a photo of two women in dull dress—long, masculine jackets and matching long skirts of a heavy material, plain, full-brimmed hats—the uniform of the National Army of Women, mentioned in the article in admiring tones for having aided the male war effort. The two women, president and vicepresident of the organization, are said to have “worked without rest to achieve such a beautiful result” (emphasis mine). In the same issue is a small, bottomcorner article by Argentine feminist leader Elvira Rawson de Dellepiane on women's rights, both civil and political. In April, the ongoing discursive juxtaposition of meanings around feminism, politics, and beauty becomes all too transparent. There is a page divided between upper and lower half: the upper half bears the title “Women Farmers” and a photo of five American women sitting on a wagon; the bottom half is filled by an article giving “practical advice to conserve beauty.” The women farmers are wearing broad-brimmed (p.84) hats, a makeshift sort of working uniform with heavy-material bloomer-pants, dark stockings, and boots. The five are sitting in a somewhat relaxed fashion, hands folded, legs hanging over the side of the wagon. Two have ankles crossed, two have knees and feet together, and the woman in the middle sits with her knees apart, a jolly smile on her face, with just a hint that at any moment she might start swinging her legs. The “frescura” [freshness] of these healthy women would not have enraptured Quiroga. Though theirs is the story of a 1918 agricultural prize for having set a women's record for number of acres cultivated, the beauty article below their picture suggests that they are ugly, or at least not working to conserve their femininity, and their frumpy dress and “masculine” activity aligns them with the army feminists of the previous issue. In the next issue, July, the four topics explicitly converge. The title above the photograph of an American woman farmer reads, “Las mujeres en el arado” [women under the yoke]. The column beside it explains that the “bitter title of the Italian film here is an appropriate commentary on the picture,” which shows again a healthy, smiling American woman in odd dress harnessed to a plow, that the woman took up farm work as part of the war effort, and that her efforts “redeem her enslaved sisters,” who will now escape the yoke of male tyranny. However, the family group in the background was caught in the photograph staring unsmilingly at the woman, as if her actions were improper and deserving of censure. Despite the magazine's brief words of support for feminism, there is a sense that all this gender change is dangerous and undermines society.
The overall implication of these months of Plus Ultra is that on the negative list of social matters are American, feminist, ugly, antifamily, mulehealthy women who will never be film stars. On the positive side might be, as a December issue of Caras y Caretas suggests, that Argentine feminist leaders are different from the Americans. A commentary with small, formal photos of Elvira Rawson de Dellepiane and Alicia Moreau states that the former, the president of the Asociación Pro Derechos de la Mujer, “is of unimpeachable moral authority and a person against whom the detractors of feminism cannot argue because she offers her double condition as wife and mother, who directs and cares for her ‘home’ [the word ‘home’ is in English] that is for her, like for other women, the center and altar of the most generous and elevated sentiments.” The statement is followed by reproductions of handwritten cards by the two women, seeming notes of decorum.
To the 1919 enchantments of the star of the “teatro del silencio,” the alleged refined sentiments of Argentine feminist leaders, the dangers of drab, coarse American feminism, the alleged foreign-inspired violence, and the just national order, one further discursive referent concerning health must be added. A series of advertisements for an admirably all-purpose medicine called Iperbiotina Malesci ran in both Plus Ultra and Caras y Caretas in the ten-year period 1916–1926. In Plus Ultra's first year, Iperbiotina Malesci had (p.85) a new full-page advertisement for each issue. The first issue, for example, showed two photos, a cinematic side-shot of a mother with a rose, which was placed beneath a shot of her sweetly posed daughter and son; the caption read, “La felicidad más grande de la mujer, consiste en saber que su hogar está libre de padecimientos físicos, y que, tanto ella misma, como cuantos la rodean, están sanos” [a woman's greatest happiness is knowing that her home is free of physical suffering, and that she herself, as well as those around her, are healthy]. Though an exhortation to the maintenance of the traditional home, the caption suggests a brisk urban household run by a modern woman. Other Malesci ads in this year spoke more abstractly of Samson-like strength, prolonged youth, and “Health, Beauty, Happiness”; but by 1919, the need for Iperbiotina Malesci was made more explicit. In this year it explicitly cured women of nervous attacks and “ailments peculiar to the feminine sex,” and men of “character-souring body pains.” This was modern urban life with modern anxieties-like State crises and shootings in the streets. In the pages of Plus Ultra and Caras y Caretas in 1919 the images of modern life brought into play specific oppositions. Some were internal to the nation: feminine physical weakness versus native criollo strength, or a cautious, home-based health versus modern urban hysteria. Others were based on the opposition between national positivity and foreign threat: delicate Argentine feminine beauty versus hearty American feminine health, decorous Argentine feminism versus unbounded international feminism, native security versus foreign destruction. Interestingly, in all these oppositions, even in the dangerous discursive mixes of the Semana Tragica, film beauty is still positive. By 1926, even that would change.
In a 1926 issue of Carasy Caretas there is a story titled “Retrato de mujer”; one of its striking lines reads, “Amar y confiar son palabras antagónicas en esta triste etapa de los mundos” [love and confidence are antagonic words in this sad stage of the worlds]. This gendered angst, however, seems less important when compared to the anxieties to which Iperbiotina Malesci must address itself in 1926:
Un militar sin energías, sin voluntad y sin el arma que defiende su autoridad, está al igual que cualquier ciudadano que dejó caer su organismo en una pobreza absoluta de salud, energía y vigor. Es prudente entonces armarse contra todos los males que ataquen los sistemas del cuerpo humano.
[A military man without energy, without will, and without the weapon that defends his authority is in exactly the same circumstances as any citizen who lets his organism lapse into an absolute poverty of health, energy, and vigor. It is prudent then to arm oneself against all of the evils that attack the systems of the human body.]
The copy runs next to an ink sketch of a military figure—not a modern general, but wild-eyed, disheveled prócer, a father of the Independence. The (p.86) first coup of the twentieth century was four years away, but the anxiety of an anemic body politic and a depleted military unable to defend its authority was already circulating in Argentine society.
Though the military now circulated in the modern anxieties, the female stars of silent film no longer had even a page dedicated to them in each issue—perhaps because silent film was now at its height. The novelty of cinematic narration—its new juxtaposition of images-had been transformed into the familiar. It is an interesting historical note that D. W. Griffith's Intolerance (1916), a narratively complex film with four parallel historical plots and many new cinematic techniques that would later become standard, played in Buenos Aires in the turbulent year of 1919. The cinematically most complex film of the silent era—a film whose style can be seen as the document of a society's “modern” capacity to handle radical narrative juxtaposition—played at the same moment as a critical internal realignment of the national social formation. By 1926, a time of an emergent state (re)structuration, images of female film stars in Caras y Caretas were reduced, literally, to small photos in advertisements for beauty products: Renee Adoree and Kathleen Key, for example, endorsed the ever-present Polvo Graseoso Leichner; Virginia Valli endorsed Crema Dental Kolynos (on a page opposite an ad for a Hocking Valley corn-shelling machine). There were, however, many more of the cinematic-style photoessays, in the form of “crime pages” with titles like “Drama pasional” and “Suicidio espectacular,” and formulaic plots of the cinema had their repercussions in everyday life, as the following Caras y Caretas filler shows:
¡SIGUEN LOS FILMS!
… Como en pleno Far-West…en Buenos Aires nos está tocando una pelicula que, según parece, va a tener numerosas partes. Los aficionados al crimen espectacular, a los robos vistosos, ingeniosos y sangrientos, deben estar encantados. …No así las víctimas inocentes y sus familiares, que pagan tan caro el Espectáculo. Mas reciente parte de la película ha tenido un defecto: la falta total de au toridades policiales en San Martin.
[THEY'RE FOLLOWING THE FILMS!
… Like in the Westerns…in Buenos Aires we have a film that, it seems, will have various parts. The fans of spectacular crime, with brilliant, ingenious, bloody robberies, must be overjoyed. …Not so the innocent victims and their relatives, who are paying a lot for the show. But recently the film has had a defect: the total absence of police in San Martín.]
The film metaphor to explain city violence indicates that film narrative had become a commonplace. Once films had become unremarkable activities of everyday life and minor stars were doing commercial endorsements, the distance between citizen and star lessened, save for those few Hollywood idols whose image would exceed earthbound humanity. These still-celestial (p.87) Modernization of Femininity: Argentina 87 women from time to time would grace the pages of the newer women's magazines, but they were not promoted with the same intensity as a desirable feminine standard as in 1919.
However, changes in kinds of mass publications and the increasing institutionalization of film culture do not explain what happened to the film star in the 1926 special issue of Plus Ultra. In this issue, the silent screen film beauty was eschewed: by 1926 her class status was too ambiguous, her sexuality too obvious, her internationalism questionable. She did get a group replacement: “La aristocracia porteñia.” However, every studio photo of the upper-class women employed a standard photo-manual pose with flat lighting, and, ironically, this anachronistic display of the beauty and the silk flapper dresses of the “cream” of Argentine society only serves to make it seem as if these women were trying to exceed filmic beauty. The women's expressions are more reserved than those of their Hollywood sisters, their body language stiffer, their gowns perhaps more expensive, but they are completely modern women. Though their photos are not artistically “beautiful” (and are militantly lacking in photographic technique), these women's gaze assumes an admiring observer who will be able to distinguish them as both similar to and better than the film star. Their modernized femininity no longer needs the stellar agent of the first years of transition:
Plus Ultra que siempre consagró sus mejores páginas a las manifestaciones de la exquista feminidad nacional desea ahora rendir entusiasta homenaje a la mujer argentina, a su belleza, a sus virtudes, a sus trabajos. Las madres y las esposas contribuyeron, desde la gestación de la libertad, al engrandecimiento del país. …Por la Fe, por el amor feminino, se intensifieó la cultura. A esa constancia en el esfuerzo femenil dedicamos hoy el presente número.
[Plus Ultra, which has always dedicated its best pages to the declarations of [our] exquisite national femininity, wishes now to render an enthusiastic homage to the Argentine woman—to her beauty, her virtue, her work. Mothers and wives have contributed since the gestation of liberty to the greatness of our country. …Faith and womanly love have intensified [our] culture. To this constancy of feminine effort, we dedicate this special issue.]
Exquisite national femininity is now everything but openly cinematic: it is to be modern/traditional, no longer changing and rushing forward like the shop girls on the streetcar or the provocative ladies of silent screen. Even the layout of the issue is static, as if a denial of the movement, through a denial of the photoessay form, would stay the social changes wrought by modernity.
In 1926, the year in which women gained their civil rights in Argentina, Plus Ultra and Caras y Caretas, in the discursive mix of the four topics examined here—nationality, film stars, beauty, and health—found the national more often than the foreign, a modern domestic beauty more often than an unmindful international femininity, and a disturbing national malaise, a (p.88) body politic in need of a conservative tonic. The patterns of changing images of the new urban women in their pages reveal that the representation of gender is intimately tied to that of the State. When all male citizens received the vote in 1916, on the brink of national chaos in 1919, and when women gained their civil rights in 1926, the danger of these changes was each time registered in a discursive remix of gender and State in the mass print media. The moving image of a modernizing femininity flickered in the theaters in these ten years, and women pressed for their civil and political rights. It is clear that by 1926 a gender modernity, which had previously been felt to be in the national interest, was sensed to be a threat by those who served either oligarchy or patriarchy, or both.
It may have been a self-fulfilling prophecy. The cover of the second issue of Plus Ultra in 1916 is a shaded line-drawing that looks either traced from or imitative of a photograph. The “camera” sees the Avenida de Mayo entrance to the Plaza del Congress, and the dome of the Congress is visible in the distance. To the left, in the shade of a great tree, is a kiosk with all the newspaper and mass magazines of the day displayed, and passing by the kiosk in the street is a man in what appears to be a motorized buggy. There are a few people entering the plaza—two men, several boys. Dead center is a woman walking toward the Congress. She is in a direct line with the dome, and her shadow lengthens behind her. We see her from the back. Her dress and hat are the dark, practical sort preferred by matrons and feminists. She is striding toward the Congress, past the modern publications, into the sunlight. The left-hand caption reads, “Revelaciones del objetivo”—which can be translated as either “developments from the lens” or “revelations of the objective.” The right-hand caption reads, “Aspectos nuevos de cosas conocidas” [new aspects of known things]. In 1916, the real modern woman was walking straight past the images of her modernity and her femininity, into the public space of nationality and politics. Did she have time in 1926 to read Plus Ultra's special issue in homage to Argentine women?
(1.) Civil rights for women included, for example, the right to enter into contracts without a husband's consent for a married woman and parental authority for a widow. See, for greater detail, Marifran Carlson, ¡Feminismo!: The Women's Movement in Argentina from Its Beginnings to Eva Perón (Chicago: Academy of Chicago Publishers: 1988), 166.
(2.) Catalina H. Wainerman and Marysa Navarro, EL trabajo de La mujer en La Argentina: Un análisis preliminar de Las ideas dominantes en Las primeras décades del siglo XX, Cuadernos del CENEP 7 (Buenos Aires: CENEP, 1979), 16.
(3.) For an overview of feminist history in Argentina, see María del Carmen Feijoó, “Las luchas feministas,” Todo Es Historia 2, 128 (January 1978): 6–23.
(4.) Feijóo, “Las luchas feministas,” 12–14.
(5.) For an overview of Argentine film history, see Jorge Miguel Couselo, et al., Historia del cine argentino (Buenos Aires: Centro Editor de America Latina, 1984).
(6.) For the importance of these actresses in film history, see William K. Everson, American Silent Film (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978).
(7.) For a detailed commentary on the events of this week, see Hugo del Campo, “La semana trágica,” in La clase media en poder, ed. Haydeé Gorostegui de Torres, Historia integral Argentina 6 (Buenos Aires: Centro Editor de América Latina, 1971), 63–84.
(8.) David Rock, Argentina 1516–1982: From the Spanish Colonization to the Falklands War (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1985), 202. See also Sandra D. McGee's articles and book on La Liga Patriótica.
(9.) The bound edition I consulted placed this story one page before photos of the cadavers from the Semana Trágica; I do not know whether this was the page sequence in the original issue.