By Jeffrey M. Shumway
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Additional info for The case of the ugly suitor: & other histories of love, gender, & nation in Buenos Aires, 1776-1870
For the Roman Catholic Church, the Spanish Crown, and most Latin American countries in the early nineteenth century, divorce meant a physical separation—either temporary or permanent—but not dissolution of the marriage. Divorce was usually a last resort as state and ecclesiastical ofﬁcials did everything in their power to reconcile couples. If those efforts failed, the government sought to meet the needs of separated spouses and their children. Conﬂicts occurred within the bounds of traditional marriage.
Families went to court precisely because family life had broken down. In their description of those breakdowns, porteños revealed ideal expectations as well as the realities of heartache and suffering. One ideal was that a legitimate marriage was the proper way to begin a family and raise children in harmony. When Tránsito Benítez tried to reclaim her son from Rafael Barrios, he resisted. According to Barrios, Tránsito’s immoral behavior, which he would happily illustrate, made her unﬁt to care for her son.
8 Such attitudes also show that patriarchy is not just a man-to-woman or husband-to-wife relationship—it extends from fathers and mothers to children across generations. From a legal and theoretical perspective, women usually remained subject to patriarchal authority. When the man was deceased or absent from the home, however, wives could take over many of the responsibilities and powers of the husband. Under certain circumstances, then, matriarchy could take the place of patriarchy. The complexity of patriarchy as it developed over time deﬁes simple deﬁnition.