Camila, Secularization, and its Gender Double Standard

As Elizabeth Dore notes in her book One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, in contrast to the colonial US, where women were actually “denied juridical personhood,” women in Ibero-America were not denied civil rights, at least not on legal paper. “Women could sign contracts, ratify official documents, make wills, … appear in court,” and as we discover with Camila, they could be put to death just like a man, even with an unborn baby in tow (Dore 12). As politics surrounding race, class, or gender seem always to reflect, a double standard is presented to Camila.

An important transition in state rule occurs in the period of Independence across Latin America, with recognized (although debated) gendered implications. Dore touches on this issue of secularization, and its implications on gender: as states began ruling with more of a secular, rather than ecclesiastical or religious, fist, the patriarchal hierarchy tended to grow: fathers gained greater control and authority over his children. This seems evident in Camila: Camila’s father, Adolfo, ultimately has control over his daughter’s fate, despite his wife’s and the community’s disdain and opposition. In doing so, Adolfo understands and practices his patriarchal authority, to the extent that he essentially favors his daughter’s death over the unresolved shame and dishonor bestowed to his name.

It is further notable that Dore identifies that “in periods of upheaval, politicians link appeals for order with calls for a return to patriarchal values” (14). In the midst of the disorder that follows the “scandal” of Camila and Ladislao’s elopement and escape, Juan Manuel de Rosas perhaps indirectly makes this call to maintain the paternalistic order. Adolfo sends a respectful letter to Rosas, urging that he somehow aids in resolving “the most atrocious act ever heard of in this country” (Stevens 92).

Adolfo portrays Camila in this letter as a “passive victim” of Ladislao’s actions, when obviously Camila is a strong, willful, and active person (Stevens 94). How is gender informing the shape this letter takes, and the actions that follow? It would be interesting to see this letter, for instance, written for the sake of a son of Adolfo, or the unfurling sequences of events if the letter were written by Camila’s mother, not her father. Would a son of Adolfo be portrayed passively? Would Rosas consider a letter from a mother to have the same credibility, seriousness or urgency as that from a father? (Whether Rosas responds to Adolfo’s letter in part on the basis of his gender or not, it seems that he ultimately prescribes to his personal guiding principle that “the twenty drops of blood shed at the proper moment may prevent the need to spill twenty thousand more” (Stevens 98)).

Throughout the movie, Camila is faced with a sort of double standard as result of her gender. Her father tells Camila early in the film that a single woman is “desorden, un caós en la naturaleza” (Bemberg, Camila). A female inherently disrupts the natural flow of life, Adolfo explains, implying that a male is needed to return the order of nature (if Adolfo had a basic understanding of Physics, Chemistry, of Biology, he would of course know that the universe naturally tends towards chaos and disorder, regardless of gender). Camila is encouraged to find a good man and marry to make herself happy, yet when she finds her true love, Ladislao, it is clearly unacceptable to marry this priest. At the dinner table, Adolfo asks Camila her opinion on the recent beheading event of the book seller in town, yet sends her to bed when she responds honestly and openly.

It is obvious that Camila is a courageous, romantic, defiant woman, yet until the very end Adolfo attempts to create the guise of a submissive, quiescent, and dependent daughter.  During the “long nineteenth century,” (Dore 4), women were expected to perform to a double standard, at once bestowed with newly expanded rights as a result of secularization as well as the expectation to perform as a traditional submissive female.