The field of women’s history has come of age in U.S. and European literature over the past ten years. While the process has been somewhat slower in Latin America, pathbreaking studies written in the 1970s are now yielding a second generation of work on Latin American women and their historical experience. These two edited volumes represent the latest in collections of important work designed to be accessible and useful in the classroom. Although their titles have a certain similarity in meter, the books are quite different in scope and emphasis.

Confronting Change, Challenging Tradition combines primary and secondary literature to present an overview of Latin American women in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Gertrude Yeager divides the selected readings into two sections. The first section, “Culture and the Status of Women,” presents a variety of cultural assumptions about women and their roles in Latin American society. Drawing from the work of Latin American and American historians, novelists, educators, and literary critics, the text introduces issues as varied as machismo, sexuality, male-female relations, intelligence and beauty, and education. The second section, “Reconstructing the Past,” presents a more traditional type of historical material. Combining selections from studies on women with excerpts from legal codes, official reports on the status of women, and interviews, this section concentrates on the relationship of women to family, work, religion, and social change. Overall, the readings reflect the wide variety of sources that can be used to reconstruct women’s history. In addition, lists of both suggested readings and suggested films indicate where additional material can be found.

Perhaps more difficult than dealing with the history of Latin American women in general is attempting to reconstruct the history of rural women anywhere in Latin America. Women of the Mexican Countryside attempts to do this by concentrating on the position of women over the past 150 years of Mexican history. This volume, the result of a 1992 conference on Mexican rural women, consists of articles by historians, anthropologists, and an occasional economist. Here again, a wide variety of topics are introduced: women and marriage, work, revolution, education. The articles follow a chronological division, looking at rural women during the Porfiriato, during the Revolution, and finally, since the economic modernization that began in the 1940s. Almost all the contributors combine Marxism and feminism in their analyses.

While both volumes deserve serious consideration by anyone interested in women in Latin America, some critical words must be directed at the editors of each volume for the tone of their respective introductions. Yeager, after giving a brief outline of women’s history, tends to conflate the last one hundred years of the history of women with the history of feminism. Fowler-Salamini and Vaughn pepper their remarks with unfortunate postmodern jargon (“the Revolution . . . engendered a discursive celebration”) and seem intent on recasting all rural women as resisters. While female revolutionary leaders clearly resisted, one must ask how typical they were. Depicting a woman raising a household garden, furthermore, as an example of rebellion through “the construction of private space” tends to render the concept of resistance meaningless.