The Role of Honor, Marriage, and Illegitimacy in Colonial Latin America
Honor, illegitimacy and sexuality were among the most contested issues especially in the colonial Spanish America (Lavrin 10). In colonial Latin America, the concept of personal honor was more of a mental construct that was expressed through a complex set of social and personal behavioral code that was a prerequisite for acceptance in any given social setting (Lavrin 10). Sexual conduct was referred to as the touchstone of honor because it restrained people from engaging in sexual behavior before marriage (Lavrin 10). Those who were most affected by these assertions were the female due to social consequences emanating from illegitimate children.
Apparently, these male-defined concepts and stringent regulations imposed heavier penalties for women than men because women were mandated with the heaviest burden of keeping their honor. Central to the concept of honor was a woman’s need to keep their virginity intact otherwise she would be ostracized by the society. A woman who preserved her virginity was held with honor and esteem because she proved superior to her peers (Lavrin 11). Virginity in itself was a highly esteem social quality worth keeping (Lavrin 11).
On the other hand, married men and women had to preserve their marriage state to preserve their honor and the honor of their families (Lavrin 11). A wife was required to be faithful and modest at the same time.
Women who gave birth to illegitimate children were required to legitimize their children through marriage (Lavrin 12). This form of legitimization was subject to the husband’s approval and request for honor. Illegitimacy was a pervasive aspect in the colonial cities especially in 17th and 18th century. Regions like Guadalajara documented all illegitimacies as a way of arrogance to the parties. Illegitimacy in colonial Latin America proved to be a very powerful stigma (Lavrin 12). An illegitimate child found it hard to have institutional access or access to educational opportunities as compared to legitimate children. Additionally, illegitimate children had sleek chances for inheritance unless they were under the protection of their wealthy fathers (Lavrin 12). The most common reason for legitimization of the social élites was an aspiration to be accorded honor in the society.
Another option for legitimization was for women who had given birth out of wedlock to become successful in the society (Lavrin 12). For instance, Inca Garcilaso de la Vega and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz were some of the most successful women despite having given birth out of wedlock. For any illegitimacy, the colonial Latin Americans were searching for partial restitution of honor (Lavrin 12). This was achievable through economic compensation or through marriage (Lavrin 12).
A Woman was given the option to make public the man to whom she lost her virginity (Lavrin 12). When such public declarations were made, the man would be required to...