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In the Valley of the Sweet Mother: gendered metaphors, domestic lives and reproduction under a Brazilian state mining company

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Metaphors have been studied by feminist geographers as examples of both power over and empowerment by women. In this article, the author takes three gendered metaphors used by people in the Brazilian mining town of Itabira as starting points to enlarge a discussion of the mining economy's effects on women's lives. One, the 'sweet mother,' describes the company's reskilling and cultural education of male workers from the 1940s to the early 1980s. Second, women react to these strategies with a contending image of the company as 'the rival.' Finally, the phase of company downsizing has created a new metaphor: 'the stepmother.' These metaphors elucidate ways that public and private spaces become intertwined in three moments of the state mining company's life: its arrival in the region in the mid-1940s; its expansion from the 1960s to the 1980s; and its restructuring in the last 10 years. The author suggests that women's ironic rewriting of the foundational metaphor of 'sweet mother' is central to their reconceptualization of economic change under the company. The alternative metaphors also reflect women's changing views on motherhood, sexuality and family partnership.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Correspondence: Jacquelyn Chase, Department of Geography and Planning, California State University at Chico, USA.

Publication date: June 1, 2001

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