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Madeline Wiseman

Madeline Wiseman is a junior in the College majoring in Spanish and Women's & Gender Studies with a French minor. Originally from Nashville, TN, Madeline hasn't let the fast-paced life in Washington and Santiago make her forget her southern hospitality or cowboy boots. Madeline is in Chile just in time to witness firsthand the historical debates and marches as students, teachers, and citizens protest all across Chile in favor of education reform. She will be studying in Santiago until December at the two universities at the center of the movement: la Pontifica Universidad Católica de Chile and la Universidad de Chile. Already having fallen in love with her host parents, afternoon siestas, and the ubiquity of avocado, Madeline can't believe her 5 months abroad are flying by so quickly.

The Virgin Mary, Model for the Ideal Chilean Mother

November 5, 2011 | 1 COMMENT

Any new arrival to Santiago is quickly directed to the cerro San Cristóbal. As the second highest point in the city, San Cristóbal provides the best view of Chile’s capital and its incredible backdrop, the Andes mountains. At the top of the almost 920-foot hill sits a massive statue of the Virgin Mary. Although it struggles with smog like many large cities, on clearer days the white figure is visible from many places throughout Santiago. During my 5 months living with a Chilean family and studying at the country’s top two universities, I have discovered that this symbol of the virgin sets the tone for gender relations in Chile, in particular the expectations for women.

Like most Latin American countries, Chile’s citizens overwhelmingly identify themselves as Catholic. A distinctive feature of Chilean Catholicism is its particularly close relationship with the Virgin Mary, one I have not seen as a practicing Catholic in the United States.

During a trip I took with my program to Iquique in northern Chile, we stopped one evening in La Tirana, a town about an hour from the port. Every July, this tiny desert town hosts a massive religious celebration in Mary’s name. For more than a week straight, La Tirana’s residents and the thousands of visitors that come to participate in the event dance 24 hours per day in elaborate costumes. This annual celebration exemplifies Chilean Catholics’ special devotion to the virgin, which is also revealed by prayer petitions addressed specifically to Mary in masses on my Catholic university’s campus.

As a result of this close relationship, the general society holds up Mary’s example of pure and ideal motherhood as of the highest importance. Simply stated, women are valued for being mothers. As a result, girls are expected to grow up, get married, and have children. This fact is certainly not unique to Chile, but the Catholic Church’s influence in the country makes the definition of ideal motherhood distinct.

In order to be a good mother, a woman must closely follow Mary’s example. Simply marrying and having children is not enough; Chilean mothers are meant to be particularly sacrificing and suffering in the way that the virgin is depicted in the Bible. The common expectation is that women will give up personal or individual success in order to provide the best possible life for their husband and children.

During my semester in Santiago I am studying at La Universidad de Chile y la Pontífica Universidad Católica de Chile, the two undisputedly best universities in the country. Despite the fact that roughly equal numbers of male and female students study at both schools, the Chilean society overwhelmingly anticipates that marriage and motherhood will eventually become the first priority of these smart, motivated students.

Perhaps as a result of this expectation, young couples are everywhere on la Católica’s campus and the city in general. Their presence might be more notable because of the Chilean tendency to be openly affectionate no matter who is nearby, but based on my experience in both Chile and the United States, more Chilean young people are in serious relationships.

A few Chilean women, like one of my professors, choose not to follow this traditional path. As a 30-something young woman who is a successful, unmarried college professor, she is unusual to say the least. Although her family has supported her studies, she told me that when she finished graduate school there was a general sigh of relief; now she could finally get married and start a family.

Other Chileans pursue both a career and motherhood. When people learn of a woman’s professional success, my professor said that one question inevitably follows: “But what about the children?” It is accepted as obvious that a woman cannot achieve high levels of personal success while at the same time living up to the expectations for motherhood. Since a good mother must body the suffering and sacrifice that Mary displayed, a personal career just does not fit into that image.

Many people and societies throughout the world maintain the traditional view that a woman’s place is in the home, but the religious culture of Chile makes the expectations for girls and women even more difficult to live up to or attempt to renegotiate. During my time in Santiago I have realized that the United States has more progressive views on gender roles and the opportunities women can pursue.

Still, many smart, motivated young women that I know at Georgetown and as well as other universities struggle with the question of how they will balance aspirations for a successful career and a family. Given Chileans’ stricter definition of what being a good mother requires, based on the Virgin Mary as the ideal, Chilean women have an even more difficult job in negotiating their possible futures.


Madeline, it sounds like life for Chilean women is very similar to what life is like for Italian women. Italy is also a very Catholic country. The image of the Madonna dominates the work of many of the great artists of the Early and High Renaissance, from Duccio to Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. She is usually shown with the infant Jesus to emphasize the importance of her role as a mother. Until the 1960s, the Catholic Church promoted a family structure based around a working father and a stay-at-home mother.

Since then, life for women has improved, but Italy is still behind many advanced countries in areas such as labor participation, wage parity and women in leadership positions. More women graduate from college than men, with better grades, yet only one in two has a paid job. Italy ranked 74th in the 2010 gender equality report by the World Economic Forum, lower than any other European country. This is also seven places lower than Italy ranked when Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi returned to office in 2008. Berlusconi’s many sexist quips, as well as his numerous sex scandals, have enraged women across Italy.

Last weekend, there were huge women’s rights protests all throughout Italy. Protestors accused the male-dominated Italian government for the current economic and political crisis the country is facing. They claimed that “Women are the well-being of this country”, and are refusing to allow sexist attitudes in the workplace, as well as in the Italian government, to continue. Many believe that the recent resignation of Berlusconi is already a step forward. More than 20,000 women protested in Rome and other Italian cities, such as Turin and Venice.

The new prime minister of Italy, Mario Monti, believes that female representation in government is essential. Whereas most of the women in the Berlusconi administration were former prostitutes or supermodels, the Monti women are all well-educated, experienced professionals. This gives little girls in Italy something to aspire to. As an economist, Monti says that the lack of women in the workforce has contributed to the economic crisis in Italy. With an aging population, an underfunded pension system and an ever increasing debt, Italy can’t afford to ignore its women.

The government has changed, but not the country. Many Italian men still treat women as second class citizens. The Italian culture is accustomed to women filling roles as wives and mothers. Society needs to change to accommodate women in the workforce. If the protests last weekend are any indication, the women of Italy are ready to lead.

Honoring a Murderer: The Confusing Politics Surrounding Pinochet’s Dictatorship in Chile 21 Years Later

December 6, 2011 | 3 COMMENTS

Every weeknight since my arrival in Santiago on July 14, I have watched the 9:00 p.m. news with my Chilean host parents. On November 21, one story captured a fact that has become clear to me over the last 5 months: in particular with respect to Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, Chilean politics are just plain messed up.

Before I explain, a little background is necessary. On September 11, 1973, the Chilean army removed the democratically elected socialist president Salvador Allende in a coup d’état that the United States helped plan. Military chief Augusto Pinochet assumed power and ruled as a dictator for the next 17 years.

The dictatorship was characterized by human rights violations; over 28,000 people were tortured, 2,279 of them executed. Approximately 1,248 people disappeared during the dictatorship, and to this day the location of their bodies is unknown. These people were tortured and killed simply for disagreeing with the politics and policies of the people in power.

On September 11 of every year, Chileans who lost family members and friends during the dictatorship take to the streets. Many walk with photos of their loved ones, marching in the name of those who died and in the name of those whose exact fate remains unclear. The coup d’état and the dictatorship are painful memories for many Chileans. I have gradually learned, however, that many Chileans do not remember the dictatorship in this way.

Early on during a two-week “Contemporary Chile” course with my program, I learned that the current president Sebastián Piñera had a number of ties with Pinochet’s government and benefitted financially from his policies. I was shocked to learn that he had been elected; obviously Chileans had not forgotten about the dictatorship, and Piñera’s ties to Pinochet were hardly a secret. Chileans have told me a few possible reasons why Piñera was elected, all of which probably contributed in a way, but one in particular pertains to my point about Chilean politics.

Stated plainly, some Chileans see the dictatorship as a positive period in their country’s history. I have yet to figure out whether these people simply negate the facts or choose to adopt some twisted view of the reality, but somehow many people continue to support the ideologies and actions of Pinochet and his government officials.

The story I saw on the news on November 21 covered the activity surrounding a ceremony that a group of people, including government leaders, held to honor a man named Miguel Krassnoff. Currently serving 120 years in prison, Krassnoff is a convicted murderer and violator of human rights. He took part in the 1973 coup d’état and subsequently remained part of Pinochet’s inner circle, participating directly in torture and executions.

And yet, somehow this group of people believes that he deserves to be honored for his actions, for his “contributions” to Chile as a country. When the story came on the news, my host dad said with frustration and a tinge of resignation, “Only in Chile.”

Obviously every country has extremists who deny or skew what the average person knows to be fact, but for those people to be government leaders? For them hold a ceremony in the name of someone who has been convicted twenty times over of such awful violations of human rights as torture and rape? Someone who was a leader during a time when thousands of Chileans were imprisoned and killed for committing no crimes? I simply don’t get it.

Two back-to-back interviews in the new story exemplify my confusion. First, a middle-aged man explained that Krassnoff directly participated in his imprisonment and torture. The man saw Krassnoff; there is no doubt that he was there. Next, an older man with white hair clearly stated in an interview his belief that “Miguel Krassnoff has not committed any crimes.”

Despite the incredulous questions that continually surface as I learn more about Chilean politics, I have resigned myself to the fact that I will never fully grasp them, nor will I understand the complexities of Chileans’ attitudes toward the dictatorship. That period remains a difficult and sensitive topic even 21 years later, and I would never claim to know the best way for Chileans to proceed as far as politics. I have to say, however, that I hope the next election results in fewer compadres of Pinochet in power and more men and women who truly want the best for Chile and its people.


In your letter you profess to your inconclusiveness as to how exactly Chileans have managed to sidestep morality in their continued support of Pinochet’s legacy. Thus implicitly posing a query to the reader. Well I got thinking about this, and one of the first things that came to mind was former Colombian President Uribe and the controversy surrounding his term in office.

The legacy President Uribe, just like that of Pinochet, is marred in allegations of human rights violations and authoritarianism, yet remains admired by many. Of course there are differences between them; perhaps the most important of all is that Colombia was in the midst of an explosive civil war while Uribe was in office. At Georgetown, when President Uribe was brought on as a faculty member, many students defended him against accusations by arguing that many of the claims are embellished. Furthermore, his defendants said that the violent uncertainty and upheaval surrounding his presidency necessitated the harsh policies he employed.

I suspect if you talk to a wide swath of Pinochet apologist in Chile today, many of them would make similar arguments. The discounting of facts and rationalization of immoral policies is, in fact, a common phenomenon on politics. Just look at some of American conservatives opinions of our detention operation at Guantanamo Bay. No matter the time period or location, people, for better or for worse, have a tendency and incredible ability to negate facts and justify objectionable behaviors.


Maedline’s article on the surprising support of convicted murderers in Chile reminds me of a similar situation that is occurring in Argentina now. Argentina is currently going through a lengthy trial process of leaders of the Argentina military that were involved in the Dirty War which started 35 years ago. This war resulted in the kidnapping, torture and death of an estimated 30,000 Argentine citizens.

The trials that are occurring now are turning in to a type of spectacle, especially with live TV broadcasts from inside the courtrooms. The reactions to the verdicts, almost all convicting the disgraced military generals of their heinous roles in the Dirty War, is certainly a telling sign of just how divided the country was during this decade.

The overwhelming majority of the population is celebrating that justice has finally been delivered to the thousands of families who suffered the loss of sons or brothers. However, like Madeline noted in her letter on the reaction in Chile, there are still some who continue to profess the innocence of many of these former generals, even when evidence shows that these men were most certainly involved.

This divide illustrates the separation that exists between the political parties in Argentina and is evidence of the almost constant turmoil in the Argentine political system. Also, this spectrum of reactions can be a sad acknowledgement of just how much damage the military regime caused to the psyche of the citizens during their time in power.


Your essay on Chileans’ conflicting reactions to Pinochet’s dictatorship reminded me of a conversation that I had when I was living in Santiago a year a half ago. For five weeks in June and July of 2011 I worked as an English teacher in an elementary school for the children of the upper middle class military and diplomats. All of the families were fairly well off, as were most of the teachers who taught at the school.

One day during lunch I was eating with the other teachers, and we got to talking about the past. One of the older women began to tell her family’s story of the day of the coup d’etat, and how no one left the house for several days. She described it as a terrifying time, and yet when I asked her about her opinions of the dictatorship as a whole she put a surprisingly positive spin on things. Not only did she say that the dictatorship was justified, but she went so far as to add that it was actually beneficial to the country as a whole. I was shocked upon hearing this, because all I had ever learned about was Pinochet’s appalling human rights record.

As it turns out, much of Chile’s middle and upper middle class population supports the dictatorship in retrospect, due mostly to the revised economic policies that have led to significant growth and financial stability. In my colleague’s opinion, the human rights violations that occur in the everyday life of an impoverished nation are far worse than those committed by the government in the 70s.

Disclaimer: this is not to say that I agree that Pinochet’s regime was justified, or that I think the only way to economic development is violence – in fact, I am firmly at odds with these statements. I merely present this story as added evidence of the conflict within Chilean society, and as representative of this type of conflict on a global level.


October 20, 2011
Madeline Wiseman on Starting JYAN in Chile