Spanish and Portuguese ETDs

Publication Date

Fall 11-15-2017


The following dissertation on the trope of the mujer varonil[1] employs bibliographical research in literary criticism and historiography to identify and describe socio-historic attitudes about gender. In particular, this dissertation examines gender as communicated by texts that use the mujer varonil, or “masculine woman”, characterization to either praise or vilify exceptional female subjects in ways that highlight normative limits for masculine and feminine gender expression. Four texts are examined: a male author writes each and each represents a literary genre that was significant in early modern Spain and Spanish America. These genres are the hagiography, the relación, the inquisition proceeding, and the comedia. These texts communicate important attitudes about gender-bending that are associated with cultural limits for gender expression, which inform boundaries that demarcate three normative gender roles: male, female and third gender.

The selected texts are didactic because they communicate limits for gender-bending by exceptional females that ultimately reinforce an androcentric social structure and its associated normative gender roles. These texts use the mujer varonil trope to portray their subjects in ways that communicate the limits for female agency. Simultaneously, the texts allow for some agency by praising certain forms of transition to a male identity by people identified as female at birth. The texts and genres explored in this dissertation thus raise important questions about socio-historic limits for normative gender expression in early modern Spain and Spanish America while also providing answers that resolve the ambiguities that they explore. They do this in ways that support the imperial project and the social stability necessary for its success.

[1] The term mujer varonil is employed provisionally here. In the language of the times, the word mujer in most contexts did not include virgens. In further research, I plan to address this issue of terminology as it applies to the masculine female in the religious orders. That is outside the scope of this present work.

Degree Name

Spanish & Portuguese (PhD)

Level of Degree


Department Name

Spanish and Portuguese

First Committee Member (Chair)

Mary Quinn

Second Committee Member

Kathryn McKnight

Third Committee Member

Anthony Cárdenas-Rotunno

Fourth Committee Member

Anita Obermeier




mujer varonil, female masculinity, transatlantic, performance theory, queer theory

Document Type