All of these imaginings of Tehuantepec and of Tehuanas beg the question of how far they correspond to "reality". We are interested in these imaginings for what they tell us about the Mexican cultural renaissance: the quest for essence, authenticity and identity, and the search for roots and living/useable models to hasten the diffusion of post-revolutionary democratic culture and politics. We do not need to explore how far they correspond to "reality". However, it is quite interesting reflect upon whether the image of Tehuantepec bore any resemblance to reality.
Beverly Newbold Chiñas's anthropological study confirms that Tehuana women are great traders and dominate the retail trade. But she insists that Tehuana society is matrifocal, not matriarchal one. Men dominate the political arena and even the domestic arena. Women compensate for their formal exclusion from public and private power by mastering various informal mechanisms - basically a sisterly tactics and strategies of passing on information and helping out in times of danger - that are designed to increase their security in a hazardous world, made more dangerous by drunken and violent men:
"…the two most important factors that guide behaviour in isthmus Zapotec culture are fear of loss of life, health and property and the common presumptions about the behaviour of men."
Newbold Chiñas sees "the behaviour of men" as the determining influence upon the way Tehuana women behave. Men are irregular bread earners, prone to drunkenness and extreme violence, constitutionally unfaithful and absent for prolonged periods. Hence, Tehuana women, if they want the latest dress, must work in the market. If they want to live safely, must co-operate with each other. If they want to keep their property and their homes, must co-operate to prevent their husbands or fathers from drinking and killing others or themselves. Newbold Chiñas presents a bleak view of isthmus family life, at least as far as the male is concerned. This contrasts with Leigh Binford and M Covarrubias's attempts to debunk what they regard as the myth of the indolent tropical male who never works, spending his life in a hammock, ever indulged in these practices by their hardworking and long-suffering womenfolk.
"It is a commonly expressed fallacy that the women of the isthmus do all the work while the men relax at home or get drunk with their equally worthless cronies".
Covarrubias points out that the reason why men are not often seen out of a hammock in Tehuantepec and Juchitan is because they leave before day break to work in distant fields, only to return at dusk when a short term in the hammock seemed a fair reward for an arduous day.