Sex in Revolution: Gender, Politics, and Power in Modern Mexico / Edition 1

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Overview


Sex in Revolution challenges the prevailing narratives of the Mexican Revolution and postrevolutionary state formation by placing women at center stage. Bringing to bear decades of feminist scholarship and cultural approaches to Mexican history, the essays in this book demonstrate how women seized opportunities created by modernization efforts and revolutionary upheaval to challenge conventions of sexuality, work, family life, religious practices, and civil rights.

Concentrating on episodes and phenomena that occurred between 1915 and 1950, the contributors deftly render experiences ranging from those of a transgendered Zapatista soldier to upright damas católicas and Mexico City’s chicas modernas pilloried by the press and male students. Women refashioned their lives by seeking relief from bad marriages through divorce courts and preparing for new employment opportunities through vocational education. Activists ranging from Catholics to Communists mobilized for political and social rights. Although forced to compromise in the face of fierce opposition, these women made an indelible imprint on postrevolutionary society.

These essays illuminate emerging practices of femininity and masculinity, stressing the formation of subjectivity through civil-society mobilizations, spectatorship and entertainment, and locales such as workplaces, schools, churches, and homes. The volume’s epilogue examines how second-wave feminism catalyzed this revolutionary legacy, sparking widespread, more radically egalitarian rural women’s organizing in the wake of late-twentieth-century democratization campaigns. The conclusion considers the Mexican experience alongside those of other postrevolutionary societies, offering a critical comparative perspective.

Contributors. Ann S. Blum, Kristina A. Boylan, Gabriela Cano, María Teresa Fernández Aceves, Heather Fowler-Salamini, Susan Gauss, Temma Kaplan, Carlos Monsiváis, Jocelyn Olcott, Anne Rubenstein, Patience Schell, Stephanie Smith, Lynn Stephen, Julia Tuñón, Mary Kay Vaughan

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“This anthology touches on a wide range of themes: female colonels in the revolution, machismo applied with scissor snips in Mexico City, the cinematographic treatment of indigenous women, divorce in conservative circles, women’s education, the construction of new families, labor-union life, rationalized sex, activism among women in Catholic and rural organizations, and sexism in the Popular Front. Despite the variety, the book offers a complex, coherent panorama, energetically distancing itself from generalizations. It is well known that God, the devil, and attentive readers are in the details.”—Carlos Monsiváis, from the foreword

“This path-breaking book fundamentally changes our view of the Mexican Revolution as a man-made affair. The women who struggled against patriarchal authority as workers, teachers, feminist activists, soldiers, peasants, students, and mothers come alive in these pages—as do their adversaries. The chapters brilliantly mesh theoretical analysis with fine-grained historical accounts of gendered challenges to Mexico’s social order. This book’s importance reaches far beyond the Mexican case as it grapples with universal questions of authority, gender, and revolution.”—Elizabeth Dore, author of Myths of Modernity: Peonage and Patriarchy in Nicaragua

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822338994
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 1/28/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.04 (w) x 9.08 (h) x 0.78 (d)

Meet the Author

Jocelyn Olcott is the Andrew W. Mellon Assistant Professor of History at Duke University. She is the author of Revolutionary Women in Postrevolutionary Mexico, also published by Duke University Press.

Mary Kay Vaughan is Professor of History at University of Maryland. Her authored books include CULTURAL POLITICS IN REVOLUTION: TEACHERS,

PEASANTS, AND SCHOOLS IN MEXICO, 1934-1940 (1997) and THE STATE,

EDUCATION, AND SOCIAL CLASS IN MEXICO, 1880-1928 (1982). Her edited

works include (w/ Stephen E. Lewis) THE EAGLE AND THE VIRGIN: NATION

AND CULTURAL REVOLUTION IN MEXICO, 1920-1940 (Duke, 2005) and (w/

Heather Fowler Salamini) CREATING SPACES, SHAPING

TRANSITIONS: WOMEN OF THE MEXICAN COUNTRYSIDE, 1850-1990 (1994).

Jocelyn Olcott is Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Duke

University. She is the author of REVOLUTIONARY WOMEN IN

POSTREVOLUTIONARY MEXICO (Duke, 2005).

Gabriela Cano is Professor in the Depto. de Filosofía Historia at the

Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Mexico. She is the author of CUATRO

ESTUDIOS DE GENERO EN EL MEXICO URBANO DEL SIGLO XIX (2001) and

(w/ Verena Radkau) GANANDO ESPACIOS: HISTORIAS DE VIDA: GUADALUPE

ZUNIGA, ALURA FLORES Y JOSEFINA VICENS, 1920-1940 (1989).

Gabriela Cano is Professor of History at Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana in Mexico City. She is a coeditor of the multivolume Historia de las mujeres en España y América Latina.

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Read an Excerpt

Sex in Revolution

Gender, Politics, and Power in Modern Mexico

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2006 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-3884-0


Chapter One

Unconcealable Realities of Desire

Amelio Robles's (Transgender) Masculinity in the Mexican Revolution

GABRIELA CANO

One can almost see it: a smile of satisfaction spreading across Amelio Robles's face as he looks at the studio portrait in which he poses like a dandy: dark suit, white shirt, tie, wide-brimmed black hat, leather shoes, and a white handkerchief peeking out of the breast pocket. Standing with a cigarette in one hand and the other placed prominently over his revolver as if to draw attention to the weapon holstered in his belt. The formal elements of the photograph-composition, even lighting, ambience and, above all, the contained and serene pose of the subject at the center of the scenery-largely conform to studio portrait conventions in which those who were photographed wore their finest outfits and posed with decorum. The photo was taken around 1915 in one of many photographic studios that flourished in cities and towns across the nation during the first decades of the twentieth century, when technological simplification and falling costs made it possible to satisfy the growing demand for portraits.

Studio portraits sought to establish the social identity of individuals being photographed by following the prevailing code of etiquette. Posing with a lit cigarette suggested a cosmopolitan attitude, while the prominently exhibited pistol, modern substitute for the saber and the weapon of choice for dueling at the turn of the century, symbolized the subject's virility. The masculinity of the pose, gesture, and mode of dress are perfectly credible. No one would guess that the dandy in the portrait had once been a young lady.

The radical and permanent transgendering of a young rural woman from the state of Guerrero occurred during the Mexican Revolution. Amelio Robles-previously, Amelia Robles-joined an uprising taking place across southern Mexico under the agrarian banner of Emiliano Zapata and forged a masculine identity within the rough environs of war. His link to the Zapatista movement was not ideological, but emerged instead from a passion for the intensity of war, so full of dangers and strong emotions. Once the armed struggle had ended, Amelio Robles continued to live as a man, maintaining this masculinity for the rest of his life, in public and in private activity, even through old age and infirmity.

The pistol and cigarette in the image were not props from the photographic studio, but Robles's personal belongings. His masculine appearance expressed his sense of being a man; it was not a momentary pose for the camera as was, for example, the one adopted by Frida Kahlo, who dressed in a man's suit for the family portraits taken by her father in 1926. Kahlo's was a playful, somewhat irreverent gesture, perhaps following international fashion à la garçon. Kahlo did not attempt to be taken for a man, but Robles did and achieved that goal most effectively.

Amelio Robles's masculinization should also be distinguished from strategic transvestitism-the adoption of male dress in order to pass as a man-to which some women resorted during wartime to protect themselves from the sexual violence that intensifies during armed conflicts, to gain access to military commands prohibited to women, or simply to fight as soldiers and not as soldaderas, that is, without the social gender restrictions that usually burden women in combat. During the nineteenth-century nationalist wars and afterward in the Mexican Revolution, soldaderas were in charge of supplying the troops and caring for the sick and wounded. At times, they acted as messengers and participated in the smuggling of weapons and goods, but only in exceptional cases did they take up arms.

Although it is not possible to determine the frequency of transvestitism in the Mexican Revolution, there are various reports of women, like María de la Luz Barrera or Angel/Angela Jiménez, who adopted male identities during the war but later returned to wearing women's clothing and performing female roles in society as mothers and wives. Not Amelio Robles. His radical change in gender and sexual identity was not simply due to a pragmatic desire to enjoy the social advantages of men, but rather the product of a deeper, more vital desire to radically transform the female identity assigned to him at birth in order to make himself masculine in every aspect of life.

Amelio Robles made the transition from an imposed feminine identity to a desired masculinity: he felt like a man, acted like a man, and constructed a male appearance. Little is known about his sexuality, but reports suggest that he sustained romantic relationships with feminine women and that he once courted a schoolmate as her beau; these were erotic relationships inscribed within a heterosexual logic in which Amelio Robles performed the masculine role. Amelio Robles could be described as a butch lesbian or a tomboy, but current terminology regarding gender and sexual identity would more appropriately locate him as a transgendered male, a subject who adopts the physical appearance, the behavior, and the gender role culturally assigned to the opposite sex. Lesbian sexual identity, on the other hand, is defined as an erotic inclination toward people of the same sex, which does not necessarily imply a desire to transgender: to change gender identity, physical appearance, or sexual anatomy. The term lesbianism is not synonymous with masculinization, of course, but neither does it exclude masculine identification. Nevertheless, identifying categories are flexible categories rather than hermetically sealed spaces. During her transition stage, Amelia Robles could very well be characterized as a butch lesbian who later became a transgendered male person.

Transgendered identities vary in degree and endurance, and Amelio Robles stood at one end of the spectrum, where the individual feels a deep dissatisfaction with her gender and sexual anatomy and wants to change her appearance and body. Today, certain sexual characteristics can be transformed through surgical procedures and hormone therapy. Such medical treatment has been available in institutions in the United States and Europe since the mid-twentieth century, when the term transsexual was coined to refer to people who received treatments that transformed their sexual anatomy. Transsexual, however, is inadequate to describe Robles given that his case involved neither surgery nor hormone changes. However, his dissatisfaction with his identity, physical appearance, and feminine anatomy was perhaps as strong as that experienced by those inclined to subject themselves to medical intervention so that their bodies might resemble to some degree their subjective configurations.

In the early twentieth century, without surgical intervention or hormones, Amelio Robles constructed a masculine body image and social identity with the cultural resources available to him in an isolated rural area of Mexico. He dexterously manipulated those cultural resources: pose or gender performance; a visual body culture inaugurated by studio photography; and a modern press that, avid for sensationalist news items, took an interest in the story of the Zapatista revolutionary and legitimized him. Amelio Robles's masculinization was established mainly through a gender performance. The poses, gestures, and attitudes involved in this daily performance were complemented by a carefully selected wardrobe featuring the pants, shirts, jackets, and hats common in rural environments. He chose shirts with large chest pockets that concealed his small breasts. Studio photography was central to the establishment and acceptance of this masculine appearance. Photographic portraits transformed visual body culture and made it possible for common people to fix their desired physical images in lasting prints, something that until then had been done only through the portraits afforded to a few. Manufactured with the camera as intermediary, the desired body and social identity could be forever preserved in a photographic portrait and shown as often as one liked. Each time the portrait was viewed by oneself or someone else, the body image and the identity created by the photograph was confirmed.

This legitimizing effect was accentuated in the event, however unlikely, that a studio portrait was reproduced in the press, as with the photograph that illustrated a news item on Robles published in El Universal, the Mexico City newspaper with the highest national circulation in the 1920s. Although it would reveal the secret of his sexual identity-an ill-kept secret, widely known in the local community-the newspaper multiplied by the thousands the visual credentials his image conveyed: an elegant man who, albeit not particularly distinguished, displayed an uninhibited demeanor and boundless self-confidence. The photo's publication amounted to a proclamation of Robles's virility in the town plaza, a virility exemplified in his face, pose, and wardrobe, and accentuated by the exhibition of a firearm.

Amelio Robles's masculinity was "a cultural declaration of the body and a political act" that troubled the social assignation of gender and heterosexual norms. His transgendering questioned the naturalness attributed to the feminine and the masculine, and subverted the ingrained notion of gender identity as an immediate and unavoidable consequence of anatomy that neatly defined men and women into social groups with immutable qualities. Transgendering processes interrogate (and sometimes reify) the fixed categories of man and woman. Such categories are often considered transparent and unchanging realities, which doesn't take into account their plasticity, a plasticity that becomes evident in light of gender transitions such as Amelio Robles's, one of the few processes of its kind to have been documented in the history of Latin America.

Historiography dedicated to the armed stage of the Mexican Revolution has focused mainly on the ideological, political, and military aspects of the struggle; daily life in the trenches, the details of day-to-day existence of armies, has been studied very little. Amelio Robles's masculinization did not take place overnight, but rather was a gradual process that began during the forced displacement and social disorder of wartime. In combat, manners and reserves were abandoned, creating certain spaces of tolerance that allowed Robles to begin to reconstruct himself as a man and enjoy relative acceptance among comrades-in-arms, who admired his courage and capacity as a guerrillero. On the battlefield, the constant threat of death amid the destruction of war also fortified a gender ideology embedded in nationalist narrative, identifying masculinity with traits of courage and personal daring as well as patriotic attitudes and nationalist, revolutionary ideologies. As time passed, the stereotype of the courageous revolutionary became an iconic image in both popular culture and the nationalist discourse of the post-revolutionary state.

Colonel Robles embodied the ideal of the macho revolutionary soldier: courageous and daring, capable of responding to aggression immediately and violently, and skilled in handling arms and horses. His romantic relationships with women conformed to conventional models and reproduced the gender polarity of feminine and masculine roles. In a Polaroid snapshot, Amelio Robles, dressed in worn clothing and with a red kerchief around his neck, appears beside Guadalupe Barrón, one of the women with whom he maintained a relationship and whose feminine presence accentuates Robles's virility, as does his own posture, which is as self-assured as it was in more youthful portraits. Both Amelio and Guadalupe exhibit the rigid body language typical of photographic studio conventions, in stark contrast to the spontaneous gestures that portable cameras, increasingly accessible during the second half of the twentieth century, attempted to capture. The couple dominates the image, barely permitting a glimpse of the hat worn by a third person-probably Soreniano Delgado Vázquez, also a Zapatista colonel-who peeks out from behind Amelio and Guadalupe.

Interest in Amelio Robles's story goes beyond its particulars: his figure can be seen as a site of debate, a dispute around the definition and meaning of gender, of masculinity and femininity, framed in the discourse of post-revolutionary Mexican nationalism. There existed three different and, at times, contrasting perceptions of Amelio Robles: (1) that of his army comrades, who admired his precise emulation of a masculinity understood as a display of strength and violence; (2) the sensationalist gaze that, finding solace in the exhibition of his eccentricity, also legitimized his transgression; and (3) the normalizing and homophobic perspective that erased transgendering by applying essentialist gender categories. To understand perceptions of Amelio Robles, one must begin with the social identity and the masculine body image that Amelio Robles constructed for himself through pose, gesture, and wardrobe, as well as his skillful handling of studio photography and media attention.

Amelio Robles's masculine body image was supported by identifying documents that accredited his membership in various social and political organizations, including credentials that recognized him as an affiliate of the Socialist Party of Guerrero (Partido Socialista de Guerrero, 1934), a delegate of the Central League of Agrarian Communities in Xochipala, Guerrero (Liga Central de Comunidades Agrarias, 1945), an affiliate of the National Confederation of Veterans of the Revolution (Confederación Nacional de Veteranos de la Revolución, 1948), and as a member of the Ranchers' Association of Zumpango del Río (Asociación Ganadera de Zumpango del Río, 1956 and 1958). The credentials' identifying photographs confirm Robles's masculinity, whose name and signature always figure as male.

Perhaps the greatest evidence of the effectiveness of his masculine appearance is the medical certificate required for admission to the Confederation of Veterans of the Revolution. Issued in 1948 by Doctor Pedro González Peña at his Mexico City clinic, the certificate attested to Robles's good health, age, and the scars from six bullet wounds on different parts of his body, including one in the thigh and another in the armpit-all without alluding to his sexual anatomy. The medical investigation required by the Confederation of Veterans of the Revolution was not a thorough examination but rather a prerequisite intended to certify any war wounds, considered irrefutable proof of valor on the field of battle. Even so, there was no reason for the doctor to doubt Robles's masculinity: his reserved attitude, gesture, wardrobe and body movements-"the gait of an old soldier"-were those of a nearly sixty-year-old man from the countryside who must have modestly revealed certain body parts to show the doctor the bullet wounds he carried so proudly. On other occasions, Robles did not hesitate to show a scar on his leg to lend realism as he narrated his wartime exploits.

The Ministry of National Defense (Secretaría de Defensa Nacional, or SDN) legitimated Amelio Robles's masculine identity by decorating him in 1974 as a veterano of the revolution, not as a veterana, an honor bestowed on over three hundred women for their services in the revolutionary cause. The recognition of the country's highest military officials must have provided Amelio Robles with enormous satisfaction, although the SDN did not corroborate the rank of colonel that he claimed in the Zapatista army, which is generally recognized not as a professional military body, but rather as a "people in arms" composed of rebel groups of men gathered around their leaders with no systematic procedures for promotion. Robles did not receive a military pension.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Sex in Revolution Copyright © 2006 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Acknowledgments     ix
Foreword
When Gender Can't Be Seen amid the Symbols: Women and the Mexican Revolution   Carlos Monsivais     1
Introduction
Pancho Villa, the Daughters of Mary, and the Modern Woman: Gender in the Long Mexican Revolution   Mary Kay Vaughan     21
Embodying Revolutionary Culture
Unconcealable Realities of Desire: Amelio Robles's (Transgender) Masculinity in the Mexican Revolution   Gabriela Cano     35
The War on Las Pelonas: Modern Women and Their Enemies, Mexico City, 1924   Anne Rubenstein     57
Femininity, Indigenismo, and Nation: Film Representation by Emilio "El Indio" Fernandez   Julia Tunon     81
Reshaping the Domestic Sphere
"If Love Enslaves...Love Be Damned!": Divorce and Revolutionary State Formation in Yucatan   Stephanie Smith     99
Gender, Class, and Anxiety at the Gabriela Mistral Vocational School, Revolutionary Mexico City   Patience A. Schell     112
Breaking and Making Families: Adoption and Public Welfare, Mexico City, 1938-1942   Ann S. Blum     127
The Gendered Realm of Labor Organizing
The Struggle between the Metate and the Molinos de Nixtamal in Guadalajara, 1920-1940   Maria Teresa Fernandez-Aceves     147
Gender, Work, Trade Unionism, and Working-Class Women's Culture in Post-Revolutionary Veracruz   Heather Fowler-Salamini     162
Working-Class Masculinity and the Rationalized Sex: Gender and Industrial Modernization in the Textile Industry in Postrevolutionary Puebla   Susan M. Gauss     181
Women and Revolutionary Politics
Gendering the Faith and Altering the Nation: Mexican Catholic Women's Activism, 1917-1940   Kristina A. Boylan     199
The Center Cannot Hold: Women on Mexico's Popular Front   Jocelyn Olcott     223
Epilogue
Rural Women's Grassroots Activism, 1980-2000: Refraining the Nation from Below   Lynn Stephen     241
Final Reflections: Gender, Chaos, and Authority in Revolutionary Times   Temma Kaplan     261
Bibliography     277
Contributors     303
Index     307
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