The PLM's Perspective on Women:
A Lack of Equality in Anarchist Thought
By Reggie Rodriguez
And you, woman of the people, has this left you cold and unmoved?
While caressing the pretty head of that child who nestles close to you,
do you never think about the lot that awaits him, if the present social
conditions are not changed? Do you never reflect on the future awaiting
your young sister, and all your own children? Do you wish that your sons,
they too, should vegetate as your father vegetated, with no other care
than how to get his daily bread, with no other pleasure than that of the
gin-palace? Do you want your husband, your lads, to be ever at the mercy
of the first comer who has inherited from his father a capital to exploit
them with? Are you anxious that they should remain slaves for master, food
for powder, mere dung wherewith to manure the pasture lands of the rich
Nay, never; a thousand times no! t know right well that your
blood has boiled when you have heard that your husbands, after they entered
on a strike, full of fire and determination, have ended by accepting, cap
in hand, the conditions dictated by the bloated bourgeois in a tone of
haughty contempt! I know that you have admired those Spanish women who
in a popular rising presented their breasts to the bayonets of the soldiery,
in the front ranks of the insurrectionists. I am certain that you mention
with reverence the name of the woman who lodged a bullet in the chest of
that ruffianly official who dared to outrage a Socialist prisoner in his
cell. And I am confident that your heart beats faster when you read how
the women of the people in Paris gathered under a rain of shells to encourage
their men to heroic action.
- Peter Kropotkin, An Apeal to the Young
Essential to anarchy are freedom, equality, and a society without hierarchy - these tenets go hand in hand and are interconnected. The Partido Liberal Mexicano (the Mexican Liberal Party or the PLM), under the direction of its leader, Ricardo Flores Magon, fought for these ideals under the flag of Anarchy in its fight against oppression in Mexico during the first quarter of this century. However, in selected writings of the PLM, especially those from the revolutionary journal Regeneracion, a flawed and anti-anarchistic gender ideology is revealed. In the above passage by Peter Kropotkin, we may be looking at the possible roots of Magon's (and the PLM's) misunderstanding of the equality necessary in a true anarchist society.
Kropotin heavily influenced the early development of Magon's anarchist thoughts. In this passage from an Appeal to the Young, Kropotkin encourages the particpation of women in revolution, but ignores the concerns of women in the scenario and focuses on the problems and struggles of men. He commands a condescending tone towards women with the question, "has this left you cold and unmoved?", insinuating that women may not have the capacity to understand his essay and message. In addition, he stresses gender roles and puts women "in their place", stressing their duties to children and to supporting "heroic" men. His discusion of hardship excludes women as he concentrates on the troubles of husbands, fathers, and sons.
Now read an excerpt from one of Magon' most famous articles, entitled "A La Mujer", published in Regeneracion on September 24, 1910:
Demand that your husbands, brothers, fathers sons and friends pick up the gun. Spit in the face of those who refuse to pick up a weapon against oppression.
This second-to-last paragraph comes at the end of a long discussion on the evils of discrimination against women and the need for rebellion. After all of the buildup, which constitutes most of the article, Magon makes a terrible mistake by limiting women's participation in the revolution to supporting men. Only slightly upstream from this paragraph, Magon's words condemn the "erroneous and unjust concept" that women are inferior to men. But even in the beginning of "Mujer" Magon tells women that their "duty is to help man":
Are you mothers? Are you wives? Are you sisters? Are you daughters? [Your duty is] to be there to encourage him when he vacillates; stand by his side when he suffers; to lighten his sorrow; to laugh and sing with him when victory smiles. You don't understand politics? This is not a question of politcs...
How can Magon expect women to believe that they and men must "stand in solidarity in the grand conquest for freedom", after a statement like this? He insults their intelligence as Kropotin does above, and does not allow them to participate as equally as men in the revolution. Also like Kropotkin, Magon defines women in terms of their gender roles and not in terms of their equality as fellow suffers of oppression. Not to say that women faced eqiuvalent levels of oppression. Magon would have them believe so: "The same forces which conquer man strangle you." But he is ignoring the oppression women receive based on the fact that they are women, and at the same time expressing this injustice.
It is ironic that the PLM and Magon frequently indicated a dedication to women's rights and issues, but yet cleary displayed at times problems with feminism, a strict adherence to gender roles, and disrespect for women's sexuality. Praxedis Guerrero, PLM member and Regeracion writer, interpreted the feminist desire to be equal to men as a desire to be men. Guerrero did not approve of masculinity in females or femininity in men, and understood that women had a a "sweet mission":
Equality between the sexes will not make men out of women; instead it will enforce equal opportunities without disturbing the natural order between the sexes. Women and men must both fight for this kind or rational equality because without it there will only be tyranny and misery.
- Praxedis Guerrero, Regeneracion
Here, Guerrero is violating the anarchist requirement that hierarchies be absent from society with his "natural order". Magon himself had a derogatory view of femininity, evidenced by the fact that he used the title "Que Hable el Maricon" (May the Fag Speak), in an article against Antonio Villareal, a betrayer to the PLM. In that article Magon is suggesting that to really insult a man he must label him with feminine qualities. An even better example of the PLMs hypocrisy with regard to women's equality is illustrated graphically on the cover of the September 3, 1910 issue of Regeneracion. The graphic has been referred to as a "poster of Anarchy" and contains slogans such as "land", "liberty", "revolution", and "evolution". On the top of the cover we see pictures of Magon and other PLM writers. At the bottom we see three women, naked on horseback, waving flags that read "Land and Liberty", "Ideal", and "Revolution!". There is a clear separation between the roles of men and women on this graphic. Women are stripped of their dignity and are shown as essentially mascots.
The PLM should be credited for their efforts to address womens' issues and rights, and for trying to include their participation in the revolution. However, it is important to question the nature and motivations of the men's statements on women, and recognize the inconsistencies and contradictions in some of their reasoning.
Copyright 1997 Reginald