Gender and the Mexican Revolution: Yucataan Women & the Realities of Patriarchy

Gender and the Mexican Revolution: Yucataan Women & the Realities of Patriarchy

Gender and the Mexican Revolution: Yucataan Women & the Realities of Patriarchy

Gender and the Mexican Revolution: Yucataan Women & the Realities of Patriarchy


The state of Yucatan is commonly considered to have been a hotbed of radical feminism during the Mexican Revolution. Challenging this romanticized view, Stephanie Smith examines the revolutionary reforms designed to break women's ties to tradition and religion, as well as the ways in which women shaped these developments.

Smith analyzes the various regulations introduced by Yucatan's two revolution-era governors, Salvador Alvarado and Felipe Carrillo Puerto. Like many revolutionary leaders throughout Mexico, the Yucatan policy makers professed allegiance to women's rights and socialist principles. Yet they, too, passed laws and condoned legal practices that excluded women from equal participation and reinforced their inferior status.

Using court cases brought by ordinary women, including those of Mayan descent, Smith demonstrates the importance of women's agency during the Mexican Revolution. But, she says, despite the intervention of women at many levels of Yucatecan society, the rigid definition of women's social roles as strictly that of wives and mothers within the Mexican nation guaranteed that long-term, substantial gains remained out of reach for most women for years to come.


Simona Cen, Catalina Chimal, Prudencia Cauich, Rosalía Almeida de Rivas, María Rosa Guillermo, Juana Duran, and Narcisa Alcocer all appeared before the revolutionary military tribunals in Yucatán in 1915. At first glance, it would appear that these seven women had few traits in common and little to do with the epic events of the Mexican Revolution. Simona, Catalina, and Prudencia were poor, rural Maya orphans whose parents had died when the girls were young. Although they could have remained with relatives after their parents’ deaths, local officials instead forced them to work as domestic servants in the households of wealthy families. Simona, Catalina, and Prudencia never received payment for their years of hard labor, except perhaps a few items of cast-off clothing and an occasional inexpensive trinket. All three women experienced even greater challenges after they became pregnant by their bosses, who then abandoned them without money or means of taking care of themselves.

Rosalía and María Rosa, meanwhile, lived very different lives from these orphaned Maya women. Both came from urban areas; Rosalía grew up in Yucatán’s capital of Mérida, and María Rosa resided in Valladolid. Wealthy and educated, the women benefited from strong, supportive families with fathers who protectively guarded their daughters’ well-being. When they grew old enough to marry, Rosalía and María Rosa assumed that they had chosen men who would be “proper” spouses and that their marriages would be happy and productive. After all, Rosalía and her husband were exceptionally rich, owning several haciendas and other assorted properties throughout the state, and María Rosa was engaged to marry a well-respected local teacher. Ultimately, however, Rosalía’s husband abandoned her and their children to live with another woman, and María Rosa “lost her honor” when her fiancé refused to marry her after she became pregnant with his . . .

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