The Revolution Question: Feminisms in El Salvador, Chile, and Cuba

The Revolution Question: Feminisms in El Salvador, Chile, and Cuba

The Revolution Question: Feminisms in El Salvador, Chile, and Cuba

The Revolution Question: Feminisms in El Salvador, Chile, and Cuba


What can revolutions do for women? For decades, feminists and revolutionaries have posed this question. Extending the dialogue on any issue, however, is not always a matter of providing more answers; sometimes it is a case of asking new questions. In The Revolution Question, Julie D. Shayne does just that. Rather than asking what revolutions can do for women she ask: What do woman do for revolutions and, moreover, how does revolution relate to feminism? Through an analysis of recent revolutionary movements in El Salvador, Chile, and Cuba, Shayne documents the roles of women in armed and unarmed political activities and argues that women contribute to and participate in revolutionary movements in ways that are quite distinct from men. She suggests that despite the fact that women's political contributions tend to be seen as less important than those of their male comrades, the roles that women play are actually quite significant to the expansion of revolutionary movements. Shayne also explains how, given the,convergence of political and ideological factors, feminism is often born in the wake of revolutionary movements.


We did not have a gender consciousness, before and during the
war, but unconsciously we hoped that with change in society
and from the class struggle, there was going to be a situation of
equality for women. Unconsciously that was the feeling.…
They [the men on the Left] always said that this [the women’s]
struggle was secondary; always they said the problem was cap
italism and I think we believed that because we didn’t know
the depth of our situation.

—Lety Mendez, 1998

WHILE IN EL SALVADOR in 1998 I spoke with Lety Mendez, a Salvadoran ex-guerrilla and former head of the women’s secretariat of the Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional, or FMLN). Lety explained that women were of strategic significance to the Salvadoran revolutionary movement. She astutely noted that it was the work of women guerrillas that fostered a political openness that was partly responsible for developing support for the Left. It was women, Lety argued, who made it possible for the guerrillas to move more freely in an extremely hostile terrain. During the revolutionary struggle however Lety experienced her own and her compañeras’ (comrades’) contributions continually undervalued and unacknowledged. Such frustrations eventually fostered Lety’s feminist consciousness.

My conversation with Lety complements another lengthy interview I did with Miriam Ortega Araya in Santiago, Chile, in March 1999. Miriam is a labor organizer. I spoke with her in an office walled with posters from International Women’s Day celebrations, the Latin American and Caribbean feminist encuentros (gatherings), statements against domestic violence, and other feminist issues. She graciously offered me her time, explaining in scrupulous detail the ins and outs of the Chilean Left, feminism, and her experiences with both. She was active in the trade union movement during the tenure of . . .

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