The Mexican Revolution
The Mexican Revolution took place during 1910-1920 and caused drastic changes within Mexican society including changing the roles and social expectations that were placed on women within Mexican society. Before the Mexican Revolution women were placed into subservient and oppressive roles that limited them to only serving their husbands and children.
Before the revolution women were burdened by society to follow sexist traditions that bound them to their homes and husbands. But, during the revolution, women held important roles as politicians, soldiers, leaders, and nurses. The Mexican revolution allowed women to fight oppressive government systems besides their male counterparts and hold male-dominated positions such as military leaders and political organizers. But, despite the significant roles and influence women had on the revolution, throughout history they have been repeatedly depicted as unimportant to the movement.
Many professors and writers including William Beezley, Sofia Ruiz-Alfaro, Jacqueline Zamora, have attempted to re-write history and have highlighted the significant roles, changes, influences, and effects women had on the Mexican Revolution. The Mexican Revolution gave women much more than political freedom, it allowed them to change sexist traditional gender roles that limited them. Generations of oppression and inequalities within Mexican government and society led to the beginning of the Mexican Revolution.
The Mexican Revolution was ignited in 1910 under the administration of Porfirio Diaz who was first elected president of Mexico in 1877. Porfirio Diaz served as the president of Mexico for several consecutive terms, in total Diaz held the presidential position for thirty-five years. During Diaz’s presidential term many inequalities arose between social and economic classes in Mexico. In 1998 writer Yolanda Chavez Leyva published that, the Mexican Revolution was the “explosive culmination” of Diaz’s attempt to create “economic transformations intended to ‘modernize’ Mexico” (Leyva 1998).
During Porfirio Diaz’s presidential reign Diaz had created new policies that threatened land and property belonging to citizens in marginalized communities. Leyva writes that as a result of Diaz’s policies, underprivileged citizens were “forced” to join a “competitive wage-labor market” while facing food scarcities caused by raising prices and the “exportation of crops” (Leyva 1998). The hardships impoverished citizens faced led to the start of the Mexican revolution and led to the birth of many widely recognized and historical male leaders such as Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata. But, despite that the revolution sparked the birth of many historical leaders, the Mexican revolution ended with the loss of over 900,000 lives. However, during the decade long revolution many social and political changes were initiated. Prior to 1910 women in Mexico were imposed with misogynistic and sexist gender roles that controlled every aspect of their lives.
William Beezley, a history professor at the University of Arizona states that, “women saw [the revolution] as a way to get out of oppressive circumstances,” (Beezley). Before the revolution was initiated women were objectified and silence by patriarchal systems that existed within their family, churches, and communities; women were expected to be subservient for their families and male counterparts. For generation, millions of women lived in oppressive homes that upheld sexist traditions that perceived women as inferior to men. Within many households’ women were expected to only care for their children, and husbands; mothers were expected to teach their daughters how to serve and care for men while sons were taught by their fathers and mothers how to be men. Before the revolution, creating significant and widespread changes to oppressive traditions was difficult to initiate because of social repercussions and judgements in their communities. For centuries women had endured living in oppressive homes where they were objectified and silenced. The Mexican revolution allowed women to fight both political inequalities and sexist traditions at the same time. The Mexican Revolution gave millions of women the opportunity to challenge traditional gender roles that created sexist inequalities in their homes and in society.
Although men are heavily associated with the Mexican Revolution, during the revolution Mujeres held prominent roles as soldiers, leaders, nurses, and nurtures. During the revolution it was common to witness women cooking, caring for wounded, traveling with their husbands, leading troops, and being politically active; women who actively participated in the Mexican revolution were often labeled as soldaderas and coronas. Professor Sofia Ruiz-Alfaro from the University of Pennsylvania writes that Mujeres that held significant roles “in the revolution” were branded as “soldaderas – women who served as cooks, nurses, couriers, spies, and other roles in the war” and “colonels – female soldiers in command of troops” (Ruiz-Alfaro, Winter 2013).
Both soldaderas and coronelas heavily strengthened and furthered the effects of the revolution; fulfilling roles as soldaderas or coronelas within the revolution not only strengthen the cause but also allowed women to change the traditional, sexist and limiting roles they were expected to follow by their families and society. Author Jacqueline Zamora writes that “democratic ideals of the Mexican Revolution allowed…women ‘to shift old and shape new definitions’ of the Mexican woman” (Zamora, 2015).
Joining the revolution allowed women to sustain roles that were traditionally filled by their male counterparts; occupying positions customarily held by men, voicing political beliefs and being politically active allowed women to change outdated traditions that burdened women with oppressive roles. In the beginning of the revolution women began to inspire and motivate thousands of women, showing them that it is possible to break and challenge sexist traditions by taking political actions such as establishing new leadership positions and initiating political organizations. Hundreds of women who contributed and participated in the revolution are remembered and immortalized as key historical figures today, this includes important women such as Leonor Villegas de Magnón. Leonor. Villegas de Magnón lived in a border town in Texas during the Mexican Revolution; while living in Texas she established many organizations that supported her community and the revolution. Writer Jacqueline Zamora noted that in the first years of the revolution Villegas de Magnón started the “Union, Progreso, y Caridad” which was an organization that strived to “beautify communities” and “educate new immigrants” and was “led mostly by women” (Zamora, 2015).
Soon after launching a community-based organization Villegas de Magnón began to organize aspects of the revolution. Jacqueline Zamora writes that Villegas de Magnón, “held Juntas Revolucionarias (Revolutionary Meetings) in her home” (Zamora, 2015). Villegas de Magnón allowed the revolutionary activist to strategize and spread political awareness across Mexico. Like Leonor Villegas de Magnón many women today have been recognized in literature, art, and historical documents for their efforts and contributions to the Mexican revolution. The Mexican Revolution allowed for the rise of new art and corridos that portrayed events of battle but minimized and altered the acknowledgment of soldaderas great importance, courage, fight for equality, and involvement during this time. The soldadera was seen and portrayed in art as both powerful and a contradictory figure.
These female soldiers were first projected as heroic and fearless during the revolution, however, when it was all over, they were pictured as ordinary, openly sexual, and exhibiting female qualities instead of masculine traits, ultimately stripping away their strength and braveness. Even though soldaderas risked their lives and accomplished a lot on the battlefield, men refused to transform women’s gender roles. Having participated in the war was threatening men’s masculinity and the notion that men were supposed to be the strong ones. Therefore, since women had to be remembered in such a way that men could keep their dominant figure in the household and nation, soldaderas were romanized. Her romanticized depiction in art omitted her bravery and emphasized her sexuality and female qualities. She was depicted as openly sexual, having multiple partners during the revolution to fulfill men’s sexual desires. This emphasis on her sexuality in art reminded the nation that soldaderas had smaller roles compared to men, were inferior to them, and task was to satisfy men.
Art, the nation’s population, and the government re emphasized that the soldaderas did domestic tasks during the revolution, as a result, the importance of soldaderas was reduced because it made people forget that a lot of them fought. Corridos were mostly written by men, as a result, songs would often have male points of views in which female soldiers were portrayed as great mothers, lovers, and sexual objects. Corridos primarily described the beauty of soldaderas instead of focusing on their bravery and battlefield accomplishments. Corridos only idolized the beauty of soldaderas, the submissiveness of women, open sexuality, and omit any combat role. Men unlike female soldiers were described as fierce throughout the revolution and courageous even though soldaderas also possessed these qualities. A corrido that exemplifies how soldaderas were depicted in songs is the Corrido “La Valentina.” Valentina Ramirez is a soldadera that fought in the revolution, however, her participation as a soldier fighting in the corrido is never mentioned nor recognized.
Valentina is objectified as beautiful and her desirability is especially projected with lines such as, “Valentina, Valentina, yo te quisiera decir que una passion me domina y es la que me hizo venir.” Throughout the corrido, the singer is simply talking about the passion he has toward her and how he is drinking alcohol because he wants her love. He also sings that he is at her feet and implies that he is participating in the battlefield by saying that it’s okay if they murder him. As well, throughout the corrido he goes on mentioning, “Si porque tomo tequila mañana tomo jerez, si porque me ven borracho mañana ya no me ven” reiterating that drinking and getting drunk is a male characteristic that doesn’t receive any objectification.
In conclusion, if women had not become politically active in the Mexican revolution, the battles and political messages wouldn’t have been as strong or influential. The contributions and vital roles women played in the revolution have been systematically overlooked for generations. Throughout history and in art women have been repeatedly depicted as sexual objects not as strong women who are capable to fight in the same battlefields as men and have strong political voices. Soldaderas have been remembered in hundreds of widely recognized songs that have been known to sexualize women soldiers and leaders. Overall, the Mexican Revolution did not only affect the government and modern-day politics in Mexico but also changed the perception and roles Mexican women are expected to fulfil by society and their families. The revolution gave women social and political freedom and the opportunity to demonstrate the many strengths and capabilities of a woman.