Julie D. Shayne, Rutgers University Press, 2004

Reviewed by Monica Tarducci & Miranda Gonzalez Martin, Universidad de Buenos Aires

The Revolution Question deals with the complex relations between feminist and revolutionary left movements in three Latin-American countries: Cuba, Chile and El Salvador. The results of Shayne’s research, based on formal interviews with leaders in revolutionary and feminist movements, participant observation, and informal interviews with women of different organizations, are introduced to the readers in a clear and precise way, and are excellently documented. The book has an appendix with a time line, notes, references and a list of acronyms for all of the cited organizations, which facilitates the reading for those who approach this issue for the first time.

The book is divided into six chapters, a theoretical introduction and a conclusion. Shayne seeks to review and compare “the complex interplay between revolution and feminism by analyzing and interpreting the roles women play in revolutionary movements, how gender is exploited and transformed through such participation, and the attendant feminist movements that grow from revolutionary mobilization” (9). In order to do this, she divides the analysis of each of these countries into revolutionary and post-revolutionary periods: Cuba (1952-1959 and 1959-1999); Chile (1970-1973 and 1973-1999); El Salvador (1979-1992 and 1992-1999). The reason the author selected these specific countries corresponds to the fact that all had a period of intense revolutionary participation. However, the results achieved were very different in the three cases: negotiated in the case of El Salvador, partial in Chile, and successful in Cuba.

In the introduction “Femininity, Revolution and Feminism,” Shayne does a theoretical overview of a great dilemma among the academics who study women’s movements in Latin America during the last several decades: does the active participation of women in the political struggle (armed or not), as well as in the so called “surviving” movements, create a basis for the development of a consciousness of their subordination as women? And furthermore, what is needed for those intense mobilizations to develop into feminist demands? She begins with a critical review of Maxine Moulineux’s theory of practical and strategic interests, and Temma Kaplan’s view of female consciousness. Shayne concludes that, in spite of certain difficulties, the distinctions that both authors make between practical and strategic demands, and feminist and feminine movements, are very useful for avoiding the characterization of all women activists as feminists. Shayne continues by introducing her own concept of revolutionary feminism by referring to a “grassroots movement that is both pluralist and autonomous in structure not explicitly perceived to be patriarchal in nature, but from the perspective of feminists, entirely bound to the oppression of women. In this sense revolutionary refers to the type of historical process that enabled the development of the feminist movements” (9).

In addition to examining the revolutionary processes that take place in the countries she studies, Shayne attends to certain facts that are essential when it comes to the development of Latin American feminist movements. For example, Latin American Encuentros, or meetings, started in 1981 in Bogotá (Colombia) and are held in different Latin American countries every three years, each time gathering more women form autonomous feminist groups, NGOs, as well as human rights and lesbian organizations. Unfortunately, although Shayne recognizes that the Encuentros “have been the locale for most second-wave feminist dialogue in Latin America and the Caribbean”, she does not describe completely enough the effort of Central American women, specially Salvadoreñas, when it comes to the intense debate of the meaning of feminism for their region, their relationship with the left (to which most of these women belong), and the opportunity (or not) to held the VI Encuentro in El Salvador in 1993. These particular concerns were the ones that encouraged these Central American women to organize the Encuentro Centro-Americano de Mujeres that took place in Montelimar (Nicaragua) in 1992. This experience allowed them gain strength in order to fight the Salvadorian Right in their tough opposition against the Encuentro (which was considered “de lesbianas y guerrilleras”) to be held in 1993. Researchers in Central America at the time, including this article’s authors, remember the fear and terror of those days.

When it comes to characterizing Latin American feminist movements, Shayne also takes into account the exile of many leftist women to countries where second-wave feminism was flourishing, such as post-Allende exile to Europe, and the Salvadoran FMLN women who conducted political work in Mexico. We should also pay attention to the rich exchange between socialism and feminism, a product of the solidarity among activists from the United States and Europe. On the other hand, the isolation of Cuba has disallowed any true international discussion of feminist ideas.

Shayne is clear when she argues that five factors had to be present for the emergence of revolutionary feminism, beginning with the incorporation of women into the revolutionary process:
1) The mere presence of women in revolutionary struggle (the actual number is important) was a confrontation with gendered expectations of behavior.
2) The women incorporated into the political struggle received training in certain abilities they previously lacked, which trained them for future actions.
3) The post-revolutionary process provided an organizational and ideological space the women could use for their demands as women.
4) In many women there existed a feeling that the revolution was incomplete, because women did not receive something in return for all they provided to the struggle. This issue is crucial in the development of a collective feminist consciousness.
5) To determine the presence and strength of a revolutionary feminist movement three factors should be considered: a) whether the movement is politically autonomous; b) whether it is structured in a pluralist manner; and c) whether the movement is significantly empowered to bring about measurable sociopolitical change.

All of these issues, which are central to the concerns of Latin American feminists, are exhaustively explored in this book. We highly recommend it, both as academics and feminist activists of the region.

Monica Tarducci is an anthropologist at the Gender Institute of the Universdad de Buenos Aires in Argentina. Miranda Gonzalez Martin is an anthropologist at the Universidad de Buenos Aires in Argentina.

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