Elevate Difference

Sex in Revolution: Gender, Politics, and Power in Modern Mexico

Mary Kay Vaughn, in her introduction to Sex in Revolution: Gender, Politics, and Power in Modern Mexico, asserts that while paternalism, Catholicism, Victorian morals and patriarchy experienced a fierce health before, during and after the Mexican Revolution, the women’s movement, while slow, was undeniable and, ultimately, irreversible. This book’s purpose, then, is to crack the monolith of rhetoric (verbal, literary and visual) that women have had little voice or agency within the confines of the social-political space and place known as Mexico in the post revolution.

While rampant machismo threatened the health of feminist progression, these essays point to significant fissures that fractured the surface of such patriarchy as the dominant social practice. The contributing authors are quick to note that there were subversive performances occurring at multiple sites. Some actions were bolder than others but all of them comprised an undeniable collection of evidence supporting a vigorous women’s movement. However, it is also significant to note that this movement was not singular in motive: some activism was in service to right-wing politics and bringing back to center the conservatism of religious (primarily, Catholic) practices. This anthology, thus, is interested in naming, when and where possible, certain actions as feminist. Yet, it also recognizes that not all activism by women was necessarily feminist in ideal.

Each of the essays explores a collection of evidence primarily through textual analysis of newspapers, films, magazines, public records and photographs. The ethnographic interview is also used to gather qualitative transcripts for analysis. In these pages, expect to encounter diverse and rich sites of inquiry: transgendered performances, las pelonas (the flappers of Mexico), filmic depictions of indigenous ideals and femininity, divorce, education, labor politics, the process of adoption, Catholic women’s activism and grassroots organizing.

There are few popular culture artifacts in the U.S. that depict Mexican women as brave, courageous, and willful agents. Indeed, there are many more reinforcements of the Mexican female as subservient (the maid), as hyper-sexualized (the whore), or as over pious (the virgin). These sorts of historical and contemporary images represent only part of a complex reality for Mexican women. As a feminist project, this collection of essays credits women of the post revolution as agents of the Modern state capable of challenging dominant patriarchal practices with significant performances resistant to traditional femininity. This text is well written, interesting, and a necessary read for understanding further a significant era in Modern Mexican history. It is an enlightening addition to any women’s studies reading list (undergraduate or graduate) and to any special topics course dealing with Mexican history, cultural identity or popular culture. This book is scholarly in tone, but is very accessible.

Written by: Denise Menchaca, April 4th 2007