Feminism(s) in Mexico

Against the Current, No. 218, May/June 2022

Margara Millán

Zapatista women, Second International Meeting of Women Who Fight, Chiapas. Balkan Hotspot

“Se va a caer porque lo vamos a tirar, no solo al patriarcado sino también al capital.”

MEXICO HAS BEEN part of the multifaceted and heterogeneous resurgence of global feminism in recent years. Indeed Mexican feminism, or shall we say feminisms, have a long and rich history (Espinosa 2009; Jaiven and Espinosa 2019).

New configurations of Mexican feminisms draw their motivations from two historical factors: the Zapatista uprising with its radical criticism of capitalist, racist and patriarchal modernity, and the violence against women present in our country.

Zapatismo has been a turning point for the feminist movement since 1994 by its unveiling of the racism and colonialism in Mexican society and culture, which has led to a critique of the nation-state and its colonialist underpinning. Thus, the larger autonomist and decolonizing trend has become an important component of feminism in Mexico.

At the same time, the spread of feminism in Mexico has also been the result of multiple and exacerbated violence against women — disappearances and femicide — acts committed frequently and with impunity.

A large number of outraged women, from different social classes and ethnicities as well as age groups, have converged in massive demonstrations protesting this violence, expressing the “spirit” of a rebellious feminism that occupies the public space. (Ventura 2022)

In this article, I describe the twin poles of contemporary Mexican feminisms, beginning with the impact of Zapatismo. I then explore how the pervasive violence against women has shaped the feminist movements.

1. The Zapatista Ya Basta!

Contemporary Mexican feminisms have been shaped by larger historical forces such as the Zapatista movement. There is a before-and-after-Zapatismo in Mexico. In the before period, the model of the Mexican State had been assimilationist, with Indigenous communities understood and basically represented as “the poorest sectors” of the nation.

State policy aimed to incorporate Indigenous people into “national development” in the interests of “progress” and “modernization,” terms that have subsequently been discredited.

Feminism has not been immune to this legacy of Mexican national development, which constructed the figure of Indigenous men and women in patronizing terms. What Chandra Mohanty (2008) has described as the Western view of “third world women” is generally reproduced within mainstream Mexican feminism’s stereotype of Indigenous women as passive victims of archaic versions of patriarchy.

For this reason, many Indigenous women object to being called feminists. Zapatismo challenges feminists from a perspective that directly questions the way in which state nationalism has constructed the figure of Indigenous men and women. (Millán, 2009)

I agree with the view that feminism cannot be understood as universal patriarchal oppression, but as a relational and situated process — situated not only in the critique of the masculine and patriarchal order, but also in the series of relationships and vectors of power and oppression among women.

The emergence of black, decolonial, autonomous, trans, popular feminisms are examples of these situated critical interventions and manifestations of a plural, heterogeneous and contradictory political subject. (de Lima Costa, 1998)

The hetero-patriarchal, capitalist and colonial system not only imposes different forms of oppression, resulting in different positions of power among women; it also generates different visions of the world. The concept of “intersectionality” within feminism has sought to account for these unequal relationships among women, making it clear that an abstract and universal subject, “Woman,” is the product of precisely the system we are fighting.

To my mind, it is more accurate to speak of feminism as a series of movements rather than as a specific agenda or platform, although, of course, there are many feminist groups that assume this form.

From phenomena such as the #MeToo(1) movement, the 2016 women’s march in the United States, #Nosotras paramos and #NiUnaMenos in Argentina, #NiUnaMás and #VivasNosQueremos in Mexico, any of the meanings of “feminism” that dictionaries offer have been surpassed by the paths that the struggle of women are taking.

In other words, the diverse situations of women and their oppressions are rooted in a simultaneously capitalist, colonial, patriarchal, heteronormative, able-bodied, extractivist structure…And these are the structures that must be transformed: feminisms have overflowed their channels, (neo)liberal and institutional, and have done so massively. They have moved from Politics to politics (Echeverría, 1997); from the civic movement to the contentious one. (Tarrow, 2015).(2)

In this larger context, the Zapatistas have articulated a vision of struggle marked by complexity. For example, they coined the phrase Acordamos Vivir (to fight you have to be alive, so the first agreement is to agree to live) at the meeting of the First Political, Cultural and Sports Encounter of the Women Who Fight.(3)

This meeting, held on March 8, 2018, International Women’s Day, featured many organized and disciplined young women, eager to listen and share their proposals. Both the call for this meeting and its closing statement clearly voice the Zapatistas’ intention to organize in diversity, among women and “others,” respecting the different struggles while recognizing a common enemy, which is not only patriarchy but also capitalism.(4)

These statements illustrate the decolonizing meaning of “among women” and are directed to academics and non-academics, white and non-white, young and not so young, as equals. The statements emphasize the necessity of “speaking in many languages” and understanding the language of the other.

The Zapatistas question capitalist modernity not only for the exploitation of work (human and non-human) but also for its basic colonizing foundations of “progress” and “development” based on constant industrialization, the ideology of individualism, notions of success and social wealth reduced to and controlled by the accumulation of value.

Zapatista communities experience these values as the dispossession of territory, a shrinkage of the capacity for self-government, a decrease of political determination, and diminishment of their quality of community life.

The Zapatista Ya Basta! resonates with other visionary criticisms of capitalist modernity, its ecological irrationality, and its instrumentality.

The movement has advanced practical proposals for resistance to transform the world. The autonomies, the caracoles, the Good Government Boards, are models for a world seeking to be de-patriarchal and anti-capitalist, and where women are positioned as central protagonists of the struggle.(5)

The Zapatistas have disseminated their vision of a decolonial national society — not only with their word as Comandantas and “bases of support” — but also in the Escuelita Zapatist,(6) and of course in the women’s meetings. Their impact is evidenced by the many women’s groups in the cities that are adopting and adapting their principles of horizontality, autonomy, mutual care, self-defense, organization.

But also importantly, Indigenous women outside Zapatismo have made an impact on their organizations; for example, women in the National Indigenous Congress (CNI)(7) have transformed the discourse. In a space that began as majority male, the presence of women in meetings, particularly of combative women since 2018, has given the anti-patriarchal struggle within the movement and their communities more visibility.

All this has happened without the Zapatista women or the compañeras from the CNI positioning themselves as “feminists” but rather identifying themselves as women who fight. Thus, the effect of the women’s revolt generated from and by Zapatismo has not only influenced urban mestizo women but has also been spreading in the very ranks of organized Indigenous men and women and in their communities.

Even the recent movement of “organized women,” as the students of the National University called themselves, during the years 2018-2021, shows the imprint of the Zapatista women. From the organizational form of separatism, to direct action through the seizures of faculties and schools, to the use of the hood for their decolonial criticism of the academy, the impact of Zapatista women is evident.

The Zapatista mandate is very clear: women are being killed; it is necessary to organize and fight. Their communiqués explicitly connect to the concerns of the movements of mothers of the disappeared and victims of femicide, pointing to their importance in the larger movement of contemporary Mexican feminisms.(8)

2. Violence and Impunity in Mexico

The mobilizations and the organization against femicide violence and forced disappearances in Mexico have a long history.(9)

Feminist anthropologist Marcela Lagarde coined the term of “femicide.”(10) Femicide occurs in the context of violence in our country, and of the war against women, whose mechanism was analyzed by Rita Segato (2006).

The disappearance of people increased after the so-called “war against drugs” declared by the government in 2006.(11) The connections among the drug traffickers, authorities and elements of the army is documented. This has been made visible in recent years by the work of people dedicating themselves to looking for their children in clandestine graves, house of extermination, and places where bodies are abandoned.(12)

While perhaps a decade ago localized in certain regions, this type of violence has been spreading throughout the country, in such a way that it can occur anywhere. The study of violence in our country has shown how it is sustained in the triangle of violence enunciated by Galtung (2003).

Thus daily, domestic partner, physical, psychological or symbolic violence, cultural violence, structural violence, class violence, the racialization of bodies, are all part of an iceberg that sustains and allows extreme violence culminating in femicide. These structures of violence also include disappearances and are facilitated by the presence and territorial dominance of “organized crime” groups.

The momentum of women’s mobilization in Mexico began perhaps with #24A, a massive mobilization on April 24, 2019 called by two young women against police officers who had raped them. The mobilization responded to the campaign launched the day before, on social networks, #MiPrimerAcoso, and #NosQueremosVivas.

The first received a massive response, and made visible the harassment against women, especially in the family environment and since they were nine years old, revealing very important child and adolescent violence. The #MeTooMx took place in 2020 with complaints by professional women: writers, journalists, cinema, etc. (Eight journalists in Mexico were murdered in the five weeks of 2022 alone, at least two of whom were women, Lourdes Maldonado and Michelle Perez Tadeo —ed.)

Even earlier, since 2016 so-called “clotheslines” have been installed in some higher education institutions, featuring posters with the names of harassing classmates or teachers. Anonymous complaints are publicized as a strategy to break the silence without putting yourself at risk. Faced with questions about the credibility of an anonymous complaint, #YoTeCreo was initiated.

From all this, beginning with March 8, 2017 #8M became the space of the massive mobilizing of very diverse groups against femicide violence, who also voiced capitalist, racist and patriarchal critique.

A turning point following this march was the femicide of Lesvy Berlin Osorio on the campus of the National University. Lesvy’s mother Araceli Osorio was accompanied by dozens of students in what became one of the most resounding movements.(13)

Families of victims, students, collectives of the so-called “black bloc,” anarchists, mothers searching for the disappeared, dissidents and sexual diversity groups joined with demands from unionized women as well as complaints of dispossession and displacement of communities for extractivism, the resonance of another type of femicide such as that of Indigenous environmental activist Bertha Cáceres in Honduras, the demands and struggles against open mining and megaprojects imposed on the peoples without consultation, the denunciation of transfemicide, and more.

These combined protests of the multiple collectives and groups that today find a commonality in the violence they face, give the #8M mobilizations an exponential power.

3. Nevermore A Mexico Without Us

The feminist economist Amaia Pérez Orozco (2015) argues that the contemporary women’s movement is pushing to install an interclass, intercultural and intergenerational debate that gives rise to structural changes. Although each local or national reality favors some of these vectors over others, I believe that the influence of Zapatismo has centered the intercultural debate, generating an anti-racist feminism, and increasingly made mainstream feminists aware of the cultural racism that they have historically shared.

This debate has led to the development of a decolonial view that makes feminism and its legacy itself as a place of criticism. The debate that has predominated has occurred in the form of parallel movements which at times converge in the struggle, and which also maintain productive tensions between them.

These include the youthful feminisms with anarchist roots, who take to the streets, which function as a network. Many of these women stand against violence and favor the decriminalization of abortion. There are the movements united by a more capacious understanding of sexuality, which understand heteronormativity to be part of the capitalist patriarchal structure. These activists also recognize and protest transfemicidal violence.

There are the movements of the families of victims (especially the mothers) of the disappeared persons and of the women victims of femicide. Within this broad and heterogeneous spectrum, an urban Zapatista feminism affiliated with the Zapatista women’s struggle also appears with a decolonial intention “from below and to the left.”

Collectives in defense of the rights to one’s own body, the right to a desired motherhood, against harassment and patriarchal violence, against femicide, in defense of the territory, against extractivism, in defense of trans lives, are part of the larger contemporary faces of Mexican feminisms.

The larger movement is not without tensions and ruptures, but includes also moments of important unity of action such as the one carried out by the organizational convergence space called #JuntasyOrganizadas for the 2019 march, which was massive, disseminated throughout the country, and where anarchist feminists, trade unionists, sexually diverse people, families of victims marched together.

The recomposition of what we now call the feminist movement — and therefore of feminism — demands to be framed in a context of civilizational crisis, in a series of local and global uprisings. An increasingly plural, translocal, intersectional and performative struggle has implications regarding the conventional concept of the political subject, “women,” and also what we understand by feminism(s).

Feminisms are part of a global interaction, developing contextual and localized positions, political articulations and organizational platforms. In the particular Mexican case, we are witnessing a moment where class experiences and interactions, intergenerational and anti-racist positions, and a decolonial intention are played out, all in the face of violence against women. (Millán 2020)

“We declare ourselves as women in struggle against patriarchy, neoliberal capitalism and neocolonialism, with the conviction that if we women do not free ourselves from slavery, society will never be free.”(14)

Bibliography

ÁLVAREZ ENRÍQUEZ, Lucía. “El movimiento feminista en México en el siglo XXI: juventud, radicalidad y violencia,” Revista Mexicana de Ciencias Políticas y Sociales, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Nueva Época, Año lXV, núm. 240. septiembre-diciembre de 2020, 147-175.

DE LIMA COSTA, Claudia. “El sujeto en el feminismo,” Revista Mexicana de Ciencias Políticas y Sociales, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Vol. 43, No 174, 1998, 83-114.

DONOSO, Sofía y Mauro Basaure. La política contenciosa en el mundo de hoy. Entrevista a Sidney Tarrow. 2015. Serie Documentos de Trabajo COES, 2. Centro de Estudios de Conflicto y Cohesión Social.

ECHEVERRÍA, Bolívar. “Lo político en la política,” in Revista Theoria N. 4. 1997, 11-21.

ESPINOSA DAMIÁN, Gisela. Cuatro Vertientes del Feminismo en México: Diversidad de rutas y cruce de caminos. 2009. México: UAM-X, División de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades.

GALTUNG, Johan. Tras la violencia, 3R: reconstrucción, reconciliación, resolución. Afrontando los efectos visibles e invisibles de la guerra y la violencia, 2003. Gernika: Bakeaz/Gernika Gogoratuz.

HERNÁNDEZ, Aída y Carolina Robledo (Comps), Nadie detiene al amor. Historias de vida de familiares de personas desaparecidas en el norte de Sinaloa. Instituto de Investigaciones Jurídicas, 2020.

JAIVEN, Ana Lau y Gisela Espinoza (coords.) Un fantasma recorre el siglo. Las luchas feministas en México, 1910-2010. 2019.Ciudad de México: Ítaca/Ecosur/UAM-Xochimilco/Conacyt.

LAGARDE, Marcela, Por la vida y la libertad de las mujeres. Fin al feminicidio. Cámara de Diputados, LIX Legislatura, México, 2006.

MASTROGIOVANNI, Federico. Ni vivos ni muertos: La desaparición forzada en México como estrategia de terror. 2019. México: Grijalbo.

MILLÁN, Márgara. “Mujeres indígenas neozapatistas. Políticas de autorrepresentación” en la Revista Chiapas N. 3, 1996, 19-32.

—  “Revistas y políticas de traducción del feminismo mexicano contemporáneo,” en Revista Estudios Feministas. Volúmen 17. N. 3. 2009. Florianópolis. Universidad Federal de Santa Catarina, 819-846.

 Des-ordenando el género/ ¿Des-centrando la Nación? El zapatismo de las mujeres indígenas y sus consecuencias. 2014. México, UNAM.

—  “Interseccionalidad, descolonización y la transcrítica antisistémica: sujeto político de los feminismos y ‘las mujeres que luchan,’” Revista Mexicana de Ciencias Políticas y Sociales. UNAM. Nueva Época, Año lxv, núm. 240, septiembre-diciembre de 2020, 207-232.

MOHANTY, Chandra. “Bajo los ojos de occidente. Academia Feminista y discurso colonial.” In Liliana Suárez Navaz y Aída Hernández (eds): Descolonizando el Feminismo: Teorías y Prácticas desde los Márgenes. 2008. Madrid: Cátedra.

PÉREZ OROZCO, Amaia. Subversión feminista de la economía. Aportes para un debate sobre el conflicto capital-vida. 2015. Chiapas. Universidad de la Tierra.

Primer Encuentro de Mujeres del CNI-CIG, México. Declaratoria final https://www.congresonacional indigena.org/2018/07/30/declaratoria-final-del-primer-encuentro-nacional-de-mujeres-del-cni-y-el-cig/

SEGATO, Rita. La escritura en el cuerpo de las mujeres asesinadas en Ciudad Juárez. Territorio, soberanía y crímenes de segundo estado, Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana, México DF, 2006.

—  La guerra contra las mujeres, Tinta Limón — Traficantes de sueños, 2017.

Universidad Veracruzana y la Fundación Henrich Boell (eds) “Porque la lucha por un hijo no termina…” testimonios de las madres del Colectivo Familias de Desaparecidos Orizaba-Córdoba, 2021: https://mx.boell.org/es/2021/02/25/porque-la-lucha-por-un-hijo-no-termina

VENTURA ALFARO, M. J. “Women’s Movements Against VAW and Feminicide: How Community-Based Feminisms Build Worlds Otherwise from the Periphery of Mexico City,” Special Issue — Bridging Social Movement Studies between Global North and South, Partecipazione e conflitto, 15 (1 bis), 2022.

Notes

  1. “Hashtags,” a new way of enunciating the inter­vention of social movements.
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  2. Tarrow (Donoso and Basaure, 2015) calls contentious policies to refer to collective actions that leave the framework of liberalism.
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  3. By calling it this way, the Zapatistas distinguished themselves from feminism while building a bridge, an invitation to encounter.
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  4. Nearly 9,000 women from all over the world arrived in Zapatista territory, where they camped and lived together for three days.
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  5. Influencing even a notion of generic democracy as a starting point for societal political democracy (Millán, 1996).
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  6. Between 2013 and 2014 Zapatismo convened to the Escuelita Zapatista, where they taught the topics of: Autonomous Government, Participation of Women in the Autonomous Government, and Resistance. Materials: https://www.centrodemedioslibres.org/2017/08/02/libros-en-pdf-de-la-escuelita-zapatista-la-libertad-segun-ls-zapatistas/
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  7. Mixed-sex structure that was founded in 1996 at the call of the EZLN, for the political reorganization of the Indigenous peoples and communities.
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  8. http://enlacezapatista.ezln.org.mx/2017/12/29/convocatoria-al-primer-encuentro-internacional-politico-artistico-deportivo-y-cultural-de-mujeres-que-luchan/ and https://enlacezapatista.ezln.org.mx/2018/03/10/palabras-de-las-mujeres-zapatistas-en-la-clausura-del-primer-encuentro-internacional/
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  9. Mexico did not go through dictatorships like several Latin American countries, but it did not lack a policy of extermination of young militants. After the movement of 1968, there was an emergence in Mexico of urban guerrillas, young people who opted for the armed struggle, against the authoritarianism of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Many of them were killed, tortured or disappeared by the political police and the paramilitary arm of the state. The EUREKA movement, with Doña Rosario Ibarra de Piedra, and the H.I.J.O.S. belong to that time, denouncing what was silent. Their slogan was “Alive they took them, alive we want them.” (See Mastrogiovanni, 2019)
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  10. She uses the term in 2006, in her translation of the book: Femicide: The Politics of Women Killing, edited by Diana Russell and Jill Radford, to emphasize that it is a crime against women for being a woman.
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  11. The State recognizes about 90,000 disappeared.
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  12. See: Hernández y Robledo (2020), y Universidad Veracruzana (2021).
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  13. https://nacla.org/news/2017/07/31/justice-lesvy-indifference-and-outrage-response-gender-violence-mexico-city
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  14. https://www.congresonacionalindigena.org/2018/07/30/declaratoria-final-del-primer-encuentro-nacional-de-mujeres-del-cni-y-el-cig/
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May-June 2022, ATC 218

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