From "La Mujer Esclava" to "La Mujer Limon: Anarchism and the Politics of Sexuality in Early-Twentieth-Century Chile
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Hispanic American Historical Review 81.3-4 (2001) 519-553



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From "La Mujer Esclava" to "La Mujer Limón":
Anarchism and the Politics of Sexuality in Early-Twentieth-Century Chile

Elizabeth Quay Hutchison

[Figures]

The world that the unhappy woman worker
inhabits is a martyr's cell,
where she suffers the infamies and miseries
of life with deep sadness!
Could there be some hidden power
that makes the woman, always enslaved,
accept the foolish and miserable insult
of the powerful and mystical bourgeois?
No! Because the sun of the Social Question
has already brightened the minds of the people.
It destroys universal ignorance,
and, woman, you must study in its temples
Workers of the world! Already, the light
that shines on human knowledge
has begun to destroy the yoke and the cross
that we have carried on our shoulders for so many years

--Clara Rosa González, "Al Combate," El Acrata, May 15,1901

Listen, woman. I am going to speak plainly to you. Right now you are a machine for stopping weaklings, a machine incapable of conceiving of something noble and humane. . . . You have played and you will always play the role in life of a lemon, which after it is squeezed is dashed violently in the garbage. Your history is very sad and disgraceful.

--Juan Levadura, "Tu eres como el limón," El Comunista, August 6, 1921 [End Page 519]

The paradox of the Chilean labor movement under the Parliamentary Republic is not that so little attention was given to women, but rather that there was so much. As foreign labor ideology and modes of organization reached Southern Cone countries via tides of working-class immigrants--and, in the case of Chile, through translated foreign pamphlets that circulated among workers--the question of what to do about "the woman question" provoked considerable concern among working-class activists. Amidst the growing influence of anarchist ideology and the proliferation of the "resistance societies" (sociedades de resistencia) that they promoted, anarchists were among the first working-class organizers to draw attention to the topic of female subordination. When Clara Rosa González read her poem Into Battle to a large audience of men and women gathered at a union hall in downtown Santiago in April 1901, she joined prominent male anarchists in a program dedicated to the topic of the woman question, illustrating the level of attention anarchists generally dedicated to it at the turn of the century. 1 González's brimming optimism about women's imminent transformation from victims of capital into agents of revolution reflects what Chilean anarchist leaders were writing and saying about women's emancipation; most anarchist writings on the woman question in Chile prior to World War I emphasized, as González did, that libertarian education alone could free women from their historic slavery to men and capital. Such utopian claims may have seemed less so to working-class listeners in the context of anarchist propaganda, which triumphantly recorded the proliferation of women's and mixed-sex resistance societies among working women in Santiago and Valparaíso after the turn of the century.

By the third decade of the twentieth century, however, attention to women in anarchist newspapers and union broadsides revealed anarchists' relatively greater skepticism about women's revolutionary potential. The publication of diatribes such as "You are like a lemon" signaled a turn to more aggressive, sarcastic rhetorical strategies after 1918, as some anarchist writers publicly upbraided women for their intransigent passivity and blamed them for the declining participation of male workers in anarchist unions. These writers no [End Page 520] longer rendered working-class women as the incarnation of revolutionary hope, but rather as a symbol of the regressive, slavelike mentality that betrayed the revolutionary aspirations of their working-class brothers. On the one hand, the ferocity of these attacks suggests the very real frustration that anarchists might have felt in the postwar period, as marxist unionization efforts came to outstrip those of anarchists, particularly among women...