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  • Sex in Revolution: Gender, Politics and Power in Modern Mexico
  • Andrew G. Wood
Sex in Revolution: Gender, Politics and Power in Modern Mexico. Edited by Jocelyn Olcott, Mary Kay Vaughan, and Gabriela Cano. Durham: Duke University Press. 2007. Pp. x, 320. Illustrations. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $79.95 cloth; $22.95 paper.

During the height of the Mexican Revolution, Colonel Amelio Robles stood for a photographic portrait dressed in a dark suit, dress shirt, tie, black hat and shoes. On his left hip rested a holstered pistol. Here stands a proud guerrillero; a hero of the Revolution and curiously, an individual who, as it turns out, had radically transformed his gender and sexual identity. As a transgendered male, Robles was not just a "born" female who occasionally played with the trappings of masculinity. Following Gabriela Cano, we learn that Robles' consistent assuming of a masculine identity represented "a cultural declaration of the body and a political act" (p. 39). As the first of eleven studies included in Sex in Revolution, Robles' provocative case study serves as a powerful lead off for the many interesting essays on gender and revolution that follow.

Sex in Revolution features a wide-ranging discussion of women, men, sex and gender in the tumultuous world of Mexican politics and society during the twentieth [End Page 441] century. Anne Rubenstein's "The War on 'Las Pelonas'" deals with attacks on modern, young women who wore "bobbed" haircuts in Mexico City during the mid-1920s. Julia Tuñon's essay on the films of Emilio Fernández critically considers the director's cinematic treatment of indigenous peoples, national identity and gender. Stephanie Smith offers an interesting discussion on divorce in revolutionary Yucatán (Mexican officials had legalized divorce in 1914) as attitudes towards marriage gradually shifted from unions based upon obligation to those realized because of modern notions of love and romance.

Far from realizing radical changes in terms of marriage, family and sexual codes, postrevolutionary Mexican society struggled with changing attitudes about sex and gender. As Patience A. Schell describes, a scandal broke out during the summer of 1922 over the alleged distribution of Margaret Sanger's birth control literature among girls at the recently founded Escuela Hogar Gabriela Mistral in Mexico City. The fact that "modern" ideas about love and marriage were allegedly being circulated in the classroom "exposed a schism between traditional views, often anchored in Catholicism, and the emerging feminist discourse" (p. 122). Similarly, Ann Blum's fascinating chapter on the reformation of Mexico's social assistance programs as related to family and child services during the Cárdenas and Ávila Camacho administration shows "enduring contradictions at the intersections of motherhood, nation, reproductive labor, and waged work" (p. 142). In light of thousands of child registrations, legitimations and adoptions overseen by the state, Blum asks, "what kind of families did welfare officials seek to form [and] what kind of families did they endorse?" (p. 128).

Three essays on labor extend the reach of the volume to new areas in the country outside of the capital. As seen in the apparent divide between "traditional" and emergent "modern" social and cultural practices in the earlier chapters, María Teresa Fernández-Aceves' discussion centered on the Círculo Feminista del Oriente organizing among women workers during the 1920s highlights solidarity efforts undertaken among laborers in the newly established corn mills, dough shops and tortilla factories in Guadalajara. Studying Veracruz, Heather Fowler-Salamini shows how female coffee workers organized "their own unique community to legitimate themselves as workingwomen and to juxtapose it with working men's culture" (p. 162). Examining the textile industry in Puebla during the first half of the twentieth century, Susan M. Gauss finds similar tensions playing out between men and women as well as between independent local/regional labor organizations– versus-national labor policy.

The fourth and final section of the volume deals with women in political organizations. Kristina A. Boylan looks at Catholic efforts to regulate public morality as well as various community organizing, education, health care and other endeavors often overseen by the Unión Feminina Católica Mexicana or UFCM. Jocelyn Olcott's essay centered on the activities of...