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Hispanic American Historical Review 83.4 (2003) 769-771
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Right-Wing Women in Chile: Feminine Power and the Struggle against Allende, 1964-1973 . By Margaret Power. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002. Photographs. Illustrations. Maps. Tables. Appendixes. Bibliography. Index. xxii, 311 pp. Cloth, $65.00. Paper, $25.00.
Women's critical role in the 1973 ousting of Salvador Allende has long been recognized, but their actions, motivations for participation, and foreign ties remained obscure. Many believed that only privileged women, manipulated by rightist men, mobilized against Allende's government, but Margaret Power's examination of the gendered aspects of rightist political participation and electoral campaigns answers these questions and dispels the myths.
In the nineteenth century, women pressed for suffrage in order to protect the church against liberal anticlericalism. Once women attained the right to vote, they were mobilized by rightists attempting to attract a popular base. The 1964 electoral alliance between the rightist Partido Nacional (PN) and the centrist Christian Democrats [End Page 769] (PDC) used the "Scare Campaign"—convincing women that a leftist victory would mean destruction of the family—to help defeat Allende. The PN used this strategy again in 1970, but Allende won the three-way race. Power demonstrates that the United States covertly supported the "Scare Campaign" and Chilean rightist women. The United States had already encouraged both Operation Peter Pan, which sent the children of anti-Castro Cubans to the United States, and the women's mobilization against Brazilian president João Goulart. These campaigns' tactics and rhetoric about gender and the family heralded those of Chilean activists.
PN women were among the first to denounce Allende's triumph. They joined with women of the PDC and other opposition groups to organize the famous March of the Empty Pots and Pans to protest Fidel Castro's visit in December 1971. In early 1972 they created Poder Femenino (PF), which demonstrated and petitioned against the government, aided the striking copper miners of El Teniente, and helped meld the anti-Allende forces agitating in favor of a military coup. Observers have assumed that PF members spurred military officers into action by questioning their manhood, but Power suggests that their actions may have been part of an opposition plan to legitimize a golpe that was in the works. In fact, PF had already weakened Chilean democracy by denigrating politics and exalting its "apolitical" role. The military regime it helped bring to power disbanded PF because it had accomplished its mission and represented an autonomy that the generals did not want women to exercise.
PF insisted that women could "transcend class" (p. 172) to unite the nation. Indeed, it recruited some lower-class women, partly through the Centros de Madres established in impoverished communities by the Frei administration. Many poor women agreed that Unidad Popular policies kept them from feeding their families and joined the anti-Allende cause. Yet upper-class prerogatives and assumptions infused PF: its affluent members equated the national interest with their class interests, and they relied on their telephones, servants, cars, and access to money and powerful men to push forward their agenda. The gold pots-and-pans pins of elite anti-Allende activists distinguished them from the less-privileged women who wore copper pins. It is telling that wealthy PF members could supply Power with names of their upper- and middle-class colleagues but could not recall the names of working-class ones.
PF shared many characteristics with rightist women in other Latin American countries and time periods. Most such groups have presented themselves as apolitical mothers motivated by the desire to protect their families against leftist assault. They defended existing gender roles, although their activities may have subtly challenged them. Leftists have claimed that rightist men manipulate their female allies, ignoring the possibilities of women's agency and the genuine appeal of right-wing platforms. Some rightist movements have recruited women to help them attract a multiclass following. Rightist women have also cited Catholicism as a motive, yet religion did not influence PF...