Está en la página 1de 6

FEMINISM IS SOCIALISM, LIBERTY AND MUCH MORE1

Second-Wave Chilean Feminism and its Contentious Relationship with Socialism


Marcela Ros Tobar

2003

OS TOBAR IN THE CLASSROOM: MARCELA RI

129

atin American women have used a variety of political strategies to engage and contest conventional social hierarchies and struggle against gender oppression. These different forms of resistance have gained visibility and become widespread political mobilizations in the face of severe economic crisis and generalized social and political transformations. Two such periods stand out as the most important phases of activism for the history of womens rights in the region: the suffragist mobilization between the 1930s and 1950s, and the struggles for democratization of the 1970s and 1980s (or rst and second wave feminism, as many scholars referred to them).2 In the past decade, feminist scholars have attempted to recover and make public the history of womens political resistance in the region. This has led to an increasing awareness of the unique character of feminist politics in the south of the Americas. As Sonia E. Alvarez has proposed, Latin-American and Caribbean feminism is today recognized to exist as such by both participants and external observers.3 Most scholars agree that this particular brand of feminism emerged in close connection to a socialist tradition.4 The object of this paper is to contribute towards our knowledge of feminist politics through an analysis of one Latin American society in particular: Chile. Here, I analyze the assumption of intellectual proximity between socialism and feminism in one of the periods with the greatest feminist activism in the twentieth century and what has come to be known as the foundational phase of contemporary feminism: the struggle for the recuperation of democracy (1970s and 1980s). On 11 September 1973, the Chilean Road to Socialism came to an end when the Popular Unity government, which had come to power after a highly contested election in 1970, was brutally ousted by a military coup.5 Salvador Allende, the socialist president who died in the government palace on the day of the coup, was the rst Marxist in the world to be elected democratically to lead a central government. After the coup, martial law was imposed, Congress closed, all political parties were banned, and hundreds of political and social leaders killed, imprisoned or exiled. The dictatorship imposed lasted seventeen years and sought, with great success, to
2003 INDIANA UNIVERSITY PRESS, VOL. 15 NO. 3 (AUTUMN)

130

JOURNAL OF WOMENS HISTORY

AUTUMN

change politics in both institutional and symbolic terms. The actors, discourses, strategies, and ideals that had permeated most aspects of Chilean life entered a process of irreversible transformation. Paradoxically, the very destruction of democratic institutions and the repression of traditional political actors created the conditions for the emergence of more autonomous civil society organizations than had been possible under the old political system ruled by elites. The military regime forcibly attempted to destroy politics based on class lines at the same time that it advocated a return to conventional moral values. Thus, as argued by a prominent feminist sociologist Maria Elena Valenzuela, the military state can be interpreted as the quintessential expression of patriarchy: The Junta, with a very clear sense of its interests, has understood that it must reinforce the traditional family, and the dependent role of women, which is reduced to that of mother. The dictatorship, which institutionalizes social inequality, is founded on inequality in the family.6 This inequality, and the ideological exaltation of a subservient role for women in society, had the contradictory effect of legitimizing womens intervention in the public sphere. The regime exalted womens difference from men, their femininity, at the same time that it demonized the political and traditional political actors such as parties. In so doing, the regime excluded and repressed the ways in which men had participated in politics and opened the door for womens political intervention.7 It was in this somber atmosphere that small groups of women began to come together and question their life conditions, their historical invisibility as political actors, and the dictatorships ideological project. The women who identied with feminism came from a left-wing Marxist tradition; many had actively participated in the Popular Unity Government. Confronted with the breakdown of the political, these women questioned their own involvement in politics and the invisibility of womens lived experience within the lefts political project. They reacted against authoritarianism, but also against the failure of the lefts revolutionary project to incorporate womens particular experiences. In 1977, a group of fourteen professional women founded the Crculo de Estudios de la Mujer (Womens Studies Circle), the rst explicitly feminist organization to emerge in that period.8 The organizations objectives were To struggle against all forms of discrimination and oppression against women . . . .As an institution the Crculo has a political stance derived from its feminist commitment. This commitment is political, since it proposes to eliminate a form of domination that is strongly embedded in the social, economic and cultural spheres. The Feminist commitment entails revolutionary changes because the elimination of sexual oppression compromises all forms of social relation. And it is necessarily demo-

2003

OS TOBAR IN THE CLASSROOM: MARCELA RI

131

cratic because only in conditions of equality between the sexes is it possible to create a social project that is just and libertarian.9 Julieta Kirkwood, a renowned feminist activist and scholar, explained the emergence of feminist consciousness as a direct result of the imposition of an authoritarian regime that made other forms of authoritarianism painfully evident.10 At the beginning, feminist perspectives emerged from a reection regarding democracy under siege and from a re-valorization and recovery of its contents. Shortly afterwards, this reection led us to acknowledge the long and profound distance between democratic values and basic principles such as equality, non-discrimination, liberty, and solidarity experienced by one group, with those lived and assumed as singular concrete reality by another. Based on the difference between what is claimed and what is lived, [we] women recognized . . . that our concrete everyday experience is authoritarianism. That woman livesand has always livedauthoritarianism within the family, and within their known spheres of work and life experiences . . . This has made us realize that there are two areas or spheres of action in relation to the political. A natural division, which was not originated by the authoritarian regime that destroyed democracy, but on the contrary, one that is prior to it and has the status of civilization.11 Together with this process of internal reection, feminists were actively involved in the opposition movement that had begun to contest military rule. As part of their efforts to link the struggles against patriarchy and authoritarianism, they created slogans to present their demands. Women give life, the dictatorships exterminates it. In the Day of the National Protest: Lets make love not the beds. Feminism is Liberty, Socialism, and Much More.12 As the last slogan illustrates, the relationship between feminism and socialism was a common discursive thread present in feminist thought throughout the eighties. Julieta Kirkwood argued in this respect that, It is not part of the [feminist] project to deny the reality and validity of the analysis of class domination. On the contrary, a feminist analysis, which exposes the economistic bias of class analysis, enriches it . . . In fact, feminism truly constitutes a social movement for the liberation of Chile because it successfully links the struggle against class and sex oppression simultaneously.13 Yet neither Kirkwood nor most second-wave feminists embraced socialist ideology at face value. On the contrary, they embarked on a long and contentious theoretical debate with the left and its militants to criticize and change that political sectors historic lack of interest in feminist demands.

132

JOURNAL OF WOMENS HISTORY

AUTUMN

As these brief examples make clear, the major grievances posed by feminists were strictly tied to the realm of politics: the connection between class and gender oppression; the links between public and private experience of gender oppression; and the contentious relationship between feminism, the political left and its socialist project. Hence, second-wave feminists in Chile tied feminism more to a program of social justice than to the more typical liberal agenda of their suffragist predecessors that had emphasized reproductive rights, equal pay in the job market, equality of legal rights, and so on. The writings of Julieta Kirkwood can again serve to exemplify this distance from liberal ideals. She wrote: Female liberation will not be a problem to be solved by the incorporation of those who are not included in the world. Since it is not sufcient to break the walls in the home to incorporate oneself in the social and public world, and open up new horizons, feminism rejects the possibility of small adjustments in schedule and roles to the current orderthis would not be different than the inclusion in a world already dened by masculinity (by the other side on the relationship of oppression). For the feminist movement the incorporation of women to the world will be a process of transforming the world.14 The feminism that emerged in Chile in the 1970s and 1980s was indeed intimately linked to socialism and the political aspirations of the Latin American left of the time. Yet, despite this clear connection with socialist ideals feminists of the period very seldom used the label of socialist as part of their political identity. As long as the number of feminists remained small and their main preoccupation was differentiating themselves from other politically active women, feminists did not see a need to use labels to differentiate among each other. An issue that has received little attention, and requires further investigation, is the inuence and connection between Chilean feminism and rst-world radical or cultural feminist currents of thought. It appears that even though this might have been less inuential than socialist writings, much of the feminist literature that Chilean feminists had access to was linked to this strand, and therefore, must have played a role in shaping the political practice and discourse of the era. An investigation that goes beyond this period and looks at second wave feminism from a broader historical perspective will no doubt enhance our knowledge of feminism in the South. In this sense, I would argue that the connection between feminism and socialism must be looked at in a more critical manner. As it stands now it appears that feminist writings and activism in a period of exceptional political circumstancesa

2003

OS TOBAR IN THE CLASSROOM: MARCELA RI

133

failed socialist project and the imposition of a military dictatorshiphave been interpreted as representatives of feminist thought more generally: as the feminist project in Chile. A closer look at other more neglected historical periods and feminist writers might show that what makes second wave feminism importance is precisely its uniqueness as part of a broader and much more complex intellectual feminist tradition. NOTES
Slogan used by the Movimiento Feminista during the days of National Protest in 1983. Depending on the country, suffragist movements might have appeared earlier than this. Sonia E. Alvarez, Latin American Feminisms Go Global: Trends of the 1990s and Challenges for the New Millennium, Cultures of Politics, Politics of Culture: Re-visioning Latin American Social Movements ed. Sonia E. Alvarez, Evelina Dagnino, and Arturo Escobar (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1998): 307. See Flora C. Butler, Socialist Feminism in Latin America, Working papers Women in International Development, Michigan State University #14 (1982); Patricia Churchryk, Feminist Anti-Authoritarian Politics: The Role of Womens Organizations in the Chilean Transition to Democracy, in The Womens Movement in Latin America: Feminism and the Transition to Democracy, ed. Jane S. Jaquette (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1991); Nancy Sternbach, Marysa Navarro-Aranguren, Patricia Chuchryk, and Sonia E. Alvarez., Feminisms in Latin America: From Bogot to San Bernardo, Signs,17, (winter 1992); Sonia E. Alvarez, Elisabeth J. Friedman, Ericka Beckman, Maylei Blackwell, Norma Chinchilla, Nathalie Lebon, Marysa Navarro, and Marcela Ros Tobar, Encountering Latin American and Caribbean Feminisms, Signs 28, (winter 2003): 53780.
5 The Popular Unity coalition won the election with a very slight victory over the right-wing candidate (36.2 percent over 34.9 percent), the centrist Christian Democrats obtained 27.8 percent of the vote (Mariana Aylwin, Carlos Bascuan, Soa Correa, Cristian Gazmuri, Sol Serrano & Matias Tagle, Chile en el siglo XX [Santiago: Editorial Planeta, 1990]: 230). This electoral outcome is an indicator of the polarization in the country that had been mounting in the previous decade when rst the political Right, and then the Center gained power. 4 3 2 1

Maria Elena Valenzuela, El fundamento de la dominacon patriarcial en Chile, paper presented at the Second Chilean Sociology Congress, August 1986, Santiago, Chile. Unless otherwise noted all direct quotations from the Spanish are the authors translation. For a discussion of this see: Giselle Munizaga & Lilian Leterier, Mujer y Rgimen Militar,Mundo de Mujer: Continuidad y Cambio (Santiago: CEM, 1988).
8 7

Patricia Churchryk, Feminist Anti-authoritarian Politics: The Role of

134

JOURNAL OF WOMENS HISTORY

AUTUMN

Womens Organizations in the Chilean Transition to Democracy, in The Womens Movement in Latin America: Feminism and the Transition to Democracy, ed. Jane S. Jaquette (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1999) .
9 Crculo de Estudios de la Mujer, Reexiones sobre la prctica feminista paper presented at the III Encounter for Popular Education, Santiago, June 1983.: 3. 10 Kirkwood was a sociologist that worked at FLACSO, one of the few academic institutions to serve as refuge to left wing scholars during the dictatorship. She was a founding member of the Circulo, as well as many other feminist groups to emerge in the period (Movimiento Feminista, Casa La Morada, Revista Furia). She was also a long time militant of the Socialist Party of Chile. 11 Julieta Kirkwood, Ser poltica en Chile: las feministas y los partidos (Santiago, Chile: Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales, 1986): 222. 12 Reproduced in Patricia Crispi, ed., Tejiendo Rebeldas: escritos feministas de Julieta Kirkwood (Santiago: CEM La Morada, 1987), 57. 13

Julieta Kirkwood, Feminarios (Santiago: Ediciones Documentas, 1987) 89.

14 Julieta Kirkwood, Feminismo y participacin politica en Chile, in La Otra mitad de Chile, ed. Maria Angelica Meza (Santiago: CESOC, 1986), 69.