Kate Manne’s Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny and Citation Politics

Kate Manne’s recent book, Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny (Oxford University Press, 2018), discusses the concept of misogyny and its relationship to sexism. Her basic premise rejects the dictionary definition of misogyny as the expression of an emotion -ie. the “hatred of women”- in favour of a definition which classes misogyny as an action: the punishment of women for not conforming to patriarchal norms. Similarly, she rejects the correlation of sexism with misogyny, arguing that sexism should be better understood as the justification and rationalisation of a “patriarchal social order”. In this way, sexism is expressed by arguing that women act in a certain way because they are women and justifies sexual discrimination via science. Misogyny is, on the other hand, “the system which polices and enforces” (via verbal and physical violence) women’s obedience to the sexist norms. With these redefinitions, Manne argues that patriarchy is a system that guarantees male supremacy via both misogyny and sexism. This system requires the collusion of both men and women, and as such, can never be conceived as exclusively male.

In order to defend her hypothesis, Manne makes the following argument: in patriarchal ideology, the gender binary dictates that men and women have different emotional, social and cultural roles. The male is the principal actor, around which narrations are formed and whose point of view is always prioritised. The female role is that of an eternal supporting actress, whose job is “to give to him, not to ask, and expected to feel indebted and grateful, rather than indebted.” This role is most obvious “with respect to characteristically moral good: attention, care, sympathy, respect, admiration, and nurturing.” As a result, men feel entitled to women’s emotional labour:

[i]ncluding -it would seem- the lives of those who can no longer give him what he wanted in terms of moral succour. He may love and value her intrinsically -that is for her own sake- but far too conditionally, that is, not on her identity as a person (whatever that amounts to) but her second personal attitude of good will towards him.

According to Manne, this division of (above all) emotional labour, explains why patriarchal culture is always predisposed to what feminists have labelled “victim-blaming”: that is the desire excuse the behaviour of violent men by attributing it to the failings of the victim. Moreover, in such a culture, people are inclined to have more sympathy with the perpetrator of violence against women (something she calls “himpathy”) and will criticise any victim who attempts to “steal” moral goods, in this case sympathy, compassion etc, that should -in accordance with patriarchal norms- only be given by women to men. Himpathy is thus one of misogyny’s enforcement tools.

Manne’s discussion also leads her to reject the idea that violence against women can be attributed to the dehumanisation of women by patriarchal culture. She argues that for misogyny to work as a tool of patriarchal enforcement, it is necessary for people to regard women as people, not objects. Women are humans with a particular role that must be followed in their interactions with others, and her value as a “good” human woman is dependent on how well she manages to fulfill this role. This part of her argument can also be applied more widely to provide a counter-argument to the idea, developed by Hannah Arendt and others after the Second World War, to explain how one community of people can be persuaded to inflict mortal violence, even genocide, on other communities.

There is much food for thought in Down Girl. Her model of a male human actor complemented by a female human giver, understood as an affirming and appreciative audience, allows her to explain the relationship between the diverse strands of the criticism and opposition faced by Hillary Clinton in the 2016 US Presidential elections. Clinton’s cardinal sin was to occupy the role of the male: the principal actor. She was thus perceived to be taking emotional goods (admiration, support etc) that were not hers to enjoy: she was thus “entitled”, “ungrateful” and “arrogant”. She did not display the requisite nurturing qualities, and was consequently perceived as lacking humanity: she was “cold”, “barren” and “dried up”. Finally, the accusations of her personal and political corruption, the obsessions with her “scheming” and the endless conspiracy theories, point to the patriarchal anxiety inspired by a woman who is seen to be “stealing” a position which should only be held by a man.

Even so, I must admit to finding the book mostly disappointing. This is not a result of my disagreement with her arguments; to the contrary, I find them quite persuasive. Her book contributes to the understanding of the patriarchal cultures we inhabit and how, as women, our happiness and personal development are constrained by them. My disappointment lies with her framing and above all, her failure to historicise (and cite) the considerable body of feminist scholarship that informs her writing.

In short: Manne’s arguments are considerably less original than she makes them out to be. Let me start with her division of male and female roles: the man as the most important human actor, and the woman as the giver, the nurturer and the ever appreciative audience. This understanding of male/female roles within patriarchy was most forcibly expressed by Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex, a work of philosophy that merits no mention by Manne in her book. De Beauvoir’s description of man as the ego -the “I”- while the woman as the eternal “Other” clearly provides the backdrop to Manne’s arguments. While it is true De Beauvoir also defines this division in terms of “subject/object”, she does not mean to imply that women are thought of as less than fully human within patriarchy. Her point is to underline every woman’s dilemma: the constant contradiction of being a subject playing at being an object: expected to reflect the emotions and the needs of the subject and never to act as if she had her own. It is inexplicable to me that Manne should feel that De Beauvoir deserves no recognition as an inspiration for the theory that she proposes.

Secondly, the scholarship of feminism’s second-wave theorised how patriarchy imposes women’s role as nurturers and care-givers, yet none get a mention in Manne’s book. Nancy Chodorow, Carol Gilligan and others developed arguments around the psychology of motherhood and how (in Chodorow’s words), the experience of motherhood was “reproduced” via socialisation.[1] Adrienne Rich compared the institution of motherhood: “which aims at ensuring that … all women … shall remain under male control” with the potential of motherhood for redefining women’s relationships with themselves and others.[2] Black feminist theorists like Angela Davis and bell hooks examined implications of slavery for the expectations surrounding black mothers in the US and criticised the continuance of the archetype of the “black mammy” or “Aunt Jemima” within contemporary culture.[3] The scholarship of black and women of colour from the seventies onwards clearly demonstrated that care-giving, nurture and emotional labour was not uniformly expected nor demanded within US culture.[4] A discussion of this scholarship would have greatly enhanced Manne’s conceptualisation of the female “giver” especially in relation to the question of abortion (chapter 3). At the very least, it would have allowed her to avoid arguing -as she appears to do- that the feminine role under patriarchy is universally applicable to all women.

This brings me to the question of framing. In her introduction, Manne is careful to argue that, since her analysis is contingent to (and informed by) her own experiences as a white Australian academic working in the USA, she does not feel qualified to extend her argument to include any discussion of misogyny experienced by trans women and only limited analysis of that faced by black woman. Feeling there was no “no morally perfect way to proceed” she preferred to leave these issues to one side. This is all very exemplary, but as the reader may have already grasped from the previous paragraph, this silence serves her ill.

Firstly, it is revealing that Manne feels compelled to begin the section she dedicates to explaining her “regrets” by observing that “perhaps the biggest omission in this book” is an examination of transmisogyny. She also makes the effort to cite authors who could provide an introduction to this subject. As a result, the omission of misogyny endured by women of colour is relegated to secondary status; not as important as the omission of transmisogyny. She also does not cite any authors that could educate the reader in this question. In other parts of the text she cites a Tumblr post by feminist media scholar Moya Bailey on “misogynoir” but fails to quote any of her academic work.[5] The conclusion I drew from this framing was that Manne had not read widely around the question of misogynoir and did not feel the scholarship of black women on this question had much to offer her nor her readers.[6]

Secondly, her admission of the lamentable “omissions” to her text is not accompanied by any analysis of what these “silences” mean for her arguments. Manne does not reflect on how her decision limits the scope of her book nor how her reliance on her own white perspective may distort the hypothesis presented. As I pointed out above, the biggest issue for me is the question of how she establishes the patriarchal model of the female giver without reflecting that patriarchal norms are always racialised. To cite, black legal and feminist scholar Dorothy E. Roberts:

Racism and patriarchy are not two separate institutions that intersect only in the lives of Black women. They are two interrelated, mutually supporting systems of domination and their relationship is essential to understanding the subordination of all women. Racism makes the experience of sexism different for Black women and white women. But it is not enough to note that Black women suffer from both racism and sexism, although it is true. Racism is patriarchal. Patriarchy is racist. We will not destroy one institution without destroying the other.[7]

This is not to say Manne doesn’t engage with race, but that she examines misogyny separately from race. Her norm of a female-giver is universal. There is no discussion of what is expected of white women of different classes or professions; or of black women, or brown women etc. Consequently, her analysis concentrates on white experiences of misogyny as the norm, with those of women of colour considered only to show how much worse things are for women if they are also oppressed by racism.

This is illustrated by her treatment of misogynoir in chapter six. Here she examines the relative “reliability” and “worthiness” of victims in subordinate social categories compared to those of higher social class. In so doing, Manne compares the “himpathy” offered to Brock Turner (who raped a white woman) and to that enjoyed by the serial rapist Daniel Holtzclaw (who targeted black women). She describes the lesser public outrage at Holtclaw’s multiple rapes as “misogynoir in action”, while presumably that received by Turner could be called just the average “misogyny in action.” This framing ignores the considerable black feminist scholarship on the subject black women’s experiences of rape and how the patriarchal ideology of white supremacism assumed that the “animal-like” “uncontrolled” sexuality of a black women meant that she could not be raped.[8]

In short, my disappointment with Down Girl, is based on how Manne presents her research. I am disheartened by her unwillingness to engage with the history of feminist thought, especially feminist scholarship by black women and women of colour. One of the continuing characteristics of white feminist scholarship is the marginalisation of black feminist ideas and scholarship of women of colour. It is not enough to “stay in our lane” if this means also ignoring or appropriating the work of those feminists of other lanes. As Sara Ahmed observes: “Citation is feminist memory. Citation is how we acknowledge our debt to those who came before[.]”[9] If this memory remains predominantly white, it only reinforces the very patriarchal and racial norms of white supremacy that Manne wishes to expose and reject.

[1] Nancy Chodorow, The Reproduction of Mothering: Psychoanalysis and The Sociology of Gender: With a New Preface Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999; Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice. Harvard: Harvard  University Press, 1982.

[2] Adrienne C. Rich. Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution. Reissued ed. Women’s Studies. New York: Norton, 1995: 13.

[3] bell hooks, Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism. London: Pluto Press, 2001; Davis, Angela Y. Women, Race & Class. 1st Vintage Books ed. New York: Vintage Books, 1983.

[4] For a historian’s perspective, see for example, Kathleen M. Brown, Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, And Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, And Power in Colonial Virginia. Chapel Hill: Published for the Institute of Early American History and Culture by the University of North Carolina Press, 1996. For a wide-ranging discussion of the literature and theories surrounding Black motherhood see, Dorothy E. Roberts ‘Racism and Patriarchy in the Meaning of Motherhood’. Journal of Gender and the Law 1, no. 1 (1993): 3. http://scholarship.law.upenn.edu/faculty_scholarshiphttp://scholarship.law.upenn.edu/faculty_scholarship/595.

[5] Manne cites the following post: Moya Bailey. ‘More on the Origin of Misogynoir’. Moyazb-Tumblr, 2014. http://moyazb.tumblr.com/post/84048113369/more-on-the-origin-of-misogynoir. I think she (and her readers) might also have been interested in: Moya Bailey. ‘Misogynoir in Medical Media: On Caster Semenya and R. Kelly’. Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience 2, no. 2 (21 September 2016). https://doi.org/10.28968/CFTT.V2I2.98. On the subject of misogynoir, the following post from the blog Gradient Lair might also have been a good reference to offer since the author (known only as Trudy) has also been influential in the popularisation of term on digital media: Trudy. ‘Explanation Of Misogynoir’. Gradient Lair, 2014. http://www.gradientlair.com/post/84107309247/define-misogynoir-anti-black-misogyny-moya-bailey-coined.

[6] It is pertinent at this point to cite the following from Moya Bailey and Trudy. ‘On Misogynoir: Citation, Erasure, and Plagiarism’. Feminist Media Studies 18, no. 4 (4 July 2018): 762–68. https://doi.org/10.1080/14680777.2018.1447395. This is written in the form of an interview. The 2014 essay cited by Trudy here is the one referenced in the previous footnote.

Trudy: I experience an almost immeasurable amount of plagiarism for many years now, including of my years of work theorizing on misogynoir. Since I am an unaffiliated writer—or in other words, I write independently and without mainstream media, academic or corporate support and without the accompanying social status, yet I have an extremely visible presence in social media spaces—I face the phenomenon of people plagiarizing my work in very public and grotesque ways. People who do this know that since I am without institutional support and resources, they will face no repercussions. While social status cannot prevent plagiarism, it often determines if the person plagiarized will have any emotional support and resources for recourse. I have very little of the former and none of the latter, when it comes to dealing with plagiarism.

I experience two types of plagiarism, which in my writing I refer to as opportunistic plagiarism and punitive plagiarism. Opportunistic plagiarists use my writing and tweets without citation to meet journalistic and academic deadlines, whether for pay, social status (as misogynoir guarantees anyone socially/economically “above” an unaffiliated Black woman will be praised for the things Black women theorize and write), or both. Punitive plagiarists can be opportunistic as well, but they are also interested in punishing me for my work. Punitive plagiarists do not only want the opportunities they can gain through exploiting me, but they are also interested in erasing my labor altogether. Often times, this looks like someone mentioning that Moya coined “misogynoir,” but then they plagiarize my actual theorization work. While the opportunistic plagiarist does not consider me important enough to cite, the punitive plagiarist is concerned with both opportunism and erasure, in a personal way. At times, these are people who know me online and will even go as far to say that I “inspire” them, but ultimately are harmful because there is social capital in knowing what Black women do, without being a Black woman.

Many spaces and publications, both indie and mainstream, either reduce my years of work to a single essay of mine or erase my work altogether (2014). When I wrote that particular essay in 2014, I did not do so as a journalist who learned a new word but as someone who had been theorizing and developing a framework for how misogynoir is even defined and understood, especially so outside of the academe. In other words, primarily Moya and I are why journalists, activists and others can even write on misogynoir at all. Because of the social status ascribed to mainstream media, their words are held over mine. This hierarchy that facilitates the conditions for plagiarism and erasure that I experience around my theorizing on misogynoir ironically reflects how misogynoir functions in social and institutional settings.

[7] Roberts ‘Racism and Patriarchy in the Meaning of Motherhood’: 3.

[8] See, for example, Hazel V. Carby, “‘On the Threshold of Woman’s Era’: Lynching, Empire and Sexuality in Black Feminist Theory”. In Feminist Postcolonial Theory: A Reader, edited by Reina Lewis y Sara Mills, 222–37. Taylor & Francis, 2003.

[9] Sara Ahmed. Living a Feminist Life. Durham: Duke University Press, 2017 [Kindle edition]: position 365.

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La batalla de los universalismos o cómo definir a la mujer

Ayer leí un debate en Twitter acerca de los desacuerdos entre las feministas radicales y las feministas de identidades en cuanto a la definición de la mujer. El debate hablaba de TERFs y preguntaba si era posible o deseable hablar con este grupo de feministas. El ensayo que sigue es mi respuesta a este debate. Iba a tuitearlo, pero es muy largo y mejor se les ofrezco como una entrada de blog.

¿Cuál es la definición de TERF que están ocupando? Hay varias. El acrónimo quiere decir “trans exclusionary radical feminists”. Fue acuñado por los oponentes del feminismo radical para cuestionar su planteamiento que el género no es una identidad sino un sistema de opresión.

Las radfems afirman que las mujeres son una clase (en sentido marxista) que son oprimidas por los hombres como clase (el patriacardo). Entienden el género (y las identidades de género) como el sistema por el que funciona la opresión. Por tanto, son hóstiles a la idea de que “todos tenemos una identidad de género” y aún más a la idea de que ellas son “mujeres cis”. Interpretan estas ideas como la exigencia que las mujeres que no son trans deben sentirse identificadas con ser subordinadas en la sociedad.

Asimismo, definen a la mujer y al hombre de acuerdo al lugar que la persona ocupa en la reproducción sexual y rechazan la idea de que el género se define a partir de cómo uno se siente. De ahí viene la afirmación de que las mujeres trans no son mujeres.

Sus oponentes usan el acrónimo TERF para subrayar el significado de estos planteamientos para las personas trans. Desde su punto de vista, el análisis de las radfem equivale a decir que las personas transgénero no existen. Desde este punto de vista, asimismo, a las radfems les acusan de violencia -entendida como violencia epistemológica- al no reconocer la identidad de las personas trans.

No obstante, el discurso de la identidad de género en el feminismo obliga a todos a tener identidad. No respeta a las mujeres que rechaza a ser llamadas “cis”, e incita a la exclusión de las radfem del feminismo. No reconoce que puede haber otra interpretación feminista además de la que abraza el discurso de género.

Por otra parte, se usa el acronimo TERF para referir a las lesbianas que no quieren incluir a las mujeres trans en su lesbianismo. Hay lesbianas radfems pero la mayor no lo son. Hay lesbianas que objetan a la redefinición del lesbianismo por el discurso trans como una relación entre dos personas que identifican como mujeres. Rechazan esta interpretación asimismo porque lleva a una definición de la sexualidad lesbiana que sólo incluye mujeres biológicas como problemática y transfóbica. Insisten que los planteamientos trans acerca de la sexualidad niegan la autonomía sexual de las lesbianas. Interpretan las acusaciones de transfobia como un intento de obligarlas a aceptar la posibilidad de tener una relación sexual con una persona con pene. La comparan con la cultura de violación y la violación correctiva.

Como en el caso de las radfems, se nota que el discurso trans no es tolerante con las lesbianas cuyas preferencias sexuales no conforman con las ideas sobre la sexualidad derivadas de la idea de la identidad de género. La palabra TERF sirve para deslegitimar el análisis y la sexualidad de las mujeres que rechazan la transcendencia de la identidad de género. Sirve para plantear el argumento desde la identidad de género y para silenciar a sus voces mediante la acusión de “transfobia”.

En fin, el desacuerdo de las radfems y el feminismo de identidades es acerca de la definición de la palabra “mujer”. Es, además, un desacuerdo entre dos puntos de vista universalistas: es decir, ambas partes insisten que su definición es la única válida. De esta forma, ambos puntos de vista hacen vista gorda (o bien manipulan) los planteamientos del feminismo poscolonial y negro.

Uno de los grandes argumentos del feminismo poscolonial es que no se puede hablar de un “nosotras” cuando hablamos de mujeres. Es decir, las mujeres (y no importa la definición que adoptamos de la palabra) no somos una entidad homogénea; todas las experiencias que tenemos son mediadas por nuestras diferencias sociales, culturales y económicas entre muchas otras cosas.

El reto del feminismo -desde esta perspectiva poscolonial – no es establecer una definición de “mujer” como *la única* de la que no se permite disenso. Es buscar encontrar los puentes entre nosotras para poder colaborar juntas en pos de un fin que convenga a todas. Alcanzar este reto significa aceptar que hay diferencias importantes entre todas las mujeres y qué las relaciones de poder entre nosotras no siempre se definen por un solo eje. Factores como el color, la sexualidad, la religión, la clase, la identidad etc., siempre impactan de manera variada dependiendo en qué contexto las mujeres se encuentran. Sí, es la famosa (y bastante malentendida) idea de la interseccionalidad (y regalo del feminismo negro).

Abrazar los feminismos que partan de la idea de la diferencia, en lugar de los que parten de universalismos, no resuelve la disyuntiva en la que la confrontación entre el feminismo radical y el feminismo de identidades nos han metido. Sin embargo, enseña que la manera de buscar la resolución es a través del diálogo y el respeto por las diferencias. Para lograr un diálogo creo que estamos obligadas a rechazar el universalismo y la lucha por definir *de una vez por todas* qué es una mujer.

Insistir en el universalismo, insistir en silenciar las voces que no comparten tu universalismo, es promover una confrontación sin fin donde no habrá ganadores sino sólo víctimas. Es una confrontación que ganará el lado más vocal y el más violente. En otras palabras, es seguir la lógica del hombre blanco occidental del patriacado. Para que el feminismo logre su meta final -el fin del patriacado-, debe abandonar “las herramientas del amo” (Audre Lorde); pues con ellas no se construye sino sólo se destruye.

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A Brief Guide to the Mexican Elections for the Perplexed and Curious


A “twitter essay” explaining the Mexican elections by me, Mexican historian and citizen, to counterbalance some of the “fake news” currently circulating in the English-speaking press. You can consult the Twitter version here. This version has been amended for clarity, mainly to correct errors in spelling and grammar.

For the recent history of Mexico (last 30 years or so), the election results of 2018 are astounding. Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) won 53% of the popular vote. He led his nearest rival by over 30%.

For comparison:  in 1996 Zedillo won with 48.7% (and had a 23% lead); in 2000, Fox won with 42.5% (with a 6.4% lead); in 2006, Calderón won with 35.9 (and a 0. 62% lead over AMLO); Peña won with 38.2% (and a 7.43% lead over AMLO).

AMLO is the first left-wing party-candidate to be elected as President since the end of the Revolution. After 10 years or so of competitive (and violent) elections in the 1920s, the revolutionaries established the Party of the Mexican Revolution (later the PRI, the Party of the Institutionalized Revolution). It governed until 2000.

So yes, it is a historic victory. But: context.  In the last 30 years, the autonomous electoral commission (Instituto Federal Electoral or IFE founded in 1990) has overseen every presidential election. Since 2014 it goes by the name of Instituto Nacional Electoral or INE.

Before 1990, elections were supervised by the federal government, namely the Federal Governing Secretary/Interior Ministry (Secretario de Gobernación). During the hegemony of the PRI (circa 1940-1990) elections were notorious corrupt affairs.

The INE/IFE has a patchy record of curbing electoral tampering. The results in 2006 were widely thought to be fraudulent. But the election results since 2000 – ie. their competitiveness- suggest that it has managed to guarantee a certain level of democracy.

Despite what preconceived ideas you might have about Mexico, their elections are a model of citizen participation and the INE/IFE strives towards transparency.  Both the US and the UK could learn much from how Mexico regulates its elections.

Mexico City and the South have a vibrant left-wing political community. Other parts of Mexico lean more happily to the right and the politics of Catholic and /or pro-business conservatism. AMLO’s failure to win in 2006 and 2012 reflects this.

There have been dirty campaigns against AMLO since he was Chief of Mexico City’s government (2000-2005). The negative propaganda in the conservative media and institutional attacks undertaken by the PAN President, Vicente Fox, also accounts for his defeat in 2006.

AMLO’s current victory is not a whole-hearted embrace of left-wing policies by 53% of the Mexican population. His popularity is also not a by-product of a populist agenda, despite what his critics insist both inside and outside Mexico.

The innumerable deaths in the 2006-present “drug war”; the incompetence and corruption of current president Peña Nieto and various PRI governors; and simply, a much savvier political campaign in 2018, are better explanations for his victory.

AMLO is as far from Trump as you can get. He’s not a businessman, he is famously averse to spending money on himself and he speaks in coherent (if slow) sentences. His political model is one of establishing alliances with grass-roots workers, peasant movements etc.

In this concern with establishing alliances, he is reminiscent of the ex-revolutionary PRI politicians who built up the party in the 1930s and 40s. It also separates him from the politicians of the PRI heyday (50s-70s).

It is also not helpful to compare AMLO to Hugo Chávez. AMLO does not propose to rewrite the constitution or impose socialism. He is not a military man. A better comparison of his political position is with the social democratic parties in post-war Europe.

Can AMLO change Mexico for the better? Those who voted for him, hope so. The margin of his victory and his party’s dominance in the Federal Congress put him in a unique position to implement a great deal of legislation.

However, politics in Mexico -like everywhere else- is not just done in the capital. The PRI, PAN and PRD may be severely wounded, but the first two still control a number of important state governments.

How AMLO deals with Panista and Prista governors will likely decide how successful his policies can be. He is proposing to cut their easy (and mostly unregulated) access to federal money. This will not go down well.

How he deals with the numerous “tactical” alliances he forged during his presidential bid -for example with the Evangelical right-wing Social Encounter Party or PES- will also be crucial to his on-going success.

AMLO inspires great hope in many sectors of the Mexican population. However, he also inspires intransigent hatred from great swathes of the middle-classes and the political elite. This is not going to go away, and will likely provide a backdrop of constant accusations of “dictatorship” and “populism” from assorted newspaper/radio/TV punditry.

His biggest challenge is to seek an economic and political solution to the drug war. His proposed Interior Minister suggested legalising cannabis yesterday. Amnesties for small growers of (amapola) poppies are also on the cards.

In sum: yes, this is a historic victory for AMLO. Does he have a huge mandate for change? Undoubtedly. Will bringing about the changes he wants be a straightforward matter? Very unlikely. Does he want to be the next Trump/Chávez? No.

PS. A late addition to the essay from a Twitter conversation with @curiouser_alice

I think it is a generally hopeful scenario. The other variable is, of course, foreign relations. As Porfirio Díaz said, “Poor Mexico, so far from God, so near the United States.”




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What is feminism to you?

Defining feminism is always tricky. For a start, feminists don’t actually agree on a definition. Secondly, feminism is not a monolithic political or social movement, but a collection of different movements, activisms and political philosophies. Feminism is a catch-all term we use to define people (although some feminists would argue it is a label that can only be applied to women) who believe that women are historically and culturally disadvantaged in present society and want to reform society to change this. A more precise definition must take into account the following:

  1. Different feminist groups define the word “woman” in different and conflicting ways. (ie. “women as a biological sex class” or “woman as a gender identity”?)
  2. Different feminists group understand the causes of women’s historical and cultural differences in radically opposing ways. (ie. the liberal idea that women’s disadvantages are due to a lack of equal rights versus the materialist idea that all women are oppressed by a patriarchal, racial and class system).
  3. As a result, all these groups champion policies and ideas that some other group(s) oppose. (Witness the transgender, prostitution and abortion debates)
  4. Nearly all groups claim the label “feminist” for themselves exclusively and deny the other group’s claim to the name based on these opposing views.

This is why it has become more usual to hear about “feminisms” in the plural, rather than feminism in the singular.

I, of course, have my own feminist views. If you read my blog or Twitter with any regularity, you will have a pretty good idea of where I stand. But, as a teacher, my aim is always to present all the versions of feminism I have come across and present judgment of none. Nevertheless, I will always be clear in my classes which version is of my own particular leaning. In this post, I hope I am adopting this strategy. In the end, it doesn’t matter what “flavour” of feminist I am, or which “wave” I most identify with. It’s about giving a definition of feminism that contributes to a Twitter dialogue I recently read.

Feminism as word only came into existence at the end of the nineteenth century. However, the general idea of women leading disadvantageous lives in society had been around for many centuries indeed and was expressed globally in different contexts. Historians of women and gender have shown this repeatedly.  As a result, some historians, like Karen Offen for example, argue that we should expand any history of feminism to take these examples into account.

This suggests to me that my opening attempt at an explanation of feminism as “a collection of different movements, activisms and political philosophies […] who believe that women are historically and culturally disadvantaged in present society” points to the inescapable centrality of “women” to any definition of the term. Feminists want women not to be disadvantaged in society  (however they define this disadvantage) and their actions are defined by what they perceive women need to escape this position.

It also suggests that any activism who does not centre women cannot be feminism, even if the course of this activism might help women in some way. In the same way, many feminists who consider that a woman’s disadvantages cannot be understood without reference to multiple oppressive systems, may help non women in some way with their activism. This does not mean that the concerns of men are usually at the forefront of their policymaking. The Combahee River Collective said this best:

If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.

Finally, if we attempt to make feminism an “all inclusive” social justice movement, the end effect is to marginalise women and to gloss over the multiple ways women are disadvantaged in different places, cultures and times. The evidence of how women are derided and labeled “treacherous” for their insistence on the need for women-centred politics within political movements, whether Marxist, nationalist or any other, shows us very clearly that any notion of feminism that does not start from an uncompromising focus on women is on the first step to irrelevance.

Selected Bibliography:

Eisenstein, Zillah, and Barbara Smith, eds. ‘The Combahee River Collective Statement’. In Home Girls, A Black Feminist Anthology. Nueva York: Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, Inc., 1978. http://circuitous.org/scraps/combahee.html.
Hewitt, Nancy A., ed. No Permanent Waves: Recasting Histories of U.S. Feminism. New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press, 2010.
Lerner, Gerda. The Creation Of Feminist Consciousness: From the Middle Ages to Eighteen-Seventy. New York: Oxford University Press, U.S.A., 1994.
Offen, Karen. ‘Defining Feminism: A Comparative Historical Approach’. Signs 14, no. 1 (1988): 119–57.
Miller, Francesca. Latin American Women and the Search for Social Justice. UPNE, 1991.
Riley, Denise. ‘Am I That Name?’: Feminism and the Category of ‘Women’ in History. Language, Discourse, Society. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan Press, 1988.
Smith, Bonnie G., ed. Global Feminisms since 1945: A Survey of Issues and Controversies. Rewriting Histories. London ; New York: Routledge, 2000.

Publicado en Feminismo | Etiquetado , ,

Historiografía constitucional: de influencias, modelos y copias

Tradicionalmente la historiografía sobre el constitucionalismo mexicano, se ha empeñado en encontrar una influencia foránea directa de cada texto constitucional. En cambio, es raro encontrar autores interesados en identificar las aportaciones de la tradición constitucional autóctona a los varios documentos constitucionales. De modo que, al estudiar la Constitución Federal de 1824, por ejemplo, la pregunta recurrente es si los constituyentes adoptaron el modelo de la carta estadounidense de 1787 o el código apatzingangaditano de 1812; o bien, al abordar la cuestión de los orígenes del Cuarto Poder, presente en las Siete Leyes de 1836, se debate si dicha institución se deriva de las propuestas de Jeremy Bentham o Benjamin Constant. En años recientes, historiadores como Moisés Guzmán y Alfredo Ávila han demostrado la miopía de este enfoque al señalar las continuidades (y rupturas) en el debate constitucional mexicano después de 1808. No obstante, el hábito de analizar las constituciones mexicanas a partir de su deuda con los modelos extranjeros perdura y sigue obstaculizando el estudio del desarrollo de un pensamiento constitucional nacional.

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Book Review: Will Fowler, Independent Mexico: The Pronunciamiento in the Age of Santa Anna, 1821-1858, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2016.

This book review was published in Estudios de Historia Moderna y Contemporánea de México

Cite: Andrews, Catherine. ‘Will Fowler, Independent Mexico: The Pronunciamiento in the Age of Santa Anna, 1821–1858, Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 2016’. Estudios de Historia Moderna y Contemporánea de México 53, (Jan 2017): 79–82. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ehmcm.2017.01.001.

Will Fowler’s Independent Mexico: The Pronunciamiento in the Age of Santa Anna, 1821-1858, published by Nebraska Press last year,[1] is the fourth book deriving from his research project (2007-2010) The Pronunciamiento in Independent Mexico 1821–1876. Other products of this project are: Forceful Negotiations: The Origins of the Pronunciamiento in Nineteenth-Century Mexico, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2010); Malcontents, Rebels, and Pronunciados: The Politics of Insurrection in Nineteenth-Century Mexico, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2012); and, Celebrating Insurrection: The Commemoration and Representation of the Nineteenth-Century Mexican Pronunciamiento, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2012). These three texts are edited volumes of collected essays in which a large number of historians have participated, including myself, Timothy E. Anna, Linda Arnold, Michael P. Costeloe, Erika Pani and Josefina Zoraida Vázquez, amongst many others. As part of this project, Fowler has also drawn up a searchable database of Mexican pronunciamientos issued between 1821 and 1871 complete with transcriptions of each document. This can be accessed via the University of St. Andrews’s webserver.[2]

fowlerIn other words, Fowler has spent the better part of ten years researching and writing about Mexican pronunciamientos.[3] His efforts have greatly advanced the study of the pronunciamiento as a political phenomenon and provided new perspectives for our understanding of Mexico’s complex nineteenth century. The subject of this review, Independent Mexico: The Pronunciamiento in the Age of Santa Anna, 1821-1858, brings together the divergent strands of the project in order to present a general analysis of the pronunciamiento in relation to the history of Independent Mexico. Here Fowler tries to explain “how and why” pronunciamientos became to be such a widespread political practise in nineteenth-century Mexico, via the study of what he describes as “the pronunciamiento constellations that impacted on national politics between 1821 and 1858”.[4]

According to the categories established by Fowler, pronunciamiento constellations were made up of a series of declarations which respond to an original or “start-up pronunciamiento.” They included the following types: “actas de adhesion” (which repeated the original’s stated objectives could often include additional clauses relating to local demands); counter-pronunciamientos or “pronunciamientos de rechazo” (which rejected the start-up’s petitions and offered a vote of confidence to the government being challenged); and “despronunciamientos”, or the public retraction of a previous pronunciamiento.[5]

Fowler demonstrates that the pronunciamiento took root in Mexico in the wake of Rafael Riego’s pronunciamiento against Fernando VII (1820) and Agustín de Iturbide’s Plan of Iguala (1821). The success of both these events provided an attractive model for the emerging political and military class to copy, giving rise to what he terms “mimetic insurrectionism” in the following decades. Emperor Agustín was crowned and later overthrown via a pronunciamiento, as were numerous presidents. Supporters of radical federalism in the states used pronunciamientos to pressure the second Constituent Congress to enact a Federal Constitution in 1824, while centralists organised the downfall of this very constitution in 1835 through much the same means. Initially a tool of the political classes, mimetic insurrectionism spread in the 1830s and 1840s to the subaltern population where it became “their preferred means of addressing local concerns and grievances”.[6] It is Fowler’s premise that pronunciamientos were, therefore, an indispensable part of political life in Independent Mexico. Indeed, he argues that they became “the way of doing politics” between 1821 and 1858.[7] Pronunciamientos were “accepted, used, and endorsed by everyone”,[8] offering “the most effective way of bringing about political change”.

Fowler also links the phenomenon of the pronunciamiento to the context of contested legitimacy in Mexican politics between 1821 and 1858. He argues that only “by understanding the transitory context of Mexico’s early national period and appreciating the extent to which no given set of laws or institutions enjoyed sufficient time to maintain their engendered or recently invented legitimacies, it is possible to see how the pronunciamiento, as a practice, became as much a curious constitutional stop-gap measure as a source of instability”.[10] Pronunciamientos tended to defend a constitution (but not always the constitution in force, it has to be said), or protested what the pronunciados considered to be unconstitutional or illegitimate actions by governors and other political actors. They enacted regime change more effectively than elections; but in general, their leaders sought ratify their victories via a congressional decree. Fowler defines the pronunciamiento as inhabiting the no-man’s-land between constitutional order and outright rebellion: it was a “relatively peaceful insurrectionary practice -part lobbying, part intimidating, with its acts of disobedience, circulating of petitioning plans and reliance on waves of aggressive copycat statements of support purporting to represent the voice of the national or popular will”.[11]

What brought about the end of the pronunciamiento as a political practice in Mexico, according to Fowler, was the polarisation of political life after the US invasion in 1847. At least at a national level, in the 1840s and 1850s pronunciamientos became less a means by which political actors engaged in “forceful negotiation”, and transformed into naked power grabs akin to coup d’états. In this context, unsuccessful pronunciados could and would be shot, rather than be exiled. At a local level, the use of pronunciamientos by subaltern groups and indigenous rebels, also made the pronunciamiento synonymous with rebellion. As a result, after the War of the Reform, the pronunciamiento had been clearly defined as an unconstitutional, illegitimate form of action, thus leaving Mexicans to choose between engaging “in the political life of the republic by constitutional means or through outright rebellion” since.[12]

Independent Mexico: The Pronunciamiento in the Age of Santa Anna, 1821-1858, then, offers perhaps the most complete interpretation of the pronunciamiento in Mexican politics to date. Through Fowler’s analysis of the different types of pronunciamiento and their multiples uses, it is possible to appreciate that this practice was not a static phenomenon, but evolved between 1820 and 1850 in a number of distinct ways. It is also possible to see that the pronunciamiento was not always used as a banner of revolt, but can better be understood as a means of pressuring authorities to act on certain matters. In that sense, the spread of the pronunciamiento in the 1830s is evidence of Mexican public participation in the political process. Thus, in many ways, non-violent pronunciamientos can be usefully compared to the British and US fashion for petitions which flourished from the eighteenth century onwards.

Even so, I think two of Fowler’s hypothesis need to be questioned. The idea that pronunciamientos were “the [ie. the only or best] way of doing politics” between 1821 and 1858 strikes me as difficult to sustain.[13] There were many ways of “doing politics” in Mexico’s early national period, most of them considerably less risky than launching a pronunciamiento. As the research project into electoral practices coordinated by Fausta Gantús and Alicia Salmerón shows,[14] the electoral process provided ample opportunity for similar rounds of negotiations and public participation. Their books show that elections were not the sham that historiography has assumed thus far. Indirect elections created small electoral assemblies or juntas, first at a district level and later at state level, in which elected voters decided upon choices for elected positions. José María Luis Mora describes how this process was subject to outside pressures and tensions quite well in an essay published in El Observador de la República Mexicana in 1830.[15] In fact, Fowler’s 2010 essay on the relation between the pronunciamiento and elections recognises the utility of the electoral system in Mexico. In this text, he offers a much more nuanced argument than the one he presents in the book, maintaining that “el pronunciamiento mexicano del siglo XIX fue, en cierto sentido, una extensión del sistema electoral de la época”.[16]

Secondly, I think the demise of the pronunciamiento cannot be explained purely with reference to the transformation of this practice from one of “forceful negotiation” to one of simple rebellion. The polarisation of politics which occurred after 1847 did not just impact the way pronunciamientos were organised and carried out. They also marked a clear rupture in the politics of contested legitimacy that, as Fowler so astutely notes, gave rise to the pronunciamiento in the first place. Before 1847, politicians contested the legitimacy or constitutionality of state actors but all parties were convinced of the legitimacy of the idea of liberal constitutionalism as the only way to build a stable nation. After 1847, conservative politicians began to actively challenge the idea of the legitimacy of the liberal constitutional project itself. This changed the dynamics of public debate, as Elías Palti has shown.[17]

The civil wars of the Reform period marked a second rupture: with the Liberals’ decisive win, the execution of Maximillian, Tomás Mejía and Miguel Miramón, there was no longer a contested legitimacy at all. After 1867, the Constitution of 1857 was the only arbiter of legitimacy permitted in the Republic. Moreover, it established the boundaries between the legitimate use of the right of petition and “forceful negotiation” in such a way as to definitively close the constitutional uncertainty in which the pronunciamiento culture had developed:

Art 8. Es inviolable el derecho de petición ejercido por escrito, de una manera pacífica y respetuosa; pero en materias políticas sólo pueden ejercerlo los ciudadanos de la República. A toda petición debe recaer un acuerdo escrito de la autoridad quien se haya dirigido, y ésta tiene obligación de hacer conocer el resultado al peticionario.

Art 9. A nadie se le puede coartar el derecho de asociarse o de reunirse pacíficamente con cualquier objeto lícito; pero solamente los ciudadanos de la República pueden hacerlo para tomar parte en los asuntos políticos del país. Ninguna reunión armada tiene derecho de deliberar.[18]

One of the reasons that pronunciamientos occupied a no-man’s land between illegitimacy and legitimacy in the early national period was because the constitutions of 1824, 1836 and 1843 had been silent on the question of the “right of petition”, widely believed to be a citizen’s natural rights. During the first government of Anastasio Bustamante (1830-32) attempted to legislate on this question with no success, for example.[19] New constitutional clarity was the reason why the plans issued after 1867 could only ever be rebel manifestos: now they explicitly contravened the constitution. As Fowler says, the plans issued by Díaz in 1874, Madero in 1910 and Zapata in 1911 may have adopted the language of the pronunciamiento, but their express aim was to overthrow the regime in power rather than list grievances.

Both these quibbles strengthen rather than weaken the arguments Fowler upholds. His explanation for the rise and fall of the pronunciamiento offers a new window through which to study this period of Mexican history. Thus, Independent Mexico: The Pronunciamiento in the Age of Santa Anna, 1821-1858, will be indispensable to those historians looking to understand Mexico’s political culture. It deserves a wide audience in Mexico than the current US version will allow, and I hope that a translation into Spanish will be forthcoming very soon.

[1] Will Fowler, Independent Mexico: The Pronunciamiento in the Age of Santa Anna, 1821-1858, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2016.

[2] “The Pronunciamiento in Independent Mexico” <http://arts.st-andrews.ac.uk/pronunciamientos/&gt; [accessed 17 January 2017].

[3] Also see: Will Fowler, “Entre la legalidad y la legitimidad: Elecciones, pronunciamientos y la voluntad general de la nación”, in José Antonio Aguilar Rivera (ed.), Las elecciones y el gobierno representativo en México (1810-1910), Mexico, Fondo de Cultura Económica/Conculta/Conacyt/IFE, 2010), pp. 95–120; and, Will Fowler, “El pronunciamiento mexicano del siglo XIX. Hacia una nueva tipología”, Estudios de Historia Moderna y Contemporánea de México, vol. 38, 2010, 5–34.

[4] Fowler, Independent Mexico… op. cit. pp. 34-35.

[5] Ibid., pp. 11-14.

[6] Ibid., p. 181.

[7] Ibid., p. 29.

[8] Ibid., p. 153.

[9] Ibid., p. 181.

[10] Ibid., p. 86.

[11] Ibid., p. 181.

[12] Ibid., p. 245.

[13] Ibid., p. 29.

[14] Fausta Gantús and Alicia Salmerón (coords.), Prensa y elecciones: Formas de hacer política en el México del siglo XIX, México, Instituto Mora/CONACYT/IFE, 2014); Fausta Gantús (coord..), Elecciones en el México del siglo XIX: Las fuentes, México, Instituto Mora/CONACYT, 2015; Fausta Gantús, Elecciones en el México del siglo XIX: las prácticas, México, Instituto Mora/CONACYT/TEDF, 2016.

[15] “Discurso sobre las elecciones directas”, El Observador de la República Mexicana, segunda época, miércoles 4 de agosto de 1830, vol. III, no. 1, pp. 3-17. Also see, Catherine Andrews, “Las ideas de José María Luis Mora para la reforma de la Constitución Federal de 1824. Un análisis de los ensayos publicados en El Observador de la República Mexicana (1830)”, en Rafael Estrada Michel y Mario Armando Téllez González (coords.), José María Luis Mora. Un hombre de su tiempo, México, INACIPE/UAM-Cuajimalpa, 2014, pp. 1-35.

[16] Fowler, “Entre la legalidad y la legitimidad…” op. cit., p. 100.

[17] La política del disenso: La ‘polémica en torno al monarquismo’ (México, 1848-1850) … Y las aporías del liberalismo, comp. and intro. by Elías José Palti, México, Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1998.

[18] Constitución de la República Mexicana de 1857, https://archivos.juridicas.unam.mx/www/legislacion-federal/historicos/1857.pdf [accessed January 18 2017]. My emphasis.

[19] Catherine Andrews, “Las sociedades secretas; el sistema de elecciones; el abuso del derecho de petición y la licencia de la imprenta. La administración de Anastasio Bustamante y su actitud hacia los partidos y la oposición política (1830-1832)”, en Alfredo Ávila y Alicia Salmerón (coords.), Partidos, facciones y otras calamidades. Debates y propuestas acerca de los partidos políticos en México, siglo XIX, México, Fondo de Cultura Económica/Conaculta/UNAM, 2012, pp. 51-75.

Publicado en Historia constitucional, Historia política, Reseñas | Etiquetado , ,

Marxismo y feminismo: Una perspectiva histórica

Siempre me ha fascinado la historia de Olive Schreiner, autora de uno de los textos clásicos feministas del siglo XX (Woman and labour, 1911). Schreiner nació en 1855 en una misión metodista de Cabo del Este (actualmente, República de Sudáfrica). Fue la

novena de doce hermanos. Su padre, Gottlob Schreiner, era un clérigo alemán; y su madre, Rebecca Lyndall, hija de un ministro protestante inglés. En la década de 1880 Olive vivió en Escocia y luego en Londres, donde se hizo amiga de la hija menor de Karl Marx, Eleanor, y de otras mujeres socialistas en el club londinense Nueva Mujer. En ese periodo empezó a investigar sobre lo que llamaría más tarde “el problema del trabajo femenil”; es decir, la cuestión de la idoneidad de las mujeres para trabajar fuera de la casa, muy debatida entre la intelectualidad europea del momento. Concluyó dicha tarea en 1899 cuando, tras el matrimonio y la muerte de su única hija, se encontró de nuevo en Sudáfrica. Obligada a refugiarse en su casa de manera repentina durante la guerra de los bóeres, tuvo que abandonar el manuscrito terminado. Ocho meses más tarde, cuando un amigo fue por el texto, descubrió que la casa de Schreiner había sido saqueada y quemada, y con ella, su libro. Profundamente decepcionada por la pérdida de veinte años de trabajo, Schreiner decidió reescribirlo. Pero la guerra, y luego su mala salud, le impidieron reconstruir el texto en su totalidad. Al final, optó por reelaborar solo los últimos capítulos, que fueron publicados en 1911 ………… Haga click aquí para seguir leyendo  (Letras Libres, núm. 232, abril de 2018, pp. 21-24).


Publicado en Feminismo, Historia política | Etiquetado , , , , ,