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Monday, October 18, 2010

Chiapas: Considerations from our Feminist Point of View (1994)

Find this and other informative writings from Zapatista Women at
Chiapas: Considerations from our Feminist Point of View
Based on reflections of the CICAM Collective

by Ximena Bedregal

(Translated by Joan M. West)


How can one reflect upon the events of Chiapas from a feminist viewpoint,
from a dream and a stance that are not limited to seeking equity for women
within a macroculture built upon aggression, competition, struggle, control,
domination, and negation of the (female) other? From a viewpoint that
endeavors to change the framework of the conversations that produce our
society, our image, and the relationship between ourselves (men and women)
and between our(male/female)selves and nature? From a feminism that strives
to imagine other logics and other ethics for living?

Although we feminists --because we were not conceived out of a test-tube-- may
frequently be aggressive, we believe that feminism is fundamentally pacifist
and anti-war. No form of aggression brings about liberty or peace. War in
all its forms and expressions has been the mainstay of power, of (dis)order
and of the patriarchal system's domination. Perhaps because of this war has
always been a "man's thing." Although some egalitarian feminists fight to be
permitted entry into masculine lines of reasoning and spaces, such as the
armed forces: "macho discipline and space" (no effeminates, weaklings,
cowards allowed, nor anyone who doesn't know how to obey, nor those who
might have their own ideas). Has anyone noticed that weapons always bring to
mind an erect, ejaculating phallus..."the weapons that God gave them," as
subcomandante Marcos says?

Feminism is anti-war and pacifist; but it is nonetheless substantially
rebellious. In and of itself feminism is a great act of rebellion. The most
rebellious of all the rebellions. The one that rises against every
justification for negating the Other, the Others, the female Other, female
Others searching for different ethical dimensions to the co-existence
between nature (woman?) and culture (man/society?). Feminism is a civilizing
rebellion, born of women but affecting everyone.

The war in Chiapas also has a rebellious and particular element, one which
perhaps does not exist in official wars: using the power of speech against
those who deny it. In this respect Indians are like women: they are an Other
that has been rendered invisible, silenced, punished and oppressed. In many
analyses of the Indian's situation, it is possible to substitute the word
"woman" for "Indian;" and vice-versa in studies of women, without anyone
noticing. Almost no one takes an interest in either subject. They are not
news for the press; and they are invisible to the authorities, who deem it
better that they be represented by an other (this "other" can be a male or a
female other). To the majority, they are (Marcos reminded many of this fact)
like legal minors who are not understood and who do not really know what
they want. Their culture, their identity is "other," one that has been
(de)valued by "development," the "progress of reason" and "science;" it is
closer to "primitive," "savage," "reproductive," "nature" than to "culture
and reason."

The Indians of Chiapas rebelled against invisibility, against silence,
against devaluation, daily scorn and a living death. They rebelled against
the failure to recognize diversity. But they rebelled with arms, violence
and war --with the same instruments that originate in and sustain the very
situation that they are combatting. War is the bloody struggle for power
through one's own death as well as that of others. Power which, when forged
in this manner, can become established as the equivalent of the very power
that subjugates them. (Such has been the case of the Central and South
American guerrilla groups where, furthermore, this balance has not come
about by arms.) Or, there is the case of the supremacy of a few over others,
when the winner, independently of the "good intentions" (short or long
range) of his motivation, again imposes his will on the rest, reinitiating
the system's vicious circle.

Patriarchal liberalism has criticized the "way chosen by the EZLN"
(Zapatista National Liberation Army), saying that "violence can never be the
way." But this is a hypocritical criticism because its logic and its ethic
are those of violence itself. The patriarchal system has not only created
the most miserable forms of poverty, subjugation, oppression and symbolism
of destruction and death; but has also made "development" into a means of
destroying humankind. Its technology is not made for enjoyment and life but
rather for control and obedience in the face of threats of death and
destruction. The patriarchy criticizes violence only when it comes from the
other and threatens the dominance of the few; however, patriarchy conceals
violence in order to impose its own reasons and particular forms of
dominance. It is not even conscious of the substratum of violence that gives
it vitality as a system. Within its reasoning, to respond with its own ethic
is very "logical:" the logic of violence and war. The uprising in Chiapas
only played its own game: if the power of destruction valorizes reason,
there is no reason without such comparable power: "peace is only possible
when the power of death (the arms balance) is equalized among the factions;
the end justifies the means."

The feminist is the profound and radical critic of the bases of these
ravings --ravings which are accompanied by promises and speeches about
identities regained, wrongs righted, and ultimate deliverance; ravings which
offer us (first from the powerful, then from the dispossessed in a constant
interrelationship) constant despair and an eternal postponement of
happiness, a world in which what is always left aside (in the name of a
supposed superior good) are liberty and life itself.

Unlike the rebellions within the patriarchal system, feminist rebellion
searches for another ethical dimension of living together: The ethic of
liberty, life, desire, diversity, peace, and respect. The ethic of a joyful
partnership of human beings with nature and culture. The ethic that
eradicates the notion that the end justifies the means, because the
dichotomy between foundation and form constitutes one of the vertebrae of
the system of dominance.


Every act expresses more than its strictly verbal discourse; it projects and
devises symbols, implicit and explicit codes of what is conceived of as
possible and desirable. A cultural (or countercultural) discourse is planted
within a system of conversations as it installs values by interweaving
emotions, desires and actions.

From our perspective, the discourse that--in its most general and universal
aspects--conveys the vision of the EZLN is strongly patriarchal in two

First, because it strengthens the idea that violence can only be opposed
with violence and that this notion is valid if it comes from those who are
neglected, dispossessed, oppressed. This is an argument against which
feminism has already said enough, as have we in the preceding paragraphs.

Second, because it sought--in a premeditated manner and within the very
ethic that says to fight (national and international economic and political
power)--permission to kill and die. Making a formal declaration of war;
retaining control over a territory in which daily life must continue;
obtaining, distributing and showing off its military uniforms; publicizing
its structure under more or less traditional military controls and
hierarchies--all these tactics had as their reason a show of respect for the
set of rules that "modern" patriarchy has elaborated in order to diminish
the horrible consequences of its bellicose obsession (the so-called Geneva
Convention). This respect could win the EZLN recognition as a martial force.
Doubtless, when viewed from the system's criteria, this has been
characterized as a "very intelligent tactic." However, for us women, such
tactics not only disqualify any legitimate demand (justice, democracy, etc.)
from the sphere of what the EZLN offers as new and invigorating, but also
imparts a new value to the system of death and extermination when they
recognize the "necessity and validity" (sic) of regulating the folly of war
and of incorporating oneself with it.

In its most specific aspects, the discourse of the EZLN seems more complex
to us; for this reason it has aroused extensive sympathy. Nonetheless, one
must analyze this discourse with utmost feminist caution.

The first obvious feature was that its neoliberal economic model is
unsustainable and that this aspect was not what was being pitched at an
official level. It is a model which --in spite of its "marvelous" economic
macrofigures-- has at least 40 million Mexicans too many and a model which is
possible only for a few, in spite of its offers of "democracy". The
neo-zapatista uprising offers not only an opportunity to express and
repeatedly reiterate certain issues (which are not new), but also offers a
new character. (New not because of its discursive reiteration, but rather
because it reinstates a fundamental element which had risked becoming lost
in the amnestic and fantastic claim that this model and the spaces of its
political actions are the only ones to create possible directions.) We are
referring here to our right to rebel against what harms us and makes us

This fin de siecle --with its fallen walls and patriarchal utopias-- has
created a great despair, an absence of civilizing perspectives, an absolute
relativism in what can be construed ethically as good or bad. Single-voiced
and fundamentalist moralisms have deepened; uniformity and an egalitarianism
that quashes all real forces of diversity have been reinforced. Profound
processes of incommunicability exist, as does a growing fragmentation of
knowledge and of one's relationship with life and with the world. There is a
feeling that utopias are impossible. On the one hand, because everything
conceived of as desirable thus far has resulted in failure, it seemed that
rebellion had lost its meaning and that the only action possible was
calculating mathematical possibilities and taking short term actions without
considering their relationship to what was desirable, without relating
action to the type of future that is being built, without setting the
imagination loose to soar. On the other hand was the general assumption that
progress, change and construction of new forces can only be achieved through
the methods, forms, and spaces offered by the system; that ultimately it was
not practicable to go beyond the system's rules and that the only
"objective" is to amplify these frames.

We women reiterate that not just any form of rebellion has the ability to
unite us with life, peace and happiness; and that as long as a dichotomy
exists between the end and the means, nothing really new and different under
the sun will be possible. We believe that a large part of the impact, the
sympathy and basically the surprise that the uprising of the EZLN caused is
due to the fact that the door has once again opened to the validity of
rebellion. And even more than this factor, the right to demand the
realization of your difference has been established--the right to not submit
to legalities that oppress you, to express your dignity by other means; the
right to experiment with your own alternatives, the right to doubt what the
system has installed as "good," and what it defines as valid by excluding
all otherness. In other words, the uprising has initiated a hope for
difference and for diversity--ingredients that should nurture the feminists'

Another important aspect (especially I believe, for us feminists) has been
the explicit discourse, the one visible to us in the communiquÇs, and the
consequences and credibility that have resulted from it. In one way this is
related to what has been expressed above, since part of this civilizing
despair resides in the lack of communication between politics and

The discourse of the EZLN has contained two aspects: one which is beginning
to show degrees of disconnectedness with what has been explicitly
manifested; and the second, attestable, and one which means a lot to us

The first is that initially the uprising did not begin with an absolute
truth, with a messianic language in the style of Shining Path. Since they
have explicitly affirmed that they do not wish to take power, their proposal
was not to build a single power, enforceable and for the common good, They
have recognized the plurality of positions and assumed that they speak
strictly from these positions; it is from such a viewpoint that they have
interpreted everything. This is undoubtedly something novel which contains a
more democratic content of plurality than the traditional political
discourse and which contrasts to the guerrillas on the continent.
Nevertheless this element is lost once the negotiations begin.

During negotiations, the traditional formal, selective, masculine political
style once again begins to appear. Two forces, which in and of themselves do
not represent the totality, negotiate between themselves the destiny of
everyone. In this case "everyone" can be more or less, but at a minimum in
the zone there are those who support the EZLN, those who are against and
those who are neither for nor against. And not all of the last two groups
are ranchers or caciques. These all constitute the region's diversity. A
peace that is not representative of this plurality that the EZLN claimed to
recognize and that only involves those (the officials or the insurgents) who
have the power of weapons is, in fact, a wish for non-peace. The destiny of
a region (and the destiny of who knows what other things that involve the
entire country-- because little is known about what was really on the
negotiating table), appertains to the diversity that constitutes it, and not
only to those who hold power thanks to their weapons and who use this power
to temporarily take control of those who traditionally wield it.

Here war and its consequences clearly show what a confrontation is that is
absolutely foreign to diversity and plurality, even though these elements
are a part of the discourse and, indeed, among the most honest intentions of
one of the parties. Whether in the short term or the long one, the vicious
circle that is being fought against can start all over again.

A second aspect of the discourse is more amenable to examination. What comes
to us from formal politics and the traditional politicians is a discourse
that is flat, repetitive, stale, unimaginative, demagogic, absolutely
linear, and one in which no one recognizes oneself. It is fashioned not to
be identified as an integral whole, but rather to be interpreted from the
dichotomous and manichean rationality of traditional, patriarchal (and
masculine) politics. It is a discourse that does not appeal to daily life
and to the ways in which the social construction is related to our
dailiness, to our hopes, dreams and lives; a discourse that implicitly and
symbolically says nothing and that is explicitly only for initiates.

The discourse of the CCRI (Indigenous Revolutionary Clandestine Committee)
and especially that of Marcos' communiqués has succeeded in reaching people,
men and women. Its polysemous character, more literary than scientific,
perhaps a bit rhetorical and theatrical but constantly balanced between
sentiment and reason, has connected most of the time with the everyday, with
the questions, sorrows and hopes of the protesting individual. It is a
discourse that speaks--without fear and against all custom, from the realm
of the inofficial and the personal--and that, nonetheless, informs as well
as communicates and even converses, that utilizes humor and appeals to
irony. In this sense it has touched flesh-and-blood people.

Using another logic and a symbolic order that is not feminism's, the
discourse of the CCRI has taught us a lesson that we must recognize because
such communication has been one of the feminist utopias, one that has been
lost in the erroneous belief that we can only be heard if we speak the
language of the other. Language has never named women; and when we were
first learning to speak to each other, we began to imitate the discourse
that we wanted to change.

In the desperate race against time to be recognized, the feminist movement
has begun, on the one hand, to adopt the same semantic that established us
as other, thus strengthening our very absence, however much we believe that
we are more numerically present than before. We have begun to risk not being
able to communicate with other women. We have gone along changing ourselves
into "specialists in women's topics" with speeches that are less than
creative, with symbolic codes that reinforce the masculine imagination and
posit nothing new, with codes which are closer to the social sciences than
to daily life, and which in form (and sometimes in content) are closer to
the semantic fields of the phallocentric order than they are to creating
another symbolic ordering of life in which we can name ourselves and see
ourselves integrally and in which we can advance hope for the whole of

Now, then, although we feminists recognize the new, creative aspects of the
EZLN and the alternative character of its proposals which have startled,
shaken and educated many men and women, we also know that the patriarchal
system has been capable of creating many initially beautiful utopias
(liberty, equality, fraternity, to each according to his necessities, for
each according to her possibilities, internationalism, etc.) which have all
failed because they left intact the system's internal logic and ethic. From
the moment that the EZLN positioned its alternatives within this very same
logic, (and from the perspective of war, which is the system's most
recalcitrant feature), it is impossible for us to leave our reflections and
criticism for friendly chats among ourselves and to not ask
ourselves--publicly and audibly--a series of questions whose difficult
answers will become known and which will complete the geography of this
movement for us.

Although these questions will be answered in time, they should not be
ignored nor set aside; for one thing because the system possesses a great
capacity for recycling and it operates among snares and booby traps; and for
another, because betrayal to what this movement has awakened would imply a
social paralysis which would be very convenient for those in power. And then
too, three thousand years of the patriarchal system's failures make us
feminists very suspicious, because, even though they do not believe it and
have endeavored to prove the contrary, we do have a certain historical
memory. Additionally, these are questions that we believe have not been
sufficiently reiterated emphasized by those who have interviewed members of
the EZLN or the government, and are questions which are crucial to
understanding and broad deliberation.

First: Should we be so ingenuous as to think that the uprising was a
surprise to the government? In a state as militarized and control-conscious
as Chiapas, is it possible that the armed forces were not informed about the
movements and plans of the EZLN? Is it possible that in an extensive area
such as that of the municipalities in the zone of conflict, seven to ten
thousand people mobilized without the authorities taking notice? If this was
so dangerous for those in power, why did they let it happen?

Second: Where did the money come from? It's certain that the EZLN does not
have a large quantity of arms and that their weapons are neither
sophisticated nor very modern; but what they do have, in addition to several
thousand uniforms, costs a lot of money and obviously did not come from the
hungry, extremely poor pockets of the insurgents.

Third: Certainly negotiations should take place between parties in conflict,
but are there only two parties in this conflict? Are the parties only those
who have arms and can kill and die? Why are the negotiations being carried
out behind closed doors without the people--those who have been tremendously
involved in stopping the killing, in the defense of human rights, in an
enormous solidarity with the insurgents, etc.--not even knowing what is
being negotiated, what is being offered and given in exchange, what is being
invested or in what they are refusing to invest? We understand that the
government is making every effort to make this look like a local, restricted
conflict; but even in a local arena, peace is not going to be established
between only two forces who at least have the right to know what is being

Civilian society was also struggling in many areas, including in that of the
diversity the CCRI claims to respect and value. Why does this struggle not
have any validity when it comes to establishing an agreement and
negotiating? Is civilian society only a rear guard for the war? Are these
elements not ones that would really build a democracy that is a little less
bad? One must admit that this is not only a problem of the EZLN, even if
today it holds the power of speaking in "relative" conditions of equality.
This is also a problem for a civilian society imbued with a political
construct of hierarchies in which someone always represents the rest, and in
which the individual never ends up being capable of representing him or
herself. Are these matters of traditional politics or something else? We
have said that we like ambiguities, but in politics secrets between just two
should not be considered sacred.

Fourth: Is it possible to form a plural, democratizing proposition in the
midst of an absolutely authoritarian culture like that of Chiapas? In this
state, authoritarianism and imposition have not been the patrimony solely of
the _caciques_ and the rich. All conflict in the region has been "solved" by
force, violence, expulsions. (Chiapas has produced more than twenty-five
thousand people expelled from their communities by the Indians themselves.)
Intolerance has been the foundation of relationships; the only law is the
one that says that if you are not with me, get out or die. Within this
framework can a person believe in words only because they are beautiful or
promise something?


Within the collective reflection that provided the basis for this article,
it was difficult for us to evaluate the EZLN's Revolutionary Law for Women.
At least this was true in specific terms, since in general terms this
Revolutionary Law is obviously not feminist because it brings forth only a
few demands for women instead of a conjoint proposal based in an experience
of critical and conscious, criticized and amended femininity.

From our urban, western and enlightened viewpoint, if indigenous women are
generally invisible (and now, with the war as barrier, directly
inaccessible), it is practically impossible to know what the law genuinely
represents. Is it a product of women face to face with patriarchal, violent
customs? Or does it result from leaders being faced by the necessity of
incorporating women into traditionally masculine tasks and/or of producing a
broad image of democracy in times of crisis and at a point when the demands
of feminist discourse have passed into the great majority of social
movements? This verbal and temporal valorizing of women in times of war is
traditional in guerrilla history, as well as in tumultuous non-war
conflicts, and has not implied any real advances in women's conditions.

That women may chose with whom and when they marry and if they wish to marry
may be the most revolutionary of the law's proposals, even if by chance this
law does not remain in force. It is Revolutionary because this proposal is
the one that most strongly affects cultural responsibilities and the
traditions of dominion and property over women's body and pleasure.

Incorporating women into the regular or irregular war apparatus does not
seem any success to us. Having female guerrillas or soldiers not only does
not change the demented ethic of war, but implies incorporating women into
the supporting institutions of domination, force and death. An image of
women dressed in military uniform carrying a weapon seems to us an
infinitely unesthetic picture, to say the least. The most discouraging
proposition possible underlies an image that says women, too, have learned
to kill their fellow humans. An important discussion about this question
took place in 1987, during the Fifth Latin American and Caribbean Feminist
Conference, when the "radical" feminists engaged in a dialogue with the
Central American women guerrillas-- the "Dialogue Between Motherlands and
Fatherlands (Matrias y Patrias)." This discussion will have to be continued.

Many points of analysis remain in our inkwell while the war in Chiapas has
entered into a period of recess, remaining latent as long as the peace
agreements are not signed and carried out. From a feminist viewpoint, it
will be necessary to expand our reflections; for the time being, this issue
of La Correa Feminista presents a series of proposals for approaching a
phenomenon that has introduced into the view of Mexican society variables
that were practically unthinkable before the first of January.

February, 1994

[Joan M. West, Dept. of Foreign Languages & Literatures University of Idaho
Moscow, ID. Translator's notes: The parenthetical material in the text
reflects the original and not any intercalated remark or question on my
part. For clarity I have taken the liberty of supplying subjects (by
repeating the implied original word) in numerous sentences where the
original has a sentence fragment and when the original subject is to be
found several lines previous.]

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