REBELLION & SEDUCTION: THE REVOLUTION ON THEIR TERMS

REBELLION & SEDUCTION: THE REVOLUTION ON THEIR TERMS

Journalist, commentator, foreign affairs expert and full-time feminist, Robert Somynne writes about the amazing women of the Mexican Revolution, their struggle against the patriarchy, their rise amongst the Zapatistas and how their legacy was hushed up. 

A rifle strapped to her back, gunpowder and sweat on her palms, the sweat of the cartridge with bandoliers  strapped across  her  chest.  She  wears  a  flowing  skirt,  an open revelatory blouse and a  carefree expression  on  her  face.

This picture has been painted and mass produced on t-shirts, calendars, cigarette boxes, TV advertisements, movies, folks songs and art in Mexico and beyond. The Soldadera were the women  soldiers who  fought in  the  Mexican  Revolution  of  1911 to 1920. Mexico at this is time, as it still is the world over, was a patriarchal  society which constrained  women  and  limited  their  liberties in almost all aspects.

Women’s duties were, according to the mantra of the day, first owed to their families with the awesome power of the Catholic Church stifling any chance of equality with  men. The women who joined the revolution as soldaderas left behind these responsibilities as obligatory chains and by feat of arms made the case for equality with men. In the process images of rugged rifled revolution and sensuality overturned notions of what was decent and suitable.

Motivations to join the armed struggle were also motivated by class and ethnic diversity. Most soldaderas came from the so-called lower rungs of society.  Some were  the  indigenous or  mestiza, women of  mixed  indigenous  and  Spanish  ancestry, daughters  of  peasant farmers  or  merchants.

These women fought on the battlefield during the Mexican Revolution with revolutionary rebel or federal forces. The word soldadera comes from “soldada”, or in English – soldier’s pay. This was originally because of male troops giving their wages to women to pay for food, clothes cleaning, and other services. But as the conflict raged many of these women would act beyond the domestic by seizing guns and horses when male forces made advances.

In fact, during the Revolution, soldaderas were considered so vital that leaders among the Zapatistas included coronelas (female colonels), an advance which made it inconceivable to send the women home as some wanted. Secretary of War, Ángel García Peña attempted to strip the women of their arms many male federal leaders warned that insubordination would break out among the troops.

After the revolution, worried that women’s liberation would disturb and fundamentally alter the agricultural and class system, the fighting role of the soldaderas was reduced and warped. The brave, strong woman with a cartridge belt cocooning her shell was transformed into the promiscuous harlot. According to the generals of the time, neither women or whore were suitable for fighting in an established nation. This new image was the “La  Adelita”, an image which forced women either to be pure and submissive or “sexually flagrant” and military ineffective.

Under no circumstances were women allowed to be sexual in charge of their bodies, arms and the project of liberation and nation building. Women’s bodies were too revolutionary for revolutionary Mexico.

Then came betrayal, with the new government stating that soldaderas had only fulfilled domestic roles during battle; tasks that they would have performed in their own homes had they not been following the troops. This ignored the many battles of hard fighting that women had taken part in, scouting missions and missions of espionage.

Whether because of cost cutting or good old fashioned misogyny, (the two not being mutually exclusive), the new Mexican government had betrayed its most effective aid. This would have a great impact of women’s economic progress and societal development in the nation.

But the general population were also at fault. They quickly lost their respect for female members of the military and logistical camp supporters. During the fighting, soldaderas were controversial. Before Mexico redesigned its military after the Revolution, it was obvious that soldaderas did not always include wives and family members. They were effective fighters too.

Yet by reducing the factual importance of the soldaderas and eliminating the idea that many of them had fought, the government could reduce the already insignificant amount of aid awarded to female veterans and re-establish male Catholic dominance.The government would go on to offer only a small amount of money and only to female relatives of male soldiers who had died in battle. Its refusal to offer pensions to female veterans, meant the role women played in combat was ignored.

The soldaderas’ image although twisted, remained a delicious embarrassment to Mexico for over a century. Socialists, liberals, anarchists and feminists would deploy the sexual power and martial prestige of the Soldaderas to great political and cultural effect.

In 2011, Puerto Rican artist Yasmin Hernandez finished her much acclaimed mural in East Harlem called “Soldaderas.” The mural, part of a planned grassroots regeneration of the New York neighbourhood, was inspired by Frida Khalo’s “Las dos Fridas” a painting that shows Kahlo holding hands with Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos.

Hernandez, a woman who is an example of latina excellence in art and life, said the mural is “a statement on the vitality of the changing neighborhood” and of “sisterly solidarity and passionately dedication to liberty”.

What have the soldaderas to teach us? To be shameless in your existence and to strive to overturn every limitation we encounter either cultural or political. But above all to be vigilant that women’s rights and efforts are not erased or sacrificed after a revolutionary fight.

Images by Agustín Víctor Casasola & Miguel Casasola, source.


THE WOMEN WENT TO WAR TOO

THE WOMEN WENT TO WAR TOO

Documentary film-maker, veteran activist  and full-time DAMN REBEL BITCH, Leslie Hills, is determined to memorialise female history and one heroine in particular.

Here is the story of a woman I have been bringing from the shadows for the last couple of years.

On the wall of St Paul’s Church, Rothesay, Isle of Bute, is a plaque on which is written, To the glory of God and in grateful remembrance of the men of St Paul’s who fell in the Great War. One of the men listed is Margaret Davidson.

The friendly person on duty in the church when  I first saw the plaque, had been a member for many years but was not aware of Margaret’s name among the fallen. St Paul’s website notes that the plaque lists names ‘including one Margaret Davidson’ but comments no further. An appeal for information, through the website of the Scottish Episcopal Church Diocese of Argyll and the Isles, to the present rector, Andrew Swift, received no reply. I contacted the local Council who were extremely helpful and told me that people of St Paul’s were buried mostly in the graveyard on the High Street but could offer nothing more.

I searched for Margaret Davidson’s death on all the usual sites – casualty lists, Red Cross Nurses, Voluntary Aid Detachment or VADs (who were female medical staff), the Commonwealth War Graves Commission – to no avail. The search was complicated by the fact that there are three other Margaret Davidsons, two of them well known, active in the field in Serbia and France. But all of these women survived the war.

At the Scottish National War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle, I found the record of Margaret Davidson, a casualty of WW1. Most of the details are missing – except that she was in the Women’s Services, her unit name given as Scottish Branch of the British Red Cross Society, Scottish VAD Casualties. And the final identifier: on the line which is headed Other Detail, is the word “Bute”.

She is also memorialised in York Minster on a beautiful memorial to the women of the Empire who fell in the Great War.

Margaret Wood Davidson was born in Cleobury Mortimer, Shropshire, in 1896 to John Joseph Davidson, a gardener and his wife, Barbara Janet, Wood who married on 3rd January 1895 at Stitchell.

In 1901 Margaret, aged five, was living with them at Shakenhurst Hall, a grade II listed building with 13 bedrooms and an estate with 12 houses and cottages. John Davidson was a gardener and lived in the lodge. Margaret had a brother, John James, who was three.

By 1911 the family was living in Ardencraig Cottage, Bute. Ardencraig House and its lovely gardens stand, still, high on a hill overlooking Rothesay Bay. Margaret was fifteen, John James was eleven, a further son, George, was nine and a daughter, Agnes Barbara, born 29th October 1909, was one.

John and Barbara Davidson lost both a son and a daughter to the Great War 1914 – 1918.

On the plaque in St Paul’s church, Margaret is commemorated alongside her brother, John James Davidson. His war record, sadly, was easier to find.

John James, John and Barbara’s elder son, four years younger than Margaret, was a private in the 96th Battalion of the Canadian Infantry and died, in training, of spinal meningitis at Camp Hughes Training Camp, near Carberry, Manitoba.  He was 18. He is buried in Camp Hughes Cemetery. On the Saskatchewan Virtual War Memorial there is a page in his memory – admitted to hospital on 28th June 1916 and died of non-combat causes on 13th July 1916. The narrative comments that John James was farming when he enlisted at Saskatoon four months before his death.

He is not listed as a casualty on the Scottish War Memorial pages but he, who died in training in Canada and did not see action, is commemorated on the Rothesay War Memorial on the Esplanade. Margaret, who worked in the field, is not on the memorial. He is also commemorated and his photograph included in the book held at the Bute Museum “The Burgh of Rothesay and Island of Bute War Memorial 1914-1919” She is not.

The National Records of Scotland show Margaret Davidson died in Ardencraig Cottage, on 19th August 1917. She died of a Cerebral Embolism, Valvular Heart disease and Rheumatism. She was 21 years old. One must assume, as she is listed as a casualty on the Scottish War Memorial and in St Paul’s, that the conditions which led to her death were brought about by her service in the war.

Her father, John, notified her death. He was still at Ardencraig Cottage working as a gardener in 1925. He died on June 7th 1947, thirty years after his two elder children, at 8 Bellevue Road, Rothesay. The death was notified by Barbara Hansford, his younger daughter.

Barbara Davidson Hansford was married, by Kenneth Mackenzie Bishop of Argyll and the Isles, to George Stanley Hansford of Maidstone in Kent on 21st April 1937 in St Pauls, Rothesay.  She died at Redbridge in Essex in 2004, aged 94.  Her mother, Barbara Janet, died in Essex in 1960 aged 90. It is very likely that the last Davidson to live on Bute left in 1947 before the war memorial was erected.

Of George, the youngest child, there is little trace. Certainly none of the George Davidsons listed as casualties at Edinburgh Castle was born in the right place and there is no sign of his death in any UK record.

To my piece on the Buteman website there was a reply from a distant relative of the Davidsons. His family’s legend was that John James died bravely in battle – but that Margaret, known as Madge, also died on active service in the field. He was able to tell me that George whom he knew and liked, had gone abroad.

We met up in The Graveyard of the High Church and he showed me the Davidson’s gravestone on which the parents inscribed the names of three of their children.

Sacred to the memory of Margaret Wood Davidson 16655 Red+ VAD Died 19th August 1917 aged 21 years

also

Pt John James Davidson 204381 96th Canadians died 13th July 1916 aged 18½ years buried at Camp Hughes Manitoba

THEY DID WHAT THEY COULD

George Davidson NDD NDAR died 28th January 1941.

George is not on the lists of service dead in the National Archives and in the light of research, I believe that George was in a Spanish-speaking Navy, most likely the Brazilian Navy which was involved against German submarines in the North Atlantic.

George Davidson, seaman, is listed on the Rothesay war memorial under WW2 deaths. So, again, he is on the war memorial – and Margaret is not.

The Buteman put my notes on Margaret on the website but not in the paper, noting that the words were the author’s own – it is a small island. The Museum ladies in bemused fashion noted my interest in the memorial book. I visited the British Legion. David Boe of the British Legion Museum, on Deanhood Place, Rothesay, knows of Margaret but it appears only because he read a piece I wrote in the Buteman asking for information. He was singularly uninterested.

And why should I care? Because this is how history is written and unless we unearth the stories such as those on the Mapping Memorials site and the Sheroes blog and publicise the excellent academic work being done by feminist academics who are pulling the work and achievements of women into the light, our daughters and our sons will not know how influential and important the work of women has been –  almost always in the building and the bettering of our world rather than the dismantling and destruction of it.  

And also because I am outraged by the neglect of a woman who died because she wanted to do the right thing and was so casually disregarded and forgotten just because she happened to be born female. It is not good enough.


FARZANA

FARZANA

Writer & activist Farzana talks to REEK Perfume about smells, beauty and gender equality after interning with head bitch of REEK Perfume, Sara Sheridan.

What women do you most identify with from history to the present day that have also inspired you to push further in your career or your personal life?

As cliché as it may sound, the woman who inspires me the most is my mum. She is someone who has always worked hard to progress, to satisfy her career goals, support herself and her children. She is very to the point, some would say stubborn, but she knows what she wants and that has definitely had an influence on me.  In high school I had a big friendship group of both males and females. The girls were all very strong willed, independent, driven and very bossy. The boys were just as strong and we always supported one another equally (and still do to this day). Equality was definitely encouraged and embraced through this group of very important people who have shaped my life.

What smells remind you of femininity? What are your favourite smells and why?


I don’t associate any smells with femininity, I associate certain smells with certain females – if that makes sense. Everyone has their own smell that reflects their personality, from Marc Jacobs to Chanel. I love the wide range of females smells there are instead of all being of flowers or vanilla – classic female associations, right. There are varieties of female smells just like there are varieties of females, I love that.

Do you think female success differs from male success in your industry, and if so how? Have you experienced this in your own career?

When my course ends in August, I hope to enter the publishing world. The top jobs within the industry are dominated by white males – a stark reality that is in the process of changing by building inclusivity.  Women are very much employed within the industry but it is men who pull the strings. I have not experienced any discrimination in the industry, I have only done interning, but I hope that I never will.  

Do you feel pressure to act/look a certain way to fit in with the ideals of female beauty? How do you combat or comply with these pressures?

When I was younger I felt pressure to look a certain way to fit the ideals of beauty, but as I have grown up this pressure has gone. I look to my younger sister who is going through the ‘plucking your eyebrows to death then filling them in’ stage, after just having come out of the ‘put as much black eyeliner around your eyes as physically possible’ stage, and I see my younger self. We’ve all been there… But now most days I don’t wear make-up if I can’t be bothered. I don’t feel the pressure anymore, I like seeing my face without all the paint on it and it’s a breath of fresh air.

What pushed you to get involved with this movement in such an active way?   

I intern for Sara in her writing life, so I’m around the REEK office. Sometimes I listen in on meetings between Sara and Bethany. I had never heard of REEK beforehand but inspiration behind the company is interesting and admirable and so I have spread the word to my friends and family. I love the promotion of strong, unapologetic women – qualities that we should all embody. 

What makes you a Damn Rebel Bitch? Tell us what kind of bitch you are.

I’m a ‘go for it’ bitch. Sometimes this is a bad thing, I listen to my friends and family in their opinions but at the end of the day, I do what I feel is right and what I want to do. I’m a damn rebel bitch because everything I’ve done is my own choice, my own mistakes and my own triumphs. The ability to control your own life and find your own way signifies strength to me (male and female strength), and that’s the kind of person that I am trying to be.


AMBER HUNTER

AMBER HUNTER

Head designer of menswear brand ‘Underated’ Amber Hunter speaks to REEK Perfume about gender equality, female empowerment and being your own boss.

Tell us what you do?

A wise bitch once said ‘there are 24 usable hours in everyday” (Liv Tyler, Empire Records) and you better believe this girlboss is living by this motto. I’m currently the head designer of men’s streetwear brand Underated, spending all my time researching, designing and producing garments that allow men to express their individuality while embodying London street style.

How do you find working in menswear as a female designer? Do you face any challenges your male peers don’t?

I absolutely fucking love it. You know, I actually feel like it gives me an edge and an extra level of respect – some of the most successful menswear designers are women. I’ve had the occasional shade thrown my way, but I figure if you’re gonna do it, be the best you can and don’t give anyone a reason to doubt you. I worked damn hard to get to where I am and I’ve sacrificed a lot in all aspects of my life to be here. I get sick of people underestimating me because they think I’m some shy wee girl from Scotland and all I do is draw clothes all day but it only motivates me to work harder and prove people wrong.

Do you feel that women are celebrated in your industry? Tell us about some of the women who have inspired your own career?

100% – women in this industry are fierce. I actually feel like men and women are pretty equal in fashion, it’s more about being head strong and working your ass off. If you don’t have the right mind set you’re not going to make it and believe me I’ve been there. Kelly Cutrone is my number one boss ass bitch and without her I definitely wouldn’t think the way I do now. You can have the talent and the drive to be successful, but if you don’t start to think like a strong woman, you’re never going to be one.

Where do you find inspiration for your own style?

If it’s black, it’s on my back. To be honest I work so much most of the time I look like a 17 year old boy but I’m actually okay with that. I don’t know if working in menswear automatically leads you to be more androgynous with your look, I tend to gravitate towards relaxed boyfriend fits and a staple skinny jean. I’m going to the hairdressers next week for the first time since I was 5 for gods sake – I’m definitely not your conventional girly girl. If I manage to find some time to go out though you know a bitch is going to make an effort. Still black though. Always.

What gender equality causes mean the most to you personally and why?

I believe in equality in all things, whether thats gender, sexuality etc. The pay gap is a big issue for me right now, the fact that a woman can do the exact same job as a man and get paid less JUST because she is a woman is ridiculous. Isn’t it ludicrous that men are literally given life by women and theres STILL a gap in equality in this day and age? What the hell kind of bullshit is that?

What women do you most identify with from history to present day?

In my final year of university I was one of 5 students worldwide to be sponsored by Hermès. Although I never had the chance to meet her, Véronique Nichanian will always be a designer I identify with. She has an enviable ability to mix high end luxe with casual sportswear layering, and has been the head designer of the menswear line since it started it 1988. If that’s not the dream I don’t know what is.

In music – Stevie Nicks. 68 years old and she’s still serving up such effortless beauty and realness on stage. Her talent is undeniable and she defines what a women should be – head strong, unapologetic, inspirational and free spirited.

In my own life, my younger sister Jasmyn. She is everything I wish I could be in one fierce, polished package. She’s the person in my life that tells me when I’ve fucked up and puts me in my place in the most savage way. She makes me believe in myself and that I can always do better. I love her.

What changes do you think should be implemented to try and encourage more women to go into business and start their own brand?

Sometimes I feel like women confuse being confident with arrogance, there is nothing wrong with being confident and believing in yourself. This should be encouraged as early as possible. Secondly, there needs to be more education and support on the business side. I never had one class in business at university, NOT ONE. I was told that, “if you or your family doesn’t have a lot of money, you should give up now” what kind of nonsense is that? We need to make sure there is support and help each other build creatively – who knows what we might be missing out on if the right people don’t get the encouragement they need.

What signifies female strength to you?

Making mistakes, overcoming the unexpected and straight up owning who you are as an individual. Being who you are and knowing what you’re not – there’s nobody more powerful than a woman with knowledge.

What smells remind you of femininity?

Jo Malone – Lime, Basil and Mandarin. It’s the scent I remember my mother wearing the most growing up and it’s the perfect combination of strong and sweet which I feel embodies what it is to be a woman.

What makes you a Damn Rebel Bitch? Tell us what kind of bitch you are.

I’m confident that I have the power to make a difference. Im a pisces, very sensitive and emotional and I will always put others before myself. At the same time, I’ve got to a place in my life and career where I don’t give a fuck about what other people think – especially if it’s negative. At the end of the day as long as I am doing the best I can, passing on knowledge and skills to others and fighting for what I truly believe in – I’ll be a damn rebel bitch until the day I die.