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Hell Hath No Fury Like Girlstyle

This violent world may need a woman's touch.

December 30, 2002|Crispin Sartwell | Crispin Sartwell teaches philosophy at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

From 1912 to 1913, the military government of Mexico, under Victoriano Huerta, tried with unrestrained brutality to repress a rebellion in the southern part of the country. The rebellion, led by Emiliano Zapata, had wide popular support, so Huerta's forces decided to attack the populace as a whole.

They burned almost every village in the state of Morelos, engaged in summary executions of people they regarded as collaborators, conscripted all other men of fighting age into the army for use elsewhere as cannon fodder and herded the people who remained into concentration camps.

These steps led to something very unusual in human history: an armed uprising of women. Led by a tortilla maker known as La China, widows, mothers, daughters and wives raided throughout the Tetecala district.

John Womack, in his biography of Zapata, writes: "Some in rags, some in plundered finery, wearing silk stockings and dresses, sandals, straw hats and gun belts, these women became the terrors of the region."

Now this sounds to me like a movie, and we could surely recruit a distinguished group of Latinas and quasi-Latinas for the cast; I'm picturing Sonia Braga, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Salma Hayek and (let's see) Shakira, burning and looting tonight in plundered finery. We might take some slight liberty and have La China return after a hard day at the insurrection, soak in a nice hot bath, kick back with a mustachioed Antonio Banderas as Zapata and pillow plan an attack on Mexico City. Indeed, our popular entertainments are now brimming with armed, rebellious women, starting with "Thelma & Louise."

Perhaps the truest cultural insurrection was Riot Grrrl punk, a movement that started in Olympia, Wash., in the early '90s. Such founding daughters as Kathleen Hannah of the band Bikini Kill featured fishnets, combat boots and neo-feminist anthems that reverberate still. They called for "revolution girlstyle now."

On television and movie screen, the Powerpuff Girls -- Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup, preschool cuties confected from sugar, spice, everything nice and Chemical X -- prosecute villains with extreme prejudice, splattering American living rooms with cartoon gore.

Popular entertainment is, perhaps, a relatively trivial context for revolution. But you can't sit there and tell me we couldn't use a genuine revolution of women.

We may debate, for example, whether women feel oppressed under strict Islamic law. Well, an insurrection of Saudi moms would answer that question once and for all. Do it for your daughters, to your husbands.

In fact, in every place in the world where women are dispossessed, used, denigrated -- in the Sudan or in Hollywood, for example, in Bosnia or the fashion industry -- an armed insurrection would bring a look of surprise to men's faces, but perhaps also sudden changes.

In every place where women are being abused, raped, harassed, stalked, hemmed in, gawked at like zoo animals, bought and sold like chattel, exploited, degraded, there is a reason for revolution girlstyle now.

And the world over, as in Morelos in 1913, women and girls are being widowed or orphaned, men disappearing into graves and gulags. In the charming old tradition of Victoriano Huerta, homes and schools are being bulldozed, children are being equipped with Kalashnikovs or outfitted as explosive devices.

When you get down to it, people have about as much freedom as they can seize and defend. You're free when you liberate yourself.

As a man, I predict that, more or less, we will continue to act the way we've been acting until we ... can't.

And so, if you and Shakira take to the hills tonight with automatic weapons concealed beneath your plundered finery, I will shake with fear.

But I will understand.

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