From the Commune’s Pétroleuses to Mexico’s Morras: Women’s Political Struggle for Systemic Change

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Communardes were depicted by the French bourgeoisie as “Pétroleuses” (Female arsonists), guilty of having burnt Paris. Irmgard Emmelhainz draws parallels between this misogynist trope and the recent characterizations of Mexico’s Morras who have sworn to not leave the heteropatriachal state alone, as long as women would be attacked and killed.

*For Dani López Guerrero and Frida Esquivel

The French Commune is a series of events that led to the short-lived revolutionary taking over of an autonomous, socialist government in Paris. The all-male Commune government was only peripherally concerned with gender issues, yet throughout the Commune, women played key roles in different ways. They formed political clubs for which they occupied churches and state buildings to speak against social and gender hierarchies, they created a labor and defense association, wrote political tracts and distributed newspapers, demonstrated on the streets, fought on the battlefield. They also built barricades and set buildings ablaze. By taking over the streets, state and church spaces, Communarde women challenged gender roles, class privilege, the authority of the catholic Church, and evidenced the interlinking of women’s oppressions. In their practices, the Communardes embodied what would be later theorized by activists and writers like André Léo, Paula Mink, and Elisabeth Dmitrieff as “Feminist Socialism.” Communarde feminist socialism was by no means a unified movement, but a series of events, attitudes and actions, which shared the central concern of female emancipation with divergent approaches on how to achieve it. In spite of the fact that Dmitrieff founded the Union des Femmes with the goal of creating a new social order founded on equality, solidarity and freedom, by the end of the Bloody Week (May 21-28, 1871), women were denied entrance into French politics. Accused of burning down Paris, Communardes were immortalized in the archetype of the wild and menacing Pétroleuse. By having embraced violence, women were seen to have stepped outside the role of femininity and the social order. This gave birth to the imaginary of the Pétroleuse as a negative female allegory, a dangerous woman out of control in an upside-down world. Communardes were vilified, persecuted and exiled upon the downfall of the Commune at the hands of the Versailles government.

150 years later, in a moment of increasing and relentless mass forced disappearance, machista violence and femicide (the murder of women or girls by men on account of gender) and in the context of a neoliberal war, Mexico has seen the emergence of an unprecedented rebellion against state indolence before violence against women, originary and vulnerable populations. In 2020, the count of registered femicides was 5,074, more than double the previous year. By September 2020, 57,000 emergency calls related to gender violence had been registered in the country. And only three of every 100 femicides are persecuted. According to Silvia Federici and other feminists like Rita Segato and Raquel Gutiérrez, we are living an escalation of violence against women because “globalization is a process of political recolonization intended to give capital uncontested control over the world’s natural wealth and human labor, and this cannot be achieved without attacking women, who are directly responsible for the reproduction of their communities” (Witches, Witch-Hunting and Women, 2018). In other words, brutalizing (generally working class, mestizo or indigenous) women is functional to paving the way for the land grabs, privatizations, discouraging union organization, the precarization of labor, the exploitation of reproductive labor, what is know as extractivism, the political economy based on extracting the commons to sell them in the global market, the necro-political alliance of colonial heteropatriarchy.