On January 26, 2013, I turned 65. Instead of getting depressed because I´m now officially a senior citizen or worse still, an “elderly” woman, I decided to celebrate this journey which has been my life by reminding us that my generation, as did previous ones, built fantastic feminist movements everywhere. Reflecting on my life, I feel very proud to be part of this great millennial movement. And yes, even though some deny it, I insist on its millennial character because I refuse to erase from our common herstory, the brave women who fought against the different manifestations of Patriarchy since its coming into being, in some parts of the world, over six thousand years ago. I am
convinced the struggle against the denial of women´s humanity began in each community when Patriarchy began for that community and not after centuries of women´s subordination, as some would have us believe. I know this because I have seen women rebel in many ways against the many different and sometimes very subtle forms of oppression we suffer in all parts of the world and in all cultures, and for me, that is feminism. And I believe this because History, even the official androcentric version, mentions women organizing for peace, justice, equality, happiness, etc. since very ancient times and that too is feminism.
I also know that insisting that feminism as a movement began only until the European Enlightenment is not only Eurocentric but worse still, it means condemning millions of our ancestors all over the world to oblivion. I simply do not accept that women were so passive as to do nothing to combat a system which slowly was stripping them of their autonomy, freedom and dignity. Of course most of the women who fought Patriarchy are anonymous–that is the nature of patriarchal history–but the evidence of their work is very much alive. I know, for example, that we were able to demand that women´s rights be human rights in the late 20th Century because women before my time fought Patriarchy in different ways. Our immediate ancestors needed to be recognized as being capable of having some rights in order for us to demand them as human. And their ancestors needed to learn to read and write before anyone could demand some rights and so on until the very beginning. That is why I am convinced that these battles did not start just a few centuries ago and why I am so grateful to all those women who came before me, who paved the way with their struggles or simply with their love for life, desire for equality and freedom, their courage, creativity, hope and imagination so that today we can at least say that we are entitled to all human rights even if the struggle must go on so that one day we can actually enjoy them.
I come from a family where feminism was not named but it was definitely expressed in different ways. Without even calling themselves feminists, my mother and grandmother rebelled against the roles that society imposed on them. My grandmother always came to my rescue by insisting that I should not be made to do or not do something just because I was a girl and my mom raised me under the precept that women had rights as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I grew up with this declaration as my spiritual guide, especially the part that declares equality between women and men and prohibits discrimination. I was told by my mother that it was women who fought for these clauses to be included in the Charter of the United Nations and later in the Universal Declaration even though at the time this was not recognized. At the time, we were all told that women were “handed” equality by the men who drafted those documents as we were told that women were “given” the vote by enlightened men. My mother showed me how contradictory it is to believe that rights are “given” by someone while at the same time believing that we are all born free and equal in dignity and rights.
I belong to a generation of young women who understood that to achieve the equality promised in the Universal Declaration, we first had to visualize our biggest obstacle: Patriarchy. That is my generation began to define and characterize it so we could develop the necessary strategies to overthrow the oldest and yet subtlest of man´s systems of oppression. In doing so we exposed the misogyny behind the compliments, the romantic love and official history and proved that even the hardest of sciences were androcentric. We denounced rape and other forms of gender violence against women worldwide and forced States to recognize that women’s rights were human rights. Along with feminists of my generation, I marched through the streets of New York shouting that the, “personal is political” because we understood that our subordination was very different from that of other groups because it began in our own families. I belong to a generation that tried to dismantle the myths that were ingrained in our psyche such as the belief that our female bodies were dirty and different from the norm and therefore, that female sexuality was either a sin, negligible or nonexistent or the myth that housewives did not work among many others. As young feminists in a world with no herstory, we did not have access to our ancestors but even so, we overcame many obstacles and broke many stereotypes that I cannot even begin to describe in a short reflection such as this. As I reminisce on this journey, I feel extremely grateful to have belonged to the most important social movement of the twentieth century and even more grateful when I think what future feminists will be able to do with all the herstory we now have.
Over the past almost five decades as a feminist, I have formed or belonged to several feminist groups in my part of the world that have filled me with hope in the transformative power of feminism. Groups sucha as Ventana, Las Entendidas and Las Petateras have all contributed to my growth and happiness. Furthermore, since becaming a feminist in 1970, my colleagues and I initiated great feminists projects like the first feminist magazine of Costa Rica also named VENTANA; the Latin American Committee for the rights of women, CLADEM; the Justice and Gender Foundation; and the Women’s Caucus for Gender Justice in the International Criminal Court; only to name a few. I also had the great pleasure of working in Fempress, the first Latin American feminist news network based in Chile. More recently, along with other feminists, I started my two pet projects: the Luna Llena Commune, an ecofeminist educational and agricultural center and the Women’s Human Rights Education Institutes, held at the University of Toronto. Currently, I am also working with a group of fantastic women in JASS, an organization dedicated to supporting feminist movement building in different parts of the world. My dream is that one day the Women´s Human Rights Institutes will be part of JASS and will be held at our ecofeminist commune.
Of course not everything has been positive in my life: I experienced sexual violence as a child and have suffered structural, social and cultural violence from a system that has tried to exclude and ignore me. As a young woman I had to combine the role of mother and wife with feminist activism and being a law student. Even without sufficient sleep, I succeeded, thanks to feminist theories that gave me hope for a happier and equal world. So, although not everything has been rosy, now that I’m officially old I can say with certainty that my hard work “paid off”.
But the work to free every woman must continue until the end of Patriarchy. To today’s young and not so young feminists, I would like to say that you should keep in mind that you too, will soon be the older generation of a younger group, who will have to continue this struggle because much will still remain to be done even after all your successes. Eradicating the capitalist patriarchal structures that plague our minds, hearts, communities, societies and countries is not easy. There is still a long road of hopes and fears, setbacks and advances ahead. I tell you this because I have learned that in order to move forward, it is necessary to remember the road traveled. Only by knowing the herstory of the struggle and the life of our ancestors, will we be able to build on their experiences.
Do not be fooled with false stories that feminism is no longer necessary or that past feminists didn’t fight against racism, homophobia, war and consumerism. Don’t think that you are the first to discover the diversity among women, the complexity of gender or the feminization of poverty, as we are led to believe both by the antifeminists and postmodern feminists. Today, women know and enjoy many things because our ancestors fought for them. Sure they made many mistakes, as we have made them and you surely will, but they/we did it with passion and tenacity and with the knowledge and tools that were available to them/us at the time. Thanks to them/us, you, the elders of tomorrow and we, the old of today, are not alone: we have each other to help us learn from our mistakes with compassion for our ancestors and for ourselves. Thanks to our ancestors, today we can weave together clearer visions of a better, happier world. Thanks to all the women who came before us, today we have not only an incredible amount of experience to guide us in our new struggles, we have laws and institutions which, though not great, can help us defend and uphold our rights, and most importantly, we have an international and local feminist movements that we have built and will continue to build together to make them more cohesive, more diverse and more powerful.
My greatest wish on my 65th birthday was that feminists everywhere will continue to say “thank you” to their/our ancestors. As a present to myself on my 65th birthday I decided to celebrate the whole year by giving thanks to all feminists every chance I get. Thanks to the women who paved the way for me. Thanks to all those incredible feminists who walked with me in the recent past and are no longer with us, thanks to those who walk with me now and thanks to the women and men who will walk it once I’m gone.