Historiography of Women in the Mexican Revolution

by Paola Alonso

The Mexican Revolution of the 1910s and 20s is an event that made significant contributions to the development of Mexican cultural identity. One of the Revolution’s most important cultural contributions was the figure of the Soldadera, Mexican women who supported the male soldiers on both sides of the Revolution and participated in combat, as well as the organization of the Revolution. In the years since the Revolution, popular culture adopted the Soldaderas as symbols of Mexican femininity, Mexican pride, patriotism, feminism, and culture. The Soldaderas are largely praised in the popular cultural view for their roles in the Revolution and for inspiring Mexican women everywhere. Thanks to these popular cultural depictions, many Mexicans have a general understanding of the Soldadera and her roles, however, very few are aware of the historical truths that lay beyond the cultural myth of the Soldadera. The Soldaderas were not well studied by English-speaking scholars until the late 20th century and long after the Chicano Movement. The few sources that do discuss the Soldaderas add new perspectives into the history of these women and analyze how their image has been commodified for Mexican products aiming to invoke Mexican pride by discussing the various factors that attributed to this commodification, such as popular media, Mexican gender roles, language, and more. Many of these scholars will analyze the Soldaderas through a feminist, anthropological, or sociological lens due to the themes that emerge when studying the Soldadera. These are themes of intersectionality, race and ethnicity, economic class, colonization, among others.

In her 1980 article, Anna Macias discusses the different ways women participated in the Mexican Revolution and how this participation was a catalyst for the feminist movement that followed it. In describing the larger roles that women played in the Revolution, Macias discusses Mexican women as journalists, scholars, activists, and revolutionaries. Macias considers Mexican women’s involvement through a sociological lens, discussing the different aspects and factors that may have contributed to their participation in these roles. For example, the women who fought in the war, Soldaderas were often lower-class women who had no other option but to fight for their rights or could not avoid being involved the way that middle and upper-class women could.[1] Additionally, Macias also discusses the gender roles and concept of femininity in Mexico. She argues that many of the women who joined the revolution did so as a way to serve men.[2] These women would cook for the men, do their laundry, carry their ammunition, and more.

Macias contrasts the public perception of the Soldadera with those of women who supported the revolution without participating in combat. Women who served in non-fighting capacities were admired for maintaining their femininity while still assisting the cause. In contrast, the Soldaderas had to wear men’s uniforms and masculinize themselves. While they were respected by the men they fought with, they were not admired in the same way as the other women, and their masculinization was problematic for many in Mexican society. This gender instability has resulted in various historical interpretations.

The varieties of language used to refer to the Soldaderas is one explanation for the various interpretations of the Soldadera. Macias attributes this issue to the linguistics surrounding these women and how they are discussed in English. The word “Soldadera” is one that is not often found in Spanish dictionaries and therefore has definitions that vary.[3] Others who have written about these women have used the words “camp followers”, “Adelitas” or “the Mexican soldier’s woman.” There is no universal term to refer to the Soldadera, and even the definition of the term Soldadera can vary according to what roles the user is referring to. This discussion regarding etymology and language is one that will be revisited in other sources.

Seven years after Macias drew scholarly attention to the Soldadera, Elizabeth Salas Published, Soldaderas in the Mexican Military: Myth and History. Salas’ book highlighted the myths surrounding the women who fought in the Mexican Revolution and discussed them in the context of Mexico’s history and culture. She aims to analyze how the Soladaderas became such mythological figures for both Mexicans and Chicanos, especially during the Chicano Movement. Salas uses an anthropological approach to discuss the history of Mexican women in battle and gender history to understand the roles of women in Mexico and how they have shifted over time.

Salas places the Soldaderas into a historical and cultural narrative that stretched back to Mesoamerican warrior goddesses that normalized indigenous female fighters.[4] Salas notes that the Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto claimed that there were two groups of Mexica women who would assist men in battle, the mociuaquetzque (valiant women) and the auianimes (pleasure girls); each had their separate roles during battles, but both were honored.[5] Furthermore, after Spanish colonization, Salas mentions that both Mexican and European women served in their militaries. They participated for many reasons but primarily to work for male soldiers.[6] Unlike Macias who addressed the roles of women on and off the battlefield, Salas only discusses women in the military. Salas uses secondary sources as the majority of her research but provides more personal experiences of the Soldaderas compared to Macias.

Salas’ work contrasts differing contemporary opinions of the Soldadera. For example, Pancho Villa, one of the most famous revolutionary leaders, held very negative opinions on them and felt that they got in the way of the expedition.[7] Other men in the Revolution idealized the Soldaderas into contemporary roles such as self-sacrificing camp followers who served the needs of male revolutionaries and warrior goddesses. Salas argues that both of these perspectives provide a monolithic interpretation of the Soldaderas and do not consider the diversity of their experiences. Many of them defied orders and did not perform traditional roles of Mexican women; plenty of them picked up rifles and shot into the battlefields as if they were one of the other male soldiers.[8]

Salas argues that as Soldaderas continued to be treated as a monolith, they became reduced to images and symbols. The symbol of the Adelita was revived and used during the Chicano Movement in the United States. The Adelita is the more contemporary image of the Soldadera, one of a feminine and highly sexualized Mexican woman who is often seen brandishing a Mexican flag. The women of the Brown Berets were called Adelitas and used the image of the Soldaderas to distinguish Mexican and Chicana feminism from Euro-American culture.[9] The usage of the Adelita by Chicana women shows the importance of this figure in establishing a Mexican identity and distinguishing oneself from the surrounding culture.

Salas’ analysis shows the ways that Soldaderas were misrepresented and how their images were used outside of the Mexican Revolution. This analysis also shows how the Soldaderas became significant, if monolithic, figures of Mexican culture. Overall, despite being positively associated by Chicano activists and in ballads, Salas and Macias make it clear that most people do not know the complexities of the Soldaderas’ involvement in the Revolution and still refer to them as a monolith.

Shirlene Ann Soto’s 1990 book, Emergence of the Modern Mexican Woman, used oral history to analyze the involvement of various Mexican women during the revolutionary period. Soto analyzes much of this from a sociological perspective and considers various factors that contributed to women’s active participation or lack thereof. Some of these factors include socioeconomic status, education levels, race/ethnicity, political affiliation, and other factors from 1876 to 1940. Soto mostly focuses on the middle and upper-class women who were involved in women’s clubs, politically active, or were educated and not as much on lower-class women who did not have as many opportunities to document their experiences. This includes the Mexican Soldaderas who are only mentioned in a very small part of the book, however, she uses an image of a soldadera on the cover of the book and several images of them in the book. Soto acknowledges that the field of women’s history became the “new” social history in the period she was researching for this book and there was a large academic interest in women’s lives in history.[10] When she was writing this book, she discovered that there was a significant lack of scholarly works discussing the role of Mexican women during the Revolution, particularly because it is very difficult to find primary sources by women who participated in the Revolution due to their illiteracy and disruptions caused by the war.[11] As a result, Soto conducted several interviews with the few revolutionary women alive or their family members. She also consulted various written sources including pamphlets, newspapers, magazines, and books located in Mexican archives. Sources in English were also more difficult to obtain compared to sources in Spanish.

In her book published in 1990, Shirlene Ann Soto analyzes the involvement of various Mexican women during the revolutionary period in Mexico. She analyzes much of this from a sociological perspective and considers the various factors that contributed to women’s active participation or lack thereof. Some of these factors include socioeconomic status, education levels, race/ethnicity, political affiliation, and other factors from 1876 (prior to the Revolution but discusses women’s involvement in revolutionary plans to overthrow the Mexican government) to 1940 (after the Mexican Revolution).

When Soto does mention the Soldaderas, she mentions that these women were also referred to as galletas (cookies). This expands on Macias’ previous assertion that men used a variety of terms to refer to Soldaderas and that these terms often colored the way historians viewed them. As previously seen, the Soldaderas are referred to based on the type of labor they provided to the men they followed including foraging, laundry, cooking meals and more.[12] Soto does mention that the majority of the women who were Soldaderas were natives or poor mestizas (mixed European and native ancestry) which is not something that was mentioned in previous sources. Soto also describes the poor living and working conditions the Soldaderas lived in. Furthermore, Soto also mentions the romanticized image of the Soldaderas that were captured in corridos (folk ballads) that were often a means of passing down stories through song. Soto purposely choses to name some of the most well-known Soldaderas in her analysis and how they were perceived with respect by the men they worked with.

Andrés Reséndez Fuentes’ 1995 article, “Battleground Women: Soldaderas and Female Soldiers in the Mexican Revolution'', drew on the prior work of Macias, Salas, and Soto. Fuentes, however, drew a distinction between two types of Soldadera experience: the camp followers and the female soldiers of the Mexican Revolution. He tries to draw a distinction between the camp followers and female soldiers of the Mexican Revolution, the first historian to do so. This is due to the various types of labor and ranks each group of women had, and the differences in their experiences. For example, the camp followers provided much of the traditional labor of cooking, cleaning, and caring for the men, whereas female soldiers participated in battles and often were recognized by their ranks in the military.[13] Fuentes’ analysis of the Soldaderas and the two groups that comprised this category of women provides insight into the circumstances of these women and their experiences in the Revolution.

Fuentes provides a solid analysis of the varied experiences of the Soldaderas in the larger context of the Mexican Revolution. For example, Fuentes discusses the different reasons why some women became camp followers. Some women chose to follow their husbands into battle, others feared for their lives in being associated with Mexican rebels and followed their male family members for safety, others chose to work for the men for economic gain, and others were kidnapped and forced to accompany rebel armies.[14] This helps differentiate the experiences of these women and the myth that they were all loyal women who upheld feminine ideals.

Fuentes also distinguishes the different types of Soldadera experiences based on socioeconomic class. The camp followers were often low-income women, were never officially recognized, and had no opportunities to advance. Female soldiers usually belonged to higher social classes or were affluent. Female soldiers had to own their own horses as it was unlikely that an officer would deprive a male soldier of his horse to give to a woman.[15] Additionally, while camp followers were never recognized, female soldiers were registered in army rosters and could gain higher ranks if they proved themselves in battle.[16]

The last distinction that Fuentes makes is the difference between the roles and purposes of the camp followers and female soldiers. Camp followers did not usually bear arms or engage in combat unless it was an unusual circumstance, female soldiers were hired to take arms and fight as their main occupation. Additionally, female soldiers also spied on the opposing troops by dressing as camp followers and listening to their discussions.[17] The female soldiers also served as messengers and go-betweens and carried important documents and information to officers. These women were considered to be more masculine but were regarded for not losing her character as a woman.

Overall, Fuentes does an excellent job of adding new information to the previously mentioned sources and creating distinctions between the two groups that comprised the Soldaderas. This effort succeeds in addressing the Soldaderas as individuals and not as a monolithic group. He also addresses the social circumstances that contributed to these differences.

In continuing the theme of demystifying the Soldaderas, Alicia Arrizón builds on the work of previous scholars, namely, Anna Macias and Shirlene Soto. In her article from 1998, “Soldaderas and the Staging of the Mexican Revolution'' Arrizón observes how the concept of the Soldadera has shifted in society to the concept of the “Adelita”, a romantic and sexualized version of the Soldadera. Arrizón attempts to contextualize and deconstruct this romanticization of the Soldadera and how she has been represented and misrepresented. Arrizón does this by analyzing the story of the Adelita and how it is represented in three different forms of media (a song, book, and a play). By doing this, Arrizón can study the differences in the representation of the Soldadera in each form of media and how it shifts over time.

Arrizón first analyzes the ballad of the Adelita that was inspired by a woman who joined the Maderista movement during the Revolution. This ballad represents one of the Soldaderas, Adelita, as an object of sexual desire and affection. This song contributed to the fame of the Soldaderas and contributed to the gradual shift in making the term “Adelita” synonymous with Soldadera or women in the Mexican Revolution.[18] The popular ballad of “La Adelita” was written during the revolutionary period by an unknown Troubadour who was inspired by a young female participant of the Maderista movement.[19] The ballad represents love in the time of the Mexican Revolution, and provided vulnerable young men with care sensitivity as he faces his fears of dying in the war. This can be seen in the lyrics of the ballad, “If you find out your lover has died, say a prayer for me, for the man who has adored you, with his soul, life, and heart.”[20] This ballad is the first in the media to contribute to the romanticization of the Soldaderas.

The second form of media that Arrizón analyses is a 1936 book by Baltasar Dromundo entitled Francisco Villa y La Adelita. Dromundo describes Adelita as a brave warrior but also as a sensual woman who is a heartbreaker.[21] Dromundo sees Adelita’s rejection of men in a negative light and blames her for causing emotional pain. Arrizón argues that Dromundo’s representation, of not only the Adelita but also women in general, is a representation of the way women are perceived in Mexican culture, tying in the subordination of women that was further reinforced by attitudes resulting from the caste system implemented after Spanish colonization.[22] Additionally, Arrizón argues through psychological history that Dromundo displays Freudian theory and Octavio Paz’s Paternal Law as a way to contribute to the subjugation of women (women’s lack of a penis makes her inferior and that the superior and inferior relationship of the Adelita and the Revolutionary Man reflects the relationship between the White Conquistador and his conquest).[23]

In the third form of media that Arrizón analyzes, the Adelita now has a visual image to accompany her romanticization. The 1936 stage play, Soldadera, was written and performed by Josefina Niggli, a Mexican national that was taken to Texas during the Revolution for her safety. Her play was the first theatrical representation ever of the Soldadera, and it was performed for a largely white American audience. Arrizón states that Niggli represents the Adelita as a beautiful yet narcissistic woman who is both naive, child-like, and self-sacrificing, once again reinforcing the previous narratives of the Adelita but now to an audience that has no prior knowledge of Mexican culture or history.[24]

Arrizón argues that these three pieces of media contributed to the commodification of the Adelita as a sexual object that romanticized the Mexican Revolution. In these popular depictions, the Adelita became a busty woman with European features who brandishes a Mexican flag and a gun. In reality, the Soldaderas wore traditional Mexican dresses or men’s clothing and were usually mestiza women. Not only is the Soldadera a romantic object, but the entire Mexican Revolution has now been commercialized.

In her 2005 book, Fearless Women in the Mexican Revolution and Spanish Civil War, Tabea Alexa Linhard wishes to compare the experiences of the women that participated in the Mexican Revolution (Soldaderas) and the Spanish Civil War (Milicianas) and reveal the marginalized positions of both of these groups of women. Linhard also aims to analyze the context of how these women were presented in their societies and how they are remembered. Linhard builds on the work of Elisabeth Salas, especially in analyzing the mythology surrounding the Soldaderas and the romanticization of the Soldadera as the Adelita.[25] Linhard centers her analysis on the use of “nonmainstream and forgotten texts” such as letters and stories to deconstruct the experiences and perspectives of these women, placing importance on the nonacademic sources available that document unique experiences of these women.[26]

Linhard acknowledges the role archives have in educating the public about the roles of these women and how their representation developed their image in their respective cultures. Linhard argues that the average Soldadera or Miliciana did not have their experiences documented, but those who were documented often entered the archives in the form of icons and myths, which then became a perspective that applied to all women in these revolutions.[27] In addition to this, Linhard acknowledges that more is known about the Soldadera compared to the Miliciana due to the romanticized media inspired by them, including Niggli’s representation of La Adelita and the ballads that feature the Adelita as a subject.[28] These forms of representation also provide an exotic or foreign perspective into Mexican culture and Mexican women to those unfamiliar with Mexico, which further contributed to the romanticization of the Soldadera and the Mexican Revolution.[29]

Using a feminist or gender history lens, Linhard compares the myths surrounding these two women and the circumstances that led to their formation. She mentions that Soldaderas are often remembered for their participation in the Revolution while continuing to perform their traditional roles of femininity. The Soldaderas are recognized by some as performing extremely subjugated roles, “the soldaderas are both the soldiers’ property and an inheritance; being a soldadera ultimately represents the lowliest and most abject position women have ever occupied: “If one Juan dies, another Juan picks her up.”[30] The Soldaderas are stuck between being symbols of women’s progress as strong women in battle and between upholding structures that kept women oppressed.

Women’s roles in the Spanish Civil War also began as traditionally feminine, but it morphed into a way for women to challenge patriarchal standards and help other women become more politically aware.[31] The Spanish Milicianas were women who chose to join the men in the battlefield front, similar to the female Mexican soldiers. Linhard argues that the comparison between Soldaderas and Milicianas is not equivalent, but that both have become “gendered cultural and symbolic imagery” in an era when women’s roles were being redefined.[32] Milicianas chose to wear the mono azul (blue overalls) to symbolize the Spanish working class, this became the uniform of the women who fought with men at the front.[33] Photographs of the Milicianas wearing the mono azul were spread and the women became symbols of the Spanish Civil War and of the modern Spanish woman. Linhard compares this to the usage of the Soldadera as a symbol of the Mexican Revolution and the underlying feminist movement in Mexico. However, Linhard argues that the Soldaderas are seen through an exoticizing gaze that fixes them as unchanging, passive, and romantic figures whereas European women were still seen as pure.33

Overall, Linhard provides a new perspective into the history of the Soldaderas. This is the first attempt to compare the Soldaderas to female soldiers in a different country. Linhard expands on the themes and research of previous scholars, especially in analyzing the representation of women and how the society and culture these women lived in affected this representation.

Linhard compares the Soldaderas to an international feminist movement while Jocelyn Olcott analyzes them in the post-revolutionary feminist movement in Mexico in her 2006 book, “Revolutionary Women in PostRevolutionary Mexico”. Olcott focuses on the attitudes of the Mexican public after the Mexican Revolution, and how women utilized the end of the Mexican Revolution to advocate for women’s rights and women’s suffrage in Mexico. The main focus of this book is to discuss the work of Mexican feminists as they advocate for change and how this affected different groups of women as the majority of these women were middle and upper class and educated, which many of the Soldaderas were not. The Soldaderas are mentioned throughout the book, but primarily to be used as symbols of how women’s roles were changing in Revolutionary and Post-Revolutionary Mexico. This is a topic that some of the previous scholars have discussed, that the Soldaderas of the Revolution are seen as larger-than-life figures of Mexican female empowerment and are then treated as a monolith.

Olcott first mentions the Soldaderas in the introduction to the book when she states, “Both advocates and opponents of women’s activism overwhelmingly sensed that Mexico stood at the threshold of dramatic changes. Women’s revolutionary participation had added new archetypes, including the soldadera (camp follower) and the soldada (armed combatant) ... sparked controversy about the entire postrevolutionary modernization project.”[34] Olcott argues that the Soldaderas were seen as an issue by Mexican feminists who wanted to push past the traditional roles assigned to them. The Soldaderas were not only dismissed by women but also by male Mexican lawmakers who dismissed and ignored their effort in fighting in battles and supporting men, stating that it was not in women’s nature to take up arms compared to men and therefore, women did not deserve the right to vote.[35] Olcott shows how the experiences of the Soldaderas were weaponized by both men and women in their legislative battles, with men using them as a tool to dismiss women’s suffrage and women using them as examples of barbaric social archetypes.[36]

Olcott is one of the few scholars to discuss the Soldaderas in the post-revolutionary period. Olcott’s research shows that despite the popularity of the Soldaderas, these women struggled to achieve recognition from men and women once the revolution ended. They were largely dismissed from the Mexican feminist movement for being too traditional and being “in the way” of their attempts for progress while men ignored their contributions to the Revolution in order to preserve tradition and deny women legislative rights. Olcott subsequently expands on the ways that the Soldaderas were excluded from different groups in Mexican society, primarily in the highly educated feminist group.

A source that continues to deconstruct the popular images of the Soldadera is the 2006 book by Elena Poniatowska, Las Soldaderas: Women of the Mexican Revolution. Poniatowska focuses on telling firsthand accounts of the Soldaderas and providing insight into their lives during the Revolution, which is valuable in humanizing the Soldaderas as individuals as opposed to a monolith. She uses photographs from Mexican archives, interviews with revolutionaries, media representation of the Soldaderas, and more in her analysis of the true experiences of the Soldaderas. Poniatowska expands the historical discussion of the Soldaderas by providing more individual experiences of the women of the revolution and the numerous ways in which their experiences differed among each other.

Poniatowska adds new information in the way the Soldaderas were treated by male revolutionaries, and how they were subjected to violence by the same men they served. Using an interview from painter Juan Soriano, who is the only person from the highly educated class to reveal that his mother was a Soldadera, she discussed how the Soldaderas received the worst experiences of the revolution. Soriano reveals that his mother experienced many Soldaderas being killed by male soldiers for making too much racket.[37] Poniatowska also cites an instance in which Pancho Villa massacred 90 Soldaderas at once for refusing to name who shot at him.[38] Additionally, Poniatowska includes a case in which Villa shot at one of his military officers for trying to take his Soldadera into battle and used it as a warning to his other officers.[39] These instances show the level of animosity and violence the Soldaderas were subjected to when trying to perform their roles.

Besides discussing the violence the Soldaderas experienced by men, Poniatowska also examines other ways the Soldaderas were dismissed and disregarded. In one interview with former Soldadera, Josefina Borquez, Borquez reveals how Mexican politicians promised to pay military wages and pensions for widows and Soldaderas but changed his mind at the last minute because it was not fair to provide income for young women who still had the opportunity to remarry.39 This situation adds nuance into the ways the Soldaderas were rejected by several groups and how they never received recognition for their contribution to the revolution. Through these firsthand accounts, Poniatowska adds to the scholarship about the difficulties the Soldaderas experienced.

Poniatowska uses similar methods to analyze the Soldaderas as previous scholars, such as examining the corridos and the various terms used to describe them. When analyzing the corridos about the Soldaderas, Poniatowska argues that all of the corridos are naive and only serve to warn the Soldadera about how being selfless will only make them victims of violence.[40] Most corridos describe how the Soldadera suffers as a consequence of being too trusting of others in the dangerous world of the revolution. Poniatowska states that this is an inaccurate representation of these women and how these songs only serve to misinform those who listen to them. To this, Poniatowska says, “songs are one thing, life is another.”[41] Poniatowska is not the first scholar to describe the inaccuracies of the corridos, but she is the first one to refer to them as naive and analyze them with the perspective of being a warning to the Soldaderas.

When studying the terminology used towards the Soldaderas, Poniatowska uses an interview with a former Soldadera, Jesusa Palancares. Palancares reveals that there were numerous terms used to describe the Soldaderas such as cockroaches, Captain’s pet, cooking ladies, as well as insults directed at them like troublemakers, cheats, and sluts.[42] Poniatowska acknowledges and praises Elizabeth Salas’ work in discussing and adding to these different terms.[43] Poniatowska states that the fact that the Soldaderas never had a specific name or clear role during warfare is a result of the debasement of Mexican women and a fear among military officials that women would move up and achieve higher ranks in the military.[44] This is a new outlook into the reasons why the Soldaderas are a lesser discussed group and the inconsistencies in the scholarship that do discuss them.

Elena Poniatowska adds to the prior scholarship of the Soldaderas by publishing more individual experiences of the diverse women involved in the revolution. She humanizes the Soldaderas who were previously regarded as unrealistic romantic figures or public nuisances and troublemakers. This is the same intention as the other scholars who attempt to demystify the Soldaderas as symbols in order to learn about the Soldaderas as a group and as individuals. Poniatowska’s work is extremely valuable in not only learning more about the conditions and roles of the Soldaderas but also in learning more about the conditions of the Mexican Revolution overall. Poniatowska’s book, Las Soldaderas, is significant in understanding the true nature of the Mexican Revolution and the Soldaderas without the romanticization of both through the cultural view.

 Delia Fernandez continues to expand on the transformation of the Soldadera from a group traditionally associated with masculine traits to the mythicized and sexualized figure that portrayed them as ideals of femininity in her 2009 article, “From Soldadera to Adelita: The Depiction of Women in the Mexican Revolution.” She uses Shirlene Soto, Jocelyn Olcott, Elizabeth Salas, as well as primary sources that report on Mexican women in the Mexican Revolution. Fernandez argues that the transformation of the Soldadera into the romanticized Adelita throughout history was done by men’s framing of the group in history.[45] She mentions different depictions of the Soldadera in the media, similar to previous scholars. She places much emphasis on the roles corridos (folk ballads) played in romanticizing the nameless Soldadera, especially because the corridos were from the perspectives of men which prioritizes their interpretation of the Soldadera. Only one of three Soldaderas are remembered by name in these corridos which removes the significance from the roles they performed.[46] These ballads only prioritize the femininity and beauty of women, which serves to categorize them in ways that were appropriate for the Conservative Mexican society of the early 20th century.[47]

Fernandez states that as time progressed, Mexican films and American films that depicted Mexicans continued the stereotypes placed against Soldaderas. The archetype of the Mexican woman used in cinema was that she is feisty and assertive but could be easily tamed by her male love interest, especially if her love interest was a white American.[48] Fernandez analyzes a new form of media that the previous scholars do not, film and photography. Using famous photographs taken of the Soldaderas in the Mexican Revolution, Fernandez analyzes that they were usually Indigenous/Mestiza women, but they were portrayed as light-skinned with European features in the movies they inspired.[49] She continues to expand on this point by including examples of movies from the 21st century that use this archetype of the Soldadera and are played by women of European descent that are also highly sexualized.

Overall, Fernandez provides an analysis of the ways the image of the Soldadera has been sexualized and commodified over the years. She argues that this is a product of presenting the Soldadera from a male perspective. In conclusion, Fernandez analyzes the shift in the highly sexualized representations of the Soldaderas using a sociological lens, discussing the intersections of race, class, culture, media, and politics in this misrepresentation.

Echoing previous scholarship, Maria Leland examines the relationship between the Soldaderas and the larger Mexican feminist movement in her 2010 article, “Separate Spheres: Soldaderas and Feminists in Revolutionary Mexico.” Leland argues that the primary division between these two groups is class and ethnicity, which caused the feminists that were higher class and of European ancestry to dismiss the Soldaderas who were largely poor/working class and indigenous.[50] Leland’s analysis differs from all of the previous scholars that focus on the dismissive attitudes of men towards the Soldaderas by instead analyzing the ways in which Mexican feminists dismissed and excluded them. Leland builds on the research by Alicia Arrizón, Andrés Reséndez Fuentes, Tabea Alexa Linhard, Anna Macias, Jocelyn Olcott, Elizabeth Salas, and Shirlene Soto, and provides criticism of their discussion of the Soldaderas. For example, Leland criticizes Elizabeth Salas’ argument that the Soldaderas were independent by stating that Salas does not discuss that many women did not have a choice whether to follow men into war or not and did not have the choice to refuse, as many of them were victims of rape and kidnapping by them.[51]

Leland continues the discussion of the vagueness of the type of work the Soldaderas did, and how each scholar has their own opinions of how to refer to them50. Leland thus choses to refer to the camp followers as Soldaderas and the women who battled in combat as soldier women. Additionally, Leland provides more analysis of the working-class status of the Soldaderas as to why they were dismissed by larger Mexican society. Leland claims that feminists scorned the Soldaderas for their submission to male soldiers and were condescending to women who had no choice but to turn to prostitution due to being of poorer social class. This condescension also prevented the Soldaderas from allying themselves with the feminists.[52] Another difference between these two groups is that when revolutionary men would raid villages and kidnap women, it was mostly poor women who were subjected to their violence and forced to become camp followers for their attackers. Middle- and upper-class women could afford to be better protected from these raids.[53] An additional reason for the division between the feminists and Soldaderas is that the feminists and their political allies believed the poor and indigenous women of Mexico were too attached to their pre-revolutionary and pre-feminist ideals and could not contribute to the movement the same way upper class women could.[54]

Overall, Leland provides a new discussion and expansion upon previous scholars of the Soldaderas in analyzing how the Soldaderas were excluded and discriminated against by Mexican feminists. Leland analyzes the class and racial differences between the two groups as the biggest factor that contributed to their division. Leland does this by analyzing the way the Soldaderas were discussed by foreign journalists, Mexican feminists, and politicians. Leland does not provide many opinions from the Soldaderas themselves, mostly due to the Soldaderas being of poor working class and therefore being unable to write their own experiences.

Taking a new approach to all the previously mentioned scholars, B. Christine Arce compares two groups in Mexico’s history that she considered “Mexico’s Nobodies.” In her 2017 book of the same name, Arce compares the stereotyping and cultural significance of two groups, the Soldaderas and the Black Mexican woman (the mulatta). None of the previous authors have discussed the history of black people in Mexico, especially since one of the most notable Soldaderas was an Afro-Mexican woman. Instead, when discussing race and ethnicity in terms of the Soldaderas, the majority of authors discuss how many of the Soldaderas were mestizas and provide a historic background of the Mesoamerican natives. Arce acknowledges that this is an important perspective to consider when analyzing Mexican culture, but also acknowledges that the history and presence of black people in Mexico is considered a blind spot and it is important to understand the impact that black people have had on Mexican culture.[55] The argument that Arce makes the Soldadera and the mulatta have become myths and stereotypes over time. The Soldadera has become a symbol of sexuality and patriotism through overrepresentation whereas the mulatta has become a symbol of exotic sexuality and foreign-ness due to a lack of representation[56]. Arce analyzes these differences and the transformation of both of these figures by studying the media they are portrayed in and how they are discussed by others.

In Arce’s analysis of the Soldadera and the mulatta, she discovers that both groups have been used as social scapegoats in which all the bad in society has been blamed on them.56 Arce states that the Soldadera was often associated with prostitution and with a lack of morality due to being of lower-class.[57] The Soldaderas were also considered “self-abnegating creatures” who placed themselves in squalor and took care of everyone else but themselves.[58] Arce compares this public disdain of the Soldaderas to the dismissal of Afro Mexicans who are as much a part of Mexican culture as Europeans and the Soldaderas, but who are often regarded as communities left over from the colonial era or descendants of shipwrecked Africans.[59] The Afro Mexican woman, the mulatta, is often depicted as an exotic temptress or a witch. Overall, Arce compares both the Soldadera and the mulatta claiming that both of these figures have been portrayed as overly sexualized and othered, and as scapegoats of problems of a much larger Mexican society.[60]

Additionally, Arce uses the works of the previous scholars of the Soldadera in her book. She particularly uses the concept of “abnegation” that was introduced by Jocelyn Olcott in this context. Arce also critiques an approach by Elizabeth Salas and other scholars to distinguish between the camp followers and the female soldiers, which Arce claims invalidates that many of the camp followers also fought in battle but were not recognized and that this division continues the invalidation of the camp followers.[61]

Overall, Arce provides a new way of considering the roles and myths surrounding the Soldaderas. By comparing the dismissive attitudes of Mexican society to the Soldaderas as well as mulattas, Arce can analyze the differences and similarities between the overexposure of a figure compared to the underexposure. While many would say that it is a good thing that the Soldaderas are at least being frequently represented, Arce argues that “the demonized or romanticized image of the Soldadera has become famous while most of the real soldaderas have remained anonymous.”[62] Therefore, the Soldaderas and their accomplishments will never be acknowledged while their image is used for profit and for propaganda.

All of the scholars to discuss the Soldaderas have done so in various ways and through various perspectives. It must be addressed that most English sources regarding the Soldaderas were not published until long after the Chicano Movement, which was when the image of the Soldadera was used again and when Mexican Americans prioritized learning about Mexican culture and history. The majority of authors I analyzed are Latin American women who have a vested interest in preserving the history of the Soldaderas and have a desire to learn about the multifaceted experiences of these women. Most of these scholars have either a sociological, anthropological, or gender history approach to reporting the history of the Soldaderas due to the variety of factors that affected them including class, race/ethnicity, education level, Mexican politics, religion, etc. Additionally, many of the scholars chose to analyze the etymology of the Soldaderas and the various names that they were referred to. This highlights the inconsistencies in the way they were represented and why it is difficult to find sources that discuss them. In conclusion, each scholar discusses a new aspect of the experiences of the Soldaderas and how they were treated by others, often continuing the discussion that other scholars have set up in previous sources.

[1] Anna Macias, “Women and the Mexican Revolution, 1910-1920,” The Americas 37, no. 1 (1980): 72.

[2] Macias, “Women and the Mexican Revolution,” 72.

[3] Macias, “Women and the Mexican Revolution”, 71.

[4] Elizabeth Salas, Soldaderas in the Mexican military: Myth and History, (Los Angeles: University of California, 1987), 2.

[5] Salas, Soldaderas in the Mexican military, 7-9.

[6] Salas, Soldaderas in the Mexican military, 11.

[7] Salas, Soldaderas in the Mexican military, 46.

[8] Salas, Soldaderas in the Mexican military, 77.

[9] Salas, Soldaderas in the Mexican military, 115-117.

[10] Shirlene Ann Soto, Emergence of the Modern Mexican Woman: Her Participation in Revolution and Struggle for Equality, 1910-1940, Women and Modern Revolution Series, (Denver: Arden Press, 1990), XIV.

[11] Soto, Emergence of the Modern Mexican Woman, 3.

[12] Soto, Emergence of the Modern Mexican Woman, 44.

[13] Andrés Reséndez Fuentes, “Battleground Women: Soldaderas and Female Soldiers in the Mexican Revolution,” The Americas 51, no. 4 (1995): 542.

[14] Fuentes, “Battleground Women”, 529.

[15] Fuentes, “Battleground Women”, 545.

[16] Fuentes, “Battleground Women”, 546.

[17] Fuentes, “Battleground Women”, 546-7.

[18] Alicia Arrizón, “’Soldaderas’ and the Staging of the Mexican Revolution.” TDR (1988-) 42, no. 1 (1998): 90.

[19] Arrizón, "Soldaderas", 90.

[20] Arrizón, "Soldaderas", 91.

[21] Arrizón, "Soldaderas", 92.

[22] Arrizón, "Soldaderas", 93.

[23] Arrizón, "Soldaderas", 95.

[24] Arrizón, "Soldaderas", 101.

[25] Tabea Alexa Linhard, Fearless Women in the Mexican Revolution and the Spanish Civil War, (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2005), 5.

[26] Linhard, Fearless Women, 4.

[27] Linhard, Fearless Women, 31.

[28] Linhard, Fearless Women,11.

[29] Linhard, Fearless Women, 27.

[30] Linhard, Fearless Women, 26.

[31] Linhard, Fearless Women, 37

[32] Linhard, Fearless Women, 44.

[33] Linhard, Fearless Women, 27.

[34] Jocelyn H. Olcott, Jocelyn H. Revolutionary Women in PostRevolutionary Mexico, (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006), 17.

[35] Olcott, Revolutionary Women in PostRevolutionary Mexico, 34.

[36] Olcott, Revolutionary Women in PostRevolutionary Mexico, 4.

[37] Elena Poniatowska, Las Soldaderas: Women of the Mexican Revolution, (El Paso: Cinco Puntos Press. 2006), chap. 1.

[38] Poniatowska, Las Soldaderas, chap. 1.

[39] Poniatowska, Las Soldaderas, chap. 1.

[40] Poniatowska, Las Soldaderas, chap. 1.

[41] Poniatowska, Las Soldaderas, chap. 1.

[42] Poniatowska, Las Soldaderas, chap. 1.

[43] Poniatowska, Las Soldaderas, chap. 1.

[44] Poniatowska, Las Soldaderas, chap. 1.

[45] Delia Fernandez, “From Soldadera to Adelita: The Depiction of Women in the Mexican Revolution,” McNair Scholars Journal 13, no. 1 (2009), 53.

[46] Fernandez, “From Soldadera to Adelita”, 59.

[47] Fernandez, “From Soldadera to Adelita”, 60.

[48] Fernandez, “From Soldadera to Adelita”, 60.

[49] Fernandez, “From Soldadera to Adelita”, 60.

[50] Maria Leland, “Separate Spheres: Soldaderas and Feminists in Revolutionary Mexico.” (Senior Honor’s Thesis, The Ohio State University, 2010), 3; Leland, “Separate Spheres”, 9.

[51] Leland, “Separate Spheres”, 5.

[52] Leland, “Separate Spheres”, 21.

[53] Leland, “Separate Spheres”, 31.

[54] Leland, “Separate Spheres”, 42.

[55] B. Christine Arce, México's Nobodies: The Cultural Legacy of the Soldadera and Afro-Mexican Women, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2017), 7.

[56] Arce, México's Nobodies, 9.

[57] Arce, México's Nobodies, 82.

[58] Arce, México's Nobodies, 82.

[59] Arce, México's Nobodies, 60.

[60] Arce, México's Nobodies,191.

[61] Arce, México's Nobodies,279.

[62] Arce, México's Nobodies, 59.

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