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Abstract

This paper analyses the relevance of the ‘motherist’ politics of Argentina’s Madres de la Plaza de Mayo to Latin American feminism. The Madres were one of the most visible and outspoken opponents of the military regime that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983, staging weekly demonstrations in the city’s main square in the name of reclaiming their children who had been ‘disappeared’ by the regime as terrorists and subversives. The Madres adopted a strongly maternalist role, focusing their opposition to the regime through their role as mothers, and the rights and responsibilities inherent to motherhood. This paper aims to assess how such an approach can be related to movements in Latin American feminism at this time. The Madres undoubtedly proved the capacity and power of women as activists, yet faced criticism for inhabiting, emphasising and exploiting the traditional role of women which feminists were striving to deconstruct. The paper discusses the ways in which the Madres reinterpreted the traditional role of motherhood, subverting it from a restrictive label to a positive force, asserting the rights of mothers and transforming motherhood into a positive and politicised force. However, the paper also assesses the extent to which such a reassertion can be considered feminist, given the seeming incompatibility of the Madres’ identity with the equality and freedom from traditional roles as sought by feminism. It is acknowledged that the Madres themselves have rejected the feminist label, seeking to distance themselves from what they consider bourgeois thinking that neglects real issues. Even so, the paper also discusses how the Madres can be seen to have contributed to feminist aims, especially within the increasing acceptance of diversity witnessed in feminism since the 1980s. The paper concludes by relating these questions of motherist versus feminist to the overall political and ethical objectives of the Madres.

Note on the Author

This essay was originally written during Sara Howe’s degree course in French and Spanish at the University of Southampton, as part of the assessment for the Hispanic Feminisms module taught by Carrie Hamilton. She graduated from Southampton with a first class degree in July 2004, and recently obtained a Masters with distinction in Translation at the University of Surrey.

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