Gender and Military Reform in Postrevolutionary Mexico, 1920–50

Saturday, January 8, 2011: 3:30 PM
Great Republic Room (The Westin Copley Place)
Thom Rath , University of Maryland, College Park, MD
This paper examines the Mexican military’s project for masculinity in the 1920s to the 1940s. The Mexican Revolution has often been seen as a quintessentially “macho” event that further entrenched patriarchy. This paper contributes to an exciting wave of recent studies which have sought to explore the dynamics of shifting gender identities in the period. Postrevolutionary military reformers placed great importance on reshaping the promiscuity, lack of self-discipline, flippancy and fatalism that they perceived among the great mass of officers and soldiers inherited from the revolution. The paper shows the broad, bipartisan appeal that reforming military masculinity had for many in the postrevolutionary period, and clarifies the various institutional and ideological obstacles that this project faced. I draw on army service files, records from military schools, memoirs, congressional debates and correspondence between soldiers, their families and the state in the 1920s and 30s to trace how this project was received by different groups within the army and society. Specifically, I focus on disciplinary records to shed light on how some military men rejected reformers’ definition of honorable, decorous military behavior and defended their rights to use violence to protect their honor or to carouse and gamble. I also analyze dozens of petitions which reveal how women sought to use the army’s campaign of moralization to hold the army up to the standards of a responsible patriarch that it claimed for itself, in ways that military reformers did not intend. Finally, I argue that the state's cultural project for the army often conflicted with its continued need for soldiers skilled in counter-insurgency, violence and intimidation.
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