I decided to investigate the role of women in Uruguay and I found some unexpected and interesting information on women’s involvement in guerrilla group in the 1960’s and 70’s, known as the Tupamaros or the MLN (Movimiento de Liberacion Nacional). The MLN strongly advocated for women’s rights and about 25% of their guerilla fighters were women, known as Tupamaras. This was during an era where women’s place was all things domestic and the idea of a woman wielding a weapon, let alone being a proficient guerilla fighter, was horrifying.
Interestingly enough, even though the MLN advocated for women’s equality they viewed a woman as being equal to men only if a woman was stripped of her “feminine” attributes and acted like a man. While traditionally Uruguay society valued the role of the mother, the MLN valued women that lost their traditional roles. Even though the MLN allowed women to take up roles that traditional society prohibited the Tupamaras were still relegated to stereotypes within the MLN: either the masculine, and usually unattractive, woman (there was also an element of racism here as these women were often portrayed as black), or the sexpot useful in subterfuge and distracting the enemy (think James Bond movies). Women couldn’t define themselves within the MLN; they either took on the role of a man or epitomized feminine stereotypes (with the addition of a gun).
I couldn’t help but be reminded of female stereotypes of women in the U.S. military. It seems that when women step into the male dominated sphere of military action, society can only rectify the step outside of female accepted behavior by classifying women into strict stereotypes within that sphere.
Many Tupamaras were imprisoned, especially from 1973 to 1985 when Uruguay was a military run state. Imprisoned Tupamaras received even more brutal treatment at the hands of their guards than the Tupamaros. Women were often raped by multiple men and beaten as a form of torture. If it was discovered that a Tupamara was pregnant, instead of receiving a reprieve or lessening of her torture, her treatment worsened, often causing her to miscarry.
In a society where motherhood is so highly valued it seems remarkable that a pregnant woman would be treated with such brutality. When the Tupamaras fought alongside men, society punished them not only for their guerilla actions, but also for stepping outside what the socially accepted behavior was for a woman.