Textile & Dye Tour in Oaxaca on International Women’s Day

I spent women’s day evening in Tehuantepec, the capital of the infamous Tehuana women, among matrilineal people who speak Zapotec.

The legendarily ballsy Tehuana women, from whom Frida Kahlo sprang, had several parades last night: one where hundreds of women dressed all in white marched for peace apropos of the violence against women in the world, in Mexico and here in the Isthmus.

The other–as the sun set over this town, making the huge gilt statue of an unnamed woman glow from the rooftop–brought women out in their traditional glamour, known all over the world through Frida’s style, into the street carrying large painted papier mache stars on sticks, while their skirts flowed in the wind around them. Their hair braided with flowers and bright cloth, short bicolored huipils/blouses like the Zapotec state flag adorning their torsoes, they chatted excitedly among themselves, heading for an unknown destination, while a band led the way and insectlike open-framed personal vehicles brought up the rear.

At dinner, our group of eight women and one man discussed the state of women’s rights and questioned our amiable and amused waiter about how gender equity in Tehuantepec has shifted over time. In the market, Tehuana women–depicted in murals covering the restaurant walls, their arms and legs firmly planted akimbo–sell the produce.

Our guide asked him for us: what do the men do?

He said that up into the 18th century, men tended and harvested the garden and orchards. Then, while large extended families covered child rearing, the forces of capital organized food production and distribution centrally, upsetting the balance. Studying what has eroded or obscured matrilineal practices in cultures close at hand, like the Haudenausaunee and Zapotec, gives our ongoing drive for full women’s rights and gender equity with men definition and insight.

Uncovering the roots of matrilineality, which produces true gender equity where it is found (most notably among the Haudenausaunee/Iroquois in the US), allows us to connect with authentic equity practices that the macho marriage of church and capital have tried to obliterate.

Patrilineality has produced one unified social form across the planet: the enslavement of women, the loss of our rights. It is time for women and men of conscience to call for the end of patrilineal practices–the real villain, globalization, capitalism, and colonialism being manifestations–with one unified voice. As my husband says, patrilineality is just a way for men to keep the mothers of their sons under their thumbs, assuring their own paternity.