December 22, 2010
Every now and again comes along an idea that’s so brilliantly simple that you wish you’d thought of it yourself—but that’s also so ace that it gives you a little glow that other gals out there felt it was important to do.
Revolutionary Women, in short, is a collection of usable stencils of all the female subversives you may never have heard of, complete with a short and eye-opening bio of each. The very cool designs got my scissors snapping, but the text gave me pause for thought: these otherwise unrecognisable faces stand for lives—and for many stories I had never heard.
For example, anarcha-feminist Emma Goldman, who was born in Russia, but later moved to the US, giving speaking tours that demanded the overthrow of capitalism. She was deported back to the country of her birth, was threatened with deportation again for criticising the Bolshevik regime, and ended up joining the Spanish Civil War aged 67. Or Harriet Tubman, who was born into slavery in the American South, but grew up to escape to the north and make trips back to kidnap and free other slaves.
The 30 women featured are all feisty and rebellious, but not necessarily perfect or even successful: several of these revolutionaries, just like male ones, felt that violence and even murder were vital for ultimate freedom and independence. Many suffered terrible tragedies. But all deserve to be known—and the book argues concisely for and against the politics of turning people into icons, and using their faces as graffiti art.
Revolutionary Women grew out of a zine by all-female collective Queen of the Neighbourhood—and in her foreword, QOTN member Tui Gordon argues why the project is ultimately necessary: “It came from the simple question of ‘Who and where are our revolutionary women icons?’ All the revolutionary icons and pin-ups are men: Che Guevara, Mao, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Subcomandante Marcos . . .
“[This book is] a swift kick to the groin of deep-rooted patriarchal history and [provides] pure enjoyment of staunch women and the ardor of revolution.”