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Opinion ‘The main task is, indeed, to awaken the women’s class consciousness and to incorporate them into the class struggle’ - Clara Zetkin

MICHAL BONCZA rounds up a series of images designed to inspire women

ONE of the most enduring revolutionary images in Western art is that of Liberty Leading the People painted by Eugene Delacroix in the Autumn of 1830 as a response to the July revolution of the same year, which saw France swap the House of Bourbon for the House of Orleans, an error that was only corrected in 1848 with the founding of the Second Republic. 

The figure of Liberty is popularly referred to as “Marianne,” which symbolises, in popular consciousness, both ordinary people and the manifestation of their political aspirations: the Republic. The boy next to her with two pistols is believed to have inspired Gavroche in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.

The allegory of the female figure is rooted in language — in French, France, Republic, Liberty and Reason are feminine nouns. 

By contrast the saintly Joan of Arc was, and still is, the iconic figure for the right — symbol of reactionary nationalism — who would refer to Marianne as a prostitute or “a slut.”

Delacroix presented the painting in August 1831 at the Paris Salon and to this very day it continues to inspire images that represent variously the advancing emancipation of women as well as the struggle they commit to to achieve it. 

This modest selection celebrates these endeavours. They range from the constructivist-inspired “Move left! Vote for social democracy!” 1930, anonymous (above right), to Karl Maria Stadler’s poster (above) that calls for a public gathering of women on March 8 1914: “Give Us Women’s Suffrage. Women’s Day, March 8, 1914”. It would take another five years before the right to vote was won during the Weimar Republic.

From the liberation struggles of Vietnam, and the consolidation of the October Revolution, to the civil rights movement in the US, women were there and made a difference. They were an integral part of national liberation struggles: Muthoni Kirima, Pritilata Waddedar, The Soldaderas of Mexico, Louisette Ighilahriz, Ruth First, Amelia Robles Avila; the civil rights movement: Ella Baker, Angela Davis, Septima Clark, Claudia Jones and worked tirelessly to consolidate revolutions: Vilma Espin, Nadezhda Krupskaya, Dolores Ibarruri, Zhang Qinqiu, Eva Peron. 

Millions of anonymous women the world over follow suit every day of the week, every month, year in year out and with each step bring closer the end of oppression, injustice and exploitation. And this March, women’s history month, is a reminder of that.


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