After researching and writing my article, the one thing concerning issues of “ideology” and “practice” about which I am sure is that gender analyses anger some historians. John French’s response to the article is fairly representative of negative reactions to the use of gender as a category of analysis. He fails to engage the artcle’s arguments with new evidence or a reinterpretation of existing documentation. Instead, he attacks it as lacking “proof” and an “empirical” foundation.1 I believe the article is well supported and that French’s objection is that I do not document an argument—about women’s lack of labor activity—which he puts forth and I reject.

In order to attack the article, French misconstrues its main theses. He discusses at length, for example, alternative explanations for women workers’ quiescence and then chides me for not engaging those ideas. The reason I do not refer to women’s powerlessness is that I do not believe women shied away from strikes and other protest activities; I believe they often led them. In the article I argue that women organized on their own, around those issues they considered most important because of the sexual division of labor in working-class households and within Paulistano industry. Women’s organizing and protest activities, I argue, played a key role in convincing many male anarchists to adopt more of a “bread and butter” perspective in the late 1910s and throughout the 1920s. I do not see the differences between the rank and file (especially women textile workers) and anarchist activists as insurmountable—although French presents my arguments as such. Rather, the article provides an explanation of the social construction of a Brazilian anarchosyndicalist ideology.

French’s presentation of my ideas leads him to suggest I consult “more complicated explanations for women’s quiescence.2 His insistence that scholars address women’s inactivity is based on his own belief that women were less inclined to participate in strikes and other activism. French believes that there are two distinct groups within the working class, “the leaders and led,” and that these two seem to be divided by sex. It is worth noting that he never objects to (or even mentions) the article’s analysis of male metalworkers, whose organizing and protest activities do not challenge our assumptions about the public behavior of Latin American men and women.

French does pose some good questions concerning the relationships between men and women workers in the Crespi mill. He calls for a close analysis of statistics that he claims detail the sexual division of labor within Paulistano industry. I agree that more detail would be beneficial, but I could not locate sources on workers’ interaction on the shop floor in the 1910s and early 1920s. The abundance of detailed statistics” French claims I ignore does not appear in the works he cites. The only statistics in the books he mentions are from the 1920 census for the entire state of São Paulo. Because my article treats only the city of São Paulo, and because the 1917 strike occurred before data for the census were collected, I did not use those materials in the analysis of the general strike. My article uses the 1920 census to note the decline in the percentage of women in textiles during the 1910s.

French’s use of secondary sources to challenge the article’s findings is unconvincing. Although I greatly respect the ideas of the authors he cites, French fails to mention that Maria Valéria Junho Pena’s and Margareth Rago’s assertions on these matters are supported with few primary materials. Indeed, several pages from Rago that French cites use unsupported sections of Junho Pena’s book as evidence! Those passages from Rago that are supported with references to labor newspapers detail conditions that have little relevance to the 1917 strike, as French claims.3 His citations for Bolsonaro de Moura are particularly confusing. One page (11) is from the book’s acknowledgments and the other (116) is a discussion of printers and hatters in 1904.41 have some disagreements with the works he mentions, but none of French’s citations challenge my article’s findings.

Some of French’s criticisms are contradictory. He chides me for lumping together all women workers, but French himself only refers to the “masses.”5 He also contradicts himself in his discussion of what he terms “leaders and led.” When he challenges the article’s thesis that women organized key strikes, French argues that anarchist activists had close ties to the rank and file. But, in order to reject the idea that conflicts between workers and anarchists played an important part in shaping working-class consciousness about organizing and striking, French asserts that activists “had only sporadic contact with the mass of 85,000 workers in the state.”

In the final analysis, French’s response is less about the “historian’s craft” and more an objection to how a gender analysis recasts our understanding of twentieth-century Brazilian labor history. My goal is to go beyond simply noting women’s presence in history. Through the article, I am attempting to alter our view of labor history by modifying simple class analyses. Such a task occasionally puts male labor leaders in a less than flattering light, and some labor historians object to this. We must, however, move beyond such reactions and begin a fruitful dialogue on how race, class, and gender as categories of analysis shape each other and change our view of history.


Historians have often attacked new perspectives as lacking objectivity and proof. For an insightful analysis of such attacks, see Peter Novick, That Noble Dream: The “Objectivity Questionand the American Historical Profession (Cambridge, 1988). Joan Wallach Scott has detailed the politics of using gender in historical studies. See Scott, “History in Crisis? The Others’ Side of the Story,” American Historical Review, 94:3 (June 1989), 680-692, and the various essays in Scott, Gender and the Politics of History (New York, 1988).


Here he is referring to his own work, with which I disagree. Even though the article by French and Mary Lynn Pedersen analyzes the mid-1940s, they interviewed no women workers from the period. The article relies on one interview with a male labor leader and the Communist party newspaper Hoje as its main sources. Not surprisingly, French and Pedersen assert that women were organized by the Communist party and that they did not act on their own because they “were less able and willing to speak up in their own defense” (French and Pedersen, “Women and Working-Class Mobilization in Postwar São Paulo, 1945-1948,” Latin American Research Review, 24:3 [1989], 112).


Rago discusses work conditions in 1901-2 and 1907-8 on pages 71–7.


Apart from the fact that Bolsonaro de Moura’s analysis covers a much earlier period (given São Paulo’s rapid industrialization, a decade is quite a long time), she discusses trades that differed greatly from the textile industry. Printing and hatmaking were male domains where artisanal traditions remained strong into the twentieth century.


Raymond Williams has warned us to be wary of the expression the masses. He notes that it was first used as a derogatory term for the popular classes and later adopted as a description of people the left hoped to mobilize—referring to those people as an object to be mobilized, and thus also quite condescending. See Williams, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (New York, 1983), 192-197.