Buenos Aires. On July 1, President Peron of Argentina died. A mood of different degrees of anxiety overcame most Argentines, of every political creed and socio-economic level, with the exception of groups of the extreme left and of the so-called "gorillas" on the right (staunch, die-hard "anti-Peronists"), who were overjoyed by his death—because, for the leftists, a new revolutionary situation might now emerge and, for the rightists, because at last the old and hated Public Enemy Number One was defeated by Nature.
To independents such as myself, who did not agree with Peron's ideology and attitudes, the prevalent thought was, and up to a point still is, what will happen now? Because, to the surprise of many, both his followers and opponents, in the last year or so Peron came to mean a moderate influence on old-style authoritarians and neo-Marxists recently infiltrated in his own movement and government. In fact, he became the leader of moderation and mutual respect, providing a much needed cooling influence in our fragile political system.
His death lay open, again, one of the major ills of every society: total uncertainty. Will the neo-fascist and neo-Marxist sects acquire larger influence in the government or on the whole political scene? Will we have a stable government? Or any government at all? (Bear in mind that the absence of any governments, today, here, does not mean, precisely, an anarchistic utopia.) Now that he who had enough political pull to contain inflationary demands is dead, will we fall into a process of economic demagoguery and a spiraling inflation worse than ever before?
The prevalent and most sincere answer to all these questions has been: let's hope for the better, but nothing suggests so. Anything could happen now, and even the wildest possibilities—for example, a leftist guerrilla uprising ending in a civil war—became for the first time really within the limits of possible. Today, July 27, nearly a month after Peron's death, nothing drastically bad has happened yet, and the whole country is—still apprehensively—marching on, but safer every day it passes by, with Peron's Vice President and wife, Maria Estela Martinez (alias Isabelita) as the new President. Cashing in on the aura of her late husband's legend, she apparently is managing to do her work, with the support of the "loyal opposition," the Armed Forces, the Church, independents and, with the exceptions mentioned at the beginning, of nearly everybody in sight.
The strain put upon our much-battered political system by Peron's death might be too much; that is why we are holding our breath, waiting—and doing our best—for society to accommodate to the new reality, to the emptiness created by the disappearance of the charismatic leader, the magical do-gooder, the Father of many Argentines. Obviously enough, a community such as ours, so dependent on a single man, was and still is rather sick, to say the least. This fact suggests a possible and really positive consequence out of all this: Argentina, its men and women, the political system, will now have to walk alone, think and act by themselves, instead of relying upon an irreplaceable man. This new absence of our paternalistic figure entails a danger but also, if we are able to do it, a major breakthrough. If we can proceed peacefully without the personal presence of Peron, we shall have attained the political maturity we lost somewhere behind and may expect some kind of future.
THE STATUS OF WOMEN
The surprising emergence of a woman as new President of Argentina suggests a brief consideration of a subject that overexposure may have made rather boring to American readers: an examination of what is happening down here with regard to Feminism.
It is my firm belief that one of the frontiers through which the road toward a free society passes is the liberation of women. As the Yoko Ono/Lennon song said, "Women are the niggers of the world." I have always found it disturbing that the libertarian movement was not in the vanguard of the civil rights campaign (pressing for noncoercive approaches rather than advocating government coercion to impose libertarian moral views upon others), and recently I also found it puzzling why young libertarians have not been in the vanguard of a sane, nonhysteric movement toward woman's ancestral liberation from social, economic, cultural, and political domination.
I believe those two omissions (by way of example) are somehow related to the relative failure of libertarians to capture the imagination of considerable numbers of young idealists. As far as I know, no libertarian ever planned a constitutional amendment or a general withholding of taxes or any other scheme to assure that basic individual rights were in fact recognized for colored people; they were too busy fighting against a budget deficit or an increase of taxes. This fact tells a lot.
As to Argentina, some say it was about time, others contend that it is merely another example of "cultural colonialism" and others still reject it furiously, but the fact is that women's lib has arrived in Latin America too—the land of machismo, Latin lovers and so on.
There are at present various groups of women's liberationists, of which I cannot perceive the differences as yet (although I am sure there must be some). Let's just say that one of them is called UFA, for Union Feminista Argentina, a self-explanatory name without need of any translation, but also meaning a slang word used to denote impatience. They are getting exposure in the mass-media, and are characterized by an intellectual, nonextremist approach, not devoted to "direct action": no sit-ins, public demonstrations, boycotts or the like. They diagnose that women have been and still are dependent human beings, due to cultural, not biological, differences, and that this is a status to be changed. They believe that motherhood is not the only way to fulfill their human potential, being perfectly capable of achieving any professional, intellectual or generally human goal men can achieve. For UFA most women of today are "alienated by culture, religion, social conventions, economic pressures and education." They concretely reject political margination, married dependence, unwanted pregnancy, economic subordination and commercial erotization. There are no lesbian connotations so far, and there is not a strategy of direct confrontation with men. As one spokesman of UFA said, there could not be, when "We share the bed."
It must be recognized that progress in the last 10 years has been noticeable. If we take a look at the sexual composition of the student population of the University of Buenos Aires—the biggest and, till recently, the most prestigious—we can see that women are a very important percentage, from a low 10-20 percent in Engineering and Economics, to a high 70-80 percent in History, Literature and Arts, through a strong 30-50 percent in Medicine, Law, etc.
OUT IN THE WORLD
Professionally, women have fared better—as everywhere—in Education, being an absolute majority since many years ago among primary level teachers, a simple majority of high-school professors and a growing minority at the university level. Another field in which women have had a comparatively good record of integration is Law: there are many women lawyers, a good number of judges and one of the five members of the Argentine Supreme Court until 1973 was Margarita Arguas, a well-known expert on International Private Law. There are also many physicians (although more pediatricians than surgeons), dentists, architects and a lesser number of accountants.
In business, a few years ago it was considered a major novelty if a woman reached the level of bank branch manager. There are very few high-level executives, most of them in the cosmetic industries and the like. On the other hand, there are a lot of small businesses owned and/or run by women. There are some female taxi-drivers and gas station attendants. In the factories, women have been traditionally a majority in some lines of production such as textiles.
In the public service, women are probably a majority in low-level jobs, but there has never been a female Governor, and only a small number of Congresswomen. Of course, in the political realm, the emergence of famous Eva Peron in the late forties as the First Lady of also then President Peron, was of major relevance, since she became a leader of women of poor condition, almost a candidate to the Vice Presidency and was a major force behind the first female vote in 1951. She died still young in 1952 and now, 20 years later, "Isabelita" wife of Peron, too, achieves that which "Evita" could never attain.
As to sexual mores, the so-called "double standard" still reigns, but is declining. Argentina is still one of the few countries without divorce—a dubious distinction—and it defines in a different way the crime (yes, crime) of adultery according to the sex of the adulterer (the woman becomes one if she has one sexual relationship with a man other than her husband, while the man only becomes guilty if he continuously lives in his house with a woman not his wife). Birth control is very common in the high and middle classes and abortion is still a crime about which no relevant issue has yet been made. This description becomes worse when you move to the rural areas, and there are large pockets of women in special psychological and social conditions where no significant change has come about in the last 50 years.
As you see, after this brief and impressionistic view of woman's role in Argentina, given the cultural tradition of "machismo," the situation could very well be worse. As to our new female President, she has been the loving and devoted wife of a man she obviously worshipped and her mentality seems to be very far away from the feminist one. Yet, the mere fact of her doing her job is, I am sure, a good influence upon men and women—women and men (sorry)—of this and neighboring countries.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Foreign Correspondent: Madam President".