Last Tuesday the Women’s Studies Research Center celebrated International Women’s Day with Marguerite Guzmán Bouvard (WSRC), a self-proclaimed feminist before the women’s movement. 

Bouvard seeks to bring attention to women around the world, as well as to female poets and writers like herself, who use literature as a form of expression and as a call to action. When asked what inspires her writing and poetry, Bouvard answered simply: “Justice. Justice and compassion.” Bouvard visited the WSRC to discuss her new autobiography, “The Memoir of a Rebel: A Feminist Woman Before the Women’s Movement.” 

Bouvard has been a resident scholar and writer at the WSRC since 1991 and has published 12 nonfiction books and eight poetry books. She was formerly a political science professor at Regis College, where she directed poetry workshops. Her research focuses on a plethora of social justice issues, ideas which she develops fully through her writing.

Bouvard began her presentation by explaining the context in which she grew up and how it encouraged her to be a “rebel.” As a young woman in the 1950s, Bouvard remarked on several instances in which she was undermined for being a woman. In one example, she spoke about obtaining her doctorate from Harvard University, which she was one of two women to attend at the time.

According to Bouvard, when she was writing her dissertation, her professor claimed to have lost her paper, and when she came to his office to speak with him, he tried to force himself on her. She cleverly went to his secretary and asked her for his wife’s phone number. 

Bouvard explained that she then received her paper from her professor the following day. 

She credited one professor for constantly looking out for her and for waiting in the doorways for her when she met with other professors to make sure that they “behaved.” Bouvard told the Justice that her time at Harvard “made [her] want to do more for women because it was so unfair.” 

As one of four women during her time studying at Harvard’s Political Science department, Bouvard realized the necessity of her work. She explained that her upcoming book, “Moral Heroes and Heroines” “is intended to give people hope that we’re not powerless. Because I think [the idea that we’re powerless] is the message we’re getting, I don’t know if you feel it, but it is a message, and I don’t like it.”

During the event, Bouvard discussed some of the events recounted in her autobiography, focusing on those that transpired during her time in Argentina. 

She visited the country in the wake of the Dirty War, a period of military dictatorship that lasted from 1976 to 1986. During this time, the ruthless regime led to a number of “disappearing” individuals. 

Typically, these citizens were young and were suspected of espousing socialist ideals. The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo in Spanish, were a group of mothers who publicly denied the state’s attempts at suppressing its constituents through various demonstrations. They most commonly were the mothers of the disappeared children and demonstrated and protested in support of finding their children and bringing attention to the human rights abuses by the government.

Bouvard was inspired to go to Argentina after hearing about the horrors of the Dirty War. In Argentina, Bouvard worked extensively with the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. She took part in demonstrations and protests and even embarked on a personal project of documenting all of their stories through interviews.  

Bouvard described the devotion of the protesters: “There was always a new demonstration. Always a new slogan. Always a new newspaper. If you can imagine that during a time like that, it’s incredible.” She elaborated on their dedication, explaining, “they were there [working] all the time, from the first thing in the morning to late, late at night. And they never got tired, because they supported each other. It was just wonderful, like a family.”

She explained what it was like for these women to live in a military state through various personal stories. She told the audience, “We were on the bus and [one of the mothers] was talking at the top of her voice. 

“You know, she was always talking loudly about politics. There were two guys sitting next to us that were listening, and I knew they were spies. … ‘Please keep your voice down, these guys are spies,’ [Bouvard said]. She said, ‘Why should I? Let them learn something; they need to learn.’”

Living in a military state presented harms more convoluted than spying. Bouvard shared the story of one of the mothers with whom she worked and interviewed. Bouvard explained how 10 “heavily armed men” came while her husband was away. 

They took the woman’s two sons outside and repeatedly kicked them in the genitals. 

Afterwards, her home was searched and pillaged while her sons were held at gunpoint. The men accused her 18-year-old son of theft. “They took him away and that was the last she ever saw of him,” Bouvard concluded.

Bouvard, however, does not see herself as confined to any single issue in her writing. Recently, she has taken up writing poetry about the refugee crisis in Syria. Syria has recently undergone a civil war that has resulted in the deaths or displacements of nearly half of the pre-war population. 

Due to the complexity of the varying interests, which can be categorized as religious and ethnic, the nuances of the situation are often overlooked.

Bouvard’s use of poetry to bring attention to the refugee crisis in Syria is unique because critics commonly discredit poetry that expresses political propaganda or takes a side on a political issue. When asked about this pressing tension between poetry and political issues, Bouvard elaborated: “I am a rebel, I do what I want and I go in my own direction; I always walk in my own direction quietly and it makes it difficult to publish, but I do it anyway. There are things that need to be said, and I will always say them, and I have been saying them since I was small … I think poetry is an important vehicle of truth and caring; there’s not just one subject ... for me — it’s a free space.” 

— Brianna Majsiak contributed reporting.