‘A rapist in your path’: Protesting Rape Culture in Latin America

Maria Ascencio is a second year International Relations student at King’s College London. She is the Latin America Editor at International Relations Today and the Editor in Chief for the Latin American Society’s Blog “El Cortao”. The following article is based on academic research and personal experiences.

 

Some of them carry posters that read the names of victims, some of them wear what we as a society have come to wrongfully categorize a “provocative outfit”. All of them are different. They come from all sorts of backgrounds and endured all kinds of different experiences. have Still, they all stand outside in the streets, united, fearless yet vulnerable to the perils of their societies. Blindfolded, they all move in synch to the same melody, “Y la culpa no era mía, ni dónde estaba ni cómo vestía, el violador eres tú”. (“I do not bear the guilt, regardless of where I was or what I was wearing, you are the rapist”). Mostly women, protesters across Latin America became inspired by this Chilean anthem “A Rapist in Your Path”, and took over the streets to demand their governments to take action regarding a number of societal injustices, including institutional neglect in cases of abuse and harassment, the sexist educational curriculum that is imparted in most countries, and overall inequalities in all societal spheres. Unfortunately, the support with which these protests were met was paralleled with criticism and mockery. Protesters were criticised for being “ridiculous”, they were accused of damaging public property and symbolic monuments, and if one goes on twitter, instagram or youtube, it is not hard to see memes and video parodies of them.

First and foremost, I want to make clear that by no means do I agree with the humiliation and harassment that these women have been met with. With this article, my intention is to question the efficacy of their public demonstration in a continent that the UN has long classified as the worst place on earth for women to live in (outside of conflict and war-thorn areas that is). I also intend to shed light on areas that might help the feminist movement moving forward, areas that have long been overshadowed and in which many Latin American women have, unknowingly, played an active role in maintaining patriarchal structures. I must also include a disclaimer. It is both difficult and sometimes dangerous to generalize across countries in a region as diverse as Latin America, even more so when discussing any sociopolitical issue. Due to the limited scope of this article, however, I am forced to make some of these generalizations, and it is important to consider that they might be influenced by the context in which I grew up and my own personal experiences. With this in mind, I invite the reader to consider their own experiences, and conduct wider research in order to challenge or add to my arguments.

 

I am certain that I am not the only one who has heard that feminism does not, and has actually never existed in Latin America. Whether or not these statements are made with malicious intent or not, the reality is that a lot of men and women remain ignorant (or choose to remain ignorant) to the fact that feminism has a long history in the region. While I would not be able to write much about the pre-hispanic period, there is enough evidence to suggest that feminism in Latin America was well alive during the 19th and 20th centuries. For the sake of brevity, (and because I could not have done a better job), I invite the reader to take a look at Nikhil Kumar’s “The Machismo Paradox: Latin America’s Struggles with Feminism and Patriarchy”, in which she offers a more thorough history. Granted, the women before us have achieved a lot. From the right to vote, to the right to terminate an unwanted or dangerous pregnancy, it would be erroneous and flat-out disrespectful on my part to diminish their efforts and victories. But, I must agree with Kumar. These achievements have not been grass-roots, fast-paced or easy to achieve. And, however groundbreaking, each and every single one of these victories has relied on some sort of support from the male establishment. I would argue that this has been the case because Latin American women and feminists have sought to tackle the patriarchy from above, rather than from below. In other words, for decades now we have politely asked men to give us what we deserve instead of teaching them from an early age that we are entitled to a rightful life, and that we do not need to ask for their permission to do so.

On “Margins, silences and bottom rungs: how to overcome the underestimation of power in the study of international relations” Cynthia Enloe makes an interesting point regarding the interconnectedness of hierarchies and how they might provide each other with respective resilience. She suggests that, the hierarchies in the bedroom and at home are thus not unconnected from the hierarchies in government structures. Understanding these interrelations is thus key in changing the status quo, and it is precisely because this link is still so misunderstood in Latin America that I do not see how the current protests will have any significant impact.

The education of Latin American boys and their socialisation at home and at school has long focused on controlling everything that may make them appear weak, affectionate, caring; and on stimulating precisely expressions of strength, domination and violence, says Nancy Palomino co- author of the book “Behind the Mask. Values and sexual violence in everyday life,” It is through this long educational tradition that finds its ancestry in the composition of ancient indigenous tribes, that Latin Americans have built a culture of violent machismo. And us women have contributed in normalizing this.

Machismo is a cultural analog to patriarchy that refers to a set of hyper-masculine characteristics and their assigned value in traditional Latin American society. Culture on its own does not explain why violence happens, there are obviously many factors at play that facilitate violence against women, including emotional dependency, trauma, adverse childhood experiences, poverty, discrimination, etc. But, in building and maintaining a machista culture, we have unraveled a plethora of problems that go beyond accepting gender roles. We have normalized the hyper-sexualisation of women, we have normalized their objectification, limited men’s ability to embody other, more empathetic and caring kinds of masculinity while justifying and praising their aggressive traits because “boys will be boys”.

The issue I see with the current protests in the continent are thus not based on the fact that I am opposed to their cause. My problem is that I do not see how they separate themselves from previous attempts made by our ancestors at tackling the patriarchy. This, I see it as yet another effort from above, in which we are politely asking men in government for permission to change something that they are unable and unwilling to understand. We have to remember that these men in power are the same who grew up watching their mothers and sisters cook meals and clean the house while their fathers brought bread to the table. The same men who were told in school by their female teachers that they should hold back their tears because real men do not cry. The same who learnt later in life that they had easy on-going access to women among their workplace and families, because we told our girls that they look prettier when they are silent. From sociological and psychological perspectives, changing these cognitive biases in this day and age is almost and impossible task.

So protesting is fine and all. I cannot deny that it has a short-term impact. But if we are to rescue Latin American feminism, our real job begins as mothers, wives, sisters, and girlfriends.

Bibliography:

Rescatando al Feminismo en América Latina

https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/3174469.pdf? refreqid=excelsior%3A14811ad0fce824bec38f29ae0208c60c https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminism-latin-america/ https://www.publico.es/sociedad/luiza-carvalho-america-latina-lucha-feminista-fisica.html https://theconversation.com/why-macho-culture-is-not-to-blame-for-violence-against-women-in- mexico-122900 http://brownpoliticalreview.org/2014/04/the-machismo-paradox-latin-americas-struggles-with- feminism-and-patriarchy/

https://www.ft.com/content/6519773e-8d90-11e3-9dbb-00144feab7de http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/02/fighting-machismo-latin-america-formula-combat-femicides/

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