Feminism Series: Part 1
As someone who considers myself a feminist, I am all too familiar with the awkward moments, silences, and tension this movement arises in others. Why is it that there is so much resistance, tension when the topic of women's rights is brought up in some way, shape, or form? This is one question I have been asking myself for a while now, long before I came to Chile, and still am asking myself today. Along the way, the false belief that feminism is equivalent to man-hating or saying that women are better than men has become an all too common falsification. On the other hand, legitimate criticisms such as Feminism's long history of excluding women of color & toxic white feminism are incredibly valid, and in order for true equality for all women - must be confronted.
This leads me to my next point, as a White woman from the western world - how can I support the Chilean feminist movement? This question is the inspiration behind a three-part series on the Feminist movement in Chile to investigate with the objective to understand, to learn how I can be better by becoming less self-righteous in my feminism and more humble as I, like many of us, have my own internalized sexist thoughts & attitudes to work on. The first part of this three-part series is focused on the femicide epidemic, and some of the root causes behind it. Before we get into the nitty-gritty, let's lay out some of the terminology used when discussing femicide. Below you will find a definition & examples of various terms. The definitions & examples have been taken from studies, reports & dictionaries to maintain accuracy.
Definition: A social system in which power is held by men, through cultural norms and customs that favor men and withhold opportunity from women.
Example 1: Media that portrays women as primarily sexual objects. (Cultural)
Example 2: Many school dress codes enforce gender-specific policies that place the blame on girls for “distracting” other students by showing arms, shoulders, knees, midriffs, etc. (Institutional)
Example 3: Using words like “bitch,” “girls,” “pussy,” in a way that equates femininity with weakness or wrongness. (Individual)
Definition: the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.
Feminism is not the idea that women are better than men or man-hating.
Definition: Femicide is generally understood to involve the intentional murder of women because they are women, but broader definitions include any killings of women or girls. Femicide is usually perpetrated by men, but sometimes female family members may be involved. Femicide differs from male homicide in specific ways. For example, most cases of femicide are committed by partners or ex-partners and involve ongoing abuse in the home, threats or intimidation, sexual violence, or situations where women have less power or fewer resources than their partner.
What does the law entail?: The Gabriela Law was made after petitioning from Gabriela’s family after her femicide was not considered femicide due to that pre-Gabriela Law the law only considered it femicide when the victim was killed by a live-in spouse. The Gabriela Law was essential in improving legislation protection of women as it fought to include non-married partners, increased prison sentences, and expanded the definition of femicide to kill because of gender in varied circumstances.
Ni Una Menos (Not One Less)
What does this movement entail?: The #NiUnaMenos movement began in 2015 and is dedicated to fighting gender inequality and the abuse and murder of women. The name translates as ‘not one less’, meaning that not one more woman should die at the hands of men. It is a grassroots movement that motivated hundreds of thousands of women in Argentina to take to the streets of their cities in protest. It has grown into a powerful movement that raises awareness of femicides in South America.
Definition: A subset of values, beliefs, and behaviors in a society that trivializes or normalizes sexual violence, including rape.
Examples of attitudes/beliefs actions that contribute to rape culture:
Making women responsible for policing their activities and the behavior of men who perpetrate.
Acceptance of “locker room talk”.
The “boys will be boys” attitude.
Chilean Perspective: Featuring Lorena Vidal
Lore with an important woman in her life, her mother.
ThoughtsandThings: Would you call yourself a feminist? Why or why not?
Lorena Vidal: YES, I would call myself a feminist mostly because of the way I think and live my life. A while ago, I began to reflect on the subject of feminism, what it means and I realized that there were many things that I was doing wrong, that I had many “machista” (sexist) thoughts that I grew up with that were wrong. Prior to this, I got carried away a lot by collective thinking, how I’d grown up, and what I’d learned. I think we all grew up with a bit of machismo, experiencing it day to day even in the small things that one thinks are not important, whether intentionally or not. But at a certain point, it is up to us if we want to see that machismo and confront it. So, I decided that I didn’t want to continue living or thinking like that, and I decided to change it. I think the basis for everything is to change the way of thinking.
With this movement (the feminist movement) we are trying to change something very big, and very strong that has gone on for a very long time, so we have to start by changing the way we see the whole issue of feminism.
In a certain way, I would also NOT consider myself a feminist because I think it is also good to participate in activities with other people who push the movement and I do not participate in these activities. I think that the activities that explain what feminism is and what it seeks are super important so that everyone knows it well and we are on the same page. Also, activities that are supportive of women, self-esteem talks, and safety are very good and fundamental for this (feminism) to work.
Lorena with her mom at a protest.
ThoughtsandThings: What does the Ni Una Menos movement mean to you?
Lorena Vidal: For me, it has to do with the treatment and violence towards women because of machismo. It does not mean that women will never die again because unfortunately, that will continue to happen in other situations.
Rather, it is that it is possible to understand that women have the right to not be mistreated, abused, harassed, raped, and murdered for being a woman because unfortunately, this is how it is. Women are seen as inferior in many aspects, they are abused psychologically, it is as if they have a right over us, to make us feel inferior, a right to mistreat/abuse us - and that cannot be. The Ni Una Menos (Not One Less) movement has to do with the fact that women do not die as victims when femicide occurs, due to the belief of inferiority that exists. And here it comes into play again, changing people’s mentality so that these things do not continue to happen.
ThoughtsandThings: Why do you think that this Chilean song went viral last year? How does it make you feel?
Lorena Vidal: I think it went viral because it reveals a horrible reality in a few sentences. It talks about how minimized women are in society, and as something that not only happens in Chile but throughout the world. The song shows the little credibility given to women and the constant blame placed on women in cases of mistreatment/abuse. Women’s role in the situation is always questioned. If she was raped, she is questioned. Why was she there at that time, why was she wearing those clothes, why she was in that place, why didn’t she do something, but they don’t question the perpetrator in this way.
I don’t think that any woman is the cause of her rape. So it’s very unfair that women are questioned in this situation because it is not the victim who is at fault.
On the other hand, it shows all the entities and factors, especially within the judicial sphere, that women have working against them in these types of situations. If a woman is murdered, the question “what did she do to make this happen to her” always gets asked. In many many cases, the homicides go unpunished even when there is evidence. What good does it do to have a law if when a woman is killed or raped, if they will not believe it and they will not pay attention to the evidence? What good does it do when the people who make all the decisions have machista thoughts?
The song provokes a lot in me when I listen to it, in fact, I almost cried when I saw the video. It also makes me feel sad because it is something that is experienced on a daily basis but there are so many people who continue to turn the other cheek even though almost all women have and continue to experience some type of mistreatment, abuse, or harassment.
Lorena with her cousin.
ThoughtandThings: What do you think are some of the main reasons and attitudes that perpetuate violence against women?
Lorena Vidal: I think that one of the biggest reasons is people's mindset, both men and women, who continue to have sexist thoughts where women are less than men and therefore can be judged and mistreated. I feel that many people have not done the exercise of thinking and reflecting the machista behaviors and thoughts that exist externally and internally as well.
Another very important aspect is the judicial system. I think they have to be much more strict and at the same time delicate in how they deal with rape or femicide so that the people in charge do not blame the women for something of which they were 100% the victim.
The upbringing of each person is also super important. I think we were all in some way raised and taught with some machista behaviors, some so small that we don't even notice them.
Lorena with her friend Sofia.
ThoughtsandThings: What is your opinion about the Gabriela Law?
Lorena Vidal: I think it's very good that it has been implemented as before there was a law that regulated femicide but it was only considered femicide when it was domestic violence and there were formalized relationships.
Now the Gabriela law regulates all types of violence even when there was no formalized relationship between the victim and the perpetrator. I think the law was super necessary because there is a lot of abuse and violence against women, and especially super necessary because the current generation doesn’t give as much importance to the formalization of a relationship. But to me it seems like that although it’s a law, there is still a lot of support and credibility for all these cases of violence. I feel that the reason why these things happen is still being questioned a lot and the role that women "play" in cases of abuse/violence is questioned a lot.
Lorena with her sister and cousin
ThoughtsandThings: Any final comments?
Lorena Vidal: From my point of view, it is super important that feminism is well understood in order to empathize with the movement. There are still many people of both genders who do not understand it well and do not even take the time to read a little about feminism but draw their own conclusions and judge the movement without even knowing what it is. You have to understand that feminism does NOT seek to turn everything around and say that women are superior to men. Rather, it strives that women are recognized as human beings with the same rights. It is to reconsider and recognize the "privileges" that men have over women in all areas of life. Unfortunately, many of those privileges are not even political but have been taught through the years (housework, salaries, job opportunities, security).
And one of the strongest and most shocking things is the physical and psychological abuse of women. There are many women who are beaten by their partners, many women who are raped and they always make people believe that it was the woman's fault, but no one should have the right to do that.
I feel that in itself it is a very very complicated issue but because people do not want to understand some things like that I can dress the way I want and it does not mean that I am asking to be raped or killed, who is going to ask that? However, many men continue to cling to it, to continue mistreating, harassing, and abusing. It is true when they say that a woman cannot live in peace because I believe that her life is always in danger. We are always exposed to being touched or groped, raped, and killed.
More than men because it is a double risk. Yes there is also sexual abuse towards men and this is not okay, however, the abuse and violence towards women occur at a much higher rate. It’s not taken into account that the chance of a woman being harassed and abused is much greater than that of a man. Unfortunately, there is a lot of machismo in women as well.
On the other hand, I think that there is a generational shift happening now where both men and women are a little more aware of feminism, of what it means, and they try to live a life with less “machismo” as possible, although obviously there are exceptions. But in the "older" generations, machismo is something that is deeply rooted in both genders and in all areas of life. They lived their whole lives like this and now it is very difficult to change their way of thinking.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Lorena was on to something when she chose to turn inward and question her own sexist thoughts and attitudes. She isn't the only one as the World Bank agrees as they stated that "the most effective initiatives address underlying risk factors for violence, including social norms regarding gender roles and the acceptability of violence." The way I see it, we all have to do conscious work to unlearn the harmful sexist thoughts and attitudes we were taught growing up. These gender roles don't just harm women as toxic masculinity also harms boy's emotional health and creates an environment where aggressive & sexist behavior is taught to boys as Jackson Katz touches on in his Ted Talk. With all the harmful beliefs that perpetuate violence and the numerous unconscious bias that exist, it's impossible to not have internalized sexist attitudes at some level - no matter how enlightened a person may be. So, fellow expats, I suggest we start today and take a page out of Lorena's book to begin to challenge some of our own sexist attitudes and thoughts.
Another equally important step is to check our feminism and make sure that it is intersectional. What is Intersectional Feminism? According to Kimberlé Crenshaw, who invented the term back in 1989 "an intersectional approach shows the way that people’s social identities can overlap, creating compounding experiences of discrimination." While Crenshaw was in law school, she noticed that gender and race were seen as separate issues although women of color experience race and gender discrimination.
Nowadays, to be an intersectional feminist is to acknowledge the relationship between any kind of discrimination from gender, race, age, class, socioeconomic status, physical or mental ability, gender or sexual identity, religion, or ethnicity. The key here is to pay attention to what different kinds of feminists are saying and not just the ones who share the same experiences as yourself. In doing this, the idea is to acknowledge the overlap of the systems of discrimination and oppression that women face.
If this is still unclear, Crenshaw sums this up by saying that "the way we imagine discrimination or disempowerment often is more complicated for people who are subjected to multiple forms of exclusion. The good news is that intersectionality provides us a way to see it. We might have to broaden our scope of how we think about where women are vulnerable because different things make different women vulnerable."
Currently, there is so much information out there to help intersectional learning. To continue the Intersectional learning here are a few ideas to get the ball rolling:
Whether it be listening to a podcast, reading a book, or following an educational Instagram account, there are so many ways that we can implement intersectional learning into our daily routines to fight for the equality of all women.
P.S. I can't wait to hear from you! Leave me a comment below with your thoughts on this issue!