Ni Una Menos demanded the end of a slaughter that must be stopped.
But now women find themselves under attack from a renewed discourse which blames protesters and victims for the violence
On June 3, 2015, under the slogan Ni Una Menos hundreds of thousands took to streets and squares nationwide to protest against gender violence. Almost two years on from that historic date, the slaughter shows no sign of stopping. Worryngly, a discourse is reappearing — in the media, on social networks and what is worst, even in courtrooms — which blames the victims and their expressions of protest.
Today somebody is going to die. It doesn’t matter what the date is or the time of year. Today somebody is going to die but it won’t be just anybody — it will be a woman or a girl. Argentina maintains a terrifying rhythm, one where a new female body shows up every 18 hours so far this year, according to the data of the Wanda Taddei Institute for Gender Policy. Women and girls are going to die precisely for being that — women and girls. They numbered 295 in 2013, 277 in 2014 and 286 in 2015, leaving behind respective totals of 400, 330 and 214 children without parents.
Anybody who saw that gigantic demonstration against the slaying of women on June 3, 2015, knows what it’s all about. There were thousands of people. And there were thousands of posters carring the names and photos of murdered women, all of them smiling before starting what was to be their last day. There was Carolina Aló, stabbed to death at the age of 19 by her boyfriend Fabián Tablado. The number of wounds can still be recalled by many to this day — 113. But there were also rows of faces which never reached the front pages of the newspapers, but who perished all the same. There was a grandmother hugging her grandson in a photo; there was a gilded poster of a dancer no more than 10 years old.
It is that kind of “case,” those far less famous ones which have been covered since its origin by the Observatorio de Femicios Adriana Maricel Zambrano, which is linked to the La Casa del Encuentro NGO. This was the first “computer centre” for femicide in Argentina and it remains to this day the most reliable source for data even though (as they themselves take pains to explain) they only include on that sinister list the murders denounced and reported in national newspapers. Clearly, it’s barely a fragment of what is really happening because many femicides (the name given for some years now to refer the murder of women as such) don’t even become news, lacking the spectacular 113 stab-wounds, or the drama of an impalement or the woman burnt alive in the recent mass murder of six people in Hurlingham. If there is nothing of that — the crime just stays somehow in the shadows.
What is still worse is that with the passage of time the echo of the demand has seemed to fade away while a different discourse has begun to gather force. One which not only minimises the massacre underway but — as a corollary and with an argumentative twist lifted from the last dictatorship — holds the massacred responsible for the crime, blaming the growing demonstrations by women for the slaughter of which they are victims.
In the “years of lead” during the dictatorship, when citizens were being kidnapped and disappearing, the mantra was “They must have done something,” as if the hypothesis of a crime (that “something” supposedly committed) justified the real crimes. Today, that hypothesis is that women are “out of control,” sallying out to occupy a territory supposedly as masculine as the street, raising their voices and ending up dead precisely because they no longer whisper but spell it out loud.
Such ideas are gaining space in the media, on social networks and even in the rhetoric of some officials, for whom it surely would have been better for the families of the murdered women and for women in general if they had stayed home.
“What makes the Ni Una Menos outcry counterproductive is the feminist posture in an environment which is still not prepared for that kind of change. The ultra-radical postulates are anti-masculine and that makes women more rebellious,” forensic psychiatrist Hugo Marietán told Noticias magazine.
“More rebellious women” in the motherland of tango and bad guys as a prelude to tragedy and a single word (“counterproductive”) to justify the unjustifiable. Today somebody is going to die. And it will be their own fault.
“Did you make him hit you? Did you do something? Something abnormal or wicked? Did you face up to him?”
Those are the words television hostess Mirtha Legrand once asked the singer Laura Miller, a victim of gender violence.
Miller was stunned. Yet the words of her interviewer reflected the thinking of many, for whom violence toward women is nothing more than a reaction. Because she did something “abnormal or wicked,” to use the TV personality’s own words, she was beaten up in return. Stimulus and reaction — the “science” of patriarchal violence summed up in one line. It’s a line rewritten in 1,000 different ways in newspapers, magazines, radio programmes and television.
But unfortunately, a commentary like this, made on one of the most traditional programmes on Argentine television is far from accidental. Indeed, when the adolescent Melina Romero was savagely murdered while leaving a birthday party, the well-known journalist Samuel Gelblung linked the crime to the tour of Miley Cyrus and her “dangerous” styles of moving and dressing.
“In the video you see Melina going out to dance dressed like that — provocatively with shorts and a skimpy T-shirt and kissing a young man. That is why the message being delivered by Miley Cyrus is absolutely contradictory with a society trying to bring up its young ladies along certain lines,” he wrote.
Far from being exceptional, this anecdote has been repeated in the media and despite being loaded with discriminatory overtones, it does not seem to arouse anybody’s attention. It’s no accident but very serious. Especially because the stew of stereotypes and prejudices in which Argentines have become accustomed to living also trickles down into the core of justice.
The Observatory of Judicial Sentences, which depends on the Latin American Team for Justice and Gender (ELA in its abbreviated Spanish acronym), shows this too — you only have to review some of their rulings to understand that for Argentine justice such a basic principle as equality before the law becomes uncertain when women are involved.
Some examples? A 13-year-old girl was abused by an adult but the latter ended up free because (as was argued during the trial) the girl had previous sexual experience.
A woman of 26 and her little daughter were stabbed and hurled into a sewer in Córdoba. The woman died but the child miraculously managed to survive 80 hours in the dirty water and darkness. The accused (the former partner of the woman and the father of the little girl) was finally convicted for the crime but the court refused to add the aggravating circumstance of gender hatred. Prosecutor Eve Flores then spoke of a “machista procedural system” and an “androcentric” criminal code.
For lawyer Patricia Sanmamed, who has intervened as an defence attorney in various cases of gender violence, there is no doubt — Argentine justice wears trousers and shows them off every step of the way.
“There is definitely no real perspective on gender and that is reflected in the evident disparity of criteria applied to judge a woman. Regardless of the crime in question, she will always be compelled to admit her guilt in the facts under investigation. They ask her the already famous ‘What did you do to make him hit you?’, ‘Why didn’t you leave home to get away from the man mistreating you?’ or they make comments like ‘With that clothing you were provoking your rapist.’ Even with a homicide, they always find some way of justifying criminal behaviour while the woman is always being told to control herself or else she is asking to be killed.”
Beyond the courtrooms, the critique of women’s demonstrations also makes itself felt. Monique Alstchul from the organisation Mujeres e Igualdad (MEI) considers that we are in the face of a social reaction to female insurrection.
According to Altschul, “femicide and gender violence are interrelated. Insurrection is a word which breathes an autonomy which cannot be tolerated. Even less when there are hundreds or thousands of voices in uníson.
“In the social networks the machos resort to belittlement, dirty jokes and insults. They have always wanted us silenced,” she says.
Philosophy of the stereotype
“All women like piropos, even when it takes such forms as: ‘What a nice piece of ass.’ And those who say they don’t shouldn’t take offence. But I don’t believe a word they say,” a man told an FM Masters microphone in Ushuaia in April, 2014.
Just one more machista comment, you might say. Unless, as in this case, the phrase encapsulates the thinking of millions, or when the man saying it, as in this case, is today the president of Argentina. In fact the author of such a deplorable comment has been occupying the Pink House for more than a year, the highest distinction to which a citizen can aspire in a democratic country.
Somehow the words of Mauricio Macri condense, into just a couple of lines, various prejudices and stereotypes associated with femininity — that women do not say what they really think, that they like being accosted by strangers in the middle of the street, that even obscenity makes them smile and, above all, men (and not they themselves) are those who really know what they want to hear. Like “What a nice piece of ass,” for example.
All these commonplace and supposed sparks of popular wisdom contain, under the guise of jocular humour, a whole outlook (sexist and degrading by definition) about what it is and means to be a woman and in what way they (presumably collectively) feel and reason.
According to lawyer Natalia Gherardi of ELA, this blends with (and aggravates) what scant or non-existent education on equality is given to judges and lawyers. The result — a justice system that is far too prone to placing women in the dock.
“The problems arise from insufficient education in relation to gender equality, which leads to a limited interpretation of the constitutional principle of equality. A transversal education with a gender perspective in all areas of training lawyers remains pending,” she states.
At the same time she points to some other problems yet to be resolved. “In order for this transformation in progress not to place women in even greater danger, we must advance in at least two directions. On one hand, the state must respond better to denunciations, requests for aid, the signs of a violence which at times is not denounced. But furthermore as a society we must advance involving ourselves more. It’s a complex social problem requiring more actions and more demonstrations, not less.”
Ever since that first march in 2015 there have been advances, of course. Today it is not just one NGO counting the dead. The state itself is too, via the National Women’s Council and the National Register of Femicides, kept by the Supreme Court.
Yet nothing seems enough. A few days before these lines were written, the topless sun-bathing of three women on a beach unleashed a police operation worthy of an ambush from the Islamic State — 20 officers mobilised toward a zone affected by the troubling presence of six nipples exposed to the sun. While this article was being written, a young girl was stabbed to death in Lomas de Zamora. At the time of completing it, a 33-year-old mother in Santiago del Estero was stabbed to death, together with her four children by her husband, the father of the children. All five killed. The father, the assailant survived.
The women had made the corresponding denunciation for gender violence and that, reported the newspapers, had “infuriated” her killer. Yet again the problem was not the absence of the state nor its curious sense of priorities. It was for having spoken up, as a woman, in a country where female breasts still need to be covered up.
And for raising your voice, you pay with your life.
By Fernanda Sández
For the Herald