No Means No: The Purple Parade
By Jade Arroyo
Given the scope of serious violence against women in Mexico and the lack of data on this, we would like to address the gender violence and harassment women experience on a daily basis. The problem is not in the implementation of policies, but the content of these policies. Mexico, along with nine other Latin American countries, is among the 25 countries with the highest rates of femicide in the world. Their women are routinely victims of sexual harassment in public. Seven out of ten people of Mexican origin, both women and men, said they have seen a man physically or verbally harassing a woman on the street, and it is likely that more Mexicans refuse to acknowledge that they were victims or witnesses, according to a survey by the Parametría Company.
Last April 24, a massive march with thousands of attendees was held in Mexico City and other prominent cities. Women from 30 different states marched together with respect and nonviolence to demand an end to harassment, femicide, and abuse against women. Under the slogan “Vivas Nos Queremos (We want ourselves alive),” the marchers recalled that, according to INEGI, seven women are murdered daily in our country by male violence, and that justice is obtained in only a very small percentage of cases.
Violence against women is not something new, but now we are talking about these issues. Cases in which well-educated men from respectable families were violating underage women as part of their fun-seeking routine, provoke indignation and deep sadness. Cases like that of Andrea Noel, a writer who was attacked in the street and whose denunciation was followed by social hatred, are faithful representations of the values rooted in a sexist and ignorant society.
Following the march and its call to attention, a wave of true stories flooded the social media, under the hashtag of #MiPrimerAcoso (my first harassment). This quickly became a media phenomenon. Thousands of women told their personal stories of harassment and abuse. For many, it was the opportunity to vent what had been kept silent for years. Many others who were reading the accounts began to remember and recognize their own experiences of harassment and abuse.
According to Dulce Ortiz, a member of Amnesty Internacional in Guanajuato and a psychologist specializing in care for victims of sexual abuse, “The success of that hashtag is because we are many who are fed up, and we demand a world that is more fair, that is including us and respecting us.” A violation, beyond its legal definitions, is to do to a person’s body something she has not accepted or has refused to do. When it is impossible to give consent, such as when the person is drunk or unconscious, it is a violation because there was no consent. In other instances such as mobbing, there is an unequal power relationship that does not allow the person to freely consent or refuse. Many women have been assaulted, and this is a gender issue. It has to do, among other things, with the way society thinks. This is a society that acts and reacts to attacks that have occurred for years without reporting them. That violence is normalized, and our attacks are minimized. Society has taught us to be silent.
Cecilia Garibi is a master in Gender Studies and activist for Colectio 41. “During the march, feminists demanded: autonomy. I have the perspective of both feminist women and the gay community due to my job at C41. Homophobia and misogyny have the same origin: the devaluation of the feminine against the masculine. Instead of peeling off from one another, let’s get together and work collaboratively. The origin is much deeper. If we each stay fixed in our own policy, our struggle is going to be slower, and so is our progress.”
The voice of harassment
We interviewed women who have endured harassment. These are their stories:
Ana González, 33, psychologist and master in sociology
“Anyone who knows me knows I’m strong and that my feminist commitment is a priority in my life. I say that in theory one should know how to react or otherwise deal with such situations. For me this experience sums up everything that involves harassment, abuse, sexist violence. It was very early and I was headed to the bank, was in pants, shirt, and just out of bed, nothing glamorous or attractive. I was walking on the street and no one was there. A taxi came from nowhere, and the guy stared at me with this lascivious glance. I kept walking, and now the same taxi was behind me. The guy was completely exposed and touching himself, speaking to me with very rude words. I kept walking, dead from fear and paralyzed: I just wanted to feel safe . . . suddenly I noticed that there was a neighbor about five houses from me watering plants. I approached him and explained what was going on, and the only thing he could tell me was, ‘go back home and stay there.’ It helped a little because the taxi left, but I spent the next hour shaking with fear and disgust, thinking that somehow it was my fault, because three days earlier someone had grabbed my butt while walking down the street, and two days before that a stupid man pressed his body against mine, and one day earlier a dude on a bike screamed at me ‘. Was I was doing something so such things were happening to me?
“But, I realized that it was not my fault, that there is something called patriarchy that allows and encourages all these things, leaving women alone and helpless. And that night my group at Colectivo listened to me, hugged me and was incensed. I no longer felt so alone. Other women were the ones who made me feel safe and brave again. We must stand up and shout together. All. Because then we are heard.”
Beatriz Suárez, 28, teacher
“I do not know if it was the first time they harassed me. I know it was the first time I felt violated, scared, and ashamed, like it was my fault. I was 11. My dad (he was a teacher), along with other co-workers, had to deliver some stationery supplies to an office, as it was summer. The other children and I stayed playing at the park that was across the street. One guy approached us and sat down. I did not feel comfortable. Suddenly the guy pulled out his penis and started touching himself, looking at me directly. My fear was for the smaller children … I tried to protect them, trying to get their attention with games, and they did not notice anything. I remained fearful and disgusted. He just finished; he laughed and left.”
Tellechea Alma Martinez, 34, graphic designer, photographer, and mother
“I vividly remember my first harassment. I was seven. Leaving school, I went with my mother on the bus and there was a man sitting to my left side. I suddenly felt something inside my skirt … I was in shock for a moment without understanding what was happening. My only reaction was to ask my mother to change places. She ignored me, and I waited until it was time to get off the bus. I never told anyone. When I was 11 years old, a guy 10 years older than I asked me to accompany him to get a few things at home. We were neighbors. We lived in a subdivision away from the city, and at some point we got to the field, where he tried to rape me … I ran away as fast as I could and hid at home, remembering there was a family meal. Again I was silent for fear of his threats.
“A couple of years ago, I went to a specialist, a psychologist friend of mine. I went to several sessions, and somehow this had become an important pillar in my recovery.
“One night I had drunk too much and went home for support. I remember seeing his face on me; I never forgot his gaze. I had been violated. In my 34 years there never is a day when harassment was not part of my everyday life, no matter what was taking place, regardless of the job. I am a mother of two kids. I raise my voice for them, and for future generations.”
Cecilia Garibi, 36 years old, master in gender studies, activist for Colectivo 41
“Unfortunately, we have normalized violence. I myself have normalized it. It has never happened to me, anything we can call serious. We are accustomed to give thanks to the guy who just grabbed us on the subway, but did not rape us. And on top of that, we feel guilty for what happened to us. This behavior is so strong that it perpetuates the minimization of the problem.
“My view is that we have started talking about harassment, but we must talk about all the other forms of violence that society minimizes.
“Many women are afraid to make a report for fear of losing what we have gained with so much work. How can you accuse your boss if you have a child at home?
“After the march, talking with friends on the sensitive topic of heterosexual men, they were very surprised at the forceful stories I told. “I knew that you lived with violence, but I did not know the degree. That has been the most powerful impact of the march: visibility.“