© M.A.F.I.A.

© M.A.F.I.A.

Ni una menos

Text by Virginia Jakim, Photos by M.A.F.I.A.

In the wake of the savage murder of a 16-year old girl in Argentina Latin America's women's movements organized in several countries to protest against machismo and misogyny. The feminist and artist Virginia Jakim watched this courageous outcry while being in Europe. When she returned home to Argentina she realizes that something has changed. Though she knows that the struggle isn't over yet. If anything it has only just begun.

When I decided to move from my home city, Buenos Aires, to Berlin a year and a half ago, I did it in a bit of a trance. I'm still not sure what I was thiking in that moment, but it felt like the right thing to do. Not because my life was anything but priviledged, but because I felt many aspects of it were at a dead end and I needed some change. Not a complete new start (does this exist at all?), but a change of scenary, in which I could develop myself away from the family and social dynamics I had experienced so far. I hadn’t noticed it so clearly before coming here, but after all this time, it is pretty clear that I was feeling constrained in a rather misogynistic enviroment.

When I arrived to Berlin, I rightaway noticed how different I felt while taking part of the public life and how much more relaxed interaction between men and women were. There were much less macho attitudes, less underestimation towards women, and talking for more than 10 minutes to a man was NOT immediately a tacit promise of sex... Sounds quite basic, right? Well, you haven’t been a woman in this world if you haven't received at least one bad look in return for not fulfilling that promise you never made.

The fact that I was valued as a smart, outspoken woman, and that many of the other girls were acting like that too, was the most comforting feeling I could get. This is, of course, a generalization; there’s always sexist behaviours everywhere. But, trust me, even the feeling walking down the street was different: no catcalling, almost no out-of-place sexual looks, and a lot of women looking like many kinds of beauty. This was, for me, a much more fertile ground to grow and a safer place to, basically, exist. Coming to Berlin was a breaking point in my life. The year and a half that followed that move, was a very long confirmation of how accurate that decision was.

I have now known for some months already that I have to go back to Buenos Aires to ask for a new visa at the end of October, which means I have to stay there for around four months. And I have to confess I have been quite worried with the idea of staying there so long, mainly because feeling comfortable with being a woman has become, in this time, a quite basic need in order to perform my humanhood as I like (insert a "stating the obvious" tone here). For example, I would like to not waste my energy in thinking for 30 minutes what I'm gonna wear that day if I don't want to get catcalled or looked at in a disgusting way (or even feel unsafe if some guy decides to take it a step further). Holding myself back from exploding in outrage everytime somebody says something completely mysoginistic in a meeting (and that is quite often), is another energy-consuming activity I do in Bs. As.

No, I probably won't have my genitals mutilated or my right to vote removed, but this everyday annoyances add up fast and are the lighter form of a worldview that considers women only as the receptable of men's desire.To prove my point, during the first weeks of my last month in Berlin, news coming from Argentina had gotten way darker.

Hearing about the police repressing the feminist protesters at the National Women Meeting (an event that happens every year since 1986, but gathered more people this year than ever) didn’t help. Hearing about the extremely violent rape, torture (impalement, to be precise) and murder of a 16-year-old, only as a culmination of a week in which other 7 femicides were perpetuated, needless to say, made things even worse. It’s not like these things didn’t happen when I left Buenos Aires (and not that that makes them any less horrifying), but the situation seems to be intensifying and the lack of action from authorities remains the same. Women are being simply destroyed.

In Argentina, a femicide occurs every 30 hours. And, yes, this is the country that had a very well-known female president for 8 years, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. During that time, the first egalitarian marriage law in Latinamerica was approved, as well as one of the most groundbreaking and inclusive gender identity laws in the world.

But nobody said reality isn’t as complex as can be. In this same country, abortion is ilegal and the Church still has a lot to say about every decision made. This was intensified when Francisco Bergoglio became the Pope. What had been a very progresive government in many aspects, turned its good relationship with the new ‘progressive’ pope into one of its pillars. Even CFK said, way into her second term that she didn’t agree with legalizing abortion. And although she did many great things, that part always brings up in my mind that famous Simone de Beauvoir quote: “The oppressor would not be so strong if he did not have accomplices among the oppressed themselve”.

A state that doesn’t trust women to make decisions about their own lives and bodies, cannot give us the kind of policies that will protect us even when it seems we have become an endangered species. And the situation doesn’t look like any better with the new Macri’s right-wing government. CFK’s government, with all of its flaws, had the fight against human trafficking as one of its flags. Current Minister of Security, Patricia Bullrich, seems to be very well alligned with giving power and protection to the police force, both to repress and to keep on going with their compliance with clandestine brothels.

I'm conviced that lack of punishment for the perpetrator gives the situation some clear ground to occur, but does not generate the gender violence that originate these cases. Is Latinamerica's post Spanish conquest centuries-long affair (or should I say 'abusive relationship'?) with Cristianity to blame for? Is its long history of having its people and lands both politically and economically exploited that produced this domino effect of opression?

But don't get me wrong: to be fair, what happens in Argentina is not any different to what happens in other countries with gender inequality issues like the U.S. or Italy, to name a few. It is not like you walk down Buenos Aires’ streets and you see women being drag by the hair and people throwing stones at them (although I refuse to think that it has to come to that to consider the situation serious). But this is why the situation is so complex: it is a society with a fairly good level of education, that somehow raises this kind of barbaric behaviour. But these are not isolated, inexplicable cases, that are new to any society. “These are not sick people, these are the healthy sons of Patriarchy” goes the feminist slogan. And it is sadly right.Having all this in mind, although my life in Buenos Aires was, as I said before, a quite priviledged one, the idea of staying so long there was unsettling. As painfull as it is to me to admit, I do feel more accepted, freer, and safer in Berlin.

Then, two weeks before my return, I found out about some feminists groups organizing a women's strike under the already famous slogan #NiUnaMenos (#NotOne(Woman)less). This proposal was triggered by the before mentioned femicide, but I was skeptical. Not because I didn’t find the idea thrilling, but because I was conviced that most women in Argentina were hopelessly playing along with the situation enough to not move at all from their houses.

And then it happened.

I was arrogant and I was wrong. And how good it feels to be wrong sometimes...

The strike was massive. It was covered by the media, many times hypocritically enough to be followed by the news of some local actress getting her tits done, but it still means it was huge. Thousands of women (and, luckily a lot of men) marched under the heavy rain to protest, and all of those umbrellas were the vision of the first strike during the Macri administration. The news of the protest spread worldwide and days after it echoed and was reproduced in many Latinamerican countries and even in Italy.

Me, I followed the protest online and couldn't be more proud and moved.

Now, in a very selfish way, I feel quite happy that this happened right before my return. Maybe, it is a good time to be there.



Fast forward two months and a half: on site update.

I've been here two months already and this is the situation: the dated, smelling-like-naphthalene points of view are abundant and still reign in the mainstream culture (for example, most of the people are still asking what the victim was wearing). Disheartening enough, we are seeing a very clear backlash of hate that this kind of standing-for-your-own-rights brings. Three women have been impaled to death after the first case. Yes, three. Yes, impaled.

BUT, this is not the same context I left one year and a half ago. When I walk down the street now, I get the feeling I get to complain about catcalling. Many men are starting to ask more about the topic, listening humbly, and making a shift on their attitudes towards women. Many victims of abuse are starting to feel enough support to tell their store in search of justice. Every day I hear stories of women defending each other on the streets in everyday life violent situations. This was a country that had not so long ago little awareness of the social fabric that was creating and allowing this kind of violence towards women. Now, their women are screaming that they had enough of it. I know very clearly that the path is long, hard, energy-consuming and many times discouraging, but it definitely has started to be walked.

The #NiUnaMenos protest was extremely important. It was a breaking point.

But I have learned something about breaking points. I realize now that they are only the most visible aspect of longer processes. To be aware of this, is to recognize that every single little action ads up for this breaking point to happen. The women strike was an incredible, inspiring moment. One that gave all women the idea that we are all together in this, that sorority is a thing and that we need it, and that we are not alone, despite governmental inaction and compliance. One that gave us some hope after that avalanche of hate that wants to extinguish us. But we need to know that, this was the pick of an accumulation of smaller actions. I can recognize another, more subtle, breaking point in the not so distant past: around three years ago, Malena Pichot, a young Argentinean comedian that bases all of her act in feminist activism, got to be in charge of a weekly comedy skit in a prime time show and started, in a humorous but sharp and eloquent way, a conversation about catcalling and all the hoops women have to jump through from a very early age on to keep themselves safe in a society like ours, and it was groundbreaking. All the little actions before and that followed that, count. All the times someone stated in a family meeting that making judgmental comments about how a woman dresses or acts is not OK, something moved. Every time a woman presented herself as a non-stereotypical, non-conforming form of womanhood, an example was given. Every time a famous ex-football coach, suspected many times of child abuse, was not brought up as the charming character he is on TV, but as a rapist, some kind of social justice was made. We need to know this to aim for stronger, better-based changes, and to not buy the prepared-for-Hollywood version of our own struggle. Let’s not think, that only grand gestures matter. Although the strike was undeniably important and we all needed the high that it gave us, not only the thing that gets to the news counts. We need to have in mind that every time a little sprout of hope, justice, or change appears for the oppressed, a better future is about to bloom. For the ones that were paying attention, this moment had been building up relentlessly for some years now, and the next one, I'm sure, will continue to do so from now on.