Globalizing the Feminist Agenda
“Que hermosas que son, chicas.” The voice came seemingly out of nowhere, as did its owner, appearing from behind a wall around the street corner. My friend and I recoiled in surprise from hearing the jeers and subsequent slimy smirk from this stranger as we walked by. The incessant catcalls, or piropos, that overpower the streets of Buenos Aires cause me to outwardly cringe, and physically try to shake off the gross objectification. The not-so-dormant feminist in me wants to fire back expletives, but instead I walk by silently and avoid eye contact, not acknowledging the perpetrators.
At the beginning of my semester-long study abroad program in Argentina, the coordinators warned us about the catcalls we might hear as we roamed our new city, but I took that as an indication that I should be careful at night and keep my purse zipped, oblivious to the underlying phenomenon that has pervaded this culture. They told us to ignore them and keep moving. Acknowledging the comments or responding to them would only encourage the catcallers, or instigate a potentially dangerous situation.
As the semester went on, Argentine machismo became glaringly obvious. The inequality between genders is a gap that originated with the male expectation to be proudly masculine and provide for his family, but has been held open wide by its transformation into the swaggering entitlement to dominate women. As a result, piropos are only the barest displays of machismo that pervades Argentina.
In October, I walked by a protest near Congress in downtown Buenos Aires. Though protests and demonstrations are not uncommon occurrences in this city, this particular one was remarkable. Crowds of women, old and young, stormed the streets in the pouring rain, banging drums and shouting “Ni una menos” (not one less). They were marching to mourn the death of Lucía Pérez, a 16-year-old girl who was abducted outside her school in Mar de Plata, Argentina. She was drugged, repeatedly raped, and left outside a clinic by her male kidnappers; she died the next day from the injuries.
This is only one example of the domestic violence and murder of women that has rampaged Argentina, known to many as femicidios. Simply because they are women, they are killed by husbands, boyfriends, and exes. And because the government lacks resources to combat this sort of epidemic, the women go back to where it all started—the streets. The #NiunaMenos movement has gained support across Latin America to create awareness and begin working on solutions.
Ultimately, this is a social issue with roots in a cultural mindset that has only just begun to shift. Women are gaining the courage to speak up for rights that can only be considered as human. Finally, these changes are beginning to materialize. This past January in Washington, D.C. and worldwide, women gathered at the Women’s March to protest to advocate legislation and policies in support of women’s rights, immigration reform, healthcare, environment, LGBTQ rights, racial equality, and equal pay. In Washington, 500,000 people attended the march, and it is estimated that five million people attended sister marches around the world, including a group in Buenos Aires. But the movement does not end there.
We should not need security briefings that instruct us that sexual harassment in the streets is something that might happen, and that we should react as if it doesn’t. We should be fighting back and changing the conversation, both at home and abroad. “¡Salí de acá, no me molestas!” we should be saying. “Get out of here. Stop bothering me." Not one woman less.
About the author:
Caitlin Karna is an undergraduate student at Georgetown University studying Culture & Politics and Spanish in the School of Foreign Service. She spent the last six months studying and living in Buenos Aires, Argentina and hopes she will not lose her porteña accent now that she is back in Washington, D.C. She has written for the opinion section of on-campus newspaper The Hoya, contributed as a blogger for the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, and has been published in the New York Times.