The Rainbow Nation?
Class, Race and Gender in the New South Africa
In tackling the legacy of racial oppression in South Africa it becomes necessary to situate the discussion at the intersection of race, class and gender. This article will look at this legacy of apartheid today with specific reference to the situation of the majority of women (poor, Black women) and the role of the present South African government in its stated efforts to deal with this legacy. It will evaluate the role played by the South African ‘women’s movement’ in this process and assess whether the WCAR (World Conference Against Racism), as part of the United Nations system, offers any hope for the majority of South African women in their struggles today. In doing this, it will also evaluate the UN’s Beijing + 5 process, a process dedicated to the eradication of gender injustice.
Today, despite legislative and constitutional commitments to promote racial and gender equality and to reverse the ills of apartheid, its legacy continues in the large-scale poverty, unemployment, social problems of violence against women, alcoholism, drug abuse, crime, lack of access to basic services, such as water, electricity, housing, etc. experienced by the majority of South Africans. Despite a commitment to ‘a better life for all’ (1), the ANC-led government has been unable to commit the resources necessary for the institutionalised inequalities of apartheid to be redressed. And the need for redress is paramount as apartheid was a system designed to under-resource the Black community in terms of housing, education, welfare, health, etc. This failure by government has largely been as a result of the adoption of a neo-liberal macro-economic framework in the form of the Growth, Employment and Redistribution Strategy (GEAR), which has prioritised the ‘encouragment’ of an export-led economy, trade liberalisation, debt repayment, cuts in social spending, cuts in public sector spending, the privatisation of basic services and parastatals, the flexibilisation and casualisation of labour and labour relations, inter alia. Moving away from a commitment to redress, the GEAR has ushered in a macro-economic logic designed to further exploit poor communities, the majority of whom are Black and women. In this context, any discussion of race must consider the role played by the GEAR in structurally reinforcing the inequalities entrenched by apartheid (2).
Whilst the South African constitution and law then reflect significant changes in terms of commitments to equality and non-discrimination, the macro-economic framework in which they exist prevents their realisation. In this way the poor Black majority continues to be exploited, only not as an identified and separate race. In fact, GEAR and the calls for Black economic empowerment by the ANC-government accept the logic that it is only a small Black elite, which will gain access to South Africa’s wealth. It has been in the separation of economic policy discussions from the largely consultative process of constitution-writing and law-making that South Africans have been made to feel part of the process of democratisation without having participated in the formulation of a macro-economic policy which prevents the realisation of some of the principles set out in these juridical frameworks. Instead it has been the needs of international capital, represented by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), which have been prioritised in the consultations before and in the formulation of the GEAR.
The South African ‘women’s movement’ (with the exception of the New Women’s Movement based in the western Cape) has also fallen victim to this separation of issues and struggles. The South African ‘gender machinery’ and Women’s National Coalition (WNC) have been silent in the debates about a macro-economic policy for South Africa. In the recent struggles of communities facing evictions and water and electricity cut-offs, they have also been silent. Instead they lament the lack of implementation of gender policy at various levels of their own bureaucracy – for example, insufficient funds being allocated to statutory bodies, such as the Commission on Gender Equality, or insufficient infrastructure and staff to deliver a justice system sensitive to the needs of survivors of rape or domestic violence, or a lack of shelters for abused women. Whilst such concerns are important, they should be seen in their broader context as the results of the implementation of an economic policy which cannot prioritise the implementation of gender policy except in word. In fact all of the complaints cited above fall squarely within a neo-liberal fiscal policy which prioritises cuts in spending on these areas. Responses of government to the complaints of the gender machinery and to the lobbying and advocacy attempts of other women’s NGOs have included the advice to challenge the private sector to assist with the implementation of gender policy and to begin organising the NGO sector in such a way that it shares skills and resources and buys and sells services to each other and to government in an attempt to become self-sustaining. In fact, advice to allow the market to determine the nature and speed of change in terms of gender, a capitalist market which has historically thrived on the exploitation of women in the home as unpaid labour and which can be shown to change its approach to the gender question based on its own changing needs in terms of its ability to extract profit.
This separation of issues and the failure to engage with the effects of economic policy on the implementation of gender policy is also reflected in the international discussions held within the framework of the United Nations. The United Nations General Assembly’s Special Session (UNGASS) on Beijing + 5, held in June 2000, is one example of the way in which this separation of issues works to draw the ‘women’s movement’ into processes which give the impression that governments, business, the international financial institutions, NGOs, etc., are committed to gender justice, without ensuring that the root causes of gender inequalities and their perpetuation are tackled head on. A closer look at the much-contested ‘Outcomes Document’ of the Beijing + 5 process, highlights some of the contradictions inherent in a process which denies the direct effects of macro-economic policy on the attainment of a gender justice which recognises race as an additional determinant of exploitation.
In reaffirming an international commitment to the achievement of gender equality, as laid out in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (POA), the B+5 Outcomes Document acknowledges certain “barriers” to the full implementation of the POA. ‘Globalisation’, including references to specific manifestations of neo-liberal economic policies (such as trade liberalisation), is cited as one of these “current challenges affecting the full implementation of the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action.” (3) The document recognises the different effects that macro-economic restructuring under globalisation has had on different groups of women, and the limited funding available at the level of the nation-state for the effecting of policies which favour the majority of women. Yet, it continues to prioritise the nation-state as the protagonist in effecting gender justice. In his closing statement to the B+5 session, the President of the Assembly, Theo Ben-Gurirab (Namibia), stated that “if governments demonstrated the necessary political will and allocated required resources, the goals of gender equality, development and peace would become a reality very early in the twenty first century.” (4) Yet, it is widely acknowledged that structural adjustment programmes, enforced through the international financial architecture, increasingly deny the power of the nation-state as the power of transnational companies determine its agenda and spending. The only reference to the international financial institutions in the entire Outcomes Document calls upon them, together with the UN system, “other international and regional intergovernmental bodies, parliaments, civil society, including the private sector and NGOs, trade unions and other stakeholders”, to “develop complementary programmes of their own to achieve full and effective implementation of the Platform for Action.” (5) Rather than drawing attention to the directly adverse effects of the IMF, World Bank and WTO on the position of the majority of the world’s population, the Outcomes Document argues for the mainstreaming of gender into existing macro-economic frameworks and for the working together with the international financial institutions to increase debt relief initiatives, such as the Cologne initiative for debt relief and the implementation of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC) (6). In addition it argues for the creation of “social development funds” “to alleviate the negative effects on women associated with structural adjustment programmes and trade liberalisation and the disproportionate burden borne by women living in poverty.” (7) Actions to be taken also include “measures to develop and implement gender sensitive programmes aimed at stimulating women’s entrepreneurship and private intitiative and assist women-owned business to participate in and benefit from, inter alia, international trade, technological innovation and investment.” (8) No reference is made to the creation of alternative modes of living and being outside of the current capitalist frameworks, such as collective or co-operative forms of organisation in society.
These are just a few examples of the approach to macro-economic policy contained in the document, which highlight a non-commitment to fighting neo-liberalism and instead a commitment to making the effects of neo-liberalism more ‘bearable’ by the poor. By representing globalisation as a “barrier” rather than as the cause of increasing oppression on a global scale, it gives the false impression that equality for all is possible within a capitalist economy. This approach is not, however, explicit but is reflected at different points in the document in relation to different “obstacles” to the full attainment of the POA. This has the effect of creating a false consensus, which unites people around common ends without interrogating the effects of the means proposed on the very same end result. For example, the goal of free primary education for all might have been agreed to in principle by the international financial institutions, the UN, nation-states and NGOs present at B + 5. However, the very terms on which nation-states might accept loans from the World Bank might require cuts in spending on education, preventing access to education for all young girls. In the framework of the Outcomes Document, this is seen as a failure of the nation-state to implement the Platform for Action and the World Bank is exonerated from blame. Several other examples could be made.
The South African ‘women’s movement’ has, successfully inserted itself into these separate processes within the UN framework through its own bureaucratisation, its own acceptance of ‘mainstreaming’ as a model for change, and through the erosion of any local, grassroots participation of women in its discussions, debates and decision-making. In the name of all women, it has given access to resources, policy debates and well-paying jobs in the formal sector to a few women (Black and white), who have not spoken out in the name of the majority. Yet, it has continued to enjoy the status of a resistance movement speaking for the most marginalised in society. It has been able to do this largely because of the respect gained through struggle over the years against apartheid, and because it continues to speak the language of struggle against poverty and exploitation in spite of its neglect of the effects of economic policy on women. It has also been able to do this because of the kinds of struggle and change valorised by the global ‘women’s movement’. By framing its programmes and strategies for change within a human rights discourse determined through interaction with the United Nations processes, the rule of law and constitutional change, the global ‘women’s movement’ has locked activists internationally into eternal processes of policy formulation and negotiations. These run parallel to processes of economic restructuring, which indirectly determine the success or failure of paper commitments in reality. Outcomes documents, platforms for action and conventions all become meaningless in the context of a capitalist restructuring which prevents any social role for the nation-state other than the facilitation of the extension of the reach and power of the market. A global feminist project, which speaks for all women through processes and structures which do not tamper with the basic exploitative relationship on which the global oppression of the majority of women is based, can only dilute the power of collective struggle against the various local and immediate manifestations of this relation. In addition, it lends legitimacy to the paper commitments to gender and racial equality of governments and international institutions, which do not contest the negative impact of global capital on the lives of the majority of the world’s women and men.
The forthcoming World Conference Against Racism is an opportunity for these contradictions within the governing supranational juridical frameworks to be exposed and for the subversive potential of women and men struggling for a better life for all outside of the circuits of capital and its supportive juridical apparatus to come to the fore.
(1) The slogan “A Better Life for All” has been the call of the ANC in its election campaigns since 1994.
(2) For a detailed and gendered critique of the GEAR please refer to the article, Changing GEAR, in Lola Press May-October 2000. No. 13, by the same author.
(3) Unedited Final Outcome Document (as adopted by the plenary of the UNGASS), 10 June 2000, p.14.
(4) UNGASS Press Release (GA/9725), 10 June 2000, p.1.
(5) Unedited Final Outcome Document (as adopted by the plenary of the UNGASS), 10 June 2000, p. 18.
(6) Ibid., p.42.
(7) Ibid., p. 42.
(8) Ibid., p.36.
Prishani Naidoo has an honours degree in Comparative Literature.
She is currently active in the Anti-Privatisation Forum, the Freedom of Expression Institute and Khanya College, all based in Johannesburg.
Women’s Memories – An International Learning Project
The origin of the project lies in the confrontation between Western feminists and women from the former Eastern Block. The Western feminists, who after re-unification in 1989 travelled to the socialist countries, judged the position of the women there according to their own criteria and experiences. This caused women in the East to feel displeasure, disquiet and insecurity because they could not recognise themselves according to the description of them given by their Western colleagues. It was a clash of two different lifestyles and historical experiences. Sometimes the Eastern women could not help thinking that a foreign model was being enforced upon them and that they were being made to lose their past. As the collapse of real socialism was interpreted as the triumph of capitalism over socialism, they felt inferior as a result of the interpretation of the Western feminists. This confrontation encouraged women from socialist countries to question their own identity. The reconstruction of the past proved on an increasing scale to be the most important requirement for the political practice of the present. The Czech sociologist and founder of Gender Studies in Prague Jirina Šiklová was the first to sum up these discussions in the Project “Women’s Memories” in 1995, whilst on the train to the Peking women’s conference.
From the beginning the Project was organised as an international one. It was to capture the experiences of three generations of women (who were born between 1920 and 1950) in the previous Eastern Block. The reconstruction of the truth in terms of first hand experience was its target. This determined the choice of a method of Oral History. An open project was conceived, that was anti-ideological and emancipatory and above all feminist.
1. It was oriented not towards written stories but to everyday stories, biographies of women, to history at grass roots level. We agreed that the personal explanation of a person’s identity was a prerequisite for the re-construction of civilian populations.
2. The Project had to fulfil scientific criteria, but had to be mainly oriented to civilian populations. Its target was not towards theory building, but towards practical action and politically based work. The purpose of the material collected was in any case to facilitate a scientific evaluation at a later stage. And the results were to conform to international standards. The connection between both criteria, that is the political method oriented towards civilian populations and the scientific nature, portrays the essential characteristics of the project. It is not project oriented but process oriented.
3. The feminist nature of the project determined the attitude towards the women interviewed; they were not to be the object of the project but the subject. They were to form a central point, acting as both purpose and objective of the project.
The project’s importancealso derives from the fact that the socialist model of women’s emancipation is the only systematic and comprehensive concept for the freedom of the woman. It forms an integral part of the programme of socialism. The classic Marxist theory presents the emancipation of the woman as a part of the overall emancipation of human beings and is therefore closely connected to the revolutionary target of the liberation of the working class. So according to the Proletariat theory, one cannot be freed if the woman is not also freed. The liberation of the woman was a criterion for the success of the revolution. During the Stalinist period the liberation of the woman as a person led to the liberation of the female working force, marked by overtaxing of women. However women acquired a high level of training and qualifications, economic independence and their own social status – a process, which in the Western countries has not yet fully taken place. A totalitarian regime also paradoxically broadened women’s scope of freedom or at least given the opportunities.
We were methodical in our orientation towards biographical research and oral history. For the interviews we developed themes, which were not formulated in questionnaires but which served as a background without interrupting the discourse. During the work on the pilot project the methods were stated in more precision. In this regard what proved to be very useful were the five international seminars where the project partners met. From the beginning it was very important to understand that the project was a learning project, and that the basic points were not given once and for all.
This method of proceeding corresponds to our understanding of the interview as an interaction between the “interviewer” and the “interviewee”. In a discussion an aura of confidence must be created, because this is the only way in which remembrance and reflections thereof may succeed. It was not just a case of collecting “data” but also of inciting processes in women of reflection on their own identity. Equality between the discussion partners constitutes the ethical basis of the project. During the conducting of the conversation we oriented ourselves towards the interviewee and her capacity to relate. What is “required” is the real truth based on experience and true life, not the objective “truth”.
In this regard the situation and atmosphere of the conversation was noted and a biogram was added to the written conversation for guidance. It proved to be very useful to have an interdisciplinary team composed of psychologists, historians, sociologists, philosophers and writers.
If we also place value on the process side of the project, we cannot just define its “product” as well. In this instance differentiation must be made between two different forms of products: the concrete product and the mobile (fluid) project.
The concrete project consists of:
1. The interview archive on recordings and paper, which may be used scientifically as a thesaurus of memories of women of a certain era according to different criteria.
2. Researched data within this context,
3. The spreading of results through speeches and publications,
4. Seminars and workshops on the stories told by women.
In respect of the fluid product we are describing the effect of the project on women involved, i.e. interviewees and interviewers. This aspect goes beyond the understanding up until now of political work. As we understand it, the first step of political work begins with the interview. Many women interviewed wondered and surprisingly asked us what could be so interesting about their life. For many of those women interviewed this was the first time that they had weighed up their life. The discussion enables them to get another perspective of their life and this increases their self-confidence, through the simple fact that their life is of interest to a stranger. The interviews are talked about in the family and amongst acquaintances – they have widespread impact.
This impact should not be under-estimated; even the second feminist movement began with many small groups and then became a movement that affected the whole of society. The second stage of political formation took place in individual national groups during the supervision and analysis of discussions. The interviewers got new insight into their lives and their social surroundings. Within the group discussions and especially in the circle of friends and acquaintances there is another step in the mobile and fluid phase.
What was and what is to be?
The concrete work began in the years 1996/97 with the pilot phase of the project of Gender Studies in Prague. With minimum financial support about 20 interviews were conducted. On this basis the project method was finalised. The support of ENROS in Prague made the first phase of the national project possible. Contacts were made with OWEN in Berlin and Efka in Krakow, from whom support was won for the project.
Only then was the support of the Heinrich Böll Foundation sought, as it was important to start the project from the bottom with interested women, as opposed to from the top through an institution.
The project was co-ordinated internationally by Pavla Frydlova. In between contacts were made with similar working groups in Croatia, Slovenia, and Serbia; the pilot phase began in Slovakia. Preparation is being made for contacts with Macedonia, Lithuania and Russia. The archive of women’s memories in Gender Studies has been founded in Prague. International seminars in Berlin, Krakow and Brac Island showed the importance of discussions in international groups and brought to light the differences between the individual former socialist countries. The confrontation with the variety of lifestyles in the different countries questioned the idea of a stereotyped uniform and grey Eastern Block. For us, the participants, this often came to us as a great surprise and it served as a conflict- filled rehearsal for multi-cultural issues.
With regard to society as a whole it is a contribution to the reconstruction of a civil Europe; a whole made up of a variety of lifestyles.
Alena Wagnerova grew up in Czechoslovakia and now lives as a writer and journalist in Germany where she has published numerous books on the social standing of the woman.
Translated from German into English by Heather Batchelor
Computer as a place of violence
In the past few years, the issue of violence against women has been repeatedly presented in the media. Discussions concerning this topic present two opposing fronts.
On one hand, there are those (mostly feminists),who denounce the portrayal of women as weak, helpless, a bit stupid; as those whose heads are only used to apply make-up. Special attention is given in viewing them as sexual entities, who are not only viewed as objects of desire, either to be rescued, oppressed, raped or dominated, according to whim. Critics, both male and female contend that this imagery has a decisive influence on the role assigned to women which furthermore directs how men, and younger men treat women; this being negative.
On the other hand, promoted by the media itself, so-called liberals, and leftist males state that freedom of speech is to be treasured, and that censorship should be silenced when it forbids viewing of certain films and depictions. Politicians demand that media should reflect on it’s role in this matter and take responsibility for it’s action. This is a problem!
Many simply claim that there is not scientific justification to prove that the representation of mysogynism, sex and crime portrayals tend to lead to violence. They advocate the opposite, that pornography reduces some of so-called male aggression. This is however false.
It is true that science after extensive research has created more questions than answers, however there is proof prior and after such work that violence – or the consumption of pornography deadens emotions. This deadening of emotions removes empathy, or the ability to show compassion for feminine victims (for example rape victims). The lack of empathy for victims of sexual violence is a basic problem in our society, and this factor contributes to perpetuating this situation.
The Western World’s responsibility
The computer is the most modern medium utilised to propagate an all-inclusive palette which thrusts violent depictions of women in front of us. Even today we witness that the rise of some of these brutal portrayals are results of modern computerised technology. I venture to predict that this bestiality shall propagate as the usage of computer spreads.
“Computer pornography. I didn’t know, that it exists!” I hear this sentence 99.9 % of the time when I approach women, as well as men. Most women and adult men don’t know anything about this. Most of the young men, and all individuals who view the computer as being more than a typewriter are aware of this. What really is “computer pornography?”. Is there something special about it? Realistically, there is; as pornography through the computer removes the traditional barrier between consumer and producer. This development is already highly evident in videos. With video equipment everyone can create their own home porno which they can offer, sell, or maintain for their own use. This is also possible in computer pornography where secrecy is easier. A computer is a technical instrument. It is not viewed as a casual fun, as is video equipment. Most people(parents included)think that people, for example young men who sit in front of “the box” are doing something serious, and important. Transparency, and privacy through computerised pornography is much higher than in videos. The level of control is extremely minimised.
At all times, every woman without her knowledge can become a porno star. With computer pornography one does not need a live model. On this level there are no “witnesses” and no “proof”. Let me give an example: for youth it is not a problem that a porno program such as the “Playmate can be transformed to suit their needs. A young man for example, once took the head of the playmate of this program, and replaced it with that of his teacher, who unknowingly became a porno star. This can happen to all women at all times; at the office, at the university, in a public office, or at home. Manipulation of this kind occurs on screen: “Halloo, my name is Maxi. Do you like my body? When the user says “Yes”, then he clicks his response in with the mouse. Then he can print his image that appears on screen by activating the “push” button. If he does not find Maxi to be appropriate, he can continue to search for another playmate. In very well-designed programs, women can be modelled according to the taste of the user.
Let’s introduce a third aspect, interactivity. Is there a difference if I only view a porno, or if I manipulatively interact with the visual female presented on the screen. The user gets the feeling that he is n active participant.
“Treatment of play” through interactivity with Pornos
Let us note that young men are both fascinated by the arena of games and technology which has to do with their level of development. Though imitating they are supposed to gain competency in social settings. In higher members of the family of mammals, imitation is the method that necessitates learning. Here, humans have a large capacity to potentially assimiate information which does not exclude viewing.
Observing is the prerequisite in repeating actions that involve dealing(with others) in active participation which encompasses the ability to grasp and retain. In this circumstance, the urge to play is promoted, which has a motivational component, especially found in youth. They can achieve an initial “kick” through this contact, as it allows them through manipulation, to transform a product; from this comes positive feedback. The user can use a mouse, a joy-stick, or touch screen, with the use of a scanner or video digital system he can create his own pictures in motion. All question of being answerable concerning usage, programming, and production are his sole domain.
All that is needed to get production going is single porno magazine or film.
Image of Women as perpetually available
There is a shift that then occurs in how women are perceived. Artificial, “virtual” woman going by the names of Maxie, Misty or Valerie, assisted through technical advancements to appear realistic are totally at the disposal of the user. Virtual women comply to whatever requests the user commands. This gives the user an aura of exclusive power; thus positive feedback. It doesn’t matter if the user introduces whips, hand-cuffs, artificial penises or other “instruments of pleasure” of which these “tools” or “toy-boxes” can be animated on the computer screen by the click of the mouse. In these episodes virtual women “enjoy” these activities and ask for more “treatment” of this nature, through sounds emanating from the sound-card which reinforces this effect. These virtual women are enabled with the facility to make words and sounds. These images never show pain, or criticise the user, and they always seem willing.
At this point, by constructing and conveying such imagery of women, these young men are most likely having their having their first “sexual contact” through the medium of computer.
The world of artistic possibilities
It is easier for male youths to have quick access to Valerie and Misty, instead of real women and girls. For example, in Germany, at least eight percent of children’s favourite games appear on index. It is also relevant, that the level of first contact with such material to experiment with has drastically sunk to younger male youth.
What happens when young men who do have experience with computer porno get together with actual women or girls? What results when real women act differently than the virtual ones? One thing is for certain – there is a major collision of images that takes place; as the virtual women are not human. They are not women. I believe that this actually transfers an outfitted image of what men are supposed to be. We feminists all too often forget that the media fortifies an alarming depiction of what men are, this being a rather dehumanising one.
Cruel violent actions against women are sold in the form of a game. Brutality is something that everyone can participate in. Whoever rapes the majority of women wins the game (for example the adventure game “Larry”). Whoever wins is good, strong, a real man. If this practice is sustained from the side of men, how can destructive behaviour between the sexes ever end?
How men are viewed by boys: Softie or Rambo?
We women are defending ourselves against the role that the media assigns us. Rightly so! This is not because we don’t want to be this likeness, but because it has nothing to do with us.
When are men going to take a stand against the manner that media characterises them? When are men going to challenge how media portrays them? What can be done so that opposition to all of these images is pursued? Perhaps so-called softies and forceful youth are not reachable, and confirmed feminists cannot be persuaded to believe that change, on the part of men is possible, as they do not trust usage of pseudo-feminist language and actions from their male counterparts. Is there a likelihood that there exists a “reflective and tamed Sylvester Stallone?” It is my contention that we must confront men with their fault in this matter.
Virtual Aggressive Activity
Through the artificial(virtual) world of the computer we arrive at a virtual construction that harbours a violent component in how women are expressed. Individuals can interact with these instruments, or tools of possibility, as they offer the power to modify, and wield, at will, even if live models are not present. When reality is interspersed with unreality, then this can be a basis to further confuse usage and activity. For most men and boys, there are few opportunities in which they can interact with a live woman, in the manner that the sanction-free world of virtuality offers. As this “abuse” all takes place in the realm of make-believe, then it is free of societal judgement, and the media can bask in such favour.
Through interaction with pornos, on CD-Rom, women are even more objectified. They are not only separated from their own physical beings, they are through this detached device, redeemed of physical contact with their torturers. This is known as virtual violence. Otherwise, we can note that direct abuse of women is actively aided by the media, which delegates through the computer. In this manner, men and masculine youth experience a severance from their senses, so that they fail to perceive suffering, pain, and fear coming from their social opposites.
Now, we have again landed with feeling sorry for the victimisers. Empathy, is something that humans must learn; without this it is impossible for men, and women to get along with one another, peacefully. I am afraid that through computerpornos there will be a greater uncoupling between men and women(or girls and boys) then we now know.
World Wide Netz
The computer is a tool of “jack(s)-of-all-trades”, and in this dwells much of the menace. When usage of this instrument expands, it directly aims at it’s victims. Through world-wide net, or internet, a new arena of “business” has opened. These are men-only clubs which cater to paedophiles, or child molesters, sadists, illegal trade in women, sado-masochists, dealers in child pornography, and so on. The options available have rapidly increased that could sexually interest men through netboxes, mailboxes, BTX’s; which offer a better, and more comprehensive array of services that are of utmost interest as they bid confidentiality. The rate of turn-over, through these various information channels is quite high, for example, for those clientele interested in the trade of women, and need prepared duplication materials of a quality and novelty that assure more customers.
The computer is a tool that can be worked with that can through time and space extend itself to increasing violence and brutality towards women and children. Let me present two examples: There is evidence that mass torture which took place in former Yugoslavia can be accessed to create “live pornos”. These can turn into interactive CD-Roms, which can be “savoured” on the network. So-called snuff videos show mostly, womanly looking girls who are persecuted by a male adult wearing a concealing hood. The “orgasm” or high point of the film is the murder of the child. Instead of being horrified, let’s tackle this problem, effectively. I ask you to see it for what it is, and face the problem.
Monika Gerstendörfer is a member of Terre des Femmes (Women of the earth), Germany.
(*) This is a re-worked section that appeared in the
magazine, Terre des Femmes, circular letter of 4/1995.
Translated by Zari A. Harat
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|Uruguay, secuestro y desaparición – llamado de apoyo nacional e internacional|
(e)mail art – identity and globalization
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tribute to María Luisa
|tributo a María Luisa|
index of authors LOLApress
(1994 – 2002)
|catálogo de autoras LOLApress
(1994 – 2002)
Looking for the Insatiable Woman (1)
Cherríe L. Moraga
“One day a story will arrive in your town. There will always be disagreement over direction — whether the story came from the southwest or the southeast. The story may arrive with a stranger, a traveler thrown out of his home country months ago. Or the story may be brought by an old friend, perhaps the parrot trader. But after you hear the story, you and the others prepare by the new moon to rise up against the slave masters.”
Leslie Marmon Silko, Almanac of the Dead (2)
Most of us can name the story that came into the town of our hearts which changed our lives forever. For me, they were the earliest stories I can remember of my mother’s childhood as a farmworker, so little the family used to drag her along between the rows of crops like the sack of potatoes they were picking. Thirty years later, those stories would become the farmworker families of my plays. The place the same: the central valle of Califas; the people — composites of stories told, remembered, witnessed and invented.
Ironically, the story of La Llorona, the Mexican Weeping Woman, was never told to me by my mother or any member of my family; and yet, it has had a more profound impact upon my writer’s psyche than any story she recounted. One traditional Mexican version of La Llorona tells the tale of a woman who is sexually betrayed by her man, and, in what was either a fit of jealous rage or pure retaliation, she kills their children by drowning them in a river. Upon her own death, she is unable to enter heaven because of her crime. Instead, she is destined to spend all eternity searching for her dead children. Her lament, “Mis Hijos!” ["My children"] becomes the blood-chilling cry heard along irrigation ditches and country creeks, warning children that any misbehavior (straying too far from camp, for example) might lead to abduction by this female phantom.
The story of La Llorona first arrived in the “town” of my heart quite by accident, through the mouth of an almost-stranger. She was a “traveler” as Leslie Marmon Silko writes, “thrown out of (her) home country” of bible-belt California years before. At the time, the mid-70s, I was working as a waitress in a vegetarian restaurant on the borderline between San Francisco’s gay Castro district and el barrio de la misión. The “traveler” was a white woman who’d come in every other weeknight for a bowl of brown rice and stir-fry vegetables and a cup of tea. I liked the look of the woman from the start: thirty-somethingish, bleached-blond and permanented hair, broken-toothed and full-chested. She had a big ole smiling face. I spied the button she wore on her too tight tee shirt which read “Commie Dyke” and I instantly knew the girl was family. Amber (I’ll call her by her real name because she’d like being the protagonist of her own story), came in most nights after she closed up shop at the collectively-owned commie bookstore in town. She’d walk in, throw a load of new titles onto the decoupage table top and crack open one of those revolutionary texts. The books drew me to her. I remember one title in particular, the blue and red letters against the silver background, The Romance of American Communism. (3) There in the post-rush-hour lull, over a cup of darjeeling and within ear shot of a few scraggly-looking hippies, I got my first real introduction to Mr. Karl Marx as told to me by Ms. Amber Hollibaugh, an honest-to-god member of the working-class. She informed me that I, too, had been holding membership without ever fully knowing until it poured from this girl’s lips like salve for the wounded and ignorant. But that’s another story.
The story I want to tell is how this white-girl from the “asshole of nowhere,” as another working-class friend’s momma used to call anywhere not Los Angeles or New York, opened my heart to the story of La Llorona. Not that this girl from some truckstop in the Central Valley consciously knew anything about the Mexican myth, but what she told me shook loose that memorybone in me that had stored the cuento for at least one generation.
At the time, Amber was doing prison support work for a woman, a lesbian, who had been locked up in an Oregon prison since the age of 19. Jay was then 39 years old. Jay was a child-killer. A contemporary La Llorona. And the required betrayal involved not a man, but what looked more like a kind of self-betrayal — as feminist philosopher, María Lugones, calls internalized homophobia — between two female lovers. Twenty years earlier, the dyke and her lover got into some mess of a fight. It seems. The kids were involved. It seems the couple drove the kids to a cliff and each taking that innocence into their hands, threw each a child off the cliff. They were drunk no doubt. Crazed. No doubt. And they both no doubt were guilty for the crime. But it’s redneck Oregon. And the biological mother takes the stand and testifies that “the dyke made me do it.” Under the spell of the “pervert,” she was forced to commit the gravest female crime against nature — infanticide. The biological mother walks. The lesbian lover, twenty years later, is still in jail. Twenty years a model prisoner and each time she is up for parole, the word gets out, “lesbian child-killer” to go free, and public pressure keeps her behind bars.
Today, another twenty years later and I don’t know if Jay’s still in prison. Amber’s in New York now and still working with prisoners and dykes I hear. And I am left here, still unraveling this story. In 1976, I wrote a poem about it, called the “Voices of the Fallers.” Couldn’t get the kid or the killer out of my head, that child falling. “I’m falling,” he cries, “can’t you see? I’m falling?” The child’s plea echoes the voice of my high school classmate, another manly woman, crying as she tossed herself off a cliff in Baja California. (But that’s another story.) I couldn’t get those voices out of my head because I know what it’s like to be a lesbian mom, biological and not. I know when the kid and the homophobia and the fear and shame of ourselves can lead to blows against the walls, against each other, against the child. It’s not so far away from me. But the poem didn’t satisfy my hunger to know the story, the real story, the story of why a woman kills her child. The story of La Llorona.
Why did I need to know the story? I am a sub-urban Chicana. Kids drowned in the local plunge, not the nearby river. I never heard anyone say “La Llorona’s gonna get you.” It was the “Boogie Man,” in our neighborhood or that simple inarticulate terror inspired by some Twilight Zone episode (the original ones), where the short trip down the hall to the bathroom became a long labyrinth-like journey into the unknown:
“C’mon, walk down the hall with me. I gotta go.”
“Okay, but you go first.”
“No, you first.”
“Then hold my hand.”
But as the daughter of a thoroughly Mexican mother, I did know about women being punished for the rest of their lives for some sin that happened somewhere in our collective history. “Eres mujer.” ["You are a woman"] That’s all we need to know. That’s the crime we feministas are still solving. I echo here Helena María Viramontes’ story, “Growing,” where she writes of a father reprimanding his daughter:
“Tú eres mujer, he thundered, and that was the end of any argument, any question, and the matter was closed because he said those three words as if they were a condemnation from the heavens and so she couldn’t be trusted.” (4)
When I first learned the Mexican story of La Llorona, I immediately recognized that the weeping woman, that aberration, that criminal against nature, was a sister. Maybe by being a lesbian, my identification was more easily won, fully knowing my crime was tantamount to hers. Any way you slice it, we were both a far and mournful cry from obedient daughters. But I am convinced that La Llorona is every Mexican woman’s story, regardless of sexuality. She is sister to us all.
I began to investigate the myth. From the first paragraph I ever read on the subject in Literatura chicana texto y contexto to José Limon’s analysis and Rudolfo Anaya’s fictionalization, (5) to interviews with farmworkers in Oregon, to finally sitting for days in the San Francisco public library scanning roll upon roll of that neon blue microfilm for every account of infanticide ever printed in the daily news — no version ever told me enough.
The official version was a lie. I knew that from the same bone that first held the memory of the cuento [story]. Who would kill their kid over some man dumping them? It wasn’t a strong enough reason. And yet everyone from Anaya to the Euripides was telling us so. Well, if traición [betrayal] was the reason, could infanticide then be retaliation against misogyny, an act of vengeance not against one man, but man in general for a betrayal much graver than sexual infidelity: the enslavement and deformation of our sex?
A partera [midwife] friend posed another possibility to me. As a woman who had worked as a nurse-mid-wife for many years among mechicanas, she was intimately connected with the full range of maternal instincts, both sanctioned and taboo. “Infanticide is not a homicide,” she told me, “but a suicide. A mother never completely separates from her child. She always remains a part of her children.” But what is it then we are killing off in ourselves and why?
The answer to these questions resides, of course, in allowing La Llorona to speak for herself, to say something other than “mis hijos” for all eternity. When this dawned on me, so did the beginnings of a play I began four years ago and still has me working and wondering. I called it a “Mexican Medea” (6) in reference to both the Greek Euripedes drama and the Llorona story. As Euripides’ dramatization of the story of Medea turned to the Greek gods as judge and consul, I turned to the pre-Columbian Aztec deities. In my research, I discovered another story, the Aztec creation myth of “the Hungry Woman.” And this story became pivotal for me, an aperture in my search to unlock la fuerza [the strength] de La Llorona in our mechicana lives.
In the place where the spirits live, there was once a woman who cried constantly for food. She had mouths in her wrists, mouths in her elbows, and mouths in her ankles and knees. . . .
Then to comfort the poor woman [the spirits] flew down and began to make grass and flowers out of her skin. From her hair they made forests, from her eyes, pools and springs, from her shoulders, mountains, and from her nose, valleys. At last she will be satisfied, they thought. But just as before, her mouths were everywhere, biting and moaning…opening and snapping shut, but they [were] never filled. Sometimes at night, when the wind blows, you can hear her crying for food. (7)
Who else other than La Llorona could this be? It is always La Llorona’s cries we mistake for the wind, but she’s not crying for her children. She’s crying for food, sustenance. Tiene hambre la mujer. (She is hungry, the woman). And at last, upon encountering this myth — this pre-capitalist, pre-colonial, pre-catholic mito — my jornada began to make sense. This is the original Llorona y tiene mucha hambre [and she is very hungry]. I realized that she has been the subject of my work all along, from my earliest writings, my earliest feminism. She is the story that has never been told truly, the story of that hungry Mexican woman who is called puta/bruja/jota/loca [whore/witch/vulture/madwoman) because she refuses to forget that her half-life is not a natural-born fact.
I am looking for the insatiable woman. I am reminded of Mexican artist, Guadalupe García’s, cry in her performance piece, Coatlicue’s Call. (8) She laments, “I am looking for a woman called Guadalupe.” Maybe we’re all looking para la misma mujer (for the same woman). When La Llorona kills her children, she is killing a male-defined Mexican motherhood that robs us of our womanhood. I first discussed this desire to kill patriarchal motherhood in relation to another Mexican myth, the “Birth of Huitzilopotchli.” (9) The Mexican myth recounts the story of Coyolxauhqui, the Aztec moon goddess who attempts to kill her mother, Coatlicue, when she learns of her aging mother’s pregnancy. As feministas, including myself, have interpreted the myth, Coyolxauhqui hopes to halt, through the murder of her mother, the birth of the War God, Huitzilopotchli. She is convinced that Huitzilopotchil’s birth will also mean the birth of slavery, human sacrifice, and imperialism (in short, patriarchy). She fails in her attempt and instead is murdered and dismembered by her brother Huitzilopotchli and banished into the darkness to become the moon.
This ancient myth reminds Mexican women that, culturally-speaking, there is no mother-woman to manifest who is defined by us outside of patriarchy. We have never had the power to do the defining. We wander not in search of our dead children, but our lost selves, our lost sexuality, our lost spirituality, our lost sabiduría [wisdom]. No wonder La Llorona is so irrefutably punished, destined to walk the earth en busca de sus niños [looking for her children0]). To find and manifest our true selves (that “woman before the fall,” I wrote elsewhere) (10) what might we have to change in the world as we know it? “¡Mis Hijos!” ["My children!"] she cries. But, I hear her saying something else. “¡Mis hijas perdidas!” [My lost children!"]. And I answer. “Te busco a tí también, madre/hermana/hija.” ["I am looking for you as well, mother/sister/daughter"].I am looking for the hungry woman.
“La Llorona,” “The Hungry Woman,” “The Dismemberment of Coyolxauhqui” — these are the stories that have shaped us. We, Chicanas, remember them in spite of ourselves, and our families’ and society’s efforts to have us forget. We remember these stories where mothers worked in factories, not fields and children played in city plunges, not country creeks. The body remembers.
Each of my plays, each poem, each piece of fiction has been shaped by a story. Most writers will tell you the same. My play, Shadow of a Man, (11) grew out of an extended image, a story my mother told me of her dead father appearing to her at the foot of her bed. He was silhouetted against the darkness, hat dipped over one eye, a shadow across his face. “I knew it was a sign of death,” she said. “But I didn’t know whose.” Another of my plays, Heroes and Saints, (12) whose protagonist is a seventeen-year-old Chicana without a body, began in response to a story Luis Valdez wrote entitled The Shrunken Head of Pancho Villa. (13) In it, he is looking for the missing head. In Heroes, I am looking for the missing body, the female one. In both plays, Valdez and I are looking for a revolution.
What does it take to uncover those stories with the power to inspire insurrection? How do we breed a revolutionary generation of Chicana art?
Stories inspire stories and the best and most revolutionary of stories are recuperated from the deepest places of our unconscious, which is the reservoir for our collective memory. The best of writers speaks with a “we” that rises up from all of us. So, that when we truly succeed at our story-telling, we cannot wholly take the credit. I grow impatient with the growing body of Chicano and Chicana literature that is purposely colloquial, the tourist literature, written for audiences who are strangers to the cultural and political geography of our symbols, images and history. When we write in translation, we never move beyond our colonized status. When we write for ourselves, our deepest selves, the work travels into the core of our experience with such cultural nuance that it illuminates a total humanity, one which requires a revolution to make it manifest. Our truest words and images are suppressed by the cultural mainstream. They do not entertain and entertainment yields profit. So . . . some of us . . . we learn to entertain and are rewarded. We right less well, less deeply, less truly ourselves. (14)
Still, I know our promise. I have glimpsed it. Sometimes in the first few “forbidden” chapters of an unfinished novel by the published poet. Sometimes in the roughly-scripted monologue of a sixteen-year-old xicana-navajo dyke thinking she’s a vato loco. Sometimes in the bleeding trails of watercolor taking the shape of a severed vulva-heart on a piece of mata [coconut] paper. Sometimes. I still believe in the power of story to change our lives, whether it’s a story you stumble across spilling out of the mouth of a commie dyke at a vegetarian restaurant or one your bisabuela [great-grandmother] told your abuelita [granny] and your abuelita told your mami, but your mami “forgot” to mention to you. There is revolutionary potential in the story. True stories empower, the way lies disempower. Thus, when we come across a true story-teller, she must be protected and nurtured.
At the time of this writing, I am still working on my Llorona story. Of course, I want to believe it is revolutionary. (15) At some point, I may have to accept that “Mexican Medea” may only succeed in capturing a splinter of what I know in my bones about Llorona. I confess, it’s a harder story to write now, being a madre in the flesh with all the beauty and burden of those lessons of Mexican motherhood. Pero sigo adelante. (But I go forward). And maybe if this play doesn’t satisfy my hunger for la Llorona’s story, maybe another later work will. Maybe it’s a story I’ll work on for the rest of my life in many shapes and voices and styles. Maybe, as James Baldwin once said, we each just have one story to tell and every writing effort is just an attempt to say it better this time. Maybe somewhere in me I believe that if I could get to the heart of Llorona, I could get to the heart of the mexicanaprison and in the naming I could free us . . . if only just a little. Maybe the effort is a life well-spent.
Cherríe Moraga is a poet, playwright and essayist, and the co-editor of the classic feminist anthologies This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color and Cuentos: Stories by Latinas. She lives in Oakland, USA.
This article has originally been published in Cherríe Moraga: Loving in the War Years. Lo que nunca pasó por sus labios, South End Press, Cambridge, USA, 2000. It’s a slightly shortened version.
(1) This essay was originally presented as an address at El Frente Latina Writers’ Conference at Cornell University on October 14, 1995, organized by Helena María Viramontes, among others. Feminist philosopher, María Lugones, whom I reference later in this essay, was also present at the conference. On February 22, 1996, the lecture was again delivered at the University of California, Los Angeles, sponsored by The César Chávez Center and the English Department.
(2) Leslie Marmon Silko, Almanac of the Dead (New York: Simon & Shuster, 1991).
(3) Vivian Gornick. (New York: Basic Books, 1977).
(4) Cuentos: Stories by Latinas, eds. Moraga, Alma Gómez, and Mariana Romo-Carmona (New York: Kitchen Table/Women of Color Press, 1983).
(5) Literatura chicana, texto y contexto, eds. Antonia Castañeda Shular, Tomas Ybarra-Frausto, and Joseph Sommers (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1972). Jose E. Limón, “La Llorona, the Third Legend of Greater Mexico: Cultural Symbols, Women, and the Political Unconscious,” in Between Borders: Essays On Mexicana/Chicana History, ed. Adelaida R. Del Castillo (Encino: Floricanto Press, 1990): 399-432. Rudolfo A. Anaya, The Legend of La Llorona (Berkeley, CA: Tonatiuh-Quinto Sol International, 1984).
(6) The play is now entitled, The Hungry Woman: A Mexican Medea.
(7) From The Hungry Woman: Myths and Legends of the Aztecs, ed. John Bierhorst (New York: William Morrow & Co., 1984).
(8) Coatlicue’s Call/ El llamado de Coatlicue (conceived and performed by Guadalupe García; written and directed by Cherríe Moraga), premiered at Theater Artaud in San Francisco, 25 October 1990. It was produced by Brava! For Women in the Arts.
(9) See my essay “En busca de la fuerza femenina,” The Last Generation (Boston: South End Press, 1993): 73.
(10) Ibid., 72.
(11) Shadow of a Man is published in Heroes and Saints and Other Plays. Albuquerque, NM: West End Press, 1994.
(13) Find Publishing Info for Shrunken Head.
(14) These concerns over the state of our art as Chicano/as — for whom and for what purpose we write — have plagued me over a decade. See “Art in América con Acento” in The Last Generation, op. cit., p.58-60.
(15) As the second edition Loving in the War Years went to press in June 2000, The Hungry Woman: A Mexican Medea has been completed, published, but remains unproduced. It .appears in a collection of plays entitled Out of the Fringe: Contemporary Latina/Latino Theatre and Performance, edited by Caridad Svich and María Teresa Marrero. New York: Theater Communications Group, 2000. It will also be collected in a volume of plays entitled Some Place Not Here: Five Plays by Cherríe Moraga, to be published by West End Press of Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2001.
Sarah Baartman – Recuperando el pasado
Durante 180 años los restos de Saartjie Baartman, una mujer khoi del Cabo Este de Sudáfrica, fueron conservados en el Musée de l’Homme (Museo de la Humanidad) de París, Francia. La historia de la vida de esta mujer es una larga historia de humillación y de brutalidad de la experiencia colonial. Refleja la fascinación grotesca de los científicos coloniales por las diferencias anatómicas entre tipos raciales, lo que hoy llamamos “racismo científico”.
Sarah Baartman fue traída a Europa hace más de doscientos años por sus empleadores. No se conoce mucho de ella, pero parece haber sido el equivalente de una esclava. En Europa fue exhibida como una especie humana exótica en el Jardin des Plantes, en París, junto con otros animales y plantas exóticas. Fue mostrada a científicos anatomistas y a artistas por Etienne Geoffrey Saint-Hilaire, miembro de la Académie des Sciences francesa.
Cuando murió, su cerebro y sus genitales fueron conservados en formol y de su cuerpo se hizo un molde de yeso para conservar su apariencia física. Todo ello fue expuesto en el Museo de Historia Natural. ¿El motivo de esta agitación científica y artística? El hecho de que tuviera una anatomía y un color insólitos comparada con las personas europeas. Por supuesto, tal interés era consecuencia del racismo científico europeo de los siglos dieciocho y diecinueve.
Hoy sólo podemos imaginarnos la humillación y el dolor que la exhibición pudo causarle a la joven mujer. Todo indica que fue desgraciada e infeliz y que murió en la pobreza en París. Tras su muerte, el renombrado anatomista y científico francés, Georges Cuvier, examinó su cuerpo en detalle.
En el año 2002, después de largas negociaciones entre los gobiernos de Sudáfrica y de Francia, se acordó por fin que los restos de Saartjie Baartman debían ser devueltos a su país natal para ser enterrados. Tal vez sorprendentemente, dado el tiempo transcurrido, el gobierno francés no permitió filmar otros restos suyos guardados en el museo. Los países europeos todavía son prácticamente incapaces de pedir perdón por la explotación de la experiencia colonial. La activista de género y académica, Gail Smith, acompañó a la delegación sudafricana a Francia para grabar el retorno. Así es como describió su experiencia:
“Siete años de investigación, discusión y fascinación con Baartman no me prepararon para el encuentro cara a cara con ella. O más bien con la colección de partes de su cuerpo desmembrado, consideradas decisivas para la investigación científica por los científicos felizmente encargados de su cuerpo apenas unas horas después de su muerte. Y que no perdieron el tiempo para llegar al fondo de la cuestión: hicieron un molde de yeso de su cuerpo, lo diseccionaron y conservaron su cerebro y sus genitales en formol.
El esqueleto de Baartman me llegaba hasta el plexo solar, así que no debía de medir más de 1,30 metros. El molde de yeso en posición vertical, pintado de un marrón extraño y con los brazos saliendo hacia fuera en un ángulo incómodo, tenía una apariencia macabra y ha atrapado su cara en una máscara de muerte perpetua. El frasco que contenía su cerebro tenía un aspecto corriente, al igual que el frasco con una sustancia gris que eran sus genitales …
Sentí pena por las avestruces y por los canguros saltando empapados de lluvia con temperaturas bajo cero. Mientras me acurrucaba dentro de mis tres capas de ropa, podía imaginar la desgracia de Baartman en un medio tan hostil, sin ropa de abrigo, rodeada de hombres tan obsesionados con su vagina que continuamente intentaban convencerla para que se quitara la ropa que le quedaba puesta.”
La descripción de Smith de sus propias reacciones da testimonio del poderoso simbolismo que entraña el retorno de los restos de Baartman. El legado de dolor y de vergüenza resonaba junto con el dolor y la vergüenza de la opresión colonial en todas partes, junto con el pasado colonial y con el reciente pasado de apartheid en Sudáfrica, un pasado que también ha explotado sexualmente a las mujeres negras de forma brutal y vergonzosa. Los comentarios finales de Smith expresan todo esto:
“Lloré por Baartman, lloré por cada mujer negra degradada y humillada por hombres obsesionados con los secretos que llevan entre sus piernas. Y lloré por cada persona negra de Sudáfrica reducida, degradada y humillada al ser llamada “Hotnot” y “AmaBoesman” (1). También lloré de alegría y de gratitud, pues había sido elegida como testigo de un instante victorioso en la historia.”
(1) Las expresiones “Hotnot” y “AmaBoesman” son términos despectivos que se refieren a personas de origen mixto, como el pueblo khoi en Sudáfrica.
Dr. Sheila Meintjes es comisaria de género en la Comisión para la Igualdad de Género y lectora de Estudios Políticos en la Universidad de Witwatersrand.
Traducido del inglés por Rosa Morillo Balado.
El hombre: ¿tiene derecho?
Hay quienes hablan de libre elección cuando hablan de prostitución. ¿Es libre la mujer prostituida? ¿Ha podido elegir o ha sido elegida? ¿Es correcto decir que ella sólo es libre de no serlo? (1) Una de las paradojas de los discursos sobre la comercialización del sexo es la ausencia de la demanda, de los clientes. Cuando los clientes aparecen en esos discursos es de modo accesorio y accidental, como meras comparsas. Es como si la demanda fuera promovida por la oferta y no, como en realidad sucede, a la inversa. Se invierte el rol principal y protagónico que esta demanda tiene para que existan las prácticas prostituyentes y sean necesarios cuerpos que la satisfagan.
Los discursos feministas no han escapado a esta tendencia y las divergencias, las polémicas internas, tácitas o explícitas, también se centran mucho más en la imagen y el rol de las mujeres prostituidas que en la de los clientes, en su abrumadora mayoría, varones. Así sucede en el discurso que pretende que toda forma de prostitución es forzada y una variante de la esclavitud de las mujeres, en este caso sexual (2). O, en el extremo opuesto, aquel que contemporiza con la prostitución y se propone sobre todo luchar contra la estigmatización de las mujeres prostituidas (3) visualizándolas como militantes de una experiencia liberadora y transgresora(4).
Es hora de preguntarse si la institución de la prostitución, en tanto un “derecho de los hombres” como dice Françoise Collin (5), no debe ser abordada, en primer lugar, desde la perspectiva del cuestionamiento al ejercicio de ese derecho. Derecho que implica la disponibilidad de cuerpos prostituidos para satisfacción del deseo masculino, incluso cuando se trata de cuerpos de varones.
“Yo pasé de nena a que me quedé embarazada, sin saber cómo ni cuándo. Yo, fijate que hijas mujeres no tengo, por suerte tengo varones (tres hijos). Porque la vida es una mierda, para las mujeres, es una mierda. Siempre digo qué suerte que tengo varones, van a sufrir menos, los hombres sufren menos. (…) Te decía, es que yo era una nena ¿no? yo tenía un novio, vivía con mi mamá, mi papá, mi tío y mis hermanos. Mi mamá no me dejaba tener novio, pero yo igual tenía, entonces yo no sabía. Mi novio me decía hay que hacer esto, vos dejate y yo me dejaba, y también me dejaba con sus amigos, él me decía que me deje, que eran los amigos de él, que él sabía y bueno … yo era una nena no sabía nada … Bueno, un día llegó mi papá a casa, remamado, la agarró a mi mamá del brazo, la tiró al piso, la cagó a palos, pero le pegó que no sabés, todos gritaban, yo estaba escondida en la pieza. Al final entendí que le gritaba que la hija era una puta que se la pasaban todos y que la culpa era de ella que no la cuidaba. Después me agarró a mí y no me mató por poco … me dijo que yo no salía más. Bueno, un tiempo no salí. No salía nunca y el papá me pegaba por las dudas. Un día vino mi tío, un día que estaba en la bomba sola lavando la ropa y me dijo que si iba con todos tenía que ir con él y me violó, todas las tardes me hacía ir con él y que no diga nada porque mi papá se iba a enojar conmigo … Te la hago corta: me quedé preñada, me escapé, me lo saqué con una mujer que me llevó a trabajar en un lugar de ella, en un prostíbulo que para mí, que no sabía nada, era de lujo … Ella me enseñó a trabajar. Te tenía cagando. Con ella no podías más o menos; tenías que ir derechito. Pero ella no te fallaba nunca. A mí nunca me falló. (…) De ese prostíbulo me fui a otro, estuve en varios, de ahí me fui a otro y a otro, de lugar en lugar.” (Patri 33 años) (6)
Esta mujer, criada en una familia de clase media, recuerda con gratitud a la mujer que la introdujo en el burdel y a la dueña del burdel, hermana de la primera. Ambas la “ampararon” en una situación que para ella, en su desesperación, era un callejón sin salida. No tiene conciencia de, en qué medida estas “benefactoras”, oportunas u oportunistas, según cómo se mire, hayan abusado de su desamparo. Tampoco la tienen estas reclutadoras al servicio del deseo varonil, a menudo ellas mismas prostituidas, de la dimensión y el sentido de sus acciones de reclutamiento. Los procesos de reclutamiento, que están casi siempre presentes en la introducción a las prácticas prostituyentes, son los qe hacen que la oferta sea constante para la reposición de los cuerpos envejecidos o desgastados por la edad, las enfermedades, físicas o mentales, las drogas, o para responder al incremento de la demanda. Se basan siempre en técnicas que aparecen “salvando” a las niñas, jóvenes, o adultas, en circunstancias de inermidad y violencia, a menudo no relacionadas directamente, o no sólo relacionadas con la miseria, la escasez de recursos económicos, la exclusión social de sus familias, a las que suele atribuirse casi siempre la causa de su explotación sexual.
Judith Walkovich dice: “Sin duda había algunas niñas prostitutas en las calles de Londres, Liverpool y otros lugares: pero la mayoría de esas mujeres estaba en la calle porque sus otras opciones eran muy limitadas.” (7) Sugiere que la ausencia de opciones determinaba una elección forzada, es cierto, pero elección al fin. La autora no se plantea en qué medida la escasez de opciones es, en sí misma, producida, no tanto por la miseria como se sugiere, sino por la necesidad de satisfacer la demanda. No se trata sólo del número – escaso – de opciones sino más bien de la calidad y sentido de esas opciones. Aparecen así justificados los benefactores que “dan trabajo” y proveen de medios de vida para la supervivencia de quienes, sin ellos, se morirían de hambre.
La noción de “trabajo”, en este contexto, representa para las mujeres su inclusión social – aunque estigmatizadas – en el ciclo de lo económico productivo, en el mercado de la demanda y la oferta, lo que contribuye a legitimar y naturalizar las prácticas.
Las niñas y jóvenes que ingresan, resisten a la situación experimentando procesos de adaptación como: negación de los sufrimientos, resignación, pero también orgullo y satisfacción al adquirir y desplegar pequeños poderes sobre su entorno, incluso sobre los clientes. Un ejemplo en relación con el “orgullo”, aunque también se puede ver el tema del ejercicio de “micro poderes” es el de Sharon, una de las jóvenes entrevistadas, de 17 años, iniciada y explotada por un novio, a los 13. Ella relata que cuando tenía casi 15, su novio fue llevado a prisión, en ese momento, recibe la oferta de uno de los pizzeros del barrio, que sabía que ella era prostituida.
“Y la primera vez que me quedé con toda la plata casi me muero, no entendía nada. Era bárbaro, me gustó, no era lo mismo que trabajar sin ver un mango (…) Yo lo dejaba que me toque, después me agarró la mano y me la puso en el pantalón, me dijo: mirá como me ponés, entonces yo dije ésta es la mía … Le saqué la mano y le dije son veinte pesos … ¡Ah! … el tipo se puso blanco, me miró, no entendía nada… La mano me la sacó y me dice ¿cómo? ¿qué? ¿cobrás?… Claro le digo, si querés yo te hago lo que quieras pero te cobro veinte pesos. El viejo creía que con un poco de morfi me arreglaba, pero no …, yo esperé que esté bien caliente y le dije son veinte pesos … se la hice bárbaro, aunque no me diera la guita me gustó verle la cara … la cara del tipo caliente y que yo le diga, me tenés que pagar … no sabés (se ríe) … Al final me pagó diez pesos no veinte como yo le pedí … me dijo te doy diez y yo dije … bueno. Yo pensé … ¿viste? Nunca tuve diez pesos para mí, entonces era mejor que cualquier otra vez … yo me quedaba con diez para mí sola, yo … me los llevé y bueno eso era otra cosa.” (8)
La ficción de la libertad
Una niña de 14 años, localizada en la calle, compara su actual situación con su anterior dependencia de un prostíbulo/sauna donde debía cumplir un horario (9) y atender sin chistar a cualquier cliente, incluido al dueño del local:
“Por eso me gusta la calle, en la calle cobrás treinta y quince, por menos no voy, entonces si te lo dan, y bueno, te lo guardás. Si no te gusta la cara decís cien y se van arando. Entonces hacés lo que querés de tu vida, no es lo mismo, si querés te vas cuando querés, no te complicás. En el prostíbulo donde estaba antes si te querés ir, es un drama, no podés, tenés que quedarte hasta que cierre.” (10)
A eso se remite hacer lo que una quiere de su vida. A la ficción de la libertad posible. En estos contextos, los triunfos y los goces son de este tenor.
Un trabajo ¿para quién?
Cuando hablan de su vida, encontramos otra historia. Una historia de coacción y de violencia. Estos relatos que se contradicen a sí mismos develan su esfuerzo por sobrevivir, por hacer soportable lo intolerable de la situación.
Uno de los argumentos siempre presente en su discurso es asimilar la explotación sexual a un trabajo. Un “trabajo”, al igual que otros, integrado al mercado y sometido a las leyes de la oferta y la demanda, más rentable y que se realiza en condiciones más libres, atractivas, aunque a veces riesgosas. Incluso, en algunos casos, está la posibilidad de alternar en ciertos ambientes festivos. O en los lugares cerrados con mayor seguridad, alojamiento, comida, compañeras, una situación que brinda aquello que, a menudo, carecieron en sus hogares.
Mediante estos discursos sociales, aceptados en su cotidianeidad, el cuestionamiento sobre qué es lo que se trafica, a partir de qué condicionamientos y sobre todo en beneficio de quiénes, y en función de qué derechos, es eludido.
Es elogiable la voluntad de terminar con la estigmatización y marginación de las mujeres prostituidas y de practicar la solidaridad con ellas en sus resistencias y luchas por mejorar sus condiciones de vida. Pero no es necesario por ello aceptar, legitimar y avalar la existencia de prácticas prostituyentes, renunciando a su crítica y a la voluntad de terminar con ellas.
“Todas hacen lo mismo, pero algunas lo hacen por necesidad, otras por diversión. Esa mina con la que yo entré, quería conocer nuevos rubros y se mandó en esto. Un día no tenía plata y se mandó y después ya no le hizo falta laburar …” (Cliente) (11)
“Para mí son todas iguales. Son minas. Todas tienen con qué hacerlo. Yo no las quiero para casarme, con tal que me digan que sí, sin que digan nada. Si está callada mejor. Que se abra de piernas y a la mierda. El otro día a un amigo, una mina le empezó a contar que tenía hijos, y no supo qué hacer, si darle la guita e irse o darle la guita y hacerlo, pero a la vez sería como su patrón que está torturándola (…) Al final lo hizo. Si vas a esto te tiene que importar tres pitos lo que te diga la mina.” (Cliente) (12)
Debemos preguntarnos si no ha llegado quizás, de cara al siglo XXI , el momento de poner a los varones frente a su responsabilidad. Ellos son la mayoria de los prostituyentes y se consideran titulares del derecho incuestionable al uso de los cuerpos como objetos sin sujeto. Es esta una violación a los derechos humanos esenciales de las personas, cualquiera sea su edad.
Silvia Chejter es argentina, socióloga y codirectora de CECYM.
(1) “Libres de no serlo”, Le Monde Diplomatique, Marie Victoire Louis, Buenos Aires, Agosto de 1999, pag. 30.
(2) Uno de los ejemplos más claros de este pensamiento es de Kathleen Barry. Ver por ejemplo su libro The prostitution of sexuality, New York University Press, USA; 1995.
(3) Dice Mary Mc Intosh en palabras de Raquel Osborne en su crítica a la posición abolicionista: “En este esquema, no hay lugar para la profesional del sexo de carne y hueso, sino para la zorra que reside en la imaginación masculina. Dworkin se enfurece por la injusticia de que seamos consideradas como putas, pero en su concepción no hay lugar para la reforma, para la lucha política de estas trabajadoras” en La construcción sexual de la realidad, Raquel Osborne, Ed Cátedra , 1993, pag. 277.
(4) En esta línea se inscribe el pensamiento de Judith Belladona, citado por Cinta Canterla, en el Prólogo de El mal menor. Política y respresentaciones de la prostitución en los siglos XVI y XIX, publicado por la Univesrsidad de Cádiz, España, 1998.
(5) Les femmes et les enfants de confort: un droit de l’homme?, Françoise Collin, mimeo, 1998.
(6) Testimonio, extraído del Informe ” La Explotación Sexual Comercial Infantil”, UNICEF, septiembre 2000, en prensa.
(7) Walkowitz Judith R., “Vicio masculino, y virtud feminista: el feminismo y la política sobre la prostitución en Gran Bretaña en el siglo XIX”, en Amelang James y Mary Nash, Hitoria y Género: Las mujeres en la Europa Moderna y Contempóranea, Ediciones Algfons el Magnanim, España 1990, pag. 225.
(8) Informe UNICEF.
(9) En Argentina el horario de los prostíbulos es de 12 horas continuas. En este caso, el prostíbulo/sauna en el que había estado esta niña funcionaba de 6 pm a 6 am, los 7 días de la semana.
(10) Informe UNICEF.
(11) Informe UNICEF.
(12) Entrevista a un cliente.