Feminism: Mexico’s Dirty Word

Actress Emma Watson sat down to interview Pakistani activist, Malala Yousafzai, about her recent documentary, “He Named Me Malala”. During the interview, both women, activists for equal rights of women, discussed the misrepresentations often placed on the word feminism. Malala explained to Watson how she initially was uneasy about adopting the label of ‘feminist’ due to the negative connotations that often trail it’s meaning. As they discussed the term, Watson was moved to learn that it was her speech at the United Nations about her work with HeforShe which made Malala reconsider her association to the word. Watson was the reason as to why Malala now refers to herself as a feminist. But the activist’s uneasiness towards the term ‘feminist’ is not out of the ordinary.

Mexicans know the term machismo well. Recently, in conversation with friends, it was expressed that they view both labels as extremists. But that, there, is the problem. It is a misunderstanding to pit both words, machismo and feminism, against each other. It is important to not confuse these terms as antonyms. Machismo has as a definition: the flaunting of what is masculine and domination over women. The term reflects a patriarchal history where women have suffered second class citizenship. It reflects statistics that demonstrate inequalities with employment, homemaking decisions, income, sexual and emotional abuse. It is a term which describes an ingrained character within our culture based on antiquated and tired social rules. Feminism is not its opposite but its end.

Feminism is not the domination of man, but its equalizer. Feminism is not a dirty word, but an eraser of a past in which women has systematically feared making choices for themselves. Choices which encompass her home life, her finances, her opinions, and her body. Simply put: feminism is the advocacy for women’s equal rights to man on the political, the financial, and social.

The importance of making clear what this term, feminism, means, is a responsibility towards the wellbeing of our communities. As women we must not fear the term itself, but our uneasy attitude towards its misinterpretations. Being a feminist is not going against man, but along with him. Being a feminist is not shutting up man, but communicating with him. Being a feminist is not raising arms and entering a war of the sexes. Being a feminist is the belief that as human, you deserve the same rights that are given to man.

The Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía (INEGI), published statistics in 2008, which demonstrate the gender disparities in the various public and private sectors of the state of Nuevo Leon. In their publication, they express:

“El desarrollo humano de un país no puede alcanzarse si no se tiene en cuenta a la mitad de la población, es decir, a las mujeres.”

A country’s human development cannot unfold itself you do not take half of the population insto account. That’s to say, women.

“La discriminación, la violencia y la amenaza de la violencia que padecen las mujeres por el hecho de serlo, en prácticamente todos los ámbitos de sus vidas, las frenan en el desarrollo de sus capacidades, inhiben el ejercicio de sus libertades y, en consecuencia, se violentan sus derechos fundamentales. Atender la discriminación y la violencia en la entidad es un imperativo urgente si se quieren alcanzar mejores niveles de desarrollo que abarquen el ejercicio de la ciudadanía plena de las mujeres.”
The discrimination, the violence, and the threat of violence which women suffer for being women, in practically in every aspect of their lives, stops in its tracks their development of their capacities. They hold back the practice of their liberties and, consequently, violate their fundamental rights. Attending to the discrimination and violation is an urgent imperative if we want to reach the best levels of development of women’s full practice of citizenship.

Personally, I have women in my life whom have succeeded in an incomparable way to our predecessors. I am a feminist because my mother has, for 35 years, owned her own business. I am a feminist because I have a sister who is an architect and another one who is a fashion designer. I am a feminist because my father recognizes my place, my voice, and my vote. I’m a feminist because I observe women around me, continually break down barriers which continue to limit our advancement. More importantly, I am a feminist because there are women who live in silence. Women who fear having a voice. Women who continuously feel defeated out of fear of their own survival. Feminism isn’t a dirty word as is machismo. Feminism is our rights.


Watch Emma Watson and Malala’s great interview here

Monterrey: The Most Racist City in Mexico

cara-de-nopal

The U.S. has been going under construction over race relations since the rise of viral videos in which police men are seen unjustifiably arresting black men (and some women) and often killing them. President Obama has made this issue his last venture for the upcoming last months of his presidency. He has become the first president to visit a prison and has begun to be outspoken about the disparity between imprisoned Black and Hispanic men versus White men. Then there is Trump.

As a liberal-progressive Mexican in New York, I often find myself taking a specific role in social media. I have made it a thing to comment, share and write on social issues that I find pressing. In school, I am surrounded by similar-thinking minds with whom I discuss current events and theorize about their social implications. But there is an unfortunate thing happening: I am speaking to the choir.

As Mexicans, we know well who Donald Trump is. We are infuriated with the rhetoric and scared of its implications. Most of us, stand against him and what he stands for. We find those that support him ignoring the facts and dismissive of the role the U.S. has had in our country’s need to emigrate. But I find a similarity between the privileged progressive Americans and the privileged Mexican communities, like Monterrey, in our role of speaking out. African Americans talk about it all the time. It’s of the fact that white privilege is there and it has a major impact in the discourse of race relations. In Mexico we fail to do this. Much of it has to do with class relations. In fact, what we fail to do in Mexico is acknowledge that our understanding of skin color is correlated with our understanding of social class. I’ll let you into a little secret, Mexico is in fact a racist country.

First of all, it needs to be said: lighter-skinned communities tend to be much better off then darker-skinned communities. This is not arbitrary. It has everything to do with our history of European colonization. But because we see it as far in the past, it is now seen as a purely social class issue. But in daily discourse this comes out in a variety of ways. Last names matter, ethnic lineage matters, and location of current address matters. Worst of all, skin color matters. We take pride in our mixed history as if it were representative of who we are as individuals. I talk about this with my mother all the time. We discuss how our community of San Pedro, in its infinite wisdom, takes pride in family wealth which has trickled down as some sort of social entitlement. Who your family is defines who you are. It is not about what you’ve done but what your name represents.

A recent poll came out in which it demonstrated that lighter-skinned people are more likely to be hired and sustain a long lasting education. Anthropologist Regina Martinez Casas noted that it is the indigenous that suffered discrimination the most but, ironically, it is these lighter-skinned groups whom are the minority. Ricardo Bucio Mujica visited my home town of Monterrey and discovered that my place of origin holds the number one position as the city in Mexico to discriminate against indigenous, women, and homosexuals. This is upsetting, not only as a fact, but because I am not surprised.

I will never forget a moment in one of my trips home in which I learned the term “nopal en la cara”. I had never heard of it and asked for clarification. It means that a person proverbially wears a cactus on their face. I was shocked. They were talking about someone they knew. As a way of putting them down, they resorted to use that phrase. It basically implies that they are some how lesser because they have darker skin. My first thought was, “Well, what does that have to do with anything?” This is where we need to begin talking about this issue. This phrase and terminology demonstrates a deep rooted issue that is embedded in racial relations in my community. What does it mean to have darker skin? As Martinez Casas noted, lighter skinned individuals are the minority. Why is it derogatory to have darker skin in Mexico?

My own hypothesis is that is has to do, again, with social class. Because its so embedded in the structure of our daily lives, we assume darker skin means less education and lesser financial standing. It is so deeply rooted, we don’t even question it. But this is a problem. How can we root for our own people in a foreign country when we don’t even acknowledge them in our own? I find it ironic that we quickly call Trump a racist when we ourselves play into it in our own communities. When the movie “The Help” came out, I am not kidding, my friends and I found a lot of similarities between the movie and what occurs in our own homes. That was the 50’s; it’s 2015. I even once tried to make it a project in one of my classes. Bringing up the subject in a liberal-progressive institution was one of the most uncomfortable moments I’ve ever had. Not only could no one relate, no one could understand what the hell I was talking about. Why? Because it’s shocking. It’s shocking how we understand class relations in Monterrey; how we understand race relations, and how we approach it in our everyday life. It’s worth noting that it is easily visible in the service sector of our economy. I don’t know where to go from this, but I do believe it is worth bringing up. Particularly in my home town. The number one city with the most discrimination against the indigenous.

We should stand against Trump. He is creating a hostile environment for our emigrant friends. But I’d like to also put it on the table that we must start questioning what role we play as those that are better off. What do we do to help the situation? Who do we choose to give a job to? Who do we choose to invite to our homes? How do we treat those whom we’ve historically chosen to view as lesser? It’s time to talk about it. If I can suggest anything is; the next time you are in an expensive restaurant with friends or family, take a moment, look around, and think.

EDIT: For those who question my sources; look up CONAPRED, the institution which conducted the study.

http://www.conapred.org.mx/

http://noticias.terra.com.mx/mexico/estados/monterrey-es-donde-mas-se-discrimina-en-mexico-conapred,553bdcb346cc7410VgnVCM10000098cceb0aRCRD.html