Monday, July 7, 2014

Terrorizing Women: Feminicide in the Americas Rosa-Linda Fregoso and Cynthia Bejarano

Regina José Galindo, Performance 2011
A dead woman means nothing, a hundred dead women mean nothing, three hundred dead women mean nothing. The difference between Ciudad Juárez and Guatemala is that in Guatemala women are not only killed, but first they are subjected to horrible forms of torture, cut into little pieces and decapitated. I saw the hacked-up legs of a woman near my home one day, and nobody paid any attention to them at all. ~Regina José Galindo, Guatemalan Performance Artist
In Terrorizing Women: Feminicide in the Americas Rosa-Linda Fregoso and Cynthia Bejarano (2010) [382 pp] frame feminicidal violence as human rights violations that target women.  They include four witness testimonies and sixteen essays by feminist researchers and advocates that explore feminicide as the new face of violence against women in Latin America; specifically the essays deal with Mexico, Guatemala, Argentina, Costa Rica and transnational spaces of violence such as the border.  Feminicide is defined as the widespread killing of women and girls founded on public and private power structures between men and women.  It is gender based violence and has both a local and a social nature, “implicating both the state (directly or indirectly) and individual perpetrators (private or state actors); it thus encompasses systematic, widespread, and everyday interpersonal violence” and is rooted in economic, social, political inequalities and in historical systems of impunity (5). 

The editors argue that historical conditions generate social practices that threaten the integrity, health, liberties, and lives of girls and women (xvi).  They also propose that feminicide is tolerated by society and that society is complicit in women’s exclusion from power structures, through an acceptance of gender inequalities, discrimination, in the normalization of gender violence, and the lack of guarantees of the rights of women.  They argue that men control the power structures of society and that there is a misogynist complicity between the state and those committing acts of gender violence against women: “Violent men therefore enjoy an ideological and political complicity between authorities and assailants.  In such a climate, there is a clear absence of democratic rule of law in relation to women” (xxi).  They emphasize that feminicide is therefore a state crime because the state is not upholding the law or the security of female citizens.  

While the editors do note that feminicide is part of an overall increase in homicide rates, they argue that women are killed specifically because they are women and as a result of their vulnerability as members of a subordinate gender (7).  They also link feminicide with a history of sexual violence during armed conflicts and establish ties between the increase in feminicide and economic globalization (See Weissman’s essay).     

Part I of the book localizes violence by focusing on the spaces where feminicide occurs.  Together this group of essays show that violence against women tends to take place in intimate private settings, but it can happen anywhere,  from places of work to the streets.  Also women’s bodies are discarded and mutilated in spaces and in ways that carry the message of masculine power.  Even while violence in general is increasing, these essays show that women are killed in specific ways and places because they are women and because of a societal complicity in misogyny. 

In Violencia Feminicida: Violence Against Women and Mexico’s Structural Crisis, Mercedes Olivera argues that neoliberal economic policies have situated women in a vulnerable social position.  On the one hand the jobs themselves are unregulated and offer little protection for female workers.  One example that Olivera gives is the increased numbers of women wage earners and the congregation of women in jobs that are part of the informal economy, with low and unreliable incomes.  Additionally the interruption of the traditional division of labor fosters male aggression and insecurity that, in turn, leads to abandonment, divorce and murder (54).  The next two chapters by Julia Estela Monárrez Fragoso and Rita Laura Segato analyze women’s bodies, many times cadavers, and how bodies are used to communicate messages of women’s low social value, by the way they are discarded, for example, and also how their bodies are part of a complex “communication machine” dominated by male voices.  Segato argues that feminicides can be read as communicative acts and that there is a language of feminicide.  “They tell us about the permanent reissuing of a second law whose judges and prosecutors acts as shadow authorities of the state…power over the life and death of those who live in that limit territory is represented and inscribed on the bodies of women as a document…(88).

In the essay Getting Away with Murder Cházaro, Casey and Ruhl discuss the failure of the Guatemalan authorities to investigate and prosecute cases of feminicide.  They argue that this newest form of impunity has roots in the sexual violence of the Guatemalan armed conflict of the 1980s.  Even today, the authors suggest that Guatemalan society has laws in place and actively practices discrimination of women in civil matters.  All of this evidence points to state complicity in gender violence.

Marta Fontenla’s Feminicides in Mar del Plata brings the discussion of feminicide to Argentina and to the complicity of authorities there with feminicide and prostitution, which Fontenla links closely in the essay.  She argues that clients, police and judicial authorities are complicit in not investigating and not giving attention to these cases.  They also show that police officers facilitate prostitution by collecting weekly sums from brothels in exchange for additional security services that amount to little more than taking bribes without guaranteeing the security of women involved in prostitution.  

Sagot and Carcedo Cabañas’ chapter on Feminicide in Costa Rica is important because it challenges the idea that violence against women is just part of a larger trend of more violence in general.  Here, the authors compare the types of violent deaths for men and women and show that women are killed most often in intimate family settings whereas this is not the case for men.  They conclude that “feminicide is rooted in the unequal power structure of society that gives women a subordinate position to men…the social structure of gender inequity allows men to exercise power over women.  In turn, gender socialization enhances men’s internalization of power relations over women and the construction of abusive and violent masculine identities.  This is the foundation that buttresses and engenders feminicide” (155).

Part II focuses on widening the lens of feminicide to a transnational scope.  Here Weismann’s chapter Global Economies and Their Progenies: Theorizing Feminicide in Context is key because she disputes the tendency to view countries of the global south that struggle with feminicide as “murderous people without morals, governed by corrupt forces, and better kept on the other side of the border” (223) She argues that feminicide is tied to economic liberalization which contributes to poverty and gender inequality in important ways such as the increased number of women in maquila work (228).  Additionally she points out that human rights discourse is related to economic liberalization and that human rights should be used not only to hold the state accountable, but also to hold transnational corporations and international financial institutions accountable as violators of such rights (240).

The final part of Terrorizing Women examines women as transnational subjects and looks at gender violence when women migrate across national borders.  For example, in Ciudadana X: Gender Violence and the Denationalization of Women’s Rights in Ciudad Juárez, México Alicia Schmidt Camacho shows that feminicide travels across borders and that women often have even less protection as they migrate to other countries.  In the US, female immigrants are vulnerable to domestic violence as they are more isolated in the homes because of their legal status, language barriers and cultural differences.  At the same time, they are held hostage to violence in their homes by the increased opportunities to make money and increased opportunities for their families and children that would be impossible in their home countries.  Wright’s chapter Paradoxes, Protests and the Mujeres de Negro of Northern Mexico examines women’s participation in activist groups around the world and the successes of these groups as well as the paradoxes inherent in these groups, such as the dependence of Mujeres de Negro on the discourse of the whore as the publically known private woman (329).

In sum, Terrorizing Women: Feminicide in the Americas is an important book because it shows the complexity of feminicide and separates it from the general trend of increased violence in Latin America.  Fregoso and Bejarano suggest that historical impunity for sexual crimes, traditional power relationships between men and women, neoliberal economic policies and the complicity of the state in feminicide are deeply rooted reasons behind the new type of violence that is being directed toward women in Latin America.    

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