By Monica Baro (Rialta)
HAVANA TIMES – I know I go on a lot about this subject. I know that many people must be fed up of us feminists not letting any opportunity slide, in public or private spaces. I know that there are men who are nervous about saying or doing something that might provoke a feminist reponse.
But my dear readers who are fed up with feminism, let me tell you something: it’s also exhausting for us feminists. Extremely exhausting. Sometimes, I even break down into tears because of how absolutely exhausted I am, and I’m not even one of the women on the frontline.
A few days ago, in a WhatsApp chat group I have with another two friends, there was a moment when I said: “girls, there’s not a single day that goes by when we don’t talk about machismo, what a way to screw up our lives.” It’s not that my friends and I are sitting down and theorizing about the patriarchal system either. Not at all. My friends and I are just filling each other in with our day-to-day, that’s it.
However, machismo is always present in this day-to-day reality, in our stories: in the intimate relationships we’ve had, in different family conflicts, in professional experiences that have been thwarted by sexual harassment, in the dangerous situations we’ve found ourselves in because we are women, in the traumas we carry. It’s present in pretty much everything.
There isn’t a single man who is more fed up with feminist activism than feminists who are fed up with machismo. At least feminist activism doesn’t kill, while machismo kills thousands of us women every year. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in every three women in the world has suffered physical and/or sexual abuse. That means to say that if you have ten women in your circle, you’re living with at least three victims of physical and/or sexual assualt.
A 2013 WHO report revealed that some 5000 girls and women are killed every year in “honor” killings and another 25,000 newly-wedded women were killed or mutilated as a consequence of the violence linked to their dowry. As I’m writing this, as you’re reading this, there are women who are in fear for their lives, who are fighting for their lives and, in the saddest of cases, losing their lives. Just because they’re women.
Because they’re women. Because they’re women. Because they’re women.
We can’t ever get tired of repeating the fact that the reason we suffer all forms of machista violence is all because of our gender.
I think I share the sentiment of most feminists when I say we’d like to hang up our gloves once and for all, and dedicate ourselves to other issues, to walk through life without any worries. We don’t enjoy living in constant fear, always waiting for every episode of exclusion, abuse or violence.
For example, right now, I’d like to be writing a novel I’ve just started, or watching some free courses by the University of Harvard that I’m interested in. I’d like to be in a gym burning calories while I listen to “Bichota” by Karol G. But I must, and I need to, write this because I feel like I have a great responsibility to all of the women who are no longer among us because of machismo and to all of the girls who will become women one day.
On March 8th this year, my 12-year-old niece who lives in the US, wrote to me to wish me a Happy International Women’s Day, and I took this opportunity to share with her a text I’d published that day in El Estornudo magazine about the importance of Cuban feminists occupying public spaces. We began a conversation that left me really proud of my niece. But I was also left heartbroken.
My niece has been an avid reader ever since she was 9 years old (she reads three times more than me). She told me she recently discovered the existence of the Umoja, a village in Kenya where only women live. “They made their own village because they were being sold for marriage,” she told me. “The men tried to destroy their village and get their wives back, but they were beaten with sticks and chased off. They sell bracelets and other trinkets to make money. But they still receive death threats, I don’t know why… What are they doing wrong? Being independent?”
Of course, the feminist in me immediately told my niece that these women weren’t doing anything wrong. That it was the men who had become angry and threatened them. They were doing something wrong, and that’s why we women have to fight for our rights. I wanted to stop her from thinking that these Umoja women were to blame for the attacks they suffered. For her to know that in spite of the world being very unfair for us more often than not, if we fight for our rights, these injustices can slowly disappear and we can gain the strength we need to overcome what we are forced to live with.
What I didn’t want tell my niece, but I can say it here – for all those men and women who are fed up with feminism to understand us -, is that sometimes it’s nothing but the only way to keep up alive, to do therapy, to heal our wounds. Sometimes, the struggle is the only thing that gives us a bit of dignity back and some meaning to our lives. When somebody thinks that we’re exaggerating, that we’re being dramatic or hysterical, let them remember this: one in every three women.
I personally know three women who have been raped and abused, all three of them before they were adults (one of them was still a child), and none of them have ever been able to tell their parents what happened. This isn’t uncommon. A 2019 study revealed that in Spain – a country that has a comprehensive law against gender-based violence, ever since 2014 – female victims of violence would take an average of eight years and eight months to communicate and/or report their violent situation.
Going back to my chat with my niece: the reason I became heartbroken was when she told me that her Physical Education teacher had given them a class about personal protection. She shared with the girls the following advice: never walk alone, call somebody if you don’t feel safe, always carry pepper spray, learn self-defense if you have the chance, never drink something in a bar if you’ve taken your eyes off of it even one second, push a man away from you if he tries to kiss or touch you against your will… This rosary of precautions that we women interiorize from a very young age and which doesn’t do us a lot of good, a lot of the time.
However, it wasn’t exactly the teacher’s advice that had me heartbroken. I’ve also given this advice and I still do. I also always take note of a taxi’s plate number if a friend gets in on her own and I tell the driver, half in jest, so they don’t get annoyed, but with a firm voice: “don’t let anything happen to her, I’ve got your plate number.” I also say, “call me when you get home.” I also walk in the middle of the road at night because I’m a lot less afraid of being run over by a car than I am of running into a man hiding behind a tree.
The thing that really broke my heart was that the teacher had to give this advice and that my niece, just like so many other women, will grow up getting ready to prevent a dangerous situation or learning how to react in one. In some way or another, I felt like she was becoming a woman with this exercise of becoming aware of her vulnerabilities.
Of course, I wasn’t going to tell her to ignore her teacher, that she’s free and can live without fear. What woman would ever say that? The only thing I could tell her was that we women can fight to change this reality, because there are already so many realities we’ve changed and are changing. There’s nothing that quite resembles hope sometimes like feminism.
I imagine that at my niece’s school, they also teach the boys not to be machista and violent. According to what I’ve been told, her school even has a policy for non-binary individuals. For example, any student can choose which restroom they want to go to, regardless of their biological sex, and how they identify. In my niece’s class, there is one person who identifies with the they pronoun, and the rest of the students respect it, except for one girl.
However, my niece and her classmates don’t spend all of their time in school. They live in a world that is still way too injust, unequal and deadly for women. Plus, if you’re a black woman or a descendant of the enslaved, a lesbian, immigrant, transgender, sex worker, poor, mother or activist, your vulnerabilities multiply.
Ever since I chose to become an independent journalist in Cuba, I’ve received many attacks from State Security agents. Fake profiles on social media or people who disagree with me, who have held my gender, my private life and the denial of my professional occupation as a journalist as their focus. I’ve been attacked for suffering from depression, for being single, for dancing, for expressing my political ideas, for denouncing what I feel is unjust and even for winning a journalism award. In both public and private spaces, I’ve been called crazy, a whore, mercenary and even satanic, and been told I should die or leave Cuba.
I know I’ve become a target for all of these attacks because I’m an independent journalist, but it’s very revealing that these attacks continue, while they try to take the spotlight off my work as an independent journalist. One of the most subtle and repetitive tactics is to treat me as an opponent and activist, that might seem somewhat inoffensive if it wasn’t for the fact that I’m a journalist, above all else.
While doing my job in a context like Cuba’s means becoming an advocate for the right to freedom of speech (because I need to disobey unjust laws to write as an independent journalist). It doesn’t mean that what I’m doing is activism, just because the laws here deny our human rights. All of the activism I do in favor of freedom of speech is to defend my right to be a journalist.
If I was really an activist, I wouldn’t feel any conflict with being labeled an activist. I don’t think that journalism is more valuable than activism, or vice-versa. The problem is when somebody else defines me as something I’m not, when they don’t recognize my professional identity, and in doing so are not only denying who I am, but are reinforcing the patriarchal culture (consciously or subconsciously) that has made so many women and their achievements invisible over the centuries.
I don’t wish for a world where women earn greater recognition than men for being surgeons, journalists, physicists or astronauts, when they follow the same career path, because sometimes this recognition comes from a belittling view of women. Why should we be surprised if a woman works as a scientist at NASA? What should really surprise is the fact that this industry has been dominated by men for so long. But I do wish for a world where we’re respected for what we choose to be.
Behind the story of every female surgeon, journalist, physicist or astronaut, there’s a social and personal story of struggle to get to this point. In spite of all of the policies and laws that are directed at erradicating inequality, implemented in different countries in recent decades, it will always be a lot harder for women to walk the road of professional improvement and economic empowerment, than it is for a man who comes from the same background as us.
Just being a woman puts us as a disadvantage. That’s a fact. It means that ever since you’re a little girl, you’re learning and training to take on more duties and responsibilities in the home and family than men. Our availability of time to invest in ourselves, isn’t equal to what men have, unfortunately. According to statistics systematized by UN Women, in 2015, women living in developing countries spent more time working – paid or unpaid – than men, so we had less time to dedicate to education, leisure, political participation and self-care.
The international body says “Women dedicate between 1-3 more hours every day to domestic work than men; 2-10 times more time providing care every day (to children, the elderly and sick) and 1-4 more hours every day to grocery shopping. For example, in the EU, 25% of women report that their responsibilities as a caregiver or other family and personal matters are the reason for their absence in the workforce, compared to just 3% of men.” While we work more than men, we earn less than them. In most countries, women earn, on average, only 60-75% of a man’s salary.
On the other hand, we’re the ones that have to deal with machista violence in all aspects of our lives: sexual harrassment or abuse, physical and psychological attacks, preconceptions and social expectations. It’s not a coincidence that we female journalists are uncomfortable to any power, anywhere, reporting attacks for their work which are machista attacks.
A report by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) published on March 8th this year, revealed that 40 out of the 112 countries where journalists were surveyed, were considered dangerous for women, and it concluded that the Internet was the most dangerous space out of them all.
“Beyond stress, anxiety and fear, sexist and sexual violence leads female journalists to close down their social media accounts – temporarily or even permanently (which 43% of those interviewed reported in the RSF questionnaire). It also leads to self-censorship (48%), to change their specialization (21%) and even to resign (21%),” the organization says. If you are Asian, black, latin or mixed race, you have a 34% more chance of receiving offensive or problematic tweets than if you are a white woman.
When I share these figures with you, I’m not trying to get you to treat us in a patronizing way or show us pity. That’s just another way of discriminating against us. I do it to contribute to better understanding what it means to make a woman’s job or profession invisible or ridiculed – whether they are an actress, sex worker, journalist or scientist. Defending who we are in a world that has denied us, and continues to deny us, the right to fully exercize our right to be free, for so long… well, that’s no small matter.
Those of you who are fed up with feminists, of their complaints and demands, have two options: get used to it or join us. While we continue to live in a patriarchy, which affects our lives, we feminists will continue to try and knock it down.