No matter how far away from your homeland you may be there is a sense of cultural memory and belonging, one that has the power to transcend borders. Scores of expats call Buenos Aires home, but the yanquis in particular are present in droves. In times of uncertainty we always have a choice although it may not seem clear. We can give in and be paralysed by the prospect of the unknown, or we can unite. Nearly 200 people united outside the U.S. embassy on the 21st January as part of the Women’s March on Washington, which was a march taking place across the world.
Despite the name being ‘Women’s March on Washington’ and the majority being women or Americans or both, there was still an inspiring mix of people; men, women, transgenders, people of all ethnicities, and all backgrounds united against a hateful figure who incites divisions. It was a very powerful event to be present at as people spoke so earnestly to complete strangers about their personal experiences with sexism and harassment, and with such a strong belief in change. It really made me believe that together, united, at that march and across the world there was a latent hope, and there would be a time that change could be enacted if such a drive for it exists.
This march invoked the activist warrior in me so it seems and in March I attended another march, though on a much bigger scale. In a previous post I’d written about gender relations in Mexico and the phenomenon of femicidio and how patriarchy or the machista society is very prominent in day to day life. This is perhaps a problem that I found was amplified in Buenos Aires, which given the European cultural traits which have otherwise permeated the city, ostensibly seems surprising. Cat-calls are far too common place, from dawn till dusk, or even a ‘linda’ and maintained eye contact. It bothered me so much I started to reply, or question them, and eventually I began to cat call men back. Those who I probed on their actions told me that it was a ‘cultural thing’ and that Argentine women ‘liked it’. But the women I spoke to certainly didn’t, and I even asked women passing by who agreed with me; still this wasn’t convincing. For the most part they stubbornly clung to their belief that it was their right to tell a woman how beautiful they thought they were.
The President of Argentina Mauricio Macri once commented that all women secretly love a good cat-call; if that is the leader of the country is it any wonder that men really don't see a problem with it? (N.B. see any parallels with Trump...?)
Taking this all into account it is then no surprise that International Women’s Day on March 8th drew thousands and quite literally stopped traffic. Every branch of feminist organisation in existence was out on the streets, with all their friends and family in tow. Police adorned every corner, and colour and banners filled the streets. 'que no me digas guapa'; 'don't call me pretty', 'mujer bonita es la que lucha'; 'a pretty woman is the one who fights', and of course the classic which I had heard in Mexico 'ni una menos, viva nos queremos'; 'not one (woman) less, we want us alive'. It was amazing, encouraging, and yet so disheartening. The fact that this was a visible demonstration of the angst and upset that women feel every day and yet some men, aware that these events and problems exist, still don't see the link or problem with everyday sexism such as cat-calling is problematic. But there remains hope.