“Un violador en tu camino:” Lessons from the Feminist Chilean Revolution | Chile
On October 18, 2019, Chile saw the beginning of a great social uprising, now dubbed revolution by many. Its slogan, “no son 30 pesos, son 30 años” (not 30 pesos but 30 years), shows that the problem was not in the 30 pesos rise of public transportation fare; rather, it is indicative of a deep-seated issue with the 30 years that followed the end of the dictatorship, in which the government failed to bring forth real changes and address the stark inequalities across social classes. Instead, these would have worsened.
Therefore, and after a few weeks of agitation caused by the mass public transportation fare evasions of secondary school students, fires erupted in different parts of the capital on October 18. As a response, the government imposed a state of exception and set a curfew. These measures were not enough to quell social unrest, and massive protests took over the streets. Clashes with security forces led to worrying reports from Amnesty International1 and Human Rights Watch,2 with both organizations denouncing serious human rights abuses. Among them, the images that would garner the most attention were that of the massive and unprecedented eye damage caused by riot bullets.3
As days and weeks went by, violence in the streets intensified. Despite the government lifting curfew within a week, the clashes became more serious and harrowing accounts of torture, including eye injuries, increased. Captured by cell phone cameras, the police’s irregular operations were exposed, amidst chaos and ungovernability in the streets. It is in such a context that many people would lose faith, a sentiment heightened by the discourses that warned against a possible dissolution of democracy. It is also in such a context that the performance “un violador en tu camino” (a rapist in your path) would make its way into the public sphere.
“Un violador en tu camino” was created by the feminist collective “Las Tesis,” originally from the city of Valparaíso. A song accompanied by a simple dance denounced the sexual violence of which women are victims, as well as the complicity of different governmental institutions – “el violador eres tú” (the rapist is you), or even, “el estado opresor es un macho violador” (the oppressive state is a rapist macho). The performance would have such an impact that it would be massively replicated in several Chilean cities, and, as of today, in Peru, Argentina, Colombia, Uruguay, Mexico, Spain, Germany, Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Greece, Lebanon, India, Turkey, among other geographies.
The massive impact of the performance is not limited to its international reach. The intervention managed to undo the climate of despair and violence that had taken over Chile, even if only temporarily. In this sense, “un violador en tu camino” acted as a channel for social protest, while repositioning feminist demands at the center of the debate.
It is important to emphasize that a feminist wave has been taking shape in Chile since 2016, unprecedented in its visibility. With mass marches slogans such as #Niunamenos (no more weman dying of femicide) and the rapid increase of feminist groups around the urgent issues of street harassment, gender-based violence, and the legalization of abortion, among others, the past three years witnessed a proliferation of women organizing in Chile.
Despite the value and meaning conferred on the social outbreak of 2019, it would also have a dark side: not only did it blur feminist demands, but it would also put women at higher risk. The sexual violence exerted by the state security forces that targeted especially women (as was stated at the Human Rights Watch report) was accompanied by the resurgence of the public space dispute, thus undermining what women had laboriously reclaimed throughout the years. For many women, the danger of merely being in the streets generated anxiety to go out and participate in the social organizing and protests. Additionally, many men accused of gender violence regularly participate in those spaces and moments of collective action, which alienates the women they had abused, who choose non-participation over being in the same space as their aggressors.
Other than the one conducted by HRW, few studies support these claims. But women’s organization networks have put this problem on the table for years. Countless women have come forth with complaints at different moments and meetings initiated by feminist organizations. This echoes the experiences of other revolutionary processes and contexts, especially, as I argue next, those developed in the Middle East and North Africa regions.
As documented by various authors in different geographies of the MENA,4 it is not uncommon for revolutionary processes to postpone the needs of women, considering them second-order or “specialized” demands. However, not only do these demands represent those of at least half of the population, but they extend to a critical vision of political citizenship. For instance, one of the current revolutionary demands in Chile targets a privatized pension system that is unable to grant decent pensions to the retired population. Although this affects the great majority of Chilean workers, the problem is especially critical when it comes to women’s pensions, as many of them dedicated their lives to home care work, which prevented them from accessing social security savings and a retirement plan capable of covering their needs.5
In this sense, the intervention of La Tesis is an assemblage of the feminist political context. In a first instance, it is a non-violent form of protest, without it being less direct, accusatory, and decisive. Through creativity, it gives a break to the anguish of feminist revolutionaries caused by violence in the streets, while honing the awareness of the social ills that must be addressed. “El estado opresor es un macho violador” (the oppressive state is a rapist macho) works on a dual level. On the one hand, it denounces the complicity of the state with gender-based violence. On the other hand, it refers metaphorically to citizenship as an abused woman who can and should no longer withstand the violence of her abuser.
The intervention also opened a space for active feminist organizing, with thousands revisiting the performance. To participate, it is necessary to communicate, rehearse, agree, and meet face to face. Thus, with the strong support of social networks, the performance contributes to the revival of the feminist groups that had removed themselves from the public spheres, and calls for organizing with women who were not previously or necessarily part of feminist movements.
Additionally, this performance vindicates and stimulates creativity as a fighting tool; its authors called upon feminists to modify the lyrics at will to better adapt them to different contexts, and women have heeded that call globally. The adapted interventions that have been organized include performances by older women and instrumental ones such as flamenco, and feature a wide array of garments, from mourning attire to a Latin American aesthetic infused with bright colors. Through the original song, the intervention is clear in the accusations it extends to the police, the state, the judges, and the president, and the global adaptations named the institutions of the church, the neoliberal system, the military and others as also complicit with abuse.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Las Tesis managed to recenter the issue of women as an unavoidable responsibility, bringing visual and auditory meaning to the slogan “la revolución será feminista o no será” (the revolution will be feminist or it will not be). Although the transformative potential and long-term impact of this intervention are yet to be experienced, it is already possible to draw a series of lessons from its short-term consequences that can be extrapolated from and to other geographies and at different revolutionary times.
The first takeaway is that of organizing together. Revolutionary moments are moments of fellowship, solidarity, and support among all those who find themselves at the margins of the state, society, and their apparatuses. However, this should not come at the expense of women organizing as a group, lest they become excluded from a new redistribution of power, as has happened over and over again throughout history. Second, creativity opens infinite possibilities for social mobilization, beyond traditional modes of organizing. And third, it is important to push back against the relegation of women’s demands to the background, regardless of circumstances. What is “urgent” is simply so because it has been decided by patriarchal rule that positions itself as the measure and standard, including where social demands are concerned. It is such a discourse we must fight and revolt againstز
- 1. https://amnistia.cl/noticia/chile-politica-deliberada-para-danar-a-manif...
- 2. https://www.hrw.org/es/news/2019/11/26/chile-llamado-urgente-una-reforma...
- 3. https://www.t13.cl/noticia/nacional/lesiones-oculares-ascienden-352-segu...
- 4. See for Egypt and Tunisia (Abdelmonem 2015; Gomez, 2013), Syria (Thompson, 2011), Iraq (Mediavilla, 2014), Algeria (Chinchilla, 2014), Yemen (Strzelecka, 2012).
- 5. https://www.elmostrador.cl/braga/2019/07/30/mujeres-jubiladas-ganan-menos-del-salario-minimo-con-mas-de-30-anos-cotizando/
Abdelmonem, A. (2015). “Reconceptualizing Sexual Harassment in Egypt: A Longitudinal Assessment of el-Taharrush el-Ginsy in Arabic Online Forums and Anti-Sexual Harassment Activism.” Kohl: a Journal for Body and Gender Research 1(1): 23-41.
Chinchilla, J. (2014). “La mujer argelina como elemento de negociación en la construcción de un nuevo poder político: de la independencia a la crisis del sistema de partido único.” Relaciones Internacionales, 55-74.
Gomez, L. (2013). “Igualdad y género. La mujer árabe recompone su militancia.” Viento sur, 61-70.
Mediavilla, N. H. (2014). “Representción de la mujer iraquí a través del contrato colonial y los nacionalismos anticoloniales.” MEAH, 91-117.
Pernasetti, C. I. (2011). “Comer y recordar. La cocina tradicional y la memoria colectiva. Fecundidad de la memoria. Desafíos del presente a los usos del pasado en América Latina.” Córdoba: Centro de estudios avanzados UNC, 1-10.
Strzelecka, E. (2012). “Movimientos de mujeres en Yemen: Pasado presente y futuro.” Revista de estudios Yemeníes, 43-54.
Thompson, E. (2011). “The woman’s movement and its development. The colonial Welfare state in Syria (1920-1946).” Femmes, Genre, Historie, 1-11.