Saturday, July 20, 2024

Mexican women are sick of turning the other cheek. Who can blame them?

Oh no, I thought as I read the headline: “A new take on the Stations of the Cross: Feminists give Jesus a beating.” That’s certainly not the way to get anyone on our side.

Let’s face it: as righteous as a social movement might be, it’s still made up of humans, and humans are great at messing up. And as the underdog, you have to be perfect in ways that the dominant side simply does not.

They can keep pretending, for example, that the killing of 10 women a day is perfectly normal and acceptable, but if you spray-paint a building or break some glass or scream, then it’s all, “That’s it! We’ve had it with you ruffians!”

Upon seeing the headline, I thought it might be one of those badly-thought-out ideas that tend to make their way even to the noblest of causes. You know, the way “defund the police” makes it sound like liberals just want police officers gone from the planet rather than the implementation of a list of very reasonable suggestions they have for things like demilitarizing it and some serious de-escalation training.

But no, thank goodness, this was not “the feminists’” idea. Instead, it was basically an act of defamation against the feminist movement by students at a Catholic seminary that was filmed live on Facebook.

Religious conservatives demonizing women’s rights? Well, color me not surprised.

Here’s the basic gist of what happened in the video: at the eighth station of the cross, as depicted in the Bible, the one where Jesus comforts the women who are crying for him, instead, the students dressed as Mexican feminists in black and purple — the current “uniform” for the women’s movement in Mexico — beat him with sticks instead.

While this happened, the speaker in the video (which has been wisely removed since) said, “2,021 years later, the Lord returns to find women very different than those he consoled, women trapped in an irrational collective, demanding rights by insulting and destroying everything in their path, fighting for feminism and respect for women when they do not even respect themselves. Violent women committing acts of vandalism, women who enter temples and profane the Eucharist, laughing at the Virgin Mary.”

And, of course, some antiabortion stuff was thrown in there as well, because they just can’t resist condemning women in general without condemning the audacious idea specifically that they should be in charge of their own bodies. (Cue the inevitable hate mail; what-up, gentlemen?)

Y’all. This would almost be funny if it weren’t guaranteed to raise the level of contempt already felt toward women in general and feminists in particular.

So you want to talk about Jesus? Fine, let’s talk about Jesus. Easter just happened, after all.

While I don’t consider myself particularly religious at this point in my life, I did grow up in the Baptist church and attended a religious college with several related required classes. I know my way around the Bible, and even around books about the Bible.

My later contempt for organized religion — which I’ll admit lasted for quite a while — has softened considerably as I’ve aged. At this point, my feelings are more generous, with a “live and let live, whatever gets you to nirvana, great” philosophy as long as others aren’t trying to force the rest of us to live under the rules of their particular beliefs.

But back to Jesus. Jesus, who gave food and wine for free without lecturing poor people about how what they should be doing is working harder and wanting it more. Who let a woman who everyone else thought was a dirty loser anoint his feet and be his best buddy — which, as others surely warned him, was terrible optics. Who told the powerful guys that they were a bunch of freaking hypocrites and didn’t apologize for it later.

Did all those things really happen? Who knows; it matters little. As sociologist W. I. Thomas said, “If a person perceives a situation as real, then it is real in its consequences.” And if that’s not an easy illustration of the power that religion holds, I don’t know what is.

The stories of Jesus’ life and teachings have certainly been invoked in all kinds of social movements. The late representative John Lewis’ autobiography, Walking with the Wind, explains one of those connections well.

“Turn the other cheek” isn’t about passivity, he explained, but about radical love. It’s about refusing to give back hate and vitriol, even when you receive it, and trying to change hearts and minds instead. It forces the other side to hold up a mirror to themselves and their actions. Turn the other cheek, says Jesus, the radical-acts-of-love revolutionary.

And guess what? That’s what the SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) practiced, filing into “white” diners impeccably dressed, only to be yelled at, humiliated, beaten. And it was revolutionary and did change many hearts and minds.

After a while, though, a more militant and antiwhite style of protest emerged. And why wouldn’t it? People can only take so much.

I’d argue that we women have been actively practicing “turn the other cheek” for millennia too. How well has it worked? Have we charmed men into giving us some actual power and agency with our brilliantly subversive feminine wiles?

The answer, unfortunately, is no. I wish it had worked; it would be a hell of a lot easier than organizing gigantic protests and constantly looking over our shoulders, both at home and in public.

At some point, everyone is pushed too far. Some black activists eventually started fighting back. Women got mad and spray-painted some statues in their desperation. Jesus went into the temple and flipped over a bunch of tables and drove the moneychangers out with a whip, which I’ve always thought was super badass.

Everyone’s got their limits. The message is all the same: “That’s it. We’ve had it!”

The Mexican Holy Week processions can be extremely moving, elaborate and really a sight to behold. If only we could get that kind of emotion and fervor going about the very real femicides happening daily in this country.

In the meantime, I’ll pray as I always do for clarity, peace and the kind of renewal that makes even my wildest dreams for justice in this world feel possible. Happy Easter, y’all.

Sarah DeVries is a writer and translator based in Xalapa, Veracruz. She can be reached through her website,

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