Sarah DeVries
Demonstrators at a Mexico City march on International Women's Day. Demonstrators at a Mexico City march on International Women's Day.

We can do much better by women than this, can’t we?

Even when the state leads in gender equality, culture doesn't necessarily follow

Go to a virtual women’s conference, get masturbated to. I guess this is where we’re at now. Are we serious, Universe? Are the pandemic, the forest fires, the floods not enough?

Y’all, I am so tired of writing about this issue. I don’t want to anymore, and I’ve discovered the hard way that I can’t simply force people to believe that women truly deserve equality and respect. Besides that, my articles about women’s issues are total downers and don’t get read or shared by that many people anyway.

I’m an optimist at heart, my complaining is really just a plea: now that we know what’s wrong, can we please work to make it better?

I’m disappointed over and over again.

How many men, both in the public and private sphere, have we felt certain were on the side of justice and equality only to find out that they too harbored a not-so-well-hidden contempt for women as a group? How many times, women, have you felt that you’ve had a positive, polite interaction with men only to hear (or hear about) them snickering and making sexual jokes about you as you walk away? Not being taken seriously because of your gender is as tiring and depressing as it is humiliating.

I felt that deflation again last week after reading about the death of José Manuel Mireles. Here’s a guy who, by most counts, was a modern-day hero, organizing communities to retake control from the cartels. Wow! Then I get further down in the article and read about his derogatory public remarks toward women and accusations of domestic abuse from his first wife and children. Come on, man. What is it with all these ironically placed blind spots?

And what is it about women struggling to have their (literally) life-and-death issues taken seriously that triggers the contempt of some men to such a high degree? I’ve spent my adult life trying to figure it out and keep coming up empty. Are they incels (self-identified “involuntary celibates”) who are mad that they’re not getting laid as much as they think they should? Is it mommy issues? Are they feeling angry and neutered when they see women — whom they consider to be below them — even seeming like they might have more power? Or a more terrifying prospect: is it just a nearly worldwide cultural habit?

I’d love to say that this behavior is getting better, that newer generations are more self-aware with a higher sense of justice and a greater sense of what’s right. It’s a hope I’ve lived on for years, e.g. “my impossibly racist grandmother will die someday, and that will be one less racist in the world.” Nope. If there’s one thing that the Trump era has taught us, it’s this: the hate is reproducing. These persons’ ideas aren’t dying with them, they’re getting passed on.

So, what if the state leads? Will culture follow? So far, the state is most certainly not leading. While it sometimes manages collectively fantastic PR, the reality is that such campaigns have barely made a dent in the on-the-ground practices that affect everyday people.

One gruesome example: an acquaintance of mine used to have a job psychologically evaluating potential new hires for the local police department. My friend told me about plenty of recruits who would brag about committing petty crimes, rape, sometimes even murder. This person would vigorously and categorically recommend that such candidates not be hired. I’ll let you guess how many of them got hired anyway.

Okay, no need: all of them, of course. By the time these candidates got to that stage, they’d basically already been hired; the psychological evaluation was a simple formality. Can you imagine being Jodie Foster in Silence of the Lambs interviewing people who would pretty much be guaranteed never to land behind bars —  and, indeed, hold positions of power?

Another acquaintance told me once of a woman married to a police officer who came home, fought with her in front of their three children, and put a gun to her head, in front of the kids, of course; I suppose this is how it’s passed on? The wife initially pressed charges against him but the next day was “convinced” to drop them. What a surprise.

The problem, of course, is not only with police: misogyny exists at all levels of society.

As Olga Sánchez Cordero noted, we have a “historic debt” to women in this country. Violence against women in Mexico has gone up by 9.2% since the pandemic began; I snorted a little at the headline when I read the article about this issue: “Not even Covid crisis has detained violence against women …”

“Not even”? Well, of course not. Now men who have always wanted to control the comings and goings of their female partners have a “valid” excuse; under the guise of concern, interest and protection, control and abuse are validated. Add to the mix a hopelessly Norman Rockwell version of families that President López Obrador seems to insist is our current reality and it becomes even more difficult to address the problem.

Much like this country’s labor laws, laws for gender equality in Mexico are generally excellent. It’s the lack of enforcement that leaves a gigantic chasm between intention and reality. What can we do?

I can already hear the arguments: “What about violence against men? We suffer it too…” Yes. Yes, you do. But while many women suffer because they’re women, men do not suffer because they’re men. There’s a special type of disdain reserved for girls and women, a special type of gender-based contempt.

Eight out of 10 women fear being harassed in the street, said Sánchez in her speech on the International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women last week. Why do women have this fear? Because it happens all the time; and that’s actually one of the least serious examples of misogyny we face. Honestly, that’s nothing compared to the 32 girls a day aged 10–14 who become mothers.

I have a daughter. What will she face? My biggest fear is that by the time she’s visibly a woman, things will be worse, not better. Come on, people. We can do better than this.

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

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