Saturday, June 15, 2024

Decision not to prosecute Mexico City rape protesters shows progress

Some people are natural rebels — revolutionaries, even — but not me. I’m a natural rule-follower, a lover of order. I like established parameters I can respect and expect others to do the same.

Spontaneity, frankly, makes me anxious. Even concerts and parades overwhelmed me for fear the sheer mass of people could lead to chaos. If there’s not a plan for all possibilities that could result from a given course of action, count me out.

Growing up in any kind of family other than the liberal, activist one in which I did, I could have easily turned out to be a Mike Pence conservative. I often feel my personality doesn’t match the mostly anti-establishment views with which my ideology lines up.

I want change, but I am allergic to and terrified of — if we’re being honest — conflict. For example, I crave the structure of good government, but want only the parts that don’t tear common people down. Meanwhile, I’m probably hiding in the back room sending encouraging dispatches to the real fighters.

What I really want, I suppose, is for the world to be Denmark or one of those other northern European countries where everything just seems to work and solutions to societal problems are logically and matter-of-factly found and implemented.

I’ve been reading with interest about the recent women’s protest in Mexico City in response to the alleged rape of a teenage girl by police officers. The group went to the Attorney General’s Office to demand that the accusations be taken seriously.

The event garnered a lot of attention — windows were shattered, furniture was destroyed, angry words were shouted and glitter was thrown. The predictable cries of “That’s not the way you should protest; your hooligan strategies are self-defeating!” and counter-cries of “Your privilege and wrongly-placed priorities are showing, you hypocrites, and it’s not a good look!” have been echoing around the internet since then.

I’ve read accounts of what happened and seen the pictures and videos. The rule-loving, people-pleasing part of me — what I consider the less-evolved part of my brain — winces at the specter of chaos and raw emotion. But my higher self — the part of me able to think deeply about the intricacies of what justice really means — thinks: “Well, really, what things don’t women have to be angry about?”

When it comes to fighting for fairness, women often can’t win. The social expectations that designate us “the fairer sex” aren’t much use when it comes to fighting for our rights. For many, there’s nothing more contemptible than women acting as if they have just as much right to demand respect as men do.

This was one good reason among a multitude to protest, and I’m glad they did. The more attention crimes — particularly those aimed at women — receive, the more likely they will be taken seriously by both the justice system and by society at large. We’re not likely to eradicate the patriarchy, sexism, sexual abuse and violence in our lifetimes, but it’s certainly worth trying.

I know plenty of people will keep going back to the “but-that’s-not-the-way-to-protest” argument and, as someone who instinctively falls in line, I can sympathize. But that said, how much attention might have they received if it had been a simple march? Does the old adage, “any press is good press,” apply here?

As a woman, I often feel frustrated about how little violence against half the population is taken seriously by the public at large and, specifically, by the powers that be.

An alleged rape by police is the tip of the iceberg in Mexico. Other major problems include the all-too-common murders of women by current or former partners and the “disappearances” of women into the modern-day slave trade, shallow graves, or both. Then there are more “minor” problems such as job and wage discrimination, forced sterilizations, and run-of-the-mill sexual harassment that millions of women suffer every day.

These things can really grate on a girl’s nerves, you know?

All that said, I think the authorities responded fairly well to this situation under the circumstances. Any specialist in conflict resolution will tell you that if you really want a successful outcome through dialogue, both parties must remain calm and avoid accusations, criticisms and blaming.

While this is not an example of two organizations with equal power, I think the fact that the Mexican authorities and Police Chief Jesús Orta Martínez at least tried to talk to protesters demonstrated goodwill.

While his “running away from glitter” made excellent fodder for memes, it’s hard to imagine anyone trying seriously to discuss something when there’s so much passion and anger on the other side. The No. 1 rule of conflict resolution is that when people lose their cool, a break must be taken before resuming.

As of this writing, Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum has officially apologized for the government’s perceived exaggerated response to the protest and reiterated her commitment to the safety of women in Mexico, which is exactly what she should have done. The Attorney General’s Office will not be pressing charges against those who committed acts of vandalism, which is also exactly the right move.

They listened to concerned citizens, put their egos on the back-burner, and gave priority to people’s concerns about grave human rights violations over a few broken windows and fistfuls of glitter, which is what the authorities must do.

Bravo to the brave women who marched to shine light when it needed to be shone. Bravo to the authorities for — eventually — getting the response right. I think we’re finally getting somewhere, y’all.

Sarah DeVries writes from her home in Xalapa, Veracruz.

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