The concept of feminism has been reduced by capitalism into a crop top made with child labor in Bangladesh that says, “Girl Boss.” The narrative of the fight for justice has been commodified and westernized. Foreign countries have fallen under white saviorism in the name of equity. In the United States, popular culture continues to engage in feminism with a colonial mindset. This is not what feminism is about at all. Despite being considered one of the most socially conservative countries in Latin America, Chilean feminism is no exception.
A brief history
From the onset of feminist mobilization in the 1910s, Chilean feminists believed in a flexible concept of feminism that allowed for accommodation of cultural differences and national necessities. During the 1920s, Chilean feminists endorsed suffrage but did not aggressively pursue it as women did in the United States.
By the late 1930s and 1940s, their discourse shifted to emphasize that women’s equality and political rights were the cornerstones of democracy. The outbreak of World War II and the rise of fascism in Europe led Chilean feminists to argue that the American republics had to serve as model democracies for a Europe that had fallen back into barbarism.
Throughout the decades, Chilean feminists have engaged in international endeavors and were involved in international women’s organizations. Most organizations dissolved after suffrage was granted. However, Partido Femenino Chileno (Chilean Women’s Party), founded by Marié de la Cruz in 1946, continued to grow and work for more women’s rights throughout the years. The Women’s March of 1971 against Salvador Allende established women’s role in politics and turned March 8 into National Women’s Day.
“Un violador en tu camino”
In recent years, the feminist movement in Chile has gained international attention. Women performed “Un violador en tu camino” or “A Rapist in Your Path” in a demonstration against gender-based violence in front of the National Stadium in Santiago, Chile, in December of 2019. Women perform a choreographed dance, moving side to side and stomping out a rhythm with their feet while chanting powerful lyrics about police violence, gendered violence, the oppression of the state, and the patriarchy.
Mexico-born choreographer Rebecca Hernandez has studied the ways in which social justice movements use choreography and other signifiers to spread messages. She explained “For women in unison to have this body-based event where they are saying something meaningful… Even if you are not a survivor, you know what it means to be walking down a street where you don’t feel safe, so this is very empowering.”
During the performance and protests, activists wear black lace blindfolds. This accessory is a reminder of the hundreds of Chilean protestors who have been blinded by the police. The Chilean National Human Rights Institute has filed 1,080 lawsuits against the state since the protests began. The accusations include torture and inhumane treatment, sexual abuse, and rape. Every part of a performance matters, from what people are wearing to what they are singing. Every little detail serves a purpose.
In the United States
During the jury selection process for Harvey Weinstein’s criminal trial this month, dozens of women gathered outside a Manhattan courthouse to perform a version of “Un violador en tu camino.” First, in Spanish, then in English, they sang: “Patriarchy is our judge that imprisons us at birth/And our punishment is the violence you don’t see.” The Associated Press reported the anthem caused “a commotion so loud that it could be heard in a 15th-floor courtroom.” It quickly went viral.
“A Rapist in your path”
This performance was created in 2019 by the feminist collective Lastesis in Valparaíso, Chile, and is based on the work of the Argentine-Brazilian anthropologist Rita Segato. The lyrics explain how the state upholds systematic violations of women’s rights, through institutions such as the judiciary and the police. It’s not just that members of those institutions simply disregard the complaints; they are often the perpetrators themselves. The title, “A Rapist in Your Path,” is an ironic take on an old slogan used by the police, “a friend in your path.” The chant that accompanies the dance states exactly how Chileans feel about their government: “This oppressive state is a macho rapist.”
Although many verses are relatable internationally, “And it’s not my fault, not where I was, not how I dressed”, there are also many lines that speak directly to the Chilean experience. One verse even sarcastically quotes the Chilean police anthem word for word: “Sleep calmly, innocent girl/ Without worrying about the bandit,/ Over your dreams smiling and sweet,/ watches your loving police.”
A small group first performed this piece in front of a police station during a protest in Valparaíso on Nov. 20, 2019. Five days later, hundreds of activists in the capital of Santiago repeated the chant for the International Day of the Elimination of Violence Against Women. In Dec 2019, thousands sang the anthem together outside of Santiago’s National Stadium because, during Chile’s military dictatorship, it was a detention and torture center.
This anthem has dispersed to ever corner of the globe, including London, Berlin, Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Tel Aviv, New Delhi, Tokyo, Beirut, Mexico City, Istanbul, Caracas, Lima, Buenos Aires, and more.
2020 power moves
In March of 2020, more than a million people swarmed the streets of Chile in honor of International Women’s Day. This tremendous protest was also in support of a historic referendum that was supposed to take place in April. Feminists were more than ready to vote for reforming the country’s Pinochet-era constitution, but the vote was postponed. The referendum asks the country to decide whether the old constitution should be replaced. The Pinochet dictatorship’s (1973–1990) neoliberal model prioritized a market-driven economy while women were affected by gendered and sexualized state terrorism. No wonder people want a new constitution! Voters will also have the opportunity to determine how the new document is drafted.
There is still so much work to do
The truth is, feminism has an extremely international complex history. Feminism is not this new concept that needs to be spoon-fed to other countries by white American women. If you consider yourself an activist in the United States, ask yourself why you think you know better than other countries. Ask yourself if you truly have a global feminist perspective. Do you still have the mindset that other countries need “saving”? Personally, I need to read more about international social justice movements. It can feel overwhelming to concern yourself with international affairs, but conversations between nations are vital to collective liberation.
- Global Feminism: The Circle NGO
- Global Voices – international and multilingual community of writers, translators, academics, and human rights activists
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- Bitter Brown Femmes – Queer Latinx Podcast
- Barbara, Vanessa. “Latin America’s Radical Feminism Is Spreading.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 28 Jan. 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/01/28/opinion/latin-america-feminism.html.
- Bartlett, John. “’The Constitution of the Dictatorship Has Died’: Chile Agrees Deal on Reform Vote.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 15 Nov. 2019, www.theguardian.com/world/2019/nov/15/chile-referendum-new-constitution-protests.
- Hiner, Hillary. “A Feminist History of Violence against Women and the LGBTQIA+ Community in Chile, 1964–2018.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin American History, 30 Oct. 2019, oxfordre.com/latinamericanhistory/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199366439.001.0001/acrefore-9780199366439-e-665.
- “How the Viral Protest ‘A Rapist in Your Path’ Became a Defiant Anthem for 2019.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 10 Dec. 2019, www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2019-12-10/the-viral-protest-a-rapist-in-your-path-is-catchy-defiant-an-the-anthem-for-2019.
- Informa, Colombia. “’Un Violador En Tu Camino’: La Performance Feminista Que Está Dando La Vuelta Al Mundo.” Kaos En La Red, 1 Dec. 2019, kaosenlared.net/un-violador-en-tu-camino-la-performance-feminista-que-esta-dando-la-vuelta-al-mundo/.
- “POSTPONED – Chileans to Vote on Replacing Pinochet-Era Constitution.” News Ahead, 18 Apr. 2020, newsahead.com/chileans-to-vote-on-replacing-pinochet-era-constitution/.
- Pernet, Corinne A. “Chilean Feminists, the International Women’s Movement, and Suffrage, 1915-1950.” Pacific Historical Review, vol. 69, no. 4, 2000, pp. 663–688. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3641229. Accessed 3 Aug. 2020.