I hope American men paid attention to what Mexican women did this week. And I hope it made them realize American women have reason to do the same.
On Sunday, International Women’s Day, 80,000 Mexican women marched in protest through Mexico City. The next day, millions more stayed home from schools, offices and shops for a “Day Without Women” strike. They were decrying the epidemic of gender violence in Mexico, where femicide – the murder of women, often by husbands and boyfriends – has risen 137 percent in the past five years. Last year more than a thousand were recorded. This week’s demonstrations were prompted by two recent, gruesome femicides there, one involving a 7-year-old girl.
But to better appreciate that female anger south of the U.S. border, and why it needs to be noticed north of it, you first need to enter a labyrinth. Namely, “The Labyrinth of Solitude” by the late Mexican Nobel author Octavio Paz.
Paz takes a groundbreaking look at his country’s Malinche complex. It’s named for the indigenous woman who aided the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés and bore his child. For her role in Spain’s conquest of Mesoamerica, La Malinche (pronounced mah-LEEN-chay) is still widely vilified as the archetypal Mexican traitor. For Mexican misogynists she’s also a symbol of women’s evil nature.
That warped Malinche mythology, which has hung in Mexico’s air for five centuries like a foul macho pestilence, was as much a symbolic target of this week’s protests as the brutally real violence it so frequently spawns.
Traditional Mexican society, rich and poor, has conditioned men to use it as an excuse for everything from cheating on their wives to blocking female employees’ promotions to, in extreme instances, femicide. In cases of the latter, say Mexican feminists, it breeds a mindset among perpetrators and police alike that the victim must have somehow deserved what she got.
The Malinche myth also haunts much of the rest of Latin America, where Spanish-conquest scapegoating can be just as woman-hating. In 2015, the Swedish violence watchdog group Small Arms Survey found that half of the world’s countries with the highest rates for murders of women were in Latin America.
Not surprisingly, the list is topped by the ultra-violent nations of Central America’s northern triangle – El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala – followed by Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil and Mexico.
But before American men start feeling superior to their hermanos to the south; before they pat themselves on the back for cheering the 23-year prison sentence movie mogul Harvey Weinstein got this week for rape – before they assume #MeToo has taken care of the whole sexual violence thing in America – they should look more closely at the Swedish femicide study.
Turns out the country that placed right behind Mexico – and ahead of Argentina, in fact – was the U.S.
Granted, there can be a distinction between the total number of women murdered in a country and the total number of femicides, which are more specifically defined as more deliberate, gender-related killings. But even so, U.S. nonprofits like Women Count USA, who conduct their own counts, say the situation hasn’t improved much since 2015.
What’s also remarkable about that is the fact that those groups have to conduct their own counts. The federal government does track domestic violence cases, but it does not tally femicides – despite all the evidence that they’re a plague in the U.S. as well as Mexico.
In fact, even Mexico and 15 other Latin American countries today register femicides – and investigate and punish them as such – under legislation passed in recent years according to U.N. guidelines. In the U.S., meanwhile, similar legislation – the 1994 Violence Against Women Act – was allowed to expire last year.
Which makes it all the more urgent tht U.S. men to start exploring their own susceptibility to toxic legends like La Malinche.
And don’t think for a second America doesn’t harbor them. If not, we might not have seething losers like Incels – “involuntary celibates” – spewing misogynist venom online. Incels are men who claim they’re denied sex because women have too much control over sexuality in the world. (Tell that to Weinstein’s victims.) So they call themselves heirs of “mythopoetic” heroes like the Greek god Zeus, who in numerous stories simply took his masculine birthright by force.
It was in that spirit that one Incel, Scott Paul Beierle, shot six women, two fatally, two years ago at a yoga studio in Tallahassee. His attack was planned months in advance.
The way so many femicides in Mexico are.
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