There’s a (relatively) new documentary on Netflix called Feminists: What Were They Thinking? that is based on a collection of photographs by Cynthia MacAdams from the 1970’s. Many of the subjects of MacAdam’s work were shown their portraits and reacted to the images. Most commented on who they were and how they liked the photo “back then”, followed by who they are now and how they have grown or changed ideologically and personally. Other footage includes brief interviews and interactions with women at the Women’s March on March 8, 2018. Imagine a “Where are they now?” type ordeal, except the “now” versions are entirely different manifestations of the “then”–meaning between the photographed women and the women from the march.
As a female with my own research project on the role of art in the (South American) feminist movement, watching this documentary practically constituted as research (not exactly, Lydia, but we’ll let it fly). It follows the same concept, no? How does an artist’s work influence the perception of women and impact the feminist movement? I, however, am focusing on multiple artists, I am not comparing the “then and now” of the same “population sample”, and my research is taking place in a culture known for its stereotypical machismo.
Listening to the experiences of the women featured in the documentary and the goals of artists I have met so far, it’s clear that the North and South American feminist movements have been and remain very distinct. Director Johanna Demetrakas described her experience with sexism like “rowing up in the fifties and sixties meant not only second class citizenship legally, but 2nd class human being-ship: not invited to the party of medicine, art, law, education, science, religion, except maybe as the secretary”. Second-wave feminism in America was a demand for professional recognition, a rebellion against the homemaker, and a liberation of the female body.
In South America, feminists today are fighting literally for their lives. Women are protesting “femicides”, or the murder of women by men in the streets and in homes, which often go unpunished and unrecognized by society and the state. In many countries, they are seeking the right to abortion, which American women have (for now). Chile passed a law this year that banned unsolicited whistling and “cat-calling” in the streets. It is 2018 and men are just now held responsible by law for harassment. Shockingly, the same goes for United States and 2018: it’s 2018 and we still haven’t had a female president—ironically, Chile has (among other South American nations). This is machismo; it doesn’t make sense, there’s no pattern or blanket-statement to address what it is, and it looks different in each nation, and even in each social class.
I mentioned her in my last blog post, but in October I interviewed artist Danae Ale, a graphic designer from Santiago, Chile. Twenty-two years old, Ale admits that only recently did she become aware of the challenges against her as a woman in a male-dominated, heavily-religious society. Ale explained the sudden “awakening” and how she has tried to teach her family about the feminist values that contradict how her parents and sisters once perceived “the way life is supposed to go when you’re a guy or a girl”. She recognizes her family’s wealthy status and how that advantage influences her feminist principles; Ale is more concerned with machismo in the professional space and even has collaborated with Genias, “a community for women who work”. The organization supports women who are setting up their businesses, looking for new job options or seeking inspiration for their ideas, and promotes the belief in the common the desire to enjoy what they do and feel motivated each day. In her print for Genias, Ale drew a typographic motto, Juntas Más Fuertes, or “Stronger Together”. The graphic design and phrase reflect “the feminine power and the advantage of uniting ourselves”. Ale did not mention femicides or the domestic violence that occurs in neighborhoods on the other side of the city. Our interview took place in a café a few blocks from the business district and tourist center.
Ale is an anomaly to the other women I have interviewed and whose work more directly confronts the violence against women, the call for basic rights, and the treatment of women as sexual objects either in popular imagery or in the streets. Her goals as an artist are similar to many objectives of feminists in America whose concerns are (generally speaking) related to equality in the workplace. None of this is to say, however, that American women don’t experience violence founded on sexism or are not fighting to change the perception and representation of the female body–nor that Ale is blind to the feminist battles in lower social classes. What I have concluded so far, though, is that feminism is in fact different in South America. It’s not “delayed” or “behind” (although if I were to employ those terms, I’d point to the fact that many South American nations were in the middle of dictatorships *implanted by America* when America’s second wave feminism had momentum); it is merely different.
When I reached this conclusion, I asked myself, How then can I assess the movement and its relationship with art when the way I perceive feminism will always been from a privileged and American perspective?
Can we learn from each other’s progress and failures if the movements are so disparate?
For an extra challenging question, How are black members in both societies utilizing #blackfeminism to address the wrongs against women of color that white women do not specifically consider in their fight against the patriarchy?
This last question is something I’ve tried to mull on as I’ve continued my research here. It stems from an instagram post I saw one day while lost in the depths of #feminism posts (honestly half of my progress on this project is thanks to social media and hashtags) that taught me about something I admit I did not know existed: black feminism. I read a few posts, then searched articles. I tried to understand what the main goals of the movement were and the ways that the broader feminism movement has neglected to properly consider the interests of women of color. I asked myself how I have or have not contributed to this neglect. I read posts by women of color calling for the intersectionality of feminism. I learned a lot.
Then, I struggled with these two notions that American feminism is not in line with South American feminism and that white feminism is not inline with black feminism. I wanted to be naive and urge all 4 movements into one because there is power in numbers, right? I don’t mean to undermine the needs and rights of black feminists when I support feminism so why are they mad at me? I very honestly asked myself initially.
I have since continued to read about intersectionality in social movements, about the distinctions of black feminism, and the way a country has to let its social movements take their own shape due to their unique histories as individual nations. The one notion I still hold on to is that if and when objectives overlap, juntas somos más fuertes. Together we are stronger.
*Content originally published in The Old Gold & Black, edits have been made*