Marcela Lagarde Q&A: “Feminism Doesn’t Bite“

Havana – After more than a century of existence, feminism is still around in Latin America and the world, but the history of this ideology that seeks equality for women is like a succession of breaking waves, with peaks and troughs.

That is how Mexican anthropologist and feminist Marcela Lagarde describes this “persistent critique of modernity,” which in the early 21st century is at an unusual juncture, due to the inter-generational diversity of activists, and its expansion, through gender studies, to other social, academic and scientific fields.

“Feminism doesn’t bite,” said Lagarde, a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and one of the promoters of the General Law on Women’s Access to a Life Free from Violence, in effect in Mexico since Feb. 2, 2007, and of the inclusion of the specific crime of femicide (gender-based murders of women) in the country’s criminal code.

Lagarde, head of the Red de Investigadoras por la Vida y la Libertad de las Mujeres (a women’s research network for life and freedom), sat down with IPS during a visit to Cuba.

Q: What causes the persistence of prejudice against feminism, even within women’s movements or in countries like Cuba that promote policies in favour of women?

A: The transmission of the role of feminism in modern culture has lacked continuity. It’s as if there are times when the historical memory of feminism is lost, and then it has to be recovered. Since feminism is a critique of patriarchy, it has been perceived as dangerous by those who support patriarchal society, culture and power, or who think patriarchy is inevitable.

Feminist analysis views patriarchy as a metapolitical construction found across different societies and eras, and proposes concrete alternatives. Patriarchal power is power monopolised by men. Feminism proposes other values and alternatives that may be perceived as dangerous, as ideas that do bite, because they aim at eliminating gender-based domination.

People who oppose this do what is always done in a political struggle: they stereotype the enemy, in this case, women and feminists. They impose attributes, dangerous characteristics and many falsehoods on them. In former times, society was already misogynist, sexist and machista. To that social misogyny is now added political misogyny, which is anti-feminism.

Q: How would you define anti-feminism? How widely has it spread?

A: Anti-feminism delegitimises everything that feminism has contributed to humanity. It is transmitted nowadays through both women and men, because women in patriarchal societies have been educated and socialised to behave in patriarchal ways. Some of us have become feminists, but that implies the acquisition of different knowledge that allows us to criticise our own culture, identities, and gender conditioning, which have been enormously impacted by patriarchy.

The general ignorance contributes to anti-feminism. From the seat of dominant power, anti-feminist policies are constantly spread and extended. People repeat the prejudices that they have never bothered to confirm, because they are part of the prevailing ideologies and culture.

Humour is loaded with misogyny and its political form, and is always making comparisons, which people pass on to each other so that they become part of the mainstream culture. We lack the cultural muscle to counteract them at every step with our own discourse.

Q: What effect has the invisibility of feminism had on contemporary women?

A: Women are being born or growing up today with the gains that feminism has achieved since the 18th century, but they don’t think about them or appreciate them because they have been handed to them on a plate: things like education, access to the world of work, employment, income and political participation.

We had to learn about feminism by doing research on our own account to find out the truth of what had happened, because it was not taught at school or at universities. It hasn’t been passed down from one generation to another, like knowledge about engineering or physical sciences.

This extremely androcentric framework leads to enormous ignorance on the part of women and men about feminism and what it has contributed to the modern world. Now we are making headway in getting this knowledge incorporated into universities, but it is still absent from primary and secondary education. Many countries only have courses, seminars and departments for gender and feminism studies at the postgraduate level.

Q: What about in daily practice? Can one speak of feminism as a life-changing alliance among women?

A: It helps to overcome misogyny directed at other women and oneself; it enables women to come together and share ideas about the steps forward each woman has taken in her own life. Feminist women have learned a great deal from other women because of the working methods we use.

Apart from academic contacts, there are many opportunities for women to meet and get to know each other well, and where we learn from each other and support each other. All that tremendous support empowers us, because it develops inner strength, and ultimately social power. It is a tower of strength and gender affirmation, empowering and valuing women because they are women, in the context of a world that is forever attacking us.

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