American writer and feminist Audre Lorde wrote:
“Our feelings are our most genuine paths to knowledge.”
A few days ago I had the honor and privilege of sharing an intergenerational community space with an amazing group of individuals to engage in some collective creation and healing. As I designed a short powerpoint presentation for the session, I wondered how I could best impulse a safe and healing conversation around a heavy topic like “patriarchy.” After all, I know what feelings this monster provokes in me: anger, frustration, rage, disdain… However, my goal was not to pass on these emotions to others, but rather to inspire a discussion that would allow participants to explore their own sentiments around the topic, while together viewing and discussing images and videos, and listening to lyrics that condemn the detrimental effects the patriarchy has had on society on a global scale.
In 2019, as femicide rates and violence against women continued to rise, a movement emerged driven by a global hymn denouncing that “The Rapist is You!” The chant was heard for the very first time in Valparaiso, Chile, where four women: Sibila Sotomayor, Dafne Valdes, Paula Cometa Stange, and Lea Cáceres united to create the collective LasTesis (TheThesis). Their chosen name was inspired by their objective to translate the theses of feminist authors to a performative format that could reach multiple audiences. As workshop participants observed the YouTube video, and engaged with the lyrics, the shock and affirming nods prompted by the verses was prevalent, not surprisingly though given the severity of its messaging, which included the following statements:
“Patriarchy is our judge, that imprisons us at birth, and our punishment is the violence you don’t see.”
“It’s femicide. Impunity for my killer. It’s our disappearances! It’s rape!”
“And the rapist was you. And the rapist is you. It’s the cops; it’s the judges; It’s the system; it’s the president! This oppressive state is a macho rapist.”
Femicide or feminicide is the killing of a woman or girl because of her gender, usually by a man. According to United Nations Human Rights data, approximately 736 million women – almost 1 in 3 have been subject to violence on behalf of their intimate partner, sexual assault, or both at least once in their lifetime. Data also suggests that close to 137 women are assassinated everyday by a family member or someone they know; that is equivalent to over 50,000 female deaths per year.
As I disclosed these figures to participants, I asked them to share their thoughts about what all this information made them feel or perceive about our society. The words “rage”, “anger” and “disbelief” were mentioned by multiple people. One woman argued, ‘It should also be noted that men are also victims of partner violence.’ Another female participant mentioned, ‘What this reveals is that we live in a very deeply rooted macho society, and we need to break down these norms, as women are also guilty of engaging in this behavior, especially when we teach our daughters to be the caretakers, all while coddling and spoiling our sons.’ Meanwhile, a male participant suggested, ‘I am thankful to be exposed to all of this. I know we have so much work to do, and in all honesty, I truly believe it has to begin with men. If we really do have so much power in this society, then we should be making a very intentional effort to change things for the well-being of our wives and daughters.’
Throughout the exercise, the words of Lorde constantly resonated through my mind. We were all so invested in understanding each other, but more importantly, everyone was making a concerted effort to openly share how the videos and images highlighted that evening made them feel. The activity had met its objective, because participants had in fact acquired so much knowledge about the patriarchy based on self-analysis about their past and present. Reflection about their memories and current family dynamics helped them draw critical connections between family everyday practices and tradition and the patriarchy. One woman emphasized, “I was brought up to serve any male figure in my household.” Another woman exclaimed, “I make my husband help me with household tasks!” Another participant shared, “It really sucks how we as women often put each other down based on social teachings; that is what the patriarchy teaches us.”Cultural critic bell hooks wrote, “The patriarchy is a political-social system that insists that males are inherently dominating, superior to everything and everyone deemed weak, especially females, and endowed with the right to dominate and rule over the weak and to maintain that dominance through various forms of psychological terrorism and violence.” The beauty of that evening’s activities, including the song written by participants that evening is that after much introspection, everyone (male/female/non-gender binary) was making a collective effort to challenge the “patriarchy”. Even more gratifying was knowing that for some of these individuals this was only the beginning of the process towards unlearning some very conservative and patriarchal behaviors, and the onset of gaining new knowledges that promote respect and the protection of rights for women and LGBTQI communities. Unlike the dismay other community moments have made me feel recently, the evening’s conversation made me feel hopeful about collective healing and change. It can certainly be done, but it has to be truly heartfelt and intentional, and that’s why in my mind, we all succeeded that evening.