Okategoriserade Argentinian politics and feminism – a love story?

Argentina has experienced a wave of emerging feminism in recent years. Feminist organizations seems to be appearing everywhere.

Published in the printed edition of Baltic Worlds BW 2020:1 pp 60-63
Published on balticworlds.com on May 25, 2020

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Argentina has experienced a wave of emerging feminism in recent years. Feminist organizations seems to be appearing everywhere: in shantytowns, in schools, at workplaces, in middle class neighborhoods, and in the countryside — all over, women are organizing protests against patriarchal society.

This recent emergence of feminist mobilization can be traced, on the one hand, to the campaigns against femicides — challenging patriarchal violence and ultimately the murders of women solely for being women — that started in 2015 with the social media campaign “Ni una Menos” [Not one woman less] led by feminist journalists and academics. On the other hand, women in Argentina have also mobilized for legal and safe abortion for all women for many years. In early 2018, years of struggle led all the way to the Argentine Congress, where a draft to legalize abortion was formulated, and gained preliminary approval in the Chamber of Deputies, but was later rejected by the Senate in August 2018.

This process was accompanied by mass mobilizations where activists changed the visual landscape of Buenos Aires with the symbolic presence of the color green, seen massively in green handkerchiefs, recalling the white handkerchiefs the Madres of Plaza de Mayo used as they marched in order to claim their “disappeared” children back during and after the last dictatorship (1976–1982). Green has become the color of feminism in Argentina to the extent that the green emoji heart is a clear symbol of the feminist struggle.

As an ethnologist, the political landscape of Argentina has always intrigued me. I first arrived in 2005 when the country was slowly recovering from the severe economic crisis of 2001. During the 1990s, under the administration of president Carlos Menem, Argentina had implemented neoliberal policies through which large sectors of society were privatized or deregulated. In 1991, the so-called Convertibility Plan pegged the Argentine peso to the US dollar at a fixed rate which resulted in high wages and gave those with economic capital purchasing power. As the century came to an end, social inequality grew alongside with social protests and financial liquidation, finally resulting in the financial collapse and social crisis of 2001.

The Peronist Néstor Kirchner was elected president in 2003 and held office until 2007 when his wife Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, from the same Peronist party, was elected president. During the Kirchner administrations the economy stabilized and the unemployment rate fell. A trademark of the Kirchners was open support for human rights organizations, and during their administrations laws that protected former oppressors of the last Argentine dictatorship were annulled and some cases against military officials were re-opened.

I moved from Argentina in 2010. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner held office until 2015 when the rightwing corporate business leader Mauricio Macri was elected president and once again, a new era began in Argentina. It was an era that coincided with the emergence of massive and popular feminism. Watching the feminist marches in Argentina from afar I was surprised, not at the fact that women were massively speaking out with such anger and solidarity, but rather that the many activists had found strength to protest at this particular time of history. During the course of the Macri administration I had seen my friends, some whom were filled with pioneer spirit and hopes for the future during the previous government, grow more disillusioned and apathetic towards the political future. My friend, interviewed on the next page, told me as we talked about the cutbacks in the public sector, increasing state violence and poverty during a visit in Buenos Aires in November 2017 that she could not really see how the political solution can ever be solved. “The only thing that gives me hope is feminism,” she concluded. (For reason of ethnographic ethics she will remain anonymous, and is here called Victoria.)

I asked Victoria to tell me her memories of some emblematic political events and politicians during their lifetime. I wanted to know how she had experienced Argentine politics during her childhood, adolescence and young adulthood, and then, how she lived the emergence of feminism.

“Through feminism I transformed my life”

Since I was a little girl, I always knew that my parents were Peronists. Evita is the first woman I associated with politics. There was something about her, like a certain devotion; even as a child I could sense in it in the air.

I remember that for a school test (the subject was Civic Education) I learned about the most important political measures of Peronism (and obviously I felt most proud about the female vote). In the exam I wrote “Evita” but the teacher corrected it to Eva in the test. Until that moment I had always thought that everyone was a Peronist, and that “Evita” was the natural way of referring to her. I believed Peronism was the best thing that had ever happened in Argentina; I had a super idealized image because my parents had only showed me one side of the story.

Another political figure is of course Menem. I remember when he won the 1995 elections. I was 14 years and when the results were announced on the TV my mum cried. Until that moment I had not thought that the result in an election could affect my everyday life. Then when I saw my mother get so upset and sad, it seemed to me that what had happened was really of tremendous severity …  And now, yes, now we all know that it was.

During the events of the economic crisis in 2001, I was 20 years old and I had an unequal relationship with a guy, that appeared to be romantic but in reality was rather masochist. However, on December 20, we took to the streets — as did everyone else. We were both in fact drunk and I would say in our own bubble”, but yet we could feel that it was a historical event; something was happening, and you just had to be there. I had an alienated sensation at that time — I was more like an observer, unlike everyone else I wasn’t screaming, “que se vayan todos [everyone must go],” which was a demand for all politicians to leave their posts. Unlike the majority I had not lost my savings in the crisis. I was not interested in politics and I had no idea about it … Now that I think about it, perhaps that was quite typical for that generation of the 1990s …

In regard to the government of Néstor Kirchner, and all the memories I have from that period, I am not really sure whether they are my own memories or collective ones. However, the first image that comes to mind is when he took down the portraits of the oppressors. I mean, I remember the news and the impact it had. Until that moment nobody spoke about the “disappeared” or the dictatorship. There was no talk in the schools or in the media, anywhere … Of course, there were the social organizations HIJOS, ABUELAS, MADRES, but it was not a public issue; it was reserved for exclusive areas of militancy for human rights. That is, there was no public account of it, or a collective awareness of the seriousness of those events of the past … I had an idea because my parents were Peronist militants in the 70s, but not even they wanted to talk about it. … There was a lot of silence in my family in regard to the dictatorship; it was only many years later when the subject was already publicly spoken about that my parents actually told me about it and about their lives. In other words, what little I knew about that period in history I had learned from the hardcore music bands that I listened to, because in their lyrics they talked about the military assassins of the 70s.

Anyhow, I remember my amazement in that moment (in 2004), that people increasingly began to speak openly about it. … I remember seeing a reporter on the TV who asked young people in the streets if they knew anything about what had happened in the 70s and with the “disappeared”, and they responded that they had no idea. Today, that is impossible; everyone knows what happened. So, there was a before and after in our society, and of course in my family in particular too.

I think it was during Cristina’s first government in 2007 that I began to identify with her policies. There are a lot of memories. I am not quite sure now when the new Law on Media arrived before the Congress, or when the Law on Equal Marriage was discussed. However, in those moments you just had to be there. I remember that I felt an obligation to go and support the passing of those laws. I believe that the governments of Néstor and Cristina listened to and gave space to social demands that had been postponed for a long time. Now it is easier for me to see how my life changed throughout those years, that there were possibilities or openings for other ways of living that had never crossed my mind before.

Feminism today is very complex; I am going to try to think about the beginning, about the feminism of Ni Una Menos, that is, as it became massive in the cities. On the one hand, it seems to me that feminism transformed and continues to transform our society. Different forms of violence against women and dissent — transvestites, trans, lesbians, bisexuals, fags — became visible and recognizable, violence that was previously not even seen from a distance (the violence of not being able to abort, the violence of harassment and sexual abuse, the violence of mandatory motherhood …). Today you can talk about abortion, you can talk and discuss on the street, at school, at work, at the hospital. Before 2015 it was not spoken about, nor was it named, apart from by militant feminists. And of course, from last year on when the question of abortion was discussed in the congress, the issue became public.

My criticism of this movement is something you see particularly in the cities of Argentina: in many cases, there is something fashionable and very superficial about it, people just uploading their photos from the protests to Instagram. And with that, there is also something else: an act of ignoring the past, feminist history, the feminists who have been fighting for decades in Argentina, and not only for abortion. By this I mean that suddenly, there are very popular characters (actresses, musicians, etc.) that call themselves feminists and say, “I am in favor of abortion,” but don’t know about the fight for legal abortion and that it has not just started at this moment. And this ignorance makes them say anything, such as, “I am in favor of abortion, but we already know that no woman really wants to abort because it is horrible”. Maybe for a lot of women it’s a relief, or at least for me it would be.

This is just one example.  I understand that you have to start somewhere, and, in the beginning, we do things like that, a little from the outside, without understanding at all … and over time we get more and more involved, don’t we?

I do not remember exactly the moment when I first said “I am a feminist”, I only know that I have many memories from childhood to adolescence of unfair or violent situations, of realizing that because I was a girl or a woman I could not do this or that, and of feeling upset. At that time there was no name for it. But when I heard and read the feminists, everything began to fall into its place. It is nice when you realize you are not the only one who felt something was very wrong. On the other hand, with regard to the word “feminist”, when I was a teenager, I thought that to be a feminist you had to read Simone de Beauvoir, that it had more to do with an academic education. I did not understand it as a movement, as a struggle that already implied you by the mere fact of being a woman, a struggle of which I could be a part.

But there was a moment in my life when I really felt the violence with all its power; that was in my twenties, when I tried to enter the labor market. That was really very difficult, because the labor market made it very clear to me that I could only get certain types of jobs. And my first job was as a secretary, of course, and they asked me to dress nicely, to wear makeup … and I could barely stand it.

And well, inserting myself into my work area was very difficult too and it still is, because even today the technical fields are still mostly occupied by men. And in that sense, I think that feminism also emerged to fight for that, for our inclusion, in a fairer way. But here I create another problem for myself, because I wonder, if this world is so full of shit, how will we include ourselves? I mean, do we really want to be part of this?

I think that feminism, personally, was a tool to survive or rather, a weapon to defend myself on a day-to-day basis. And here I speak about other feminisms, not the feminism of Ni una Menos. I speak about literature, poetry, music and feminist philosophy, I speak about the feminism of lesbians, of transvestites and trans, of anarchists, or of those who are more on the sidelines. I have been taking a bit of each of those feminisms to make myself weapons to live. Sometimes weapons work, sometimes not. Sometimes I can defend myself and sometimes I know it’s better to take shelter. But I learned, and I continue to learn, to recognize violence, and from that process of learning there is no turning back. By this I mean that through feminism, I transformed my own life, and my way of relating to others. And in this path forward, friendships are a fundamental part; after all, it was through my friends that I became aware.

And the most powerful thing I see in feminism is its breadth and its capacity for transformation … it is not a fixed and inflexible doctrine … some feminists say something, and then other feminists come and criticize them, and everything is transformed again and so it goes on. In that sense it is literally a liberation movement, right? A movement that is transformed from within.”


  • by Jenny Ingridsdotter

    PhD in Ethnology, currently working at Umeå University with the project “Migration and Settler Colonialism: The Makings of Heritage among Swedish Descendants in Argentina”.

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