not good enough

When I told people I was coming to Argentina to research feminist theology, a frequent response was, 'Good Luck!' Many assumed in the macho Latin culture, all women stayed at home, raised children and prayed to the Virgin.

Yet readers of this blog will know that feminism within and beyond the church has a long history in Latin America. There are no shortage of women en la lucha, in the struggle. This is the title of Ada María Isasi-Díaz's book on mujerista theology, from the perspective of Hispanic Women or Latinas, that is, women of Latin American origins living in the USA.

Ada makes a helpful observation about how macho and machismo have become common usage for sexist behaviour amongst English speaking people:
Use of machismo implies that Hispanic men are more sexist than Anglo men. Using machismo absolves somewhat the sexism of Anglo men and sets Anglo men and Anglo culture above Hispanic men and Hispanic culture. Hispanic Women do not deny the sexism of our culture or of most Hispanic men. But it is not greater than the sexism of the USA society in general and of Anglo men in particular. (Isasi-Díaz 2004: 37)

In conversations about my work in Argentina, I notice how we Brits persist in letting ourselves off the hook through comparisons with other cultures. 'It must be difficult living in such a traditional/ violent/ macho country,' they say. The implication being that we can pat ourselves on the back for our progressive, egalitarian society.

Argentina is a sexist society. I have been patronized, belittled, and ignored. I have been offered doors open, or a seat on the bus, in return for staying in my place and keeping my mouth shut. I have been the subject of shocked concern, 'Such a young girl like you? And all alone?' I live in a country where plastic surgery for women is scarily common amongst those who can afford it, and where the first elected female president was indecently quick in rejecting calls for access to safe, legal abortion.

But I also live in a city where women are often the ones who make things happen. They campaign for safer neighbourhoods. They take courses on community health care. They graffiti the walls of the cathedral calling for legal safe abortion. And they continue to seek the truth about their disappeared friends, children and grandchildren. When the Madres speak, we listen.

In Britain access to education, suitable health care, and less tolerance for domestic violence are some areas in which women have made gains. But the struggle continues. We cannot yet say that all girls and women are valued, are safe at home and on the streets, have control over their own bodies, and are free to follow their dreams. Telling ourselves we aren't as bad as somewhere else just isn't good enough.

Drawings by Jacky Fleming.

Ada María Isasi-Díaz (2004) En la Lucha/ In the Struggle Elaborating a Mujerista Theology, Tenth Anniversary Edition, Minneapolis: Fortress Press