Chile (OpenDemocracy) – The feminist movement at Chilean universities this 2018 originally emerged due to some cases of harassment by teachers students had reported in several national university schools.
Firstly it was an isolated rumor, and then almost an open secret about teachers who were known for their bad practices with female students or who, using their position of power, tried to get some kind of sentimental and/or sexual approach with them. Then, several female students began to report such actions to the media.
The scandal at the University of Chile’s School of History began the snowball of accusations: a report in the Press about a case of harassment committed by an Academician triggered the creation of dozens of assemblies and the report about other academicians.
The movement became increasingly stronger and explicit in the country, with more than 150 000 people attending to protests, numerous performances showing bloody panties, naked breasts or ponytails attached to buttocks referring to Pedro Lemebel’ performances as Mares of the Apocalypse and candlelight memorials in public places. In May 2018, complaints and demands for protocols against harassment installed in the main universities, as well as in several high schools.
These demands crystallized in takeovers and stoppages in more than 20 higher education institutions throughout Chile, and higher education students from Opus Dei and Legionaries of Christ (another very conservative Catholic congregation) also mobilized. Feminist banners at universities address different issues: from a vindication of women in science and knowledge to pictures of colorful vaginas and clitoris.
University female students took out the “dirty laundry” from their schools. They spread sexist and xenophobic phrases shamelessly pronounced by their teachers in front of their classmates. In a journal called Puclítico of the Law School of Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, 127 students collected the most striking phrases: “Miss, what are you doing with that neckline, will you take a verbal test or do you want to be milked?;” “Miss, do me a favor and take the 4 million pesos of the university fee and go to the shopping center”; or “When a man sees a woman and wishes to rape her, it is just a disorder in his natural inclinations.”
This is how the takeover of the Central House at the conservative Catholic University became a historic moment for the Chilean feminist movement, which did not have this collective action since 1986. Paradoxically it is happening in the same university where 51 years ago, Jaime Guzmán – ideologist of the Chilean dictatorship – founded the ultra-conservative unionist movement.
Before those demands, the feminist movement was already raising its banners against patriarchy and macho violence. First, with the #NiUnaMenos hashtag – born in Argentina in 2015 – the aim was to reject the constant femicides and violence against women. This is how this cross-movement expanded in ages, socioeconomic levels and cities of Latin America, demanding more conscious and reflective societies facing this so-deep problem in our countries.
The feminist university movement rose in Chile does want to pay attention to all problems even beyond the institutional walls so in mid-June, candlelight manifestations were held in front of La Moneda – the Government Palace – and in different universities, in rejection of a continuum of femicides occurred in less than 36 hours.
Consequently in recent years numerous organizations, foundations and NGOs have emerged seeking to eliminate gender gaps from different dimensions, namely: OCAC focused on eliminating street harassment; Miles Chile, which fights for sexual and reproductive rights; La Rebelión del Cuerpo (Body’s Rebellion), which educates about the negative effects of gender stereotypes.
Coordinators or collectives have also emerged in a more unstructured and horizontal way, such as, for example, El Frente Feminista la Trenza, which is self-defined as anti-patriarchal, feminist, anti-capitalist and classist; o Feminist Schools such as Joane Florvil, seeking education and solidarity for Haitian women, a migrant group especially affected by social stigmatization and marginalization processes.
Feminist organizations have also been born in regions, such as Rebrote feminista in Concepción, self-defined as an autonomous and horizontal organization; or La Huacha Feminista cooperative from Valparaíso, which monthly holds a silent walking as a protest against gender violence.
Some researchers have just pointed out that we are facing a new feminist wave fighting for identities. Such is the case of Kemy Oyarzún – a female academician expert in feminism –who affirms that this “is an identity movement that not only takes the cause of participation, democracy and identity as rights, but goes to the heart of a class patriarchal society”. In turn, in the notion of participation and democracy, the movement conceives education – marketable in the neoliberal model installed in dictatorship – as a fundamental right.
Feminist female students question patriarchy and the quality of young people’s formation in basic, secondary and higher education institutions. This is central because the feminist movement resumes – from there and after seven years – the demands of the 2011 student movement (which, to this day, continues demanding the cancellation of the education debt, the end of profits in education and education universal gratuity).
It resumes them but enriches them: it is no longer just the demand for free, quality and non-profit education but also it is critical to gender inequalities. April and May student movement manifestations were stained with violet, the color of feminism, decanting in takeovers and stoppages at schools in May.
Undoubtedly, the victory of the millionaire businessman Sebastián Piñera and his conservative coalition at November 2017 presidential elections is a key element to understand this movement’s growing process.
The feminist discontent is strongly heard for a conservative Government continuously obstructing the application of the “abortion law for three causes” approved by former President Michelle Bachelet.
Conservatism is such that the Head of the Ministry of Women and Gender Equity, Isabel Plá – aligned to the most retrograde arguments in the recent Argentine debate about the right to abort – has suggested that freedom and rights are more important “in those who prepare silently to begin to breathe through their own lungs” than in those women who “are able to stand on their own feet”; and then, without scruples nor signals of contradiction, vindicates the historical moment the country experiences “where discrimination is no longer tolerated.”
As the renowned anthropologist and academician from University of Chile Sonia Montecinos mentions, the importance of this movement goes beyond a debate about financing in education, as it “questions the social foundations of the macho culture in which we are inserted.”
Entering into that key discussion in historical feminism, this movement insists on reconfiguring the separation schemes between the private and public space, seeking to generate changes at the micro and macro level.
On the one hand, it focuses on transforming the interactions existing in the classroom, where many female students feel uncomfortable with their teachers’ macho practices; and in generating changes in relationships and in possibilities of violence occurring during courtships. On the other hand, it demands a paradigm change and rethinks the way of teaching and the gender segregation still present at the best national public schools.
In a Government that does not hear the voice of streets, the opposition installs the debate and the Liberal Party announces a bill similar to the trans-Andean one to accept the demands of the feminist movement just days before the approval of the free abortion in the Argentine Chamber of Deputies after massive protests.
The demand for free abortion continues to be present in manifestations and is a long-standing debate facing strong resistance in the national most conservative sectors and dividing the New Majority around the abortion law for three causes.
However, although this law does not find support in the Congress, the cultural transformation is an on-going process and today we see men at different ages self-questioning their sexist practices and young women constantly reconstructing themselves and criticizing patriarchal representations in their daily and private practices such as the romantic love loaded with stereotypes preventing a real change in our society.
Today female young students in takeovers say that “they wish to be free, they no longer believe in traditional forms of love and seek to deconstruct themselves*” when at the same time they try to teach their parents and siblings the meaning of being a woman today, taking out the dirty laundry to the street because they, women, have got tired of being treated as inferior beings.
*: To unlearn sexist practices and attitudes to which someone has been exposed throughout his or her life.