Surprise! Latinos Have An Opinion About: Feminism

¡Sorpresa! Latinos have an opinion about something other than immigration!

Feminism has experienced a resurgence for quite some time now. The face of feminism primarily portrayed in mainstream media is the white, hip, privileged, Hollywood female elite. We have Lena Dunham spearheading the feminist movement along with Taylor Swift, Emma Watson, Rashida Jones, Ellen Page, Angelina Jolie, and oh yeah, Beyonce. The first two waves of feminism had Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Dorothy Pitman Hughes, Bell Hooks, Germaine Greer, and Suffragettes like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Sojourner Truth. I don’t claim to be an expert on feminism but in my research the only Latina feminists I could find were Dolores Huerta, Gloria E. Anzaldúa, and Cherríe Moraga. Like many other current events that aren’t immigration, feminism isn’t associated with Latinos and consequently people think we don’t care or at least have an opinion about the subject. But the scant number of Latina feminist voices in the annals of history and mainstream media does beg the question, “Is feminism even relevant to Latino culture in Latin America and the United States?”

Feminism In Theory And Practice

In theory, feminism is defined as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.” The term has taken on a more inclusive tone since Emma Watson extended an official invitation to men in joining the fight for gender equality at the announcement of the UN Women’s HeforShe kickoff campaign last year. HeforShe “is a solidarity movement for gender equality that brings together one half of humanity in support of the other half of humanity, for the benefit of all.” After watching Emma Watson’s impassioned speech  about how both sexes should be viewed as complimentary ideals instead of opposing ones and redefining feminism as “the belief that men and women should have equal rights opportunities”, I almost identified with modern-day feminism…almost. Meditating on the HeforShe campaign, I found it to victimize all women and girls, sexist in nature, and in desperate need of diversity of voice and perspective.

Not All Women And Girls Are Victims

Emma Watson made a global call to action for men and boys to stand up for all women and girls around the world experiencing oppression. Women and girls in highly developed countries like the United States enjoy an unprecedented level of freedom on every front imaginable and endless opportunities at their disposal. Women in the United States are free to marry who they choose, divorce, run for political office, attend university, start a business, become CEOs of multimillion dollar multinational companies, and this list only scratches the surface. Employers are now expanding maternity leave policies to allow for increased flexibility that doesn’t force mothers to make a choice between her child and employer. American girls are constantly bombarded with messages reminding them that they too can be engineers, scientists, or programmers and are introduced to programs funded by tech titans that are willing to facilitate these careers. Women and girls living in the United States are hardly oppressed let alone marginalized. Women and girls in underdeveloped countries should have been central in Watson’s call to action and emphasized as many still lack basic women’s rights, access to education, and live under patriarchal societies.

Men and Boys Experience Struggles And Hardships Too

Emma Watson asked for boys and men around the world to take a pledge “…to take action against all forms of violence and discrimination faced by women and girls.” HeforShe did not take into account the millions of boys around the world who can’t obtain a basic education, live in poverty, and endure devastatingly cruel child labor along with girls. In some parts of the world boys are born into or taken by radical opposition groups and are indoctrinated to hate and kill on command. What of all those boys? Making this argument relevant to American society, HeforShe did not take into account African-American and Latino men and boys who face violence and discrimination on a daily basis; apparently minority men and boys aren’t in need of women and girls pledging to stand up for their difficulties.

By Feminism, They Mean White Feminism

The resurgence of feminism makes me think how its proponents want to make it relevant for the current generation: all millennial women and girls. But the feminism highlighted at the HeforShe campaign was mainstream feminism which is white feminism albeit not overtly stated. Emma Watson lent her image to the feminist movement in hopes to make feminism more accessible to the masses by redefining its meaning. Unfortunately, the one-dimensional feminism presented at HeforShe lacked the inclusion of other narratives that urgently need to be brought to the forefront. Lack of inclusion leads to lack of relevance because masses can’t identify with a movement that doesn’t represent or understand them. By always selecting the white Hollywood female elite pushing the same one-dimensional feminist agenda, feminists can’t and won’t change or redefine feminism resulting in it continually being stereotyped. In doing the same thing again and again the movement still alienates a core component of minority women that are integral to the movements success, future, and public reception of its message. The only thing feminists are doing in following the same path over and over again is repackaging the movement with a new white face making this the only constant that ever changes. The truth is that there isn’t much inclusion of minorities in the mainstream white feminist agenda. The lack of inclusion results in the perception that minority women not equal to white women. If minority women under feminism are not even equal to white women, how can they be equal to white men? What of the plights faced by African-American and Latina women? At the HeforShe campaign, Watson also touched upon the importance of closing the wage gap between men and women only when wage equality is brought up it is primarily referring to how white women get paid 77 cents for every dollar made by a white man. What of the African-American women who make 62 cents for every dollar a white man makes? The Latina women who make only a paltry 54 cents for every dollar made by white men?

If feminists really want to be relevant in a different and more broad capacity it really needs to diversify both its message and ambassadors. When I say diversify its ambassadors I mean it to include African-American and Latina women as well as women from other cultures worldwide. Why must the face of feminism always be white? If feminists want to make feminism more palatable to the masses they should not stop at just including men but diversify its face to reflect the women that could stand to benefit most from the movement. By changing the face of feminism and redefining its message you make it tangible, relatable, and relevant both in words and actions. Watson’s attempt of redefining feminism and including men in the feminist narrative is admirable and courageous. Unfortunately, there is a difference between what feminism is and what it does.

Feminism Through Words And Actions

Feminists say that feminism is about ensuring women have equal rights in all spheres of society and female solidarity. But what the movement does is quite divisive and destructive. It divides woman against woman and man against woman. Feminism has become the prude vs slut and man vs woman dichotomy. The meaning of what a true strong woman is has been distorted to mean a hatred for man, a disdain for fellow conservative women, and seeking female superiority over genuine equality of the sexes. Feminism in the United States is a movement that seeks to control and judge women especially those with different values and beliefs that differ from feminist tenets. Feminism has evolved into becoming more of a culture and political agenda that portrays women as weak victims. The substance of the movement has been replaced by #firstworldproblems like validating armpit hair through Instagram, complaining beauty standards for women are so unrealistic they lead to self-esteem issues, and glorifying breastfeeding with exposed breasts just to make a statement. Frankly, the movement seeks to coddle and validate the deeply insecure woman who is too afraid to take advantage of the plethora of opportunities available to her and live life unapologetically on her own terms without anyone’s approval. Sure, feminists say feminism is none of these things and they aren’t on paper but feminist’s behavior negate any textbook definition of feminism. I think feminists have forgotten that the women’s right movement gave women options not a mandatory political agenda to ascribe to in order to be accepted among fellow women.

Relevancy Of Feminism In Latino Culture

There is feminism in the United States and then there’s the fight for women’s rights in Latin America. For Latinos born in the United States as well as the overwhelming part of our culture, feminism isn’t even on their radars because it is viewed as a movement founded by wealthy white women and for their benefit. Of course, there is the exception of the staunch Latina feminist but in general feminism has not been popular within the Latino community in the United States because they understand that pitting women against men and women against women limits the progress of our culture as a whole. Latinos have more of a collective mentality where success for all is critical and essential for the benefit of the community instead of seeking the success of just one gender. Latino parents want both their sons and daughters to succeed and be afforded the same opportunities to advance. Additionally, the feminist agenda and narrative doesn’t engage or include our community. Feminists are oblivious to problems outside their own. Why would our community want to be part of a movement that treats our women as if they were invisible and would only stunt our progress? Dolores Huerta best captures the overall sentiment Latinos feel about feminism when she said, “Among poor people, there’s not any question about women being strong — even stronger than men — they work in the fields right along with the men. When your survival is at stake, you don’t have these questions about yourself like middle-class women do.” Though all Latinos are most certainly not poor, in our culture, women know they are strong and are acknowledged for their strength. They know they aren’t weak or victims but rather the pillars of our culture. When you listen to a Latina being interviewed be they Jessica Alba, Shakira, Gina Rodriguez, or Eva Longoria the commonality between them is how they say they were raised and surrounded by strong women. Latinos believe in unity. They don’t think that an independent woman as to be independent opposite a man or without him. We believe that women can be strong and independent alongside men which contrasts the white feminist mentality of needing to break free from or oppose men to be considered independent. Lastly, Latinos tend to be conservative which is another reason why they don’t identity with what as become more of a cultural hipster movement that applauds promiscuity and armpit hair among other things. Latina women are instilled at an early age to respect and take care of their bodies as it is a sign of pride and dignity. Latinos want jobs, better wages, affordable college, healthcare, and to be seen for who they truly are. They don’t have time to follow ideologies that ultimately serve to divide and destabilize our community.

In Latin America the fight for women’s rights is very real. Despite Argentina, Chile, and Brazil having female presidents, wage inequality among genders and racial lines, restrictive reproductive rights, and access to education are the most important issues faced by Latin American women today. Contrary to Western feminism where women demand equality from men and point to them as oppressors, Latin American women demand equality from governments not husbands or boyfriends. In Latin America the government takes on the form of oppressors that marginalize women and control them. Latin America has five of the seven countries in the world that ban abortion in all circumstances. With limited reproductive rights that are stem from strong ties to Catholicism, women’s health are in danger as secret abortions are performed every year and access to birth control is restricted. A study published by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean surveyed gender equality across Latin America. Two of the statistics I found startling were the following:

• While 80 percent of Latin American men are part of the labor force, only 50 percent of women in the region are part of the labor force.
• While only 12 percent of men in Latin America don’t have any personal source of income, the percentage among women is of 33 percent. In Guatemala, the percentage of women without any personal income is 41 percent, in Bolivia 39 percent and in Venezuela 34 percent. The fact that so many women are economically dependent makes them more vulnerable to all kinds of abuses, including violence.

Where is the uproar of the staunch white feminist at these findings? Where is the celebrity studded campaign with a call to action to help these women? The findings in this report should galvanize Western feminists and make them look past their “problems” to advocate on behalf of the truly marginalized Latin American woman. Finding this report was upsetting as Latin American women don’t have a celebrity like Emma Watson or Beyonce bringing awareness to the very real problems they face on a daily basis. As evidenced by the findings above, women in Latin America do find relevance in feminism because the culture rooted in machismo and Catholicism are a threat to her well-being and progress.

Do I consider myself a feminist? 

No. I was raised by parents that constantly told me I could be anything i wanted to be, do whatever I wanted to do but above all reminded me that I was not limited by my gender or color of skin.  My parents still remind me to this day that the only limitations I could ever have are created and imposed by my own mind. Are men and women different? Yes. But I don’t equate women being different from men as grounds to categorize them as the weaker or inferior sex. A true man and a strong woman don’t engage in a power struggle rather unite to complement each other.

I recognize that the first two waves of feminism has enabled me to enjoy all the opportunities I have today. But the movement in the United States has fabricated barriers and limitations that simply aren’t there for women in First World countries. Are there difficulties for minority women even in 2015? Yes, but they aren’t impossible to overcome with ambition and perseverance. The day feminism becomes an egalitarian movement through words and actions is the day I’ll identify as a feminist.




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