Antifeminism in Mexico Femicides and other Forms of Misogyny

Illustration: Demonstrating women holding crosses in their hands. One of the crosses has the words: Ni Una Más! - Not one more!
Illustration: © Rosa Kammermeier

Violence against women in Mexico has not one, but many faces. Its worst one is femicide, although it is not the only one. Antifeminism also occurs silently and is veiled at all levels of society.
 

Dear Bo-Myung, I read what you wrote about South Korea and in some respects it is very similar to what happens in Mexico. The organic way that young women organize through the Internet and then bring their actions to the streets, the apparent rapid institutional acceptance of a gender agenda and then the counterattack. The way populists on the right and on the left use and attack it. In Mexico, however, there are other variables to add to that. But I think I’ll need a story to explain it.

Mexico is a violent country for everyone, and it is particularly violent for women and for sex and gender dissidents. But in Mexico, with the worst stories there is always an ambiguity. It seems that nothing is really what one sees or perceives, and the doubt arises that, perhaps, one is imagining everything. Could we say that there are speeches that look like government gaslighting? Only by digging, painfully digging into reality, is it possible to understand that in the end one was not wrong.

Here’s the example. It’s 2019. According to the Gender Equality Observatory for Latin America and the Caribbean, Mexico maintains a moderately high rate of femicides per 100,000 inhabitants, compared to the rest of the region. A little above average (meaning, there are always countries that are doing worse), although it is not possible to know whether the estimations are correct or not. And the source is the Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System (SESNSP), which takes up those cases classified as femicide by local public ministries.

You have to remember that Mexico is a very large country with around 130 million people, and it is a federation, so the governmental framework is complex: each state has its own laws, its own public ministries, its own police who investigate, and its judges. All this diverse information is collected by the aforementioned SESNSP.

And, so, that is the first obstacle. Not all femicides are investigated as such. On many occasions, the judicial paperwork speaks about qualified homicide, reckless homicide, or accidents; and many cases are handled as suicides.

Femicides Beyond the Official Count

As a case in point: Mexico is made up of 32 states; but let’s take just one. In 2019, the central state of Tlaxcala flew two apparently contradictory flags. On the one hand, Tenancingo, is considered the capital of human trafficking in Mexico.

In that municipality, there is a deep-rooted culture in which girls and women are wooed, brainwashed, and then forced to sell their bodies for the benefit of others. It became an issue of “habit and custom” – people say that in schools, the girls would say that when they grew up, they would be prostitutes and the boys, “pimps”. And although everything has been denounced in the press, and even judicial cases have made news around the world, the municipality of Tenancingo remains like that.

At the same time, it turned out that one of the states with the least femicides in the entire country was Tlaxcala… well, that is what SESNSP’s numbers told us. According to them: in Southern Baja California, there had not been a single case of femicide. Then, in Tlaxcala, there had only been three femicides. Thus, paradoxically, one of the worse crimes committed in Tlaxcala was trafficking, but it was one of the “safest” crimes for women.

So, it seemed that in this state of profound violence against women, the only violence that was absent was femicide.

The local politicians could claim that accusations about the exploitation of women and girls was an “invention”, something of the past. Women screaming “hysterically”. For that reason, the authorities of that state, which is the epicenter of human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, said it was not necessary to declare any gender alert in Tlaxcala.

At that time, Edith Méndez Ahuactzin, from the Colectivo Mujer y Utopía (Women and Utopia Collective), one of the few feminist collectives in that municipality, explained this apparent dead calm. She showed me the newspaper clippings, the news. Yes, murdered women appeared in them. I remember one case in particular about a young woman whose body was dumped behind a hotel. That case had many of the features of femicide: the body had been dumped in a public space, there was sexual assault and there were degrading injuries, at least postmortem. There were also indications that she had been held incommunicado before she was murdered. But it was not in the official account. For Tlaxcala, it was not a case of femicide. How did they get away with that? When the woman was identified, the Tlaxcala authorities maintained that she came from the state of Veracruz. “They just came here to dump the body”, they said. So, there was no femicide in Tlaxcala.

One less case of femicide in the books. This happened in Tlaxcala, which by the way, years later saw its numbers of femicide skyrocket. But denying violence is not something that only happens in that state. It happens every day, by the most diverse governments: right-wing, left-wing, center, which see the discussion about violence as a political move and not as a problem that is harmful to the population.

Discursive Schizophrenia and Veiled Misogyny

The ugliest face of violence against women is femicide, though it is not the only one. Femicide is just that: the ugliest form; but there are others: sexual exploitation, unequal pay, the lack of space for women in decision-making positions and things that are veiled as seemingly more insignificant but which accumulate into horrible structural violence. For example, Mexico is one of the countries with the shortest maternity leave in the world: only 45 days. It is also one of the countries with the highest rates of caesarean sections, revealing a practice of obstetric violence, as well as a lower rate of breastfeeding, which are exemplary of the harsh conditions for motherhood. And let’s add more: we have the highest rate of child and youth pregnancy in OECD countries. All those numbers and data paint a picture of a country where, I repeat, women carry a lot of weight on their shoulders, unpaid work, violence and structural limitations, which is rarely talked about.

Antifeminism in Mexico is the same. It does not have one, but various faces. Some of them are more discreet, more silent. There is the coarse and rude anti-feminism, evidenced in the misogynistic comments under the news about decriminalizing abortion. But there are other mechanisms introjected in large segments of the population that resurface at the slightest provocation: when a victim of femicide is accused by the media of “walking alone” – the one screaming bloody murder when organized women to out to demonstrate in the streets – she hits a wall. And in governments, it’s the same. 

For example, on September 29, 2021, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador – who, by the way, promoted the most gender-equitable cabinet in the country’s history, that’s how contradictory Mexico is – came out to scold women, like a patriarchal father, for participating in a protest against the decriminalization of abortion one day before. The president asserted that the feminist movement intended to “burden” its Government, accused it of conservativism, and put its legitimacy in doubt: “You have to see what is behind it because a couple of years ago, when the feminist movement began, many women participated, but they began to realize that they had become conservative feminists only to burden us, for that sole purpose.”

That morning, López Obrador – who in 2006 blocked Paseo de la Reforma Avenue for three months in protest of the presidential elections which he lost, and who was accused of having been a victim of fraud –, said that only peaceful protests were legitimate. He cited the examples of Gandhi and Rosario Ibarra de Piedra, the mother of a detainee who disappeared from the dirty war, and promotor of human rights in Mexico. Delegitimizing feminist movements in a femicidal country, from the National Palace. On other occasions, however, the Mexican president denied that there was any bitterness about feminist movements, he had claimed. But this distortion, this discursive schizophrenia can be found at practically all levels and orders of government. Another example was the governor of one of the richest states in the north of the country, Nuevo León. On that occasion, Samuel García, who was only a candidate, “scolded” his wife in a social media livestream for “showing a lot of leg”. Then he would have to apologize, and as with López Obrador, those apologies were not genuine.

But it is not only the politicians. The same local, regional, and even national press, which covered the femicide of an 18-year-old girl, Debanhi Escobar, ended by questioning what the youth was carrying in her purse the day they murdered her. Though in most cases, misogyny is veiled: “We need to take care of women because woman is the most beautiful creation”; or statements in which an order is given not to attack women because “she could be your mother, your daughter, your wife”. In other words, and despite the advances the feminist agenda has inspired, women’s value continues to be based on their relationship with a man.
 
There are few occasions when, whether from the government, from the press or among the people, there is direct opposition to feminism; but it is that misogyny that suddenly becomes super prone to outbursts. It’s not that they hadn’t existed before; it’s that, like the femicide cases in Tlaxcala, they are not exposed, they are not talked about, they are swept under the rug, the numbers, investigation files and speeches are jumbled. And sometimes, those secrets come out.

As we can see, in Mexico antifeminism sometimes takes on an ambiguous and hidden face, despite the horrible gender violence we experience. Kanika Gupta will explain the faces of a more direct, less hidden antifeminism in India. I would like to ask her what form feminist resistance takes in her country and what her country is facing today, in the 21st century.
 

About the project:

In the last few years, the topic of antifeminism has gained attention. But what is antifeminism and what are its manifestations?

Anti-feminist positions are diverse and reach from a critique of the scientific discussion of gender to a rejection of gender equality. They are often directed against the strengthening of female self-determination and support the idea of a binary gender identity with a classical division of gender roles.

Behind the various manifestations of antifeminism are usually sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic and anti-Semitic views. These can lead to a threat to central values of an open and liberal society.

In an exchange of letters, our authors from Brazil, Germany, South Korea, India and Mexico describe the anti-feminist developments they observe in their countries. They present a local perspective on the question: “To what extent does antifeminism threaten our democracy?”