The Power of Chilean Women Denouncing Gendered and Sexual Violence Through SongRoundup
tags: gender, violence, cultural history, womens history
Margaret Power is a professor of history at the Illinois Institute of Technology. She is the author of Right-Wing Women in Chile: Feminine Power and the Struggle against Allende, 1964-1973. She is also a member of the Radical History Review Editorial Collective.
I was sitting in my hotel room in Santiago late last month when I heard a commotion outside. I went out to investigate and found about 50 women walking down the middle of a main street in the upper-middle class neighborhood of Providencia. They stopped when they came to a busy intersection and performed “Un violador en tu camino” (A rapist in your way), the song that has become a feminist, global hymn against male violence. In seconds a large crowd, mainly composed of women, gathered to watch. By the second round, many of the spectators had become participants, and feelings of empowerment, defiance, and joy filled the atmosphere. There, on a crowded street in Santiago, women not only defied the police, they created a space in which women felt safe and strong, a feeling that, at least for me, and I suspect for many more, lingered long after the performers had moved on to enact their piece in another spot.
Setting the stage for the performance I saw in Providencia, on November 25, 2019, a large group of young Chilean women performed “Un violador en tu camino” (A rapist in your way) in Santiago to commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The video of their performance in front of the Chilean Supreme Court went viral and women across Latin America, Europe, the United States, as well as in Australia, India, and Turkey have since staged the piece in both Spanish and a host of local languages. In just a few short weeks, the powerful lyrics, catchy tune, and dramatic moves that comprise the hymn have become a global symbol of women’s anger and their repudiation of the misogynist violence and gendered discrimination that permeate the world. However, the performances do more than denounce male violence; the choreographed movements, chorus-like singing, and collective spirit also embody and promote women’s solidarity. They tell women they are not alone and alert the perpetrators to beware – they will not escape the fury of women’s justified outrage. The performances take place in public, in plain view of the world, in opposition to the sexual abuse and femicide, which occur in hidden spaces, away from the gaze of others. And they are performed as a group, in unison, to assert the collective power of women to join together to support each other and jointly overcome male violence.
For the last two years and a half women students and faculty have exposed and denounced the rampant sexual abuse and sexist education that take place in Chilean schools and universities. On April 16, 2018,170,000 students marched in the streets of Santiago because, in the words of one student, “We are tired of being abused, of revictimization. . . . We need to transform the educational model so we are not assaulted from the time we are young girls.” In May 2018 thousands of university students occupied facilities on their campuses to condemn these practices and call for change. The four women known as Las Tesis who composed “Un violador en tu camino” were part of that movement. And their song reflects the students’ denouncing of male violence and their demand that those who commit the crimes be held responsible for them.
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