We Won’t Yield To Their Provocations: Notes on Mexico City’s Feminist Protests

Some Mexican amigas sent us the following letter, in which they recount the events of the feminist protests that took place on August 12-16. Two weeks earlier, a 17-year-old girl had been raped by four cops.

For Lesvy, Karen, Adriana, Victoria, Valeria, Otilia, and Daniela

For those who no longer have a body,

For those with whom we share our own.

They Rape Us, Not Protect Us

Early on the morning of August 3rd, a 17-year-old girl was heading to her home in the neighborhood of Azcapotzalco, in Mexico City, when she noticed a patrol car with four cops following her slowly. In an attempt to get them to go away, she rang the doorbell of a nearby house, but no one answered. Then one of the cops got out of the car, asked her where she lived, and offered her a ride home. After she refused his offer, the cops forced her into the car, raped her, left her in the street, and drove off laughing. Although she filed a report with the Ministerio Público (Public Prosecutor’s Office), a couple of days later, the Procuraduría General de Justicia (the Attorney General of Mexico City), under which the Public Prosecutor works, declared that the DNA samples given to them had been lost. The four cops were allowed to go on with their duties.

This girl’s case is only one of the 51 sexual assault cases reported every day in Mexico. According to official records, in the first four months of 2019, there were at least 1,199 femicides here. This number does not include the femicides of trans women, about which statistics are less clear and rarely circulated. Neither does it take into account the cases of those silenced for fear of retaliation, or those arbitrarily excluded from this category.

What is clear is that these cases are in no way isolated, but are part of a system of gendered, structural violence. Although some women may be more vulnerable than others, it is a daily reality shared by every one of us as women. Everyday we leave our homes and walk the streets with fear and anxiety, not knowing who the next assailant will be. Sharing our location in real time with our friends and mothers, letting them know we made it home alright, has become an obligatory ritual of personal care. This situation has led many of us to carry weapons of self-defense: pepper spray, tasers, knives, etc. And we’re ready to use them at any time. For us, feminism has never been a peaceful matter. The overwhelming, daily violence and fear aren’t limited to the streets. As everyone knows, no institution is safe – but the last few days have reminded us we can’t even feel comfortable in a museum or a hospital. In Mexico, most cases of abuse, rape, child pregnancy and femicide happen within the institution called “family.” We all have at least one creepy uncle or other family member who has abused us with a gaze, with words, or with hands – and this happens in the best of cases. Abusers are usually people we know too well. In this sense, the wave of accusations that emerged a few months ago through the #MeToo movement in Mexico are an undeniable proof of systemic abuse and physical and sexual aggression carried out by men we trust: brothers, boyfriends, colleagues, fathers, husbands, and close friends. But we want to stop talking about what we suffer and start talking about what we do.

We are no longer the raped girls, students, housewives, tomboys, and victims. Nor are we any other category to which they insist on reducing us.

Our Friends Care For Us – Not the Police

In light of the Attorney General’s declarations in relation to the case of August 3rd, a gathering was held on Monday, August 12th in front of the offices of the Secretaría de Seguridad Ciudadana (Secretary of Public Safety) in Mexico City. The Secretary only came out to speak with the press, even though he promised he would establish a dialogue with us.  He received a pink glitter bomb in response, forcing him back into the building. Later, we headed towards the Attorney General’s head offices. There, the mother of another girl who had been assaulted declared that these institutions were to blame for the fact that the girl from Azcapotzalco had retracted her report: she was afraid because the media had potentially put her in danger by leaking her personal information. From that moment on, it wasn’t the demonstration that overflowed the streets, but the demonstration of an overflow. We weren’t there to ask anyone permission for anything, and we knew it. For the first time during a protest in Mexico, the doors of the Attorney General’s office – a building filled with cops – were destroyed, and some protestors burst into the building. All of this was unexpected, especially since it was carried out by a group of women.

Seeing what had happened, the mayor of Mexico City, Claudia Sheinbaum, said these actions were nothing more than a provocation – one designed to incite authorities to respond with violence. What she failed to take into account is that we are used to being told that, when it comes to countless instances of rape and murder, our provocations are to blame. She couldn’t understand that no one had called for a peaceful demonstration. She couldn’t understand we don’t want to be represented. She couldn’t understand that we weren’t there to demand justice from the same system that rapes, murders, and disappears us. We don’t want crumbs of attention from any authority, nor dialogues that go on to energize campaigns. We didn’t come to talk to anyone. We know they don’t care about us, and that they won’t care about us. For many of us, it was instead a matter of taking a position.

The potentials and joys shared in the actions of August 12th were contagious. The frustration and humiliation of having received rose petals as a form of “support” or being escorted by transit cops (until then, for the government, we didn’t represent a threat) during past protests inspired us to assume our own violence and take the streets in – as it has been said – our own way. By Friday, August 16th, some of us already had a clear idea that we would be meeting up in Glorieta de los Insurgentes, and we knew with whom we’d be marching and shouting.  Others of us surprised ourselves by impulsively buying spray cans, sewing homemade masks, and writing emergency numbers and blood types on our bodies. Others just joined in the spur of the moment, seduced by the fury and rage of friends. Regardless of how we came together, we never felt alone. Nos cuidan nuestras amigas, no la policía.

Out of My Subway Car, Macho Piece of Shit

As a response to constant harassment, for a few years Mexico City’s metro system has reserved a handful of subway cars for the exclusive use of women and children. This division is constantly violated by stupid and stubborn men who insist on taking our spaces. A few months ago, a kidnapping network that had been operating in these subway cars was discovered. One of the ways in which these kidnappers operated most successfully had been by approaching a woman who was alone, grabbing her by the arm, pretending to have an argument as a couple, and then taking her away, saying “calm down, baby.” If someone tried to intervene, the kidnapper would assure them it was just a personal matter. Even though a woman might insist she didn’t know the man, he would usually be successful at dissuading whoever was trying to intervene. Good manners dictate that problems among couples should be privately resolved. This shows how a patriarchal perspective undermines what we say and interprets our reactions as sentimental female drama, instead of understanding them as a political problem.

The day of the protest, in the same subway system where these abductions occur, we decided to take the entire train, kicking out all the men on board. Faced with this situation, most men responded with hostility and defiance, but above all with mockery. As could be expected, they attacked whomever they could by shoving, insulting, or filming them. There was even one man that decided to get on top of the train to try and stop it from advancing. Even though there were more than 600 masked women dressed in black and armed with tasers, pepper spray, umbrellas, and glitter, we still felt the rampant machismo. While some of us were still scared, they, on the other hand – even though some were even alone – demonstrated the privilege, pride, and security that characterizes and supports their actions. Only some of them finally stopped laughing when we asked, “Are you joking about the fact we’re being murdered?”

It’s Not Going to Fall, We’re Tearing It Down

There was no leader, central organization, flag, or theory that represented us, but a shared feeling of sisterhood, anger, and the desire to destroy everything. There were no programs or guidelines. We weren’t even sure of the order of events, but had only heard here and there that there were women gathering, along with false reports intended to discourage us: “there they are firing tear gas,” or “the riot police are coming.” In spite of all the doubt and talk of retreat, we all stayed to look out and care for one another.

This lack of organization horrified certain Marxists and professional feminists: “But what does this indicate? That there was no main assembly, no committee, no network. It’s the tyranny of structurelessness.” “Social networks and media are great for calls to action, but they are no substitute for organization. Organization is a part of things and it has to be done, there’s no other way.” In contrast, we believe we must think beyond the opposition organization / spontaneity. In this case, we didn’t have one without the other. We live strategically, taking care of ourselves and each other to survive. This is why we act together, beyond the specific intentions each one of us might have. There is empathy and shared complicity. There are bonds that can’t be conceived by minds fashioned by perspectives organized by the male canon. This is why our struggle has been successful.

Every action was unexpected and therefore uncontrollable. No lines were drawn beforehand allowing one to judge if our ways had been the right ones. We took different paths on smaller streets where no one expected us, streets where shops, bars, churches and banks were still open. Night came, and we no longer feared the threats it usually holds in store for us. We burnt, shattered, and painted everything we could, joined by complicit eyes and by the affection of insurrectionary friendship.

Even though some did not participate actively in the destruction, they supported and looked out for their friends, celebrating and encouraging them. Unlike other protests, scarves and masks didn’t pose a problem. Covering our faces was a way of defending ourselves from the harassment of cameramen, ready to identify us at every step. The point wasn’t having the spotlight, nor was it the identity of any individual. All that was irrelevant. We were there to share our bodies with those who no longer have bodies, with those who can’t protest, and with each other.

We All Did It

The next day, for the first time in the tabloid Metro – whose front page usually features the bodies of nude or dismembered women – the cover had photographs of women protesting with the headline “Ábranse, culeros” (“Get the fuck out of the way, assholes”). In other, more serious publications, as well as in social networks, the violence was condemned. They said that a minority, or groups of infiltrators, had taken up violent actions to undermine an otherwise peaceful movement. We were told that this was not the way to ask for things, that historical monuments had been damaged,  that you can’t fight violence with more violence, and that there was no point in destroying public space. There were also certain women who wanted to separate themselves from the riot with the hashtag #EllasNoMeRepresentan (#TheyDoNotRepresentMe). There were groups of men who made rape and death threats, and even calls for organized, mass beatings of feminazis.

For us, these modified monuments finally fulfilled a historic purpose. Instead of some strange, past victory that has nothing to do with us, they now invoked the present. The poorly named Angel of Independence now acts today as Victoria 1 . Even a group of female art restorers refuse to repair it: its new image now accounts for the collective memory of our protest and its causes. And we still have many more victories to come. Mexico City has the advantage of being centralized, which gives it greater international visibility. Likewise, here calls for protests tend to have a greater response and support than outside of the city, and it is actually quite common for women to travel and attend protests here. The lack of support in many places outside Mexico City implies a greater danger for women engaging in protests. We only have to turn to Estado de Mexico, a state that almost completely surrounds the capital and has one of the highest femicide rates in the country, along with little visibility and support for feminist struggles, to understand that the struggle must be decentralized.

As a response to the protests, Mexico City’s mayor held a meeting with feminist representatives, to assure them she would not punish nor prosecute any of those who took part in the destruction. According to her, she understood us, but we know too well that this empathy is, in reality, an impotence. It is an inability to recognize a clear target to attack, because she knows as well as we do that we all did it.

Even though there is a great heterogeneity among the feminisms of Mexico, there is a shared experience that creates an otherwise unexpected common ground. The recent feminisms in Mexico emerge from living and bearing witness to a series of abuses, disappearances, rapes and femicides surrounding us and taking place every day. Our struggle is rooted in the defense of life – our life and the life of our amigas. Our references are always immediate. This is why we question how we live and share problems like abuse, trauma and fear that for male logics are not considered political, but intimate. Through this process, our friendships become political. For most of us that were there on August 16th and who plan to remain, what matters is taking care of ourselves and building our collective strength.

We Are Bad, But We Can Be Worse

Pathetic idiots, you won’t be able to provoke me anymore… What a shame! From life and God I’ve inherited these blows and this evil, and no one is going to take them from me. I wasn’t a monster before! You turned me into one, and now you’ll have to deal with it. This doesn’t intimidate me, it doesn’t frustrate me, it doesn’t drown me or kill me.

Niurka Marcos

Even though we’re proud to know we can defend ourselves, and are doing so, this doesn’t mean we don’t feel the pain, exhaustion and frustration of having to confront and defend ourselves every day, even against the people closest to us.

Having days like the 16th nourish us with collective energy. They incite the emotion of violence and the desire to do more over the course of what is to come. Knowing that we are capable of being violent is a way to counterbalance the fear of living as women.

The governmental efforts to divide our struggle and appease our subversive complicity don’t fool us anymore, nor will they paralyze or pacify us. While Mexico City’s government plans on giving workshops on gender to their policemen, army and officials in general, they continue killing us. After the protest, between Friday, August 16th and Monday, August 19th, there were 17 new registered cases of femicide. Our strategies won’t culminate in promises of an uncertain future. We refuse to be good victims, docile and helpless. We refuse to be governed, we won’t yield to their provocations.

1 This is the Spanish name of the goddess Victory, or Nike.