Image: Ben Mack
Let’s get right to it: sometimes, it may be best to push for change by taking action directly to the streets.
So that’s not exactly the most profound statement ever. But you know what? It’s also true.
History is rife with well-known examples of direct action achieving results, and most of us probably understand the importance of standing up in the streets and making our voices heard today.
But what about when marching isn’t working? What if governments refuse to give in to the demands of people for equality?
I recently was confronted with just that. While walking down the streets with one of my best friends in the Argentinian capital of Buenos Aires, we were confronted with scene after scene of spray-painted graffiti that could only be described as awesomely feminist.
The graffiti was everywhere. Some of it was on the sides of buildings that dated back to the 17th century and earlier; others were smack in the middle of crosswalks and sidewalks. Others were even on street signs, rubbish bins, windows, poles, and almost every imaginable surface.
The imagery was incredibly in-your-face: one popular spray-painted stencil literally showed a stick figure man, like one might usually see on the door to a restroom, holding a gun to the head of a stick-figure woman. Another depicted a uterus, while another showed a vagina.
The tactic is similar to what used to be done in Portland, Oregon. In that city one of the most common methods of political activism was to leave “zines” (independent magazines and pamphlets, usually printed with home printers and bound together with staples) in public places such as libraries, restrooms, parks and elsewhere. The articles – usually written by anonymous authors, or authors using a pseudonym – covered a wide range of topics, be it everyday sexism, the wage gap, stereotypes of women, and more. Some of the stories could also be heart-wrenchingly triggering, such as personal – and incredibly graphic – stories of surviving sexual abuse or getting an abortion. But like in Buenos Aires, the purpose was the same: to highlight issues those in power would prefer were not discussed.
The sad reality is Argentina in 2016 is not an easy place to be a woman. While progress had been made under the socialist government of former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, it seems to have stalled since former Buenos Aires mayor Mauricio Macri became president in December 2015 – aided by the strong influence of the Catholic Church (Argentina is almost 80 per cent Catholic). Domestic violence is a serious problem, and the vast majority of rapists are not jailed for their crimes, if their crimes are prosecuted at all.
Furthermore, although more Argentine women than men earn university degrees, about 70 per cent of working women toil in unskilled jobs. Even breastfeeding is often met with ridicule and can get a woman arrested depending on where she’s doing it.
Oh, and abortion remains illegal – but about 500,000 are performed every year in an unregulated black market, often in facilities with unsanitary conditions and by doctors who are not properly trained; about 1000 Argentine women die every year due to complications from abortions.
The point here is that in spite of such open hostility, the women writing such graffiti in some of Buenos Aires’ most public, and popular, places are incredibly brave. After all, what they’re doing is illegal, because, well, it’s vandalism.
But sometimes it’s exactly what’s needed.
Though wouldn’t it be great if it wasn’t? You know, if society actually changed and acknowledged women as equal human beings?