I don’t believe most people understand what a significant role identity plays in our lives. Dozens of factors nuance our interactions, from immediate (and often fallacious) assumptions to our myriad (and often paradoxical) characteristics. Our experiences then shape our values like the atmospheric strata filtering what enters and exits our moral environment. All of this contributes to how we see and are seen by the world. So what does this mean in reality?
I am young. Sometimes I get mistaken for the intern when I walk into a business meeting. I am black. Sometimes – in the year two thousand and sixteen – I have to explain to a fellow white person in the club why they shouldn’t rap along to the N word. I am American. Sometimes (all the time) I have to google how to convert pounds into kilograms.
I am also female.
I am someone’s daughter who walks home from dance class at 11 pm. Someone’s sister who opts for alleys when she wants to take the shortcut home. Someone’s niece who goes out alone when she can’t find a friend to accompany her. I am woman looking to move 4,176 miles away from home to teach English in a foreign land alone.
All of these situations have something in common: the communal dismay and concern I receive in response solely because of my XX chromosomes.
“Why would you walk home alone this late?”
“Why would you want to go to that part of town?”
“Why can’t you wait until someone can go with you?”
These are loaded questions similar to those asked when Argentinian travelers, Marina Menegazzo and Maria Jose Coni, were found murdered and dumped alongside a deserted resort beach. The two ladies were traveling across South America when they were robbed and left with little to no money to get to their next destination. Believing in humanity, they took shelter with two men who were willing to let them spend the night in their home. When these men made sexual advances they refused, and because of that they were bludgeoned and stabbed them to death before being taped up in plastic bags and disposed of like waste.
I was heartbroken by the news, but livid when I learned what followed. Instead of public outrage being aimed at the sick individuals who took it upon themselves to end two young lives, a barrage of victim-blaming questions ensued.
“What clothes did they have on?”
“Why were they traveling alone?”
“What were they doing in that neighborhood?”
Paraguayan college student Guadalupe Acosta wrote a beautiful post encapsulating the harmful effects of this mindset from the view of the victims. (English translation below)
“Ayer me mataron.
Me negué a que me tocaran y con un palo me reventaron el cráneo. Me metieron una cuchillada y dejaron que muera desangrada.
Cual desperdicio me metieron a una bolsa de polietileno negro, enrollada con cinta de embalar y fui arrojada a una playa, donde horas más tarde me encontraron.
Pero peor que la muerte, fue la humillación que vino después.
Desde el momento que tuvieron mi cuerpo inerte nadie se preguntó donde estaba el hijo de puta que acabo con mis sueños, mis esperanzas, mi vida.
No, más bien empezaron a hacerme preguntas inútiles. A mi, ¿Se imaginan? una muerta, que no puede hablar, que no puede defenderse.
¿Qué ropa tenías?
¿Por qué andabas sola?
¿Cómo una mujer va a viajar sin compañía?
Te metiste en un barrio peligroso, ¿Qué esperabas?
Cuestionaron a mis padres, por darme alas, por dejar que sea independiente, como cualquier ser humano. Les dijeron que seguro andabamos drogadas y lo buscamos, que algo hicimos, que ellos deberían habernos tenido vigiladas.
Y solo muerta entendí que no, que para el mundo yo no soy igual a un hombre. Que morir fue mi culpa, que siempre va a ser. Mientras que si el titular rezaba fueron muertos dos jóvenes viajeros la gente estaría comentando sus condolencias y con su falso e hipócrita discurso de doble moral pedirían pena mayor para los asesinos.
Pero al ser mujer, se minimiza. Se vuelve menos grave, porque claro, yo me lo busqué. Haciendo lo que yo quería encontré mi merecido por no ser sumisa, por no querer quedarme en mi casa, por invertir mi propio dinero en mis sueños. Por eso y mucho más, me condenaron.
Y me apené, porque yo ya no estoy acá. Pero vos si estas. Y sos mujer. Y tenes que bancarte que te sigan restregando el mismo discurso de “hacerte respetar”, de que es tu culpa que te griten que te quieran tocar/lamer/ chupar alguno de tus genitales en la calle por llevar un short con 40 grados de calor, de que vos si viajas sola sos una “loca” y muy seguramente si te paso algo, si pisotearon tus derechos, vos te lo buscaste.
Te pido que por mí y por todas las mujeres a quienes nos callaron, nos silenciaron, nos cagaron la vida y los sueños, levantes la voz. Vamos a pelear, yo a tu lado, en espíritu, y te prometo que un día vamos a ser tantas, que no existirán la cantidad de bolsas suficientes para callarnos a todas.”
– – Guadalupe Acosta
“From the moment they found my inert dead body nobody asked where the son of a bitch that ended my dreams, my hopes and my life was. No, instead they started asking me useless questions…They questioned my parents for giving me wings, for letting me be independent, like any human being. They told them we were surely on drugs and were asking for it, that we must’ve done something, that they should have looked after us.
And only once dead did I understand that no, that to the rest of the world I was not equal to a man. That dying was my fault, and it will always be so. But if the headline would have read “two young male travelers were killed” people would be expressing their condolences and with their false and hypocritical double standard speech would demand the highest penalty for the murderers.
But when you’re a woman, it is minimized. It becomes less severe, because of course I asked for it. By doing what I wanted to do, I got what I deserved for not being submissive, not wanting to stay at home, for investing my own money in my dreams. For that and more, I was sentenced.
And I was sad, because I’m no longer here. But you are. And you’re a woman. And you have to deal with the same speech about “making others respect you,” about how it’s your fault they shout at you on the street that they want to touch/lick/suck one of your genitals because you’re wearing shorts when it’s 40ºC of heat outside, about how if you travel alone you’re “crazy” and surely if something happened to you, if they trampled all over your rights, you were asking for it.
I ask you, on behalf of myself and every other women who’ve been hushed, silenced; I ask you on behalf of every woman whose life and dreams were crushed, to raise your voice. Let’s fight, I’ll be next to you in spirit, and I promise that one day we’ll be so many that there won’t be enough bags in the world to shut us all up.”
And so I write this post in vehement solidarity with those two Argentinian women. I write on behalf of all women who choose to travel, eat, shop, jog, study, work, and BE with no restrictions. I write in grief, anger, support, and indignation. I write in hopes that my words will be a single fault in the Earthquake that shifts the erroneous paradigms that convey we are not all equal.
I write because #ViajoSola.
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