“Mira, look at what women did in Chile!” a feminist activist and dear friend told me with big eyes and an exciting and animated tone of voice while handing me her cell phone. We were in Ciudad Juárez, chatting and debriefing after participating at an all-day local event in observance of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in November.
My friend’s cell phone was too small to capture the powerful tune that consistently repeated el violador eres tú—the rapist is you. This is only one of the melodious lines of a powerful feminist chant of contagious beat called un violador en tu camino—a rapist in your path—that a massive group of women had performed in Santiago, Chile a day earlier.
The feminist anthem and performance that was originally performed in Valparaiso that same month soon became viral to denounce sexual violence against women across nations and languages. The feminist anthem has been performed in Spanish by women in contrasting racialized urban and less urbanized Latin American spaces, mestizo as well as indigenous, either in Oaxaca or the Amazonian. Spain and other European countries, as well as Australia and New Zealand have witnessed the same orchestrating of the now popular feminist protest; in the United States, events at the Brooklyn Bridge, the LACMA in Los Angeles, and on some campuses such as Penn and UT Austin have taken place.
Heartfelt, collective indignation toward violence against women has no linguistic borders: French women performed it across the Eiffel tower, Palestinian women did the same in front of the Israeli embassy; women members of Congress chanted inside the Parliament in Turkey and women in Delhi performed their own protest, similarly exhausted and enraged by the extreme violence against girls and women in India.
The feminist performance is far from closing its circle, but has returned to Chile, with a convocation that included about 10,000 women chanting in front of a stadium: Y la culpa no era mía / ni dónde estaba / ni cómo vestía. El violador eres tú. (And the fault wasn’t mine / nor where I was / nor what I wore. The rapist is you.)
Un violador en tu camino is a creative production of LasTesis (literally, The Theses), a colectivo based in Valparaiso that is represented by four women who have found inspiration in feminist theorizing to spread messages contesting inequality and injustice affecting women.
Born and created in the global South and in Spanish, the feminist anthem that has captured the attention of many women across nations and languages seems to be an unprecedented live performance of transnational feminism. The “transnational feminist solidarity” and “feminism without borders” I learned about with so much admiration and respect many years ago from my reading of feminist theorizing by Dr. Chandra Talpade Mohanty have come to my mind with the same contagious beat, as I have been following online, performance after performance, of this unprecedented feminist protest.
With no doubt, the girls and women exposed to sexual violence in each city and nation where the feminist anthem has been reproduced live in contrastingly different, historical, regional and socioeconomic contexts —local performers have changed and adapted the last stanzas of the song to illustrate specific local realities of gender inequality. But beyond the national and cultural uniqueness, emerges what seems to be universal about rape and other forms of sexual violence against women.
Those are the core themes in this act of transnational feminist solidarity: the state as an oppressive patriarchal institution; violence against women as normalized and thus socially and culturally invisible; feminicidio, disappearance and rape of women as a practice that must be repudiated and urgently eliminated; the institutionalization of misogyny and the legalization of corruption systematically protecting men who have murdered women and the rejection of blaming women for their own victimization.
Un violador en tu camino has become, with no doubt, a live performance of feminism without borders.
Un violador en tu camino was not born, neither in the North nor in English, it was born in the South and in Spanish. Even though Spanish is the language of the colonizer, the colonized and the neocolonized—and it has rich and diverse regional variations, accents, pronunciations and cadence—this Spanish-speaking performance represents more than a collective awareness of gender inequality.
Enacted through a woman’s body that reflects a kinesthetic of violence against female bodies, the movements and symbols that give life to the performance reflect the history of practices of misogyny and injustice what women have historically endured in Chile, now mirroring for us complex and stubborn expressions of gender inequality on earth. These illustrations of misogyny and sexism are now reclaimed and redefined as part of a performance of feminism without borders—feminismo sin fronteras.
Patriarchy and his countless expressions can be grotesque and violent, but patriarchy is also paradoxically fragile. Patriarchy has to be constantly reinforced and reinvented in order to reproduce itself, to exist, to survive, especially if there is a perceived threat by those who benefit from it. It was not a surprise then to see that Un violador en tu camino found an immediate sexist response from two institutions where hegemonic masculinity has been consistently reproduced and reinforced in Mexico: sports and the military. Soccer players of the Club America Sub-17, as well as soldiers of one of the branches of the military, made fun of it in repulsive ways. The performance has been similarly trivialized through different remix versions available on YouTube.
Un violador en tu camino has momentum, but I wonder about its future. I also wonder about the ways in which this anthem has already touched the lives of the girls and women who have been exposed to different expressions of sexual violence. How about the girls and women for whom that “rapist in your path” is not necessarily a stranger, but the charismatic and respected uncle or male relative?
In my feminist killjoy imagination, this transnational feminist performance will find a scenario in our homes: the two or more primas or sisters who have been sexually abused by the same man in their immediate or extended families have voluntarily decided to break their silence collectively. In the middle of a Christmas or a New Year’s family celebration —and in the supportive presence of one or two adult women relatives in a position of authority and power who have been finally been informed about the sexual violence—these young women point straight out with their fingers at the uncle or male relative who must be exposed and who cannot longer get away with it.
El violador, they remind him, eres tú.