Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Mini-Skirt Protest: The Right Way to Make a Point?

La Jornada reports that a group of young women wearing miniskirts and short-shorts interrupted services at the Metropolitan Cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana) in Mexico City last Sunday, protesting policies of the Catholic Church that they believe lead to wide-spread victim-blaming and misogyny:

Encabezadas por Perla Vázquez, las manifestantes acusaron a la Iglesia Católica de adoptar actitudes misóginas y machistas al supuestamente culpar a las mujeres que usan minifaldas o pantalones ajustados de provocar abuso sexual o violencia de género en su contra...

"Hacemos un llamado a exigir el fin de la opresión a la que somos sometidas por ser mujeres para acabar con la dominación y la explotación", expusieron.

Roughly translated, the above says (my apologies in advance for some awkwardness - I *hate* translating):

Led by Perla Vázquez, the protesters accused the Catholic Church of adopting misogynistic and sexist attitudes that blame women who wear miniskirts or tight pants for provoking sexual abuse and gendered violence against them.

"We are putting out a call to demand the end of the oppression that subjugates women, to do away with domination and exploitation," they explained.

I certainly understand the rage that the protesters are expressing - I was ready to take to the streets in protest after reading yet another victim-blaming piece, this time by mega-turd Peter Hitchens. Yet, my question is this: What's the right way to protest?

PETA provides almost daily proof that there is a wrong way to advocate for a cause. Countless stunts involving half-clad women, sham violence, and a complete lack of insight into the real problems facing people who don't share their privilege have perhaps even hurt the cause PETA ostensibly promotes, since the stunts draw attention without evoking wide-spread sympathy or a real understanding of animal rights issues. Rev. Dr. has even argued that most modern protests are ineffective due to a lack of dignity. Yet, if a group feels strongly that its members are aware of an injustice largely misunderstood by or even invisible to greater society, how should a protest be carried out in a way that both informs the public of the problem and builds sympathy for those who face injustices?

More specifically, how do women best protest the injustices that still face us?

(image 1 via this Dailylife story about similar protests in South Africa, image 2 via Feministing)


frau sally benz said...

Overall, great job translating. I would say one key word you missed was "supposedly" as in "supposedly blame women who wear miniskirts or tight pants." This sort of struck me when I read it--is there some sort of denial being made by the church? The article did not really mention the church's response, so I thought it was interesting.

Anyway, back to your actual question. I think it is certainly tricky to create a winning formula for effective activism. A professor/mentor of mine once said that his general rule of thumb is to do everything in his power. Make a petition, have people write letters, stage some sort of demonstration, whatever you can muster for an attack on all levels.

One thing I think is particularly effective in mobilizing people is opening it up to personal interpretation. Invite supporters to use their artistic skills to show why the cause moves them, have open dialogue between supporters and those they are trying to reach, etc. Everyone has a talent or skill they can use to mobilize others. If it's coming from your heart, it will translate.

And as a general rule of thumb, try to avoid spitting on other people's causes as you try to advocate for your own. I'm sure there are other ways for PETA to be provocative without demeaning women.

Maggie said...

It's certainly important to get your message across in a protest. If the message involves mini-skirts, though, I think you're not really helping by wearing them. I would've tried going the opposite way. Have the women covered in long dresses, long sleeves, the kind of antiquated stuff that this kind of problem implicitly endorses. I think you would've had an eye-catching protest without the potential objectification of your protesters.

Habladora said...

Sally, I put supposedly in at first... but I couldn't figure out where to put it in the sentence to make it sound right. I dropped it before publishing simply because it seemed to me like 'supposedly' or 'allegedly' was La Jornada's way of pointing out that this was the protesters' claim, rather than a verifiable fact - which I felt was already clear. One thing I did change a few seconds after publication was "general" to "gendered" - which was a stupid typo on my part. Did I mention that I hate translating? Too literal, it doesn't make sense, to figurative and you feel like you're messing with the original message...

Which sorta leads back into the point - how do you convince a society that refers to victim blaming as "supposed victim blaming" that there is a problem? Being a geek of sorts, I like to be presented with the facts - but people rarely take or read fliers. I like the idea of using as many venues as possible - op-eds, art, petitions...

I'm not sure that the wearing of mini-skirts was bad, but in combination with storming Sunday Mass... does it feel like legitimate protest, or like a stunt?

frau sally benz said...

I dropped it before publishing simply because it seemed to me like 'supposedly' or 'allegedly' was La Jornada's way of pointing out that this was the protesters' claim, rather than a verifiable fact

I considered this, too, but thought maybe it was just convenient to use that word since then there was no statement made like "the church has not responded." I suppose I'm used to media here that always make very clear when they haven't received an official comment/response by whoever the other group is.

Habladora said...

The lack of a real response from the Church was perhaps part of what made me think that this protest had failed - the paper covers it as a spectacle instead of something along the lines of "Protesters noted that (specific policy/doctrine) leads to the common perception that women are to be blamed for their abuser's actions. The Church did not respond to calls from LJ abut this point."

Habladora said...

Ooops, that should read "...about this point."

daedalus2u said...

The idea of any communication is to get the person you are trying to communicate with to understand your point of view.

In the case of the Catholic Church, I think the leadership is incapable of understanding the idea that sex between consenting adults is not something dirty and evil. Anyone who would want to bring any sexual attention to themselves (as by wearing sexy clothes) is thus inherently dirty and evil.

My own thought on how to get the message to them is by analogy.

According to their "logic", if women who dress in sexy clothes deserve to be blamed for being sexually abused, then so do the children who were sexually abused by priests. If the children had not worn such sexy outfits, the priests would have been able to control themselves.

I would make the analogy that what the Church is saying is:

women in sexy clothes = children in sexy clothes = deserved to be sexually abused

If what someone is wearing increases their degree of blame for being sexually abused, it holds for everyone, women and children.

Whether a particular style of dress is "sexy" or not, is purely in the eye of the beholder. There are innumerable clothing fetishes where some people find some style of dress "sexy" (including nun habits I might add). What the Church is saying is that people with a particular clothing fetish are less to blame if they sexually assault someone wearing that style of clothing. Since there are plenty of priests who did think the clothing that children wore made them look "sexy", the Church leadership is trying to excuse priests who raped children.

Michelle said...

Wait, the Catholic Church is against any outward expression of women?

Can't say I'm shocked. I've known that the CC has been anti women since I wanted to be an altar girl and they wouldn't let me because of my gender.

Casmall said...

I went to some of antiwar protests before the Iraq war and they suffered from a kind of carnival atmosphere, that was all too easily mocked and dismissed.
Not every tactic is appropriate. You need to have a good reason for doing what you're doing.
For example: Street puppets, even if they come from the heart, never translate.

Sorry, Seasame Street puppets are a notable exception.

frau sally benz said...

Casmall, I would say that in the right environment, even street puppets might work! Of course, you'd have to know where to present the medium you work with. You probably shouldn't display your street puppets at a rally, but perhaps you could work with a community center to host a storytelling series or to display whatever artwork you've worked on related to that cause.

I'm sure that when the clothesline project was thought up, there were plenty of people who just didn't get it. Now, it's a very successful campaign that many college students recognize on sight.

daedalus2u said...

There is an analogous situation regarding protests to achieve political power, or other freedom from oppression, violent struggle, peaceful, direct or indirect.

I have been thinking about Gandhi and his non-violent protest that eventually led to the British granting India independence. I had remembered him saying that he would not have used the same approach against the Germans (this was in the context of Germany in the 1930’s). In looking for stuff on that I found this:

This article mentions Lysistrata

The technique of Lysistrata would be effective.

The technique of Charles Darwin (i.e. selection) would be more effective still.

The reason the Patriarchy works so hard to exert control over women’s fertility (mostly indirectly by controlling their sexuality) is because in the grand scheme of things, that is the only thing on this Earth that has any value. Who ever controls that, has all the power. If women did have the ability to pick and choose who will be the fathers of the next generation, they have the ability to pick and choose which men win and which men lose. Exerting control over and limiting women’s ability to make those decisions is the essence of how the Patriarchy maintains control.

I think all the restrictions on women derive from the attempt to exert control over women’s fertility by men. I think that there is a realization on some level that once they lose it, they will never be able to get it back. Once women are able to select mates for their own reasons, then men’s reasons become unimportant.

I don’t think that a protest based on reason will ever be effective with the leaders of the Catholic Church. They didn’t come by their dogma via reason; they are not going to abandon it via reason. I don’t think the leaders of the Catholic Church have the capacity to even entertain the possibility that sex outside of their arbitrary and self-serving “rules” is not evil and dirty.

Anonymous said...

The best form of activism is a concealed weapon permit and a bullet to the forehead of any jerk who lays a finger on me.

Thanks for the link love in the other post.

Keep up the great work.