Interview. 'We must feed all the movements that produce uncertainty, vagueness in society, and the Left is not in a position to do so, they are not able to grasp uncertainty as something positive.'

Rita Segato and the ‘Rebellious Girls’

“There is a conception that what we change will transform everything,” says Rita Segato, one of the most famous feminist anthropologists in Latin America, professor at the Universidad de Brasilia. She has been active in the demonstrations that in recent years have moved the continent in the name of Ni una menos, “not one less.” Her works have been reference points for the feminist movement, which has called upon her to bring light to the structural character of patriarchal violence, conceived as the founding practice of every relationship of power and oppression. She is prolific. Among her volumes: La crítica de la colonialidad en ocho ensayos (2000), Las estructuras elementales de la violencia (2000), La escritura en el cuerpo de las mujeres asesinadas en Ciudad Juàrez (2013), La guerra contra las mujeres (2016) and the recent Contrapedagogías de la crueldad (2018).

I would like to start with the images of a million voices celebrating the “media aprobación” (halfway approval) to the abortion law before the Argentine Congress on June 14. The mobilization for free and safe abortion began many years ago, but only now it has gained the necessary strength to achieve this historic, albeit still partial, result. In your opinion, what is the origin of this leap? Do you think that this leap has a relationship with the fight against patriarchal violence that women are carrying out in Latin America and in the rest of the world?

Pro-abortion activities have been going on for many years, involving women—such as Martha Rosenberg and Nelly Minyersky—who must be honored for having fought so long. Within the movement there were breakups and conflicts, because some did not want a “concession” from the state, they simply claimed to practice abortion and in this way to express their suspicions towards the state. I understand that. However, in the present situation women take every opportunity to stay united. The battle for the abortion approval in the Chamber was a way of uniting and showing their staying together to the state and to society. Abortion is an important practice. The prohibition and criminalization of abortion is “state rape,” because you have in your body a piece of flesh that is not yours and you do not want. This is rape. Forcing you to keep it is a “state rape.” What we should not forget is also that in Argentina in the last 30 years there have been constant meetings among women. When the first great demonstration took place on June 3, 2015, and then with the strike on March 8, the demonstrations became multitudinous, but this was also due to the growing importance that these meetings had for 30 years, without parties, without associations, without hegemony. It is a movement without hegemony and this is the truly important story that emerges today into the women’s demonstrations. Now it is really visible, but it is not entirely new.

This mass movement that unites millions of women, and not only women, is also questioning the neoliberal order—of which the Macri government is an expression—which simply refuses to accept any collective demand from society, from women, from precarious workers, from migrants. The fact that a social movement obtains something is perhaps already important in itself, a change with respect to the perception of the complete absence of any possibility of change.

The important thing is the process that leads women to come together, to be together, and in this regard the law on abortion is an opportunity to become visible to themselves, to develop a practice that establishes connections. There is the production of a culture that concerns the way things are done, that arises from the practice of being together in public places. The process is the most important dimension of what is happening, perhaps even more important than the result. It gives life to a way of being together, a way of building a life together. Women’s demonstrations are completely different from those of men, trade unions and political demonstrations in the conventional sense. There is a different way of appearing and doing, a different atmosphere for the women who march together. The result is important, but we need to focus on the process. We must feed all the movements that produce uncertainty, vagueness in society, and the Left is not in a position to do so. They are not able to grasp uncertainty as something positive. This is a feminine way of looking at history. Because it is a pragmatic and practical way that has to do with the ability to improvise in order to be able to defend life; it is something topical and not utopian. These feminist mobilizations are in a sense recovering the sense of that story. They are discarding the sense of domestic politics that they forced us to forget. It is about the style of women’s politics that we have forgotten in the transit to modernity. This way of doing politics with a feminine style is here and now. We must recover topicality rather than utopia.

I have some difficulties in transforming the story into a “style.” I think it is important to think of the feminine as a position that must be historicized, but the act of politicizing this position expresses a liberation claim from history that has oppressed us. It is an act that opens the future as a chance to be free, not only we as women but all those who are oppressed.

I do not like the word “enemy”—even if we have enemies—but there are antagonists to our historical project who are aware of it and from here comes the “fundamentalist waste,” that consists in the opposition to what they call the “gender ideology,” because they recognize the importance of what we are doing. Then they react, they react against this movement, against the women’s movement, LGBTQI, because they see it as a threat.

What do you think about the fact that women have chosen the strike as a practice of struggle?

I believe that it was an existential strike, a strike for a different kind of existence and politics in the sense I have already told you: a topical, humorous, celebratory, communalistic way, capable of producing connections between me and you, and this is what I call existential. It breaks down bureaucracy and expropriation. When modernity arrived in the city, when the state arrived in the city, women lost sovereignty over their bodies and yet there are still rituals only for women, common life in the neighborhoods, signs of recognition, a way of relating in a different way. As an anthropologist, I know that the community still exists in Latin America, albeit in small units.

Anyway, this is a global movement. What does it mean to think about the feminist transformation you spoke about from a transnational perspective?

On March 8, Latin American women living in France asked me to make a statement on the strike, and I said that plurality was at stake. We cannot unify it. Nor can we now think that we are all in the same way. There are common demands, but to seek unification would be a mistake. You can unify something you have grip on, but no one can have a grip on what is going on. The patriarchate claims to have a grip on everything and its life depends on this, on control. We cannot do that; we must let ourselves be. The risk to aim at unity is too great. It is like a newborn girl. You can say: you have to be beautiful, disciplined and polite. You have to study. We must have a rebellious little girl.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Your weekly briefing of progressive news.

You have Successfully Subscribed!