A blog by Amanda Alcantara

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Violent Backlash Against Dominicanas

"Amor sin violencia" a campaign by the government against domestic violence.Photo by Amanda Alcantara, Santiago de Los Caballeros, Dominican Republic, August 2014

To be honest, I don't even want to write about it. Patriarchy is very real. It is in our face as femmes everyday, and it is emotionally draining to address every single instant. But this time I can't remain silence. I don't have that luxury.

I'm disappointed at the response to that video of a Dominican woman being forced to walk down the street naked. The victim-blaming is absurd. With it, I'm also reminded of the painful truth that, within our country and even as we leave, Dominican women simply aren't safe. I personally haven't even been able to watch or read any reports on the incident because it hurts.

To be clear, by patriarchy I mean a belief that makes women second-class citizens. A belief that women somehow have to respond to men's needs or are only there for the benefit of men. A belief that women are owned by men. A belief that women are supposed to be santas y a la vez putas. A belief that you gotta be a lady in the street and a freak in the sheets.

There is a large history of patriarchy in the Dominican Republic (and globally), including the sexualization of Dominicanas, and what I believe is a new wave of backlashes against them in the face of sexual liberty. You see, this isn't the first time a backlash against Dominicanas has happened.

The sexualization of Dominican women as mulatas (light and dark-skinned) as well as historical dehumanization, create an inevitable market for sex workers.

Dominicanas as Prostitutes

I read recently that prostitution rose during the very first U.S. occupations in the Dominican Republic and it seems that this dynamic with white men hasn't changed at all today given sex tourism being so popular. During this time, there were a lot of changes also happening in the arena of women's rights with Afro-Dominicanas like Evangelina Rodriguez and Petronila Angelica Gomez at the forefront.

As feminism was growing the women who preached it were told that they were pro-occupation since they were benefitting from the so-called freedom that the occupation was giving to women. These women had to navigate being anti-occupation and pro-feminism.

Indeed, they were deeply criticized for daring to enjoy these benefits. A newspaper in the Dominican Republic at the time noted the following (taken from Personal Occupations: Women's Responses to US Military Occupations in Latin American by Alan McPherson):

“Nine things which our women have learned in six years: To show their legs more than they should. To go marketing playing the role of servants. To become typists and neglect the kitchen. To go out riding in automobiles or in airplanes with whom they think best. To become chauffeurs. To marry for business. To cross their legs in public places. To wear excessively low-cut dresses and to dance in cafes and restaurants.” 

Today, the market for Dominicanas continues to thrive.

When I was in Buenos Aires, Argentina, I was asked if I was a sex worker. Apparently most of the cis-women of Dominican descent who had gone to Argentina especially during the 90's had been sex workers. I was also taken aback by this elder who casually told me when I shared that I was Dominican que las mulatas son mas ricas because we have the sexuality of the black woman and the white woman.

There are Dominican sex workers in Haiti too. They are coveted because they are light-skinned; being lower class puts them in a position to become exploited. Many sex workers prefer Haiti because it means that they can work so far away from home that no-one will know, and close enough that they can travel there easily. This increased after the 2010 earthquake because of the influx of international aid workers (gasp!). Even for voluntary prostitutes, the experience was of exploitation and feeling unsafe--clearly an indication that there needs to be a safety net for sex workers. Some might say that these are light skinned tears, crying for being light-skinned in a society where proximity to whiteness is celebrated. But in this instance, that dynamic is turned on its head: These women are mulatas, in that identity they are whole. What makes them overly sexual if not that they embody blackness and are therefor considered property and exploitable as they have been throughout history as an inheritance of slavery? This coupled with whiteness makes them more acceptable bed-mates in a status quo society that rejects dark-skinned black women. 

Unfortunately, child sexual exploitation is also a thing, a secret that no one discusses in DR but that everyone knows about. "Oh, ese tipo, el va al campo de vez en cuando buscando niñas", they'll say. 

Chapiadorismo, Relationships, and the Elimination of the Middle Man

At the other side of this are chapiadoras. Chapiadoras, in short, are women who get into relationships with men for money. Apparently the word was first mentioned in a song by the artist Chimbala. I can't help but think that the word Chapiadora or Chapeadora, and the word Chapa which means ass, come from the word "chopa" which is short for "shopping girl". Those were women who worked for wages during the 1916 U.S. occupation and who were disliked for gaining independence. From chopa comes the word chopear.   

Much like the "chopa" during the U.S. occupation, chapiadoras are actually disliked by society as much as people want to humor that word. Men are warned to stay away from them. Women are told that it is wrong and immoral. And yet they signify a sexual revolution happening- that to be frank has already in various ways existed in the culture- where women are taking back their power. I can't help but realize that the popularity of the word chapiadora has helped normalize sex in the Dominican Republic for everyone, not just the specific amount of women who do this. The word chapiadora was, actually according to this site, the most used word in the Dominican Republic in 2014.

So it comes to no surprise that there is a backlash now. We saw it against abortion rights in the Dominican Republic in 2015. Imagine the outrage in these meetings were laws were being written! The social and political respectability institutions must be losing their minds with so many women having sex out of wedlock and buying contraceptives and finding independence. 

And recently, the backlash is becoming more and more violent. By January 11th of this year, 7 women have already been murdered by their partners. The statistic by mid-2014 was also higher than it was in the previous year of 2013. 

We're seeing it in la Diaspora too in moments that remind us that our bodies aren't meant to be ours. 

And the way that this ends up being interpreted when the backlash happens is absurd and suggestive of how systems of oppression are perpetuated. People are suggesting that the woman in that video enjoyed being forced to walk naked down the street, that she should've fought back, that she deserved it--why is accountability being misplaced? Who are we protecting? Why is it so difficult for Dominican people to acknowledge sexism when it's in their face? 

The same is said about some of the feminicidios. There's warnings that women need to be careful with men. That "ella se lo busca". That if a man invests so much [money] in a woman then he owns her, she can't just leave him. Many feminicidios are ridiculously romanticized only to be justified as crimes of love. Meanwhile, the outrage for the homicide of men (which rarely happens) even after women express being brutalized by them is quadrupled. Poor women's stories don't always make it to the papers though they happen at staggering rates. 

Shifting the Narrative

Dominican women are coveted and hyper sexualized. And it seems that this entire time it has been okay, except now when many are using this to their advantage and without a male boss or system in place that makes it easy to navigate for men, and enjoying their time doing this as the sexual revolution continues. Women are even becoming front and center even in the music genre of dembow where they sing of sexuality. You can't tell me that a chapiadora or simply the women teaching each other sexual tricks at salones isn't somehow a testament of their ownership of sexuality (in a similar way in which men teach each other "how to get a girl to fuck you", which I bet they do, and are probably rapey as fuck about it). And yes, there are tensions in using sexuality as a mode of power when many are fighting for women's upward mobility to come via other forms. Still, shaming women for choosing sexual agency and using it to their advantage and pleasure is too a problem. 

Masculinity is attacked when patriarchy is attacked, and that becomes more apparent when women take ownership over anything. She has you agarrao by the balls and you don't fucking know how to handle it.

The resistance to this sexual agency by Dominican men--like that previously mentioned story--has historical ties dating to the commodification of women. And yet, it is also a painful example that with every action, there will be a reaction. And that old habits die hard. As a dominicana living in the United States, the over-sexualization and criminalization of my body follows me. And it follows us as a community wherever we go reminding us that this problem is global as well as internal. How can we process this violence against women when Dominican women have already been so hyper sexualized that sharing that video or story doesn't even seem out of the norm? How can we combat patriarchy when our voices are seldom even heard? Our brothers need to step up their game, while femme voices need to be centered. 

We must keep healing and speaking up and fighting to dismantle this racist capitalist hetero-patriarchal society that we live in. In the meantime, mujer, take time to process as these stories and realities come up. Continue building sisterhoods en los salones, en el trabajo, and other spaces--that individual support won't undo these oppressive structures on it's own, but it is key to healing and survival. 

Updated for clarification at 8am on January 22nd.


Unknown said...

hold up,you're exaggerating the sex workers thing,especially argentina/haiti seriously (the population of dominicans male and female barely is 3,000) in these countries and most are forced by sex trafficking by male dominican gangs (this happens everywhere really),it made sense if it was the other way around since some dr prostitutes even complain haitian prostitutes are invading the tourism places,they're also some colombians too,spain is a different story their is voluntary...but most prostitutes in dr are in puerto plata and boca chica,punta cana DOES NOT have prostitutes,jobs are coming in so hopefully it calms down,child exploitation is not all that common either but yes it happens,this happens in brazil and all over the world,the woman needs to respect herself,we need to respect ourselves,also not take nothing from no man. dominican women listen to dembow more than the men,they're influecing these little girls to dance like putas..you know this is true,we need to fix ourselves as a country as a whole. GOD BLESS.

Cristabelle said...

Actually, the word CHOPA comes from a variety of fish called pez chopo that when the tide was low got stuck in the reef and inflated itself taking as much water as it could to survive. The term migrated to how low income people got all dressed up to go to carnivals and became inflated with pride as they paraded in town with their best clothes (that 98% of the time weren't as nice as they thought) on the other hand I was too very frustrated with that guy that forced his girlfriend to walk nude on the streets as payback for her alleged infidelity (17 guys and a new mom? Who's he think he's kidding?) but even more frustrating was reading the comments of other women on the matter. Like my own mom usually says: a woman can be another woman's worst enemy.

Unknown said...

This article is full of bullsht

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