The Argentine Mi Tú
“APRIL IS THE CRUELEST MONTH,” the little silhouette of Joaquito C shouts at my friend Daniela and me as he disappears into a cold Almagro night. It is the beginning of autumn of 2017, and the southern hemisphere has started to chill after intense, boiling summer months. We go back inside: upstairs, in the cultural center La Hormiga de Oro, the Justa Poetica poetry slam is taking place. Around 200 people are reciting poetry, drinking their Sunday sorrows in cheap beer, and judging silently from the comfort of their Instagram stories. As soon as we arrive, we whisper to Lucía, a feminist journalist and activist: everything is okay. Joaquito, the brother and defender of a well-reputed writer accused of several sexual assault cases, has left at our request.
I met Daniela in 2014 and, long before founding the Justa Poetica, we bonded over having been harassed by the same Twitter-famous, somewhat influential journalist Lucas Carrasco. Since then, Lucas has been denounced by countless women for sexual abuse and harassing minors, and finally faced trial at the end of 2017. In the span of those three years, before Time’s Up and #MeToo exploded, a mass of public accusations of sexual violence took Buenos Aires by storm.
The Girls’ Own Batman
From our present vantage point—as always, history is articulated only retrospectively—we can place Lucas Carrasco’s case within a broader movement. Let’s name it, for lack of a better translation, Argentina’s “Mi Tú:” a third-wave feminist phenomenon that exposed systematic violence at the hands of powerful musicians, filmmakers, actors, comedians, photographers, writers, artists, school principals, and university professors. The complicated reality is that, if you have ever lived in Buenos Aires or have been in contact with porteños, someone you know may have faced an accusation.
Even though it has improved dramatically in the last decade, Argentina’s justice system is not effective in addressing gender violence and sexual abuse. In a country where a woman dies every 30 hours due to patriarchal violence, the number of abuse, rape, and harassment accusations are ascending even more rapidly than our country’s inflation rates, while the number of cases that actually proceed through the legal system is continuously decreasing.
In these cases of impotence in front of the law, there are two immediate, primitive solutions. Latin America presents us either with the comic-book answer, by which an individual vigilante takes responsibility and fights crime, or the community-based solution of performing a public, collective denunciation. Within this dichotomy, Argentina’s Mi Tú found its own justice mechanism: a communal, non-violent, Batman-like rhetoric, if you will, called escracho.
Arguably translatable as “blowing out,” the rhetoric of escracho is composed of two main aspects: a detailed account of the crime, and a public, confessional platform to viralize it. The victims, in these cases mostly women, undergo the experience of explaining their incredibly complex memories of a case of sexual abuse online, mainly through Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Sometimes this takes the shape of a mere chronicle of what happened, other times it comes accompanied by evidence (screenshots of violent messages or photographs of wounds.) Through escracho, a woman recognizes a personal situation of violence and, in the midst of a deeply misogynist culture, decides to tell the story on her own terms. Through this personal, organized narrative, escracho generates a public exhibition of violence which both creates empathy and allows the woman to appropriate and reclaim a particularly traumatic set of events.
Escracho was born in the early 2000s, during the massive economic crisis that struck Argentina at the end of the millennium. During times of scarcity, it was common for civilians neglected by the state to follow politicians and demand justice at the doors of their houses or their workplaces—some of them resorting to physical attacks to communicate their grievances. In 2002, a former Minister of Economy for Galtieri's violent dictatorship found himself in the center of Buenos Aires surrounded by caceroleros, protestors who bang pots and pans together to loudly shame politicians. A group of these protestors ran after the ex-Minister and knocked him over, kicking him while he lay in the street. The strategy was violent, but demonstrative: it was a desperate expression of social injustice.
Today, the feminist movement is reformulating this form of protest. It is now exercised not with metal pans but with touchscreens, physical attacks have been replaced with verbal denunciations, and the target is no longer the government, but prominent men who benefit from local structures of misogyny. Within a culture that systematically protects not only its corrupt politicians but also its machos, the Mi Tú movement shifted the approach of the escracho. It now functions not only as online punishment, but also as a mode of public warning: the targets of escracho bear a digital label that can be more harmful than a criminal record. Here is an abuser, it seems to suggest. Never give him a job again, cut ties with him if you’re his friend, run away from your relationship if you’re his girlfriend. These posts are typically accompanied by responses from men and women alike, all of which carry one demand: don’t forget this face.
There are, of course, potential reservations to hold against escracho. Anonymity, unnecessary exposure for the victims, and the potential viralization of “fake” stories could be dangerous consequences of the use of escracho as a mechanism of defense. However, in 2018, this rhetoric is not only necessary, but also a sign of the times. Feminist, collective memory is the main channel through which abused women are finding justice today in Argentina.
“in the midst of a deeply misogynist culture, [she] decides to tell the story on her own terms.”
Whatever happened to rock’n’roll
One of the main ways collective escrachos metamorphosize from isolated cases to a wave of public accusations is through an accumulation of horrific experiences with certain public figures. When one or more women denounces an abusive, high-profile man online, it gets shared and reproduced, which clears a path for other women to come out and face their abusers. Female friendships with an unconventional genesis, like mine with Daniela, now exist all throughout the country. This is especially true within the music industry around indie rock stars—the supposed pinnacle of Argentine progressive masculinity, a contradictory performance that is defined more by sadboys wearing Adidas on stage and invoking Mac DeMarco as a deity than by feminism as a progressive ideal. These men hold, more often than not, an inherently macho attitude towards women.
The beginning of this collective exhaustion with abusive rockstars could be pinned to 2010, when Eduardo Vázquez, drummer for the band Callejeros, set his wife Wanda Taddei on fire during a domestic fight. This already controversial character (Callejeros was found partially guilty of the massacre that ended 200 rock fans’ lives) exposed a larger problem within Argentine society. This violent, public attack on a woman and the collective indignation that it caused leveled the field for other women to speak out.
In 2016, a groundbreaking video appeared on YouTube, in which a young woman named Mailén Frías sat in front of a camera on a brown couch and explained the details of her intimate, abusive relationship with Miguel Del Pópolo, leader of the poorly-named band La Ola Que Quería Ser Chau (The wave that wanted to be goodbye). Not long after the video’s release, a stream of additional accusations against other musicians arose, ending the careers of figures such as Cristian Aldana, Gustavo Cordera, The Utopians and, recently, most of Onda Vaga’s formation. Cristian Aldana now sits in jail on hunger strike, sending letters to congress about the “witch hunt” and its complications. Gustavo Cordera is currently on trial for suggesting young women secretly want to be raped during a public conference. Onda Vaga’s European tour has cancelled most of its dates. Inversely, The Utopians’ former frontwoman, Barbie Recanati, launched her solo career after departing from her abuser colleagues, and now sings feminist anthems as a truer embodiment of the rebellious spirit of rock’n’roll.
To be fair, most of these men’s music was pretty bad to start with. However, in a society that deifies musicians almost pathologically, this movement should not be overlooked. Women are killing their gods and making up new ones—ones that belong to systems that exist outside archaic modes of patriarchal violence.
After the first wave of public accusations, escrachos infiltrated every microcosm of Argentine society with the diligence of Japanese, all-female termite colonies. Argentina’s president was pilloried online for claiming that “every woman wants to be catcalled.” Major actors and public figures were targeted, but so was every former abuser in local communities: teenage girls in secondary schools took not only to social media, but also to their graduation speeches to expose what had happened to them during several years of structural abuse—in parties and events that everyone went to. This October, during a graduation ceremony for one of Buenos Aires’ elite schools, three young women took the stage and accused their peers, professors, and the principal of the school of either committing or being complicit in sexual harassment. “We are here to denounce the institutional violence that was executed and encouraged by the educational community,” they said. Some attendees took offense and left, while others stayed and applauded. Around twenty girls stood beside them, wearing the national symbol of women’s rights: a green handkerchief. They described wrenching cases of sexual violence: “A class administrator commented about the length of our skirts daily, kissed us, touched us, and let us skip school if he was attracted to us. Some staff members commented on our asses, tried to vote on the ‘best ass of the class,’ and one of them emphasized how much he would like to fuck one of our then-fifteen-year-old classmates.”
In the midst of massive marches to end femicides and to legalize abortion, a process of a public reconfiguration of sexual-affective dynamics also occurred, perhaps in the best terms possible. Consent was discussed for the first time, abusive behaviors were exposed, and escracho provided women with enough information to understand their relationships outside patriarchal terms. No longer is it possible, for example, to conceive any sexual or emotional involvement between a minor and an adult as valid and legal.
The question of how these men will apologize, and how, or if, they are ever going to reintegrate into public life, remains to be seen. However, feminism, for the über-machista Argentine culture, became a paradigm shift, an essential way to reconfigure the basic approach to relationships between men and women. Women and girls now protect each other, find places of congregation, and meet to march in the name of sorority. In fact, saying that it is an “Argentine Mi Tú” could be an understatement: it was not a mere importation or a translation effort, but a structural need coming from the core of the society, with its own logic and its own idiosyncrasy. It is a fundamental change in which relationships and discourse, particularly violent ones, are not and will not be tolerated anymore. Walk into any school, library, bookstore or even the streets of Buenos Aires: everywhere the walls seem to state with urgency “No nos callamos más.” Women will never be silent again. ❖