I’m adding to this post because it has come to my attention that someone reblogged it and added something that I want and need to correct. I tried to message this person directly but was unable to do so. El Paso is not a dangerous place to live, despite its proximity to Juarez (which while dangerous, is not so dangerous that I refuse to go there - things have been looking up). I’ve spent most of my life in El Paso, living so close to the border that I could see Juarez from my roof, and I’ve never felt like I was in any danger whatsoever. When I was growing up we never locked our front door. I felt safe leaving my home alone and went out often after dark, alone, with no fear. El Paso has consistantly been ranked among the safest cities in the country, and for good reason. Iv’e had peaople who are passing through ask me if it’s safe to stay in hotel in LAs Cruces and I laugh! It’s more than safe, really. The reblogged post is riddled with errors. El Paso is absolutly NOT comparable to cities “that have some of the sketchiest reputations in America” and there is no ” palpable terror in the air.” I assume that the “statue fo Mary on the mountaintop” refers to Mt. Cristo Rey which is, as the name implays, actually a statue of Jesus Christ. I go there all time, people are certainly still allowed to go there and they certainly do - the claim that “Now no one can go there because we’ll be immediately taken away” is laughable. I wouldn’t go there alone, but people go all the time in groups, particularly on religious holidays. It’s a beautiful experience and I highly recommend it. If you read this, paleotrees, and I hope you do, I ask that you delete your comments on my blog post. Thank you.
Ciudad Juarez, the Mexican sister-city to El Paso, Texas, sits snugly across the Rio Grande and is in many ways not unlike other border communities. The city boasts the types of street vendors selling colorful Mexican oddities, mouth-watering Mexican dishes, and lively night-life that is common to Mexican border towns throughout the southwest. Something unique one may notice when walking the streets of Ciudad Juarez, however, are the hundreds pink crosses that are lovingly placed along sidewalks, painted onto street poles, and placed as gravestones in the desert sand, each representing a woman or girl who has fallen victim to a horrific epidemic of gender-based murder that plagues the city. According to Lourdes Godinez Leal, journalist for the CIMAC (Communication and Information About Women)and author of “Combating Impunity and Femicide in Ciudad Juárez[,]” as of 2008, it was estimated that at least 430 women had been killed and 600 others had vanished from the streets of the city, a phenomenon that has generated a culture of fear among the women of Juarez (Leal 32). Teresa Rodriguez, investigative journalist for Univision and author of The Daughters of Juarez, reports that the bodies of the victims are viciously brutalized and dumped like trash as a rule; one of the young victims “endured such cruelty that the autopsy revealed she had suffered multiple stokes before her assailant finally choked the life from her” (2). This essay does not aim to investigate who is responsible for the crimes being committed against women in Ciudad Juarez, but rather aims to identify and analyze the specifically sexual nature of the crimes and to examine the possible social factors that give rise to these gender-based crimes.
It should go without saying that the victims of the particular type of crime in discussion in this essay are exclusively women, indicating that gender plays a role in the selection of the victims. Many of the victims that are specifically targeted for these atrocious murders are “young, pretty, and petite [girls], with flowing dark hair and full lips[,]” indicating that the perpetrators of these crimes seek out specific physical and gender-oriented traits when committing these crimes (Rodriguez 2). In addition to being women, those targeted as victims of these crimes are often employees of maquiladoras, or production factories owned by the United States which operate south of the border and provide low-wage assembly-line employment for the women of Mexican communities like Ciudad Juarez (Rodriguez 6). As reported by Jessica Livingston, author of “Murder in Juarez[,]” it is notable that maquiladoras are known for almost exclusively employing young women and that their employment is often explicitly based on their sexuality; employees are encouraged to “utilize [their] sexuality” and “wear miniskirts, high heels, and make-up to work[,]” which may indicate a factor in the brutal and overtly sexual nature of the crimes committed against these specific women (Livingston 61-62).
The crimes in question are indeed sexually oriented, much in the same way that their employment in the maquiladora is sexually oriented. The bodies of the victims were shown to exhibit “signs of rape, mutilation, and torture” (Rodriguez 2). Author and political activist Rosa Linda Fregoso is quoted in Livingston’s article as stating that many victims are found to have “been tortured and sexually violated: raped, strangled, or gagged. Mutilated, with nipples and breasts cut off, buttocks lacerated like cattle, or penetrated with objects” (quoted in Livingston 59). Julia Estela Monarrez Fragaso, in an essay which appears in Terrorizing Women:Femicide in the Americas, informs us that the locations in which the bodies are dumped have sexual implications as well: the victims have been “abandoned, stiff and inert, in one-dimensional, sexually transgressive settings: desert zones, empty car lots, stream beds, sewers, and garbage dumps” (quoted inFregoso and Bejarno 59).
The bodies are often found “nude and seminude[,]” a state that is humiliating not only for the victims, but for the families victims whose corpses are often unrecognizable and therefor unidentifiable without the aid of the girls’ clothing (quoted inFregoso and Bejarno 59). The bodies of the girls are often so brutally mutilated, as Rosa Linda Fragaso explains, with a directly sexual intention: “the destroyed [body and] vagina evoke […] the action and scrutiny of male aggression and female defenselessness” (quoted in Livingston 59). The victims have been therefor been stripped of their identities and reduced to “sexually fetishized commodities” (quotedFregoso and Bejarno 60). This type of violent act is targeted toward specific types of women on the basis of “gender, social class, and race of the victim [ …] from a deadly misogynistic perspective” (quoted inFregoso and Bejarno 61).
As a result of these sexually-charged crimes and the rampant, seemingly uncontrollable numbers in which the crimes occur, a new term has emerged in the vernacular of the border community: femicide:the systematic murder of women” (Leal 31). Femicide is a term that was coined, according to Maria Guadalupe Morfin Otero, author of “Violence Against the Women of Juarez[,]” by Jill Radford and Diana Russell and has been adopted by feminists on both sides of the border (Otero 45). The word defined “as the combination of “violent misogynist acts against women” and the institutional violence against women exerted by the authorities who block their access to justice” (Leal 33).
Unfortunately, femicide is the most heinous crime that exists in a city where there exists a broad culture of gender violence: in a single year (1988), “women in Juarez reported 800 cases of rape and over nine thousand cases of violence, including rape, kidnapping, and domestic violence” (Livingston 59). This gender-based type of violence is perhaps growing out of the much deeper and disturbing roots of patriarchal dominance that has existed for centuries in the general culture of Mexico, one that is threatened by an increasingly modern economic structure that gives rise to more powerful and independent women.
In the patriarchy of traditional Mexican culture, men expected to be the breadwinners of their families, and they expected passive and submissive wives who remained in the home caring for children. Mirta Vidal, author of The Unity of “La Raza” describes this type of gender stereotype as the “age-old concept of keeping the woman barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen” (quoted inLambers, n.p.). In the age of the maquiladora, however, women have found a way to escape the kitchen and gain financial and social independence.
The growing numbers of women taking jobs in the maquiladoras has created “a new phenomenon of mobile, independent – and vulnerable – working women” (Livingston 60). These women no longer rely on men to provide them with money; they are liberated and able to leave the home on their own, buy their own clothes, and have social lives independent of male supervision (Livingston 61). This reality turns traditional gender roles on their heads and has resulted in a backlash from the male community who regard these unconventional women with disdain (Livingston 61).
In a community and economy where it can be difficult for men to find jobs that allow them to provide for their families and therefor fulfill their traditionally powerful gender roles, men find themselves resenting young women who have gained economic freedom and who therefor assume more powerful roles within the culture. Their frustration and anger are consequently channeled toward gender-based violence, as Livingston explains: “The murders of the young women result from a displacement of economic frustration on to the bodies of the women who work in the maquiladoras. The construction of the working woman as ‘cheap labor’ and disposal within the system make it possible, and perhaps acceptable, to kill them with impunity” (60).
While the traditional gender roles of Mexico have relaxed over time, woman who venture out of the home on their own still, unfortunately, risk facing harsh punishment for their independence as the rampant gender violence in Cd. Juarez indicates. Teresa Rodriguez explains that in the patriarchal mentality that lingers within the Mexican tradition, “girls out on their own [such as maquiladora workers commuting to or from work or frequenting social establishments unescorted are] frowned upon and often assumed to be promiscuous” (21). “Activists believed it was this mind-set that prompted officials to overlook the growing number of poor Mexican girls whose violated, butchered bodies had been turning up in the desert” (21).
The patriarchal backlash that has resulted in these incidences of femicide also extends the men of Cd. Juarez’s law enforcement agencies, who do little if anything to help families find their missing daughters, identify the bodies of the victims, or bring the criminals responsible for these hideous sexual crimes to justice. Too often, when family members of a missing girl attempt to reach out to the authorities for help, they receive anything but the help they seek. Rodriguez asserts there has been outcry from women’s rights activists concerning the ways in which investigating policeman deflect fault onto the victims, suggesting that they, through some form of action or dress, were asking to be abducted or even willingly went off with their assailants. In a specific incident described by Rodriguez, a woman attempting to report the disappearance of her daughter Silvia was regarded with nothing short of contempt by the officer interviewing her. The officer asked questions about how often Silvia was known to frequent bars, if she had many boyfriends, if she liked to dress in miniskirts – questions clearly designed to implicate the victim rather than to help her family find her.
Eve Ensler, a renowned feminist, political activist, and author of Insecure at Last, confirms the ways in which victims of femicide are often implicated for the crimes committed against them: these women “were blamed for being mutilated and tortured because of what they’d been wearing” (92). One mother recounts an experience she had when confronting an investigating officer concerning her daughter who had been missing for years: “They told me my daughter was on the streets crazy with a man. They said terrible things. I told them I didn’t care if she was with a man on the streets. I wanted her alive no matter what she was doing. They made fun of me. I stopped going to them because I was humiliated” ( 98). According to Diana Washington Valdez “The authorities know who the killers are, and nothing’s being done about it” (quoted in Leal 32).
Ester Chavez of Casa Amiga, “a center for the battered, the raped, and the mothers of the murdered[,]” has helped survivors of the femicide to understand that they are not responsible for the crimes that have been committed against them, despite the ways in which the authorities tend to deflect blame onto the victims and their families: “’it doesn’t matter what you’re wearing[,]’” Ester says, “’no one has the right to do this to you’” (quoted in Ensler 95).
While the violence in Ciudad Juarez is not over or forgotten, there have been efforts by many, such as Ester Chavez, to bring closure to the survivors of these sexual crimes, the families of the deceased victims, and also to bring justice to the perpetrators of the crimes. Ana Carcedo, President of CEFEMINA (Centro Feminista de Información y Acción), has made great efforts to identify the cultural problems that lead to gender-based violence not only in Ciudad Juarez but throughout the Americas, stating that “this escalation is reversible once societies take measures, and States and regional bodies assume a leading role. We will not accept these deaths as inevitable, nor consider them part of irreversible changes, let alone part of our daily living or destiny.”In recent years, advances have been made within the legislature of Mexico, including “an increase in penalties for sexual abuse, [… ] sexual harassment, and the classification of rape within marriage as a crime” (Leal 33). While the abandoned bodies of many women have still yet to be identified and many women still fear for their lives in Ciudad Juarez, efforts are in place now to combat this gender-based violence and bring peace to a border city that has never really known a peaceful day. Perhaps someday, the women of this beautiful community will be able to walk to streets with confidence, secure that their lives and the lives of their daughters will not be threatened on a daily basis.
Carcedo, Ana. We will not forget Nor Will We Accept Femicide in Central America. 2006. Web.
Ensler, Eve. Insecure At Last: A Political Memoir. New York, NY: Villard Books, 2006. Print.
Fragaso, Julia Estela Monarrez. “The Victims of the Cuidad Juarez Femicide.” Terrorizing Women: Femicide in the Americas. Ed. Fregoso, Rosa Linda and Bejarano, Cynthia. Duke Univeristy Press, 2010. 59-69. Print.
Lambers, Erin., Kieft Kelly. Chicana Feminism. University of Michigan. Web. 16 October 2011.
Leal, Lourdes Godinez. Combating Impunity and Femicide in Cuidad Juarez.
Livingston, Jessica. “Murder in Juarez: Gender, Sexual Violence, and the Global Assembly Line.” Frontiers: 25.1 (2004) : 59-76. Web. 22 September 2011.
Otero, Maria Guadalupe Morfin. ““Violence Against the Women of Juarez.” Canadian Women Studies: 27.1. 45-49. Web 22 September 2011.
Rodriguez, Teresa. The Daughters of Juarez. New York, NY: Atria Books, 2007. Print.