Patriarchy and Machismo in Venezuela: An Interview with Comadres Purpuras (Part I)

What are the origins of these concepts in Venezuelan society, and how does this feminist collective look to overcome them?

By La Clase
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The Comadres Púrpuras are a Venezuelan feminist collective. (Archive)
The Comadres Púrpuras are a Venezuelan feminist collective. (Archive)

In this first installment of a two-part interview, Venezuelan leftist news outlet La Clase (Class) talks to a member of the feminist collective Las Comadres Púrpuras (Purple Comrades or Purple Sorority), to discuss the concepts of feminism and patriarchy, and explain the struggles ahead, with specific emphasis on the Venezuelan case.

Who are the Comadres Púrpuras?

The Comadres Púrpuras are a group of comrades and friends that study and work together, and two years ago we formed this collective. It is a space of feminist activism where it is possible for different perspectives to come together amidst the extreme polarization we find in Venezuela. There are two hegemonic discourses, one in favor of chavismo, call it oficialismo, and another from the right-wing opposition which we certainly do not endorse.

Therefore, the Comadres Púrpuras are a space for this alternative discourse that does not subscribe to either hegemonic pole, a space of constant struggle and reflection about the demands of women for a country where gender equality and all women’s rights are truly guaranteed, especially those of poor women. These are the ones with the least access to the state’s policies, which are often absent.

Furthermore, it is important to stress that it is an autonomous group. We are an autonomous feminist collective, because we do not depend on any state institution nor on any political party.

Can you define patriarchy and feminism?

Patriarchy is an ideological, political and economic system. A system of control, just like there were, and still are, other systems of control such as slavery, racism and xenophobia. It is an ideological system that reproduces itself in daily life from relations of power, where there is a supremacy of men and everything masculine over women and everything feminine. Historically we have known women as second-class citizens, the weaker sex, property of their husbands and of the state, a non-entity. Even worse than minors, because women even when coming of age remain under the tutelage of their husbands or of the state.

The most notorious logic that emerges from patriarchy is machismo, this ideology that imposes the masculine position, and the rights and needs of men above those of women. And it is not like feminists now want the opposite, that women subjugate men. What we are demanding is equal conditions, embracing differences and diversity, since men and women are not equal, but are equal as humans. Even so, there are differences in the social constructs of gender. The problem is not that we are different, but that this difference has been constructed to minimize women.

The woman is always excluded, isolated, voiceless, with someone else speaking for her. We achieved the incorporation of women in higher education last century, and men had had access for a long time, at least those from a privileged economic background. If we are supposedly equal citizens, why do we need to struggle for a right that men already had? The same holds for many other things, such as the right to vote, for example. Women did not vote because they were not considered rational people and therefore did not have the critical ability to vote. Therefore, we can see that systems of control such as patriarchy and capitalism make their discourses and practices more technical over time. We don’t have women in positions of power other than those who behave like men, and we call them feminarchs or femocrats.

Machismo becomes an ideology, a practice, and brings with it other logics such as androcentrism, which places men as the reference for everything. Then we have disciplines such as anthropology, which is the study of men, understood as all of mankind, when women have a different social construct and therefore a different worldview. That is what we want to rescue: to have our voice count as much as those of men, and our rights protected like those of men. In short, patriarchy is a system that infiltrates our ideas but also day to day life, and has to do with the superiority of men and the masculine sphere over the feminine one.

What is masculine? When we say that there are careers for men or for women, this may not be so relevant anymore, but is still there. Or when we say that raising children is a woman’s job, there is a sexist logic that makes it seem like men cannot raise their own children. Therefore child rearing and housekeeping are minimized, when in fact they are quite important. If the house is not kept and there is no food, all the rest falls apart. The worker can go to work because behind him there is a woman who cooks. These are old discussions but a reality that still exists. We do believe that there has been progress and that some men are deconstructing this sexist logic, understanding that domestic chores and raising children are also their responsibilities. Or that these university careers that are “for women” can also be fulfilled by men, such as being kindergarten teachers, for example. There are men who would enjoy being kindergarten teachers but our macho, sexist society does not allow it.

I would like to draw attention to a misconception, as many people talk about Venezuela as being a matriarchal country, because women run the household, women “wear the pants”, which is assigning us the rank of men, since men are the ones who wear pants.

There is no matriarchy, as that would be a political, cultural and economic system where women would be above men. We have the complete opposite. We are a mother-centric or matrilineal society, which is not the same as matriarchy, but certainly the home and schools are centered on the mother, the female figure. Keep in mind that is not just the mother who raises children in Venezuelan families, but also an aunt, grandmother, friend, but always a woman, therefore the mother-centric idea. And it is matrilineal because patriarchy separates men from child rearing responsibilities and from the co-responsibilities at home, which makes it so that the mother's role reproduces from generation to generation. But this does not make us first class citizens on a par with men, it means that there is a machismo that makes men abstain from their main responsibility in raising their own children.

Feminism is a theory developed in social sciences and a movement for liberation and emancipation of women, who are the main ones oppressed, mistreated and excluded by patriarchy and machismo. Furthermore, thanks to feminism, it was shown that patriarchy as a system of domination and control also oppresses men, who cannot express affection or love, because these are the practices of homosexuals. Men are taught to express rage. That is why we hear that crying is a girly thing and men do not cry. Of course, being a girl is bad and crying is bad. Therefore, men are told to suppress their emotions and this has consequences, even biological ones, because when all that is expressed is bravado and anger that makes cardiovascular disease more likely.

Feminism has allowed for the visualization of the subjugation of men who do not obey patriarchal rules, which is to be macho and thus violent, the hero that protects women. Men who transgress these rules, heteronormativity and mandatory heterosexuality, find themselves in harmful situations, because under the patriarchal ideology being homosexual is bad, as you are neither a man nor a woman.

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Comadres Púrpuras during a protest in Caracas. (La Clase)
Comadres Púrpuras during a protest in Caracas. (La Clase)

What do you think about sisterhood?

Sisterhood, or sorority, is a political choice inside feminism, which has to do with creating a counterpart to brotherhood, fraternity, which are concepts that are more to do with men. Therefore sisterhood is a political choice and obviously a different perspective at the level of language, that is also a part of feminism. In Spanish it is important to establish a gender language, because what is not named does not exist. If you do not talk about “las trabajadoras” (female workers), then women are not contemplated. Sorority comes from the prefix sor, sister, and feminism embraces it as a different path, to above all define this union of women as well as this emphasis on language. From the feminist perspective this is an important struggle, a hard one at that, and to understand a fellow woman I do not need to be her friend, she is simply a women. If she is being subjected to violence, or being ill-treated, I need to support her as a women, regardless of where she lives, what class she comes from, if she is black, a lesbian, as above all she is a women who is being excluded just like me. If she is poor then she is twice excluded, three times if she is black and four times if she is a lesbian. It is a struggle because not all women understand this, and sisterhood is focused on this. That is what we try to address, and even if we sometimes make mistakes, at least we are trying, we are focused on this process of reflection.

Furthermore, there is some confusion over some feminist terms, one of them being the superiority of women over men, something referred to as hembrism. Sexism is a double standard in referring to the same thing, even at the level of language. For example, when we say that the woman is a cook but the man is a chef, or that the man is a stylist but the women is a hairdresser, or being foxy means being astute if it is a man, and a prostitute if it is a woman. It is the same word but with different meanings if you are a man or a woman, always less favorable to women. Sexism is also saying that there are different jobs for men and women, that I cannot sweep the floor because that is a woman’s job. Sexism is also a division, two poles of the same reality. Cleaning should apply to everyone, not just women.

In truth, I believe this is also a struggle within feminist collectives, to realize that our struggle is not against men, even though we position ourselves against our aggressors, men who rape and kill women, who reproduce the unequal relations. But our struggle is to fight against an ideological system that generates these practices. For us it is important that men join the feminist movement, for as they incorporate and reflect about this system of control, they will realize that they are also dominated. Not on the same terms as women, but dominated still, oppressed by this system. Men are victims of this order of masculine hegemony. Ever since they are little they are told that a self-respecting macho does this or that, that they need to have multiple female partners, that their sexual organ belongs to women. They are not taught to protect themselves. Many men become sexually active in brothels, which makes sexual relations repress pleasure. Some even start with animals. What kind of affection can a man have if his first sexual relation was with a mare or a mule? There the goal is not affection. But that is a struggle within feminist collectives: to highlight that patriarchy oppresses us all and incorporate men in our fight.

What are the traces and causes of patriarchy in Venezuelan society?

Machismo is the product of many factors in Venezuela, but I would like to bring up some practical examples. Regardless of economic status, in many Venezuelan families we have the figure of the man who is absent and gets home late, for different reasons: he might have a lot of work or be having drinks with friends. The woman then ends up running the household, which is where the expression “behind every man there is a woman” comes from. Behind this man who disappears, who does not come home, who pays no attention to his children, there is a woman, and there we find machismo.

Another trace is the violence that women are subjected to, and it goes beyond the women who are beaten and raise the most alarm. There are many women subjected to verbal and psychological violence. There are men who harass women, believing they belong to them. This can be reflected in marriages. Even authors like Rousseau, in his book Emile, states that the wife is the property of the husband. This can be found all across the world, and in Venezuela as well. There is a belief that the girlfriend, sexual partner, wife, is the property of the man. That is machismo. Some women are kept isolated, for example. They are not allowed to attend classes, to work, or to visit relatives. This happens all across Latin America, in Abya Yala, which is how the continent was known before the colonizers arrived. There was an indigenous patriarchy, it was not all peace and love, although there was a higher communal participation of women. But after the arrival of the colonizers there was a violent implementation of European patriarchy. This morphs over time to arrive at the current situation, and we will go on having it if we do not fight back against patriarchy.

There are many factors that contribute to the reproduction of patriarchy in Venezuela. No government to date has accounted for the need to overcome the macho logic. If in the national government, the multiple ministries, there is no identification of this macho logic, then we are alone in this fight. It is necessary that the state recognize that this logic exists, and work to deconstruct it across all state institutions. For example, if we do not have a gender policy in the Ministry of Education, our boys will continue studying in macho schools.

Translated by Ricardo Vaz for Venezuelanalysis.com

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