Last night, over some ‘chelas’ with some new Chilean friends, we got talking about (checks surroundings) …feminism. I’m in northern Chile in a small town of 300 people and sat at the table with me is a local couple with their 14-year-old daughter, my summer fling and his 15-year-old daughter. We’ve just been singing really bad karaoke and they show me a video of a new 18 year old Chilean singer who has hit the Latin music scene of Trap (Span-glish pop music). She is young and beautiful and her auto-corrected voice sings with a nonchalant charm. She isn’t particularly scantily clad but the video does tend to focus on her oversized bosoms and tightly-wrapped ‘nalgas’.
I look at the two young ladies sitting at the table who are singing along to the song. The younger one is a kick-ass kitesurfer who only that day landed a really tough freestyle trick much to the joy of her coach father. The other one wants to be a model and in looks is not far off the singer in the video. I think back to that age, when you’re aware you’re becoming an adult but are still trying to figure out what that means. You look for inspiration from people around you and maybe even start to imitate and try things out for size. It’s a sweet age in retrospect but agony whilst you’re going through it.
I mention how annoying it is that young women today (and in the past) have these women as inspiration. This Chilean singer looks pretty innocent but in the same genre is Becky G and Natty Nat who are renowned for their insinuating lyrics and their seriously sexy videos. Looking at the young kitesurfer, I think, how awesome would it be for her to have a reggaetón video where the singer is slicing up the waves or jumping 10m in the air? They all agree.
I tell them about my dream to make a Spanglish reggaetón song and video that promotes the idea that sexy women aren’t just big boobs and butts (it will definitely include some kitesurfing) and which has a strong feminist message to deliver to these young women. But this is where I lose them. Or should I say, the men.
It seems the word feminist is just too provocative. The minority in the room (2 men to 4 women) the men suddenly commandeer the space with their loud voices and arguments leaving little space for debate. The other ladies at the table noticeably give them space as seems common here. The blokes start to verbally attack this idea of feminism and use the age-old argument that feminism wants to destroy men and masculinity and how it is dangerous for society and how these ‘women’ are crazy. How it’s the women themselves that are keeping machismo alive and maintaining inequality. You can clearly see their vulnerability and fear within these arguments.
I give them space to speak because there is no point losing my voice over theirs but as soon as is possible, I make my arguments for feminism. As I explain that, for me, feminism is simply about choice and the ability to make one’s own decisions for oneself and not about taking away power from men but about meeting them at their level, I notice the silent nods from the ladies sat around me. I talk about my show Manuelita and the need to hear about more female stories in history that can inspire young women of today to break out of the cycle of patriarchal roles of women as either mother/saint versus whore.
They agree. Of course they agree. But the moment I mention the word feminism again, it’s back to crazy women who are going to end the world. They say that women here have Gabriela Mistral and the fact that Chile had a female president last term as if that was an answer for all the gender imbalance throughout history. They start to separate the Latin world from the European and the progressive societies from the under-developed which annoys me because I don’t agree there should be a difference. It’s a global issue and no side has nailed it yet.
We agree to disagree on the word feminism and drink some more pisco.
I have chatted with the young kitesurfer again since our karaoke eve. She herself brought up the issue…what she called ‘what we were discussing the other night’. She seemed keen to talk more about it and we happily indulged each other behind her father’s back. Also, since then, I chatted to a young 17 year old Argentinian boy who, unlike the older Chilean men, was tremendously articulate about the topic of feminism and was very willing to listen rather than be heard. It was so refreshing and gave me hope that, like the UK, this next generation will keep talking, listening and developing with each other. Perhaps for my generation, those who want to move forward will just have to be content with some sneeky teenage behind-the-shed feminist meetups.