A Discussion about Lesbian Roles and Depictions in Mexico

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Originally published by Americas Quarterly on Aug. 18th, 2014.

LGBT cyber-activists took to the web last week to publically denounce Mexico City’s 3rd International Lesbian Festival. Through acommuniqué posted on Facebook, nearly 20 LGBT organizations and collectives and around 50 individual signatories condemned the festival as a vehicle for perpetuating misogyny and machismo. They also criticized a number of authorities for vouching for the festival and participating in its organization, including Mexico City Labor Secretary Patricia Mercado and Jacqueline L. Hoist Tapia, who is the president of the Consejo para Prevenir y Eliminar la Discriminación (Council to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination in Mexico City —COPRED).

It sounds counterintuitive that LGBT groups would oppose an event that claims to support their cause and promote equal rights—and which could not even be hosted in more conservative cities in the country today. So why are these groups opposing the festival?

There are a number of reasons: for one, the festival’s promotional materials include highly sexualized images of women clad in lingerie, and the festival’s agenda includes an event called “The Bunny Party,” sparking comparisons to the men’s magazinePlayboy. Also drawing criticism is the festival’s “coronation ceremony” and a workshop on applying makeup.

In their communiqué, groups opposing the festival write that “while it is fundamental to have cultural, artistic, political and leisure space for lesbians, we find it appalling that these spaces are provided under the basis of gender stereotypes that are misogynistic andmachista. Instead of contributing to the empowerment and freedom of lesbian women from the roles that have oppressed us for ages […] the festival reproduces them with singular joy.” According to the communiqué, the festival’s publicity “only represents white, thin women […]showing women as objects the way male adult magazines would.”

La Tortillería Queretana, an organization that originally participated in the festival, publically bowed out of its scheduled theatrical performance, stating that, “our view is both lesbian and feminist. We are not willing to participate in a machista event.”

Parts of the festival’s agenda seem like they could be consistent with the mission to promote equality and LGBT rights. Events such as the screening of a documentary titled“Lesfriendly,” a soccer tournament, and discussions about workplace challenges and professional opportunities for lesbian women in Mexico could all be interesting or useful to those who might have attended the festival, if not for the festival’s insensitive and objectifying portrayal of women.

Yet the outcry that the festival has generated is also a testament to the progress that Mexican LGBT advocacy groups have made in the recent years in order to get their message across.  The LGBT community in Mexico City and its surrounding cities has clearly built up an effective network that not only promotes LGBT inclusion and acceptance, but also seeks to enforce the guidelines, principles and standards of said inclusion. It is no longer about recognizing the LGBT community’s existence; it’s about being portrayed the way they want to be portrayed and defying traditional stereotypes.

Whether one agrees with the collective or not, the fact remains that these conversations are finally taking place out in the open. Hopefully, this level of activism and social engagement will spread to the rest of the country in the years to come. A cultural transformation, in which Mexicans learn to be more tolerant and respect diversity of all kinds, would help alleviate some of our strongest grievances and obstacles for peaceful interaction.

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