In the past year or so, I’ve experienced and witnessed sexist behavior by a handful of Chicano men, a couple of them writers (non-bloggers), who in public express support for Chicana writers, their community activism, and their shared interest in social justice issues. I find it interesting that as long as Chicanas call other people and entities out on their oppressive actions, these Chicanos appear to support Chicanas. In fact, they appear to be thrilled about Chicana activism and when that activism is expressed in their writing because they recognize that our struggles are similar, that we are all hoping to live in socially-just communities and a peaceful world. They appear to be some of our biggest supporters and are sometimes generous about telling us so.
However, when Chicanas stand up for themselves when they believe these same Chicanos are acting in an oppressive manner towards them, these men cannot believe what is happening. In my recent experience, these handful of Chicanos unhappy with Chicanas standing their ground have responded with threats, power-trips, and general ugly behavior toward the women they hardly know (not that if they knew them well it would be acceptable, but that it is amazing how cruel they can be at the drop of a pin). It is even more shameful when this behavior occurs in public settings because it shows the importance of “audience” to witness the power play. It is a kind of violence, to humiliate people either publicly or privately. It appears that these “progressive” Chicano “allies” cannot believe what is happening so they respond like a sexist partner might when a woman says she wants to go back to school and not only be a housewife anymore. Lots of angry, loud, abusive threats. The attitude I’ve witnessed and experienced is along the lines of how dare these Chicanas act this way toward me? Do they know whom they are speaking to? Do they know how I can ruin them just like that because I am so powerful?
In one case (this did not happen to me but I will never forget it), there was some physical contact, some shoving on the part of the Chicano, along with his rude comments.
And even after the dust has settled, these same Chicanos have not at all attempted to communicate with the Chicanas about what happened. Instead of opening the lines of communication after the fact to seek out resolutions, their response in the ensuing weeks, months has been silence. But not silence in public. No, some of these men have decided to talk about the Chicanas to other people, spreading gossip and negative remarks about the women, sometimes while the women are in the same room, and never once admitting to their behavior. No, these women have suddenly and simply become “unreasonable putas" who they believe must be defamed in their communities so that they, these men, can continue running from themselves, running from their actions, running from the fear that they might have been wrong.
Dear Chicanas, you likely know this already, unfortunately, but old-school machismo is alive and well among even the most seemingly “progressive.” I know that “machismo” is a complex term and I do not at all want to suggest that sexism is a given in our culture. I also do not want to suggest that higher education reverses sexist behavior. This is specifically about Chicanos who actively seek out Chicana allies, yet still expect to maintain a comfortable, patriarchal position in their “support"--and use divide and conquer tactics when they feel Chicanas have "dishonored them" by "daring" to question their behavior.
I would like to publicly urge all Chicanos who have treated a sister poorly because she was critical of your sexist behavior to stop the cycle of abuse. Stop trying to ruin reputations (as if you could) because of your pride and your inability to discuss these issues openly. Stop regressing and please start treating your Chicana sisters with respect and care. Please read or re-read Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldúa. Here is some of what she says: “From the men of our race, we demand the admission/acknowledgment/
disclosure/testimony that they wound us, violate us, are afraid of us and of our power. We need them to say they will begin to eliminate their hurtful, put-down ways. But more than words, we demand acts. We say to them: We will develop equal power with you and those who have shamed us.”
I never thought that these words would also include Chicanos like you who have showed your support of Chicanas and continue to show support of other Chicanas you have not put-down. I hope you know that one act of support to a Chicana does not erase negative behavior to another. When will you really step up to the plate and address your recent actions? We will not let your threats and your scare tactics weigh on us. We will write about how we feel to reduce the weight of your oppressive behavior and to educate others. It is a shame that you too are a negative part of our struggle. I want to say what a shame it is that we trusted you (and in some cases, promoted your work because we believed in it), but it is not our fault that we trusted you. We will continue to trust our Chicano friends, allies, children, relatives... It is not our fault that you are unable to communicate in a reasonable way and that you resort to public humiliations, scare tactics, gossip and the like. We will not blame ourselves for your behavior, though we are concerned, as a result of your behavior towards us, about how you treat other women. We will no longer remain silent in an effort to protect the public image of all Chicana/os. You should not find us “easy targets” any longer. That is a figment of your imagination, that our kindness and our openness are weaknesses. Your behavior is a reflection of you, not us. We are concerned that you must have a lot of unresolved anger toward women, unless you are also prone to treating men the same way as well. Then we are doubly concerned. May you some day recognize that Chicanas and women are not your oppressors. May you some day find peace in yourself and the world around you.
It is unlikely that those who ought to read this letter ever will, but I am putting it out in the world with the hope that others will stumble upon it--Chicanas, Chicanos, Chicana/os, Chican@s [it's unfortunate that I've had to use so many gender-specific labels in this post--I know that the labels get troublesome--but this discussion, unfortunately, calls for gender-specificity] and anyone interested--and find a positive use for reading these words so that we can seek peace and try to prevent further and future humiliations.
I would like to thank all of the wonderful Chican@ allies, writers, and activists who recognize and address sexist behavior in our community. Wonderful, wonderful gente who are communicative, generous, and amazing friends and acquaintances. Thank you, as well, to all of the Chicanas who did the hard work of years past. Already in my lifetime I have seen change. Thank you to Gloria Anzaldúa, Sandra Cisneros, Ana Castillo, Norma Cantú, and many many more whose words have helped and continue to help us see the light in the struggle.