Culture, harassment and society; of hegemonies and feminisms

Reception: November 27, 2019

Acceptance: December 11, 2019

Acoso. ¿Denuncia legítima o victimización?

Marta Lamas, 2018 Economic Culture Fund, Mexico.

The last work of the anthropologist and feminist Marta Lamas1 verify that a title is performative. The question with which he intends to introduce us to the content challenges, whether it is challenging or attractive. In Mexico, the reception has been favorable although not very critical (Zapata, 2018; Toriz, September 26, 2018; Vélez, 2019), with some exceptions (Fernández de la Reguera Ahedo, 2019; Estévez, 2019). In the activist scene, it has generated the rejection of young feminists and the Mexican Network of Diverse Feminists (November 21, 2018).

“Harassment and confusion” (April 17, 2019, latfem), the first review in Argentina, recognizes Lamas' legacy and, at the same time, discards the approach with which he problematizes harassment. On this line, it declares that the "last wave of the feminist tide broke out to transform the exchange pacts",2 affirmation that vindicates the “fourth wave” with which the current transnational mobilizations around different feminist demands are included. In the South American country, this wave would be inexplicable without thinking about the "green tide", with which the fight for the legalization of abortion is described. Although Lamas does not dialogue with the “fourth wave” - as Diana Maffia points out (March 24, 2019, Perfil) - since it is not his purpose, he ignores it completely, although he mentions Rita Segato, one of his most important references (pp. 14, 48-49).

The main objective of the book is to criticize the “hegemonic discourse of harassment”. Although it never makes explicit what it understands by hegemony,3 in its arguments we can see that it has a coercive notion. Furthermore, hegemony is also interpreted as a tension between coercion and consensus; that is, fighting (Roseberry, 1994). Thus, he frames his argument in the debate between the movement #MeToo and the manifest Nous défendons une liberté d'importuner, indispensable to the liberté sexuelle (Le Monde, January 5, 2018) whose “axis of confrontation” was harassment (p.12), which would become a cultural difference around the “wars of sexuality” in usa and in France. With an essentialist prescription of "American culture" as puritanical and "French culture" as seductive, he analyzes the "cultural dispute" around sexuality based on cases involving sexual aspects.4

"The initial aspiration of feminism, which sought joyous and guiltless sex, has become a perpetual denunciation of the trauma of sexual violence" (2018: 116) is a insight in Lamas's position on this cultural dispute, reaffirmed by the incorporation of the manifesto at the end of the work. Faced with the notion that sexual freedom can imply awkwardness and rejection, the #MeToo it would be part of a conservative feminism that would make all sexual requirements synonymous with harassment (2018: 84). Therefore, it would be contradictory to an alleged achievement of the "sexual revolution", on which Lamas does not mention criticism (Fraser, 2012; de Miguel, 2015) or historical processes different from those of usa and France (Cosse, 2008; Felitti, 2010; Schild, 2015).

This exclusion is striking given that, throughout the content, it indicates the “social gap” generated by the championing of a feminism –in this case, the radical one– whose production conditions are alien to its own. It is at this point that he finds that it is a "hegemonic discourse" - delimited by radical feminists and protected by governance feminists (p. 11) - that evokes "womanism" and "victimhood", translated into a " punitive and prison turn ”that has crystallized women as“ powerless and oppressed victims ”and men as“ violent and dominating perpetrators ”(pp. 53-54).

Lamas distinguishes “womanism-victimhood” from the “feminist approach that defends the need to carry out political work with women” (p. 52). Although it does not specify what this work would consist of, to support this differentiation it refers to the ideas of the academic Janet Halley towards the dominance feminism, which would imply thinking about the possible combinations between harm, innocence and immunity (p. 55). So it would seem to lean towards an intersectional perspective, which is presented in the examination of the complaint made by the Mexican journalist Tamara de Anda against a taxi driver who called her "pretty", a term that –from her gaze– would not be "harassment" but a "compliment", for its "positive cultural charge."

So, he speculates: “I don't know if Tamara would have reacted the same if instead of a taxi driver (dark and short) a handsome and blond young man had thrown the 'pretty' at her. I am afraid that the context of the incident is also crossed - intersected - by racism and classism ”(p. 87). Next, he argues that in "Judeo-Christian societies" there is a cultural ideal around femininity marked by a "virtuous sexual behavior" (pp. 88-91). Their aspiration to problematize in an intersectional way the game between categories that cross the interactions of the different sectors of Mexican society lacks the necessary methodological rigor, and contributes to the “embarrassment” (shaming) of the actions of Tamara de Anda.

With a brief account of the regulation of harassment in the universities of usa During the eighties, it historicizes the "verbal lynchings", escraches and other "terrorist actions" (p. 68), where there was a growth of "sexual panic" - a type of "moral panic" - tinged with "androphobic", due to the influence of radical feminism (p. 58), in which sex and sexuality were advertised as dangerous; He omits to say that in South American countries, such as Argentina, the escrache dates from the post-dictatorship.

On this line, the author questions –from psychoanalysis– the primacy of subjectivity in reporting harassment –the "if you felt that you were harassed, it was because it was so" - because she finds an interference of unconscious elements and fantasies, as well as intolerance , confusion, hypersusceptibility and resentments; this set would invalidate the responsibility of another person (pp. 61-67). However, it individualizes a collective process of construction of a public problem and makes a generational cultural change invisible.

Another question raised is whether the "instrumental sexual exchanges" in which a woman obtains an economic and / or labor "benefit" can be classified as harassment. From his point of view, no; and the use of erotic capital5 on the part of women to get something is part of the uses and customs. Before advocating for the elimination of this practice, Lamas considers that there must be a redistribution of economic and political capital that, for the most part, continues in the hands of men; As long as this does not happen, it remains to destigmatize them (2018: 135). But to be relegated to the use of erotic capital by a hierarchy defined by male domination would be to contribute to its normalization, rather than to its transformation.

After identifying the common meanings that circulate in the "hegemonic discourse", the author proposes to redefine harassment. In this framework, it defines sexual harassment as systematic conduct. According to his classification, if this happened once it would be a “sexual abuse”; "Sexual harassment" would be a type of "workplace harassment"; and the “macho social harassment” would zigzag the trap of “female victimhood” –product of the “womanism” of radical feminism (p. 144) -, since it would contemplate the harassment that men and trans people can receive and experience.

Lamas maintains that in Mexico seven men die for every woman and shows indignation when considering that violence against men provokes fewer reactions (2018: 149). Using an indistinct use of Bourdieu, he considers this supposed absence of outrage to be an expression of symbolic violence. Let us clarify that the nuance of "gender violence" is the result of the process of struggle of feminisms. In Mexico, afflicted by a bloody war between sectors of the State and drug trafficking (and those linked to each other), this particularity has been emphasized, which does not cancel out other atrocious violence such as juveniles and forced disappearances.

Again, the work does not dialogue with Latin American feminisms nor does it anthropologize the reterritorialization of radical feminism. Regarding the shallow balance6 about Mexico made in the epilogue, Lamas relegates initiatives around harassment, such as Street without harassment and the mobilizations within public universities, since it does not oppose local voices and practices that have caused anger, for which it expresses interest (p. 146). To draw a line of analysis - rather than an answer - on how the “hegemonic discourse of harassment” is presented, it should be clarified that this is not a copy that is reproduced but rather a relationship that entails reappropriations. To reflect on this, the proliferation of #MeToo within the intellectual field and the cultural industry in Mexico during the first semester of 2019 -among others, MeTooAcadémicosMx- and its particular controversies, such as the one generated around the suicide of Armando Vega-Gil (Sosa, 2019).

The decision of Lamas' theoretical approach seems to align with the political position of sectors opposed to feminism that discredit her struggle through acts such as naming feminists "feminazis", "hembristas" and "misandricas". His prevention around the advance of radical feminism, as in the case of Rita Segato, constitutes a look at the ideas debated in the geopolitical North (in this case, the United States and France), but generates multiple doubts about the “lowering of the line ”Or the debate for the case of Mexico - and what to say for a Latin America swept by a tide of green handkerchiefs - in which domination appears from its own notion of hegemony, which omits reappropriations, silences voices and deprives creativities.


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