Global Roundup: Feminists in Mexico fight femicide and police violence, changing the dictionary definition of "woman," and Junglepussy fights back against patriarchy

Compiled and written by Sahra

Photo: LOURDES CRUZ (EFE) via El Pais

Police opened fire on protesters who tried to force their way into Cancún city hall during a demonstration against femicide in Mexico. The protest was called after 20- year old Bianca “Alexis” Lorenzana ‘s body was found dismembered days after her disappearance. Lorenzana is the latest victim in the continuous violence against women and young girls in the Quintana Roo state.

At least 10 women are murdered every day in Mexico. The lack of action from the government has resulted in a strong feminist movement dedicated to gathering to fight for and demand justice. Activists’ frustration has focused on the country’s current leftist president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has downplayed gender issues and accused feminist critics of allying with his conservative political opponents.

While Lorenzana’s mother initially asked for a peaceful march to get justice for her daughter, partway through the demonstration she changed her mind:

Burn it all, because Alexis would have done that for you

Some of the protestors broke windows, sprayed graffiti on the prosecutor's office and moved onto the city hall where police later shot at them. The state governor currently denies giving the order to open fire at the crowd but says that the responsibility lies with the local police chief.

They brought out a lot more police officers [this time] to try to scare us, but we aren’t scared…Our fear is rage now - Isa

Monday’s violence was also the latest incident in which feminist protests have been met with police violence. The day before the Cancún protest, police in the Mexico state municipality of Cuautitlán teargassed a group of about 40 people protesting against the femicide of a 17-year-old named Amber Viridiana Uicab.

In mid-September, police in the municipality of Atizapán in Mexico state attacked and beat a group of protesters. Mexico City police teargassed and beat protesters marching for International Safe Abortion Day.

The femicide crisis in Mexico combined with the inaction from elected bodies and the state to protect women has led to Mexican feminists’ growing use of “direct action”: as violence rates against women have soared, protesters across the country have increasingly resorted to breaking windows, starting fires and daubing graffiti across public buildings, in a growing use of direct action and violence in order to be heard. 

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Photo: Getty Images via BBC

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has toughened the penalties for the killing of women by family members as a part of the shift towards reforming the country’s Islamic laws. The government said that it would repeal a law that allowed judges to issue lenient sentences for the murder of women who are believed to have brought dishonour to the family/ relatives. The toughened position on this kind of crime means that now it will be treated like murder.

One of the causes behind this kind of crime includes alleged sex outside of marriage. According to human rights groups every year thousands of women across the world are killed because they are deemed to have brought shame on their family.

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Grace Millane was murdered by strangulation. Photograph: Lucie Blackman Trust/PA via The Guardian

In one of the first academic studies into the issue, Professor Elizabeth Yardley at Birmingham city university has found that men who kill women are increasingly using the “sex game gone wrong” excuse as a contemporary variation on the traditional crime of passion.

According to Yardley’s research, the normalisation of bondage, domination and sado-masochism (BDSM) across various media had generated a “culturally approved script” for men who kill women.

At least 18 women have died in the UK in an alleged sex game gone wrong in the last five years with a tenfold increase in rough sex claims in court between 1996 and 2016. Data gathered by We Can’t Consent to This found that at least 60 cases of UK women killed by males since 1972 claimed that the death happened during a sex game gone wrong.

Two of the high-profile victims of this form of killing were Natalie Connolly, who was killed by her boyfriend in 2016 after he caused her 40 separate injuries, and Grace Millane, who was murdered by strangulation by a man she met on Tinder.

Yardley’s research shows an over-representation of victims in younger age groups – 16-34 - and that many perpetrators had previous convictions for violence. She has concluded that the normalization of BDSM culture has enabled abusers to justify and excuse fatal violence against women using formal sex equality and women’s liberation against them.”

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Image via CNN

Oxford University press is working on reforming strict definitions of gender roles which includes removing old, sexist dentitions of the word “woman”. Earlier this year Oxford University Press changed its entry for “woman” in its dictionaries to allow for more positive ways to describe a woman.

We have expanded the dictionary coverage of 'woman' with more examples and idiomatic phrases which depict women in a positive and active manner…We have ensured that offensive synonyms or senses are clearly labelled as such and only included where we have evidence of real world usage - Oxford University Press

Phrases such as "woman of the moment" were added to equal the old saying of the "man of the moment." And one of the definitions of "woman" now refers to a "person's wife, girlfriend, or female lover," as opposed to being tied to only a man.

The definition of “man” was also updated to include gender-neutral terms and references of sexual attractiveness and/ or activity were revised for both men and women.

According to the press the changes were in part inspired by user feedback as well as a petition last year signed by thousands of people. The suggestive phrases about women included: "Ms September will embody the professional, intelligent yet sexy career woman;" "I told you to be home when I get home, little woman;" and "If that does not work, they can become women of the streets."

According to the company the changes are also part of the effort to ensure that the dictionary reflects how people are engaging with the language now. To ensure this, lexicographers review the examples in the dictionary to ensure that representations of women are “positive and active.” Which meant the removal of sexually suggestive phrases as well as offensive, derogatory terms and synonyms such as “wench” and “piece” among others. The definition of "housework" was updated to take gender out of the equation in the dictionaries. "She still does all the housework," was changed to "I was busy doing housework when the doorbell rang."

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Cat power … Junglepussy performs at Commodore Barry Park in New York, 2019. Photograph: Jason Mendez/Getty Images via The Guqrdian

Shayna McHayle a 28 year-old-rapper who goes by Junglepussy knows how patriarchal fuckery limits her work as a Black artist. After releasing her first song titled “Random,” McHayle was asked to change her name. Since then not only has she stuck to Junglepussy, she has rapped about looking for contraception in Trader Joes and included lines such as “feelin the dick all up in my armpit” in her music. To her the fact that female pleasure is still seen as something radical after all these years is annoying and tiresome.

I just can’t believe that 40 years later, people are still acting like women don’t feel this way - Shayna McHayle

While rap as a genre has seen its fair share of explicit lyrics (most recently from Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B), McHayle has been challenging patriarchal notions of female bodies and sexuality since 2012: in her breakout song titled Cream Team, she says, “hustle that pussy muscle”. However, she does not want the fact that she is an outspoken Black woman who raps openly about sexuality to be all that people want and expect. These essentialist ideas of women and Black female rappers are in part what keeps McHale from exploring and sharing her vulnerabilities and the different sides of herself through her music.

If I want to be hypersexual, I can do that on my own terms. If I want to wear a hoodie, I can do that. It’s about allowing space for women to express what-ev-er... Guys can take a dickpic and then go on TV the next day and nobody’s mad. But for everyone else it’s about us continuing to normalise our complexities - Junglepussy

While she rejects the idea of women being held to superhero status due to the fact that it denies the realities and pain women face in challenging the system, McHayle/ Junglepussy is committed to fighting to liberate women through her name and her explicit lyrics. 

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Sahra is currently pursuing her undergrad in Sociology, Feminism and Gender studies. She plans to redefine the terms of life to suit her needs and those around her by challenging the patriarchy and other oppressive systems that shape our world. She loves to paint, laugh and spend time with her loved ones.