Archive for the Press Category

22 de Agosto: ‘A pesar de su belleza…’

Posted in Bolivia, Press with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 22, 2010 by eugeniadealtura

You may have heard that, in Bolivia, a “beauty queen” has recently been named to a major government position in the “war on drugs.”  Last Sunday, Andrés Schipani and Rory Carroll of The Observer reported on the appointment of British-born, Bolivian-raised Jessica Anne Jordan Burton to post of viceroy of the tropical Beni province, where Jordan’s principal responsibility will ostensibly be “cleaning up the drug-infested” region. Describing Jordan as a “former model and beauty queen” who has never occupied public office, the authors assert that the new viceroy “cuts a[n]…incongruous figure.” Accompanied by a photo of the appointee with her fist raised in “determination,” the article repeatedly juxtaposes Jordan’s beauty with the raw, rugged character of her new position–a position which, the authors imply, inserts her into “a macho, brutal world where grim-faced soldiers [battle] ruthless narco-traffickers.”

Fortunately, the Andean Information Network (AIN) was not long in correcting the multiple mischaracterizations of this article, some focusing on Jordan, and others on Bolivia’s drug policy.  Regular readers know that I am hesitant to endorse Bolivian president Evo Morales’ appointment of women to public office. In general, it seems that Morales elevates just those women who he can easily manipulate, many of whom lack relevant experience, only to satisfy a quota system of his own design.  In this case, however, The Observer’s characterization of Jordan as simply a beauty queen who “has never held previous public office” omits important details, which the AIN corrects in its August 16 brief.

Bolivian indigenous women attend the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Tiquipaya, on the outskirts of Cochabamba, April 20, 2010. REUTERS/David Mercado (BOLIVIA - Tags: ENVIRONMENT POLITICS)
Image courtesy of PicApp.

According to the AIN, Evo’s appointment of Jordan to the position of “Beni Director of Border Development” represents a typical practice of Bolivian administrations of “[appointing] leaders who lost in national elections” to positions within the government. Apparently, despite having never held a public office, Jordan lost a recent election for the governorship of the Beni by only 3%.  The AIN also criticizes Schipani and Carroll for misrepresenting Jordan’s new position, which, far from catapulting her to the status of “figurehead in Bolivia’s…campaign against cocaine barons,” actually places her in charge of border control in all of its forms–including monitoring and fighting “illicit trafficking, corruption, poverty and ‘illegal logging and gold mining’.”

These misrepresentations of the UK press are truly disappointing, seeming to draw on and to exploit a variety of stereotypes about women and our roles.  (This, without even delving into The Observer article’s problematic portrayal of Bolivia’s drug policies, described in the AIN piece.)

First, Schipani and Carroll do a disservice to Jordan by disregarding her background in politics and by insinuating that her prior participation in beauty contests and modeling–and, by extension, her beauty itself–makes her ill-prepared for public office.  Second, the authors’ mischaracterization of Jordan’s new position as an anti-drug Indiana Jones who will be battling drug barons left and right in the “jungles” of Bolivia is likely meant to eroticize her by evoking images of a scantily clad Xena-like warrior fighting crime.  Since the article further portrays Jordan’s post as dangerous, her quoted statements on her attitude toward the post–serene, in comparison–make her seem naive, like she could not possibly know what she is getting herself into.

What it comes down to is this: Schipani and Carroll are more interested in crafting a racy story about a beauty-queen-turned-drug-buster than in Jordan’s real qualifications and recent appointment to office.  As it is for so many women, Jordan’s beauty is both a requirement of her acceptance into “real” womanhood, and the reason her abilities are doubted.  I, for one, am interested in the outcome of this most recent appointment of a woman to office in Bolivia.  Press reports on Jordan’s progress, however, will likely be hard to find–once she gets down to the job, fully clothed and more often at a desk than hanging from a jungle vine, journalists like Schipani and Carroll will probably lose interest.


16 de Febrero: Del silencio a los juguetes sexuales

Posted in Bolivia, Press, sexuality with tags , , , , , , , , on February 16, 2010 by eugeniadealtura

Somewhat surprisingly, two articles came out in the “Society” section of La Paz’s La Razón newspaper yesterday focusing on sex toys.  In a country where so many individuals report such difficulty in talking about the “life-and-death” aspects of sex–such as pregnancy and STI prevention–it struck me as amusing to run into these articles, which focus explicitly on the pleasurable aspects of sex.  The articles review the top-selling sex toys for different cities and offer advice to couples who are thinking about using them.  (Evidently, in Santa Cruz, couples prefer penis-pumps that temporarily lengthen the penis, while in La Paz, people prefer vibrators and “new and unusual” toys.)

In some ways, I suppose it isn’t all that surprising to encounter these articles in the La Paz press. Like any newspaper, La Razón clearly hopes to titillate and shock its readers–this sort of reporting sells papers.  What is less surprising about these articles, however, are their more subtle aspects, which reveal distinctly conservative messages about the “appropriate” use of sex toys.  The first of these articles provides an overview of types of sex toys and their sale across the country, while the second offers “expert” opinions on negotiating sex-toy use within couples.  (All translations are my own.)

The title of the first article, “Novel sex toys most seduce people from La Paz,” is probably sort of a jab at cruceños–people from Santa Cruz, who are in cultural and political rivalry with local paceños.  This article adopts a sort of cavalier attitude toward the topic of sex toys, one that (probably erroneously) assumes that its readers are already on the up-and-up, and are simply curious to learn what toys are favored by the inhabitants of Santa Cruz, Cochabamba, and other cities.  The reporter informs us that some of the latest and greatest sex toys are imported from the U.S. (like everything late-and-great, right?); that young people are more nervous to approach sex shops than adults, and that proper hygiene is essential in the use of these devices.

Actually, all the information in this article is useful, and can probably only do good in getting paceños to talk about sex and pleasure.  A glaring omission in this article, however, is any discussion of masturbatory sex toys for solo use.  These are sex toys than men and women may use while alone, in part to pleasure themselves, but also in part, to learn about their own sexual desires and fantasies–information that they can later share with their partners.  The moral of this article is that sexuality and sexual pleasure are to be shared with partners, but not to be explored alone.

Somewhat ironically, the second article, entitled, “The use of sexual products should be mutually agreed upon,” is accompanied by this picture:

This “latex vagina in the form of a vampire mouth” is probably often used by men for solo acts of masturbation.  (I can’t resist pointing out the somewhat disturbing correlation between a vampire-mouth vagina–ie. blood-sucking, life-sucking, generally perilous–and some men’s fears of female sexuality as emasculating and as a “trap” for the unsuspecting bachelor.)

Despite the picture of the masturbation sleeve, this article also ignores the possibility of solo sex-toy use.  In fact, the entire article focuses on the advice of “experts” to speak openly with our partners about the use of toys.  In general, this seems like very good advice.  However, the experts quoted here offer so many warnings about the potentially terrible reactions of our partners to our own interest in sex toys, that their advice is hardly encouraging.

The opening line reads, “The use of a sex toy to fulfill the sexual fantasies of a couple should be the result of mutual agreement, so that humiliation and disgust do not result.”  One Puerto Rican sexologist asserts that the use of sex toys “‘is not the result of a mental disturbance.'”  (Well, I didn’t really think it was, until you said that…)  Bolivian sexologist José Luis Harb remarks, “‘As long as it is mutually agreed upon, that it doesn’t hurt any third party, that there is harmony in the couple, and that it does not generate any dysrhythmia, it is okay.”  Yikes!

Even the proprietor of one of the local sex shops was merely lukewarm in his recommendation of sex-toy use: “The use of sex toys can help couples enjoy [sex] more, of course, assuming that the other person agrees with this and that no one gets upset.”  In the closing paragraph of the article, a final expert warns, “the use of sex toys can become a problem when one person becomes humiliated or hurt due to their partner’s use of a sex toy without his or her consent.”  So, who’s up for using sex toys now?  Anyone??

This article uses a tactic that is typical of some conservative sectors around the world–of supposedly providing “information” about sex, while masking this “information” in fear and shame.  Recently, a Bolivian friend remarked that the sexual education he received in his conservative high school consisted of being shown the films Kids and Trainspotting without any accompanying discussion or debate.  Like abstinence-only education, these tactics do not have the effects of creating sex-positive cultures or reducing teen pregnancy or abortion rates.  Instead, they incite feelings of fear and shame and force sex into the closet, where open discussions of birth control, sex toys, and STI prevention become impossible.  So, thanks, La Razón, for your hip and racey articles on sex toys–and for effectively scaring me out of using them.

Sex-positive resources:

13 de Febrero: Mejor no hablemos de excusas

Posted in Bolivia, Press, sexual violence, violence against women with tags , , , , , , , , on February 13, 2010 by eugeniadealtura

Back in November 2009, my first-ever post to this blog reflected on the problem of violence against women in Bolivia.  For the past few years, feminist activists in Bolivia have been pressuring lawmakers to incorporate the term feminicidio into legal codes, to prevent men who kill their wives, girlfriends, exes, sisters, cousins, etc., from getting off with “crime of passion” defenses.  A crime of passion defense usually reads like this: “Your honor, I was just so angry and heartbroken when I heard that Fulana was [insert actual or suspected infidelity here], that I just couldn’t control myself, and I [insert violent crime here].”  At last year’s march commemorating the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, one of the slogans we shouted until hoarse was, “No es crimen pasional–es asesinato.” (It’s not a crime of passion–it’s murder.)

For those of us who believe that men and women are indeed equal and that both have the unalienable right to live without violence, these crime of passion defenses seem laughable–or they would, if they weren’t so dangerous.  Then, why do they work?  Who or what contributes to the legitimacy of this type of defense in Bolivian society?

One culprit is undoubtedly machismo and the double standards that it engenders–ie., he cheats with impunity, but she can’t even have male friends; he has a job and a social life, while she is confined to the home and to the production of offspring.  As I’ve mentioned several times before, machismo in Bolivia is fierce, and seemingly endemic to both home and professional life in the country.

So, in part, we have everyday interactions between Bolivian men and women to thank for crime of passion defenses.  But perhaps more perilously, we also have the press.  This week, the La-Paz daily La Razón covered the story of one man’s brutal murder of a sex worker in an El Alto motel room. (As always, all translations are my own.)  Evidently, when the young woman Zulma Apaza refused to have sex with her would-be client, he strangled her and used a broken bottle to cut her vagina.  In a statement to police, the murderer Óscar Condori Vargas said, “The señorita turned up dead, I got up and I don’t know, I don’t know anything, I didn’t see anything; I don’t know in what moment they did [killed] her; I had fallen asleep, I was drunk.”

My first reaction after reading Condori’s statement was to ask, “Well, which was it??” But no–it’s better to not talk about excuses.  Because the fact is, there is no excuse for murder. That is why we call a person’s “reason” for committing murder a motive, not an excuse that absolves the murderer of responsibility for the crime. And yet, this article traffics in excuses, rather than motives, offering them up like sacrifices.  In the Condori case, the reporter informs us that the excuse was the sex worker’s refusal to seal the deal.  (Violence against sex workers is a pervasive and troubling phenomenon that I cannot cover in detail in this post, but see here for recent treatment of this problem in the U.S.)

In its closing paragraphs, the La Razón article reviews other crimes that were recently perpetrated in El Alto motels, offering an excuse for each.  Last Christmas Eve, one man decapitated his girlfriend with a kitchen knife before attempting to escape, carrying her head with him inside a cardboard box.  “The motives of the crime were passionate, according to the [local police],” assures the reporter.  “In two other cases [of murder in El Alto motel rooms],” the article continues, “the victim unleashed her lover’s jealousy by calling him by the wrong name.”  Are these “motives”?  Explanations that we can add to a case file before locking the bastards away for 25-years-to-life?  No–these are excuses. In this article, La Razón is, perhaps unwittingly, justifying the crime of passion defense and ultimately excusing the absence of just prison sentences for male perpetrators of feminicide in Bolivia.  So please–no more “passionate” excuses.  Just give us cold hard motive, evidence, trial, and finally–justice.

7 de Febrero: Cuál es la noticia aquí?

Posted in Bolivia, children, Press, sexual violence, women with tags , , , , , , on February 7, 2010 by eugeniadealtura

I just discovered an article that was published last week in La Paz’s La Razón newspaper, entitled, “A Taxi Driver Rapes a Young Girl in the Valley.” (All translations here are my own.)  Apparently, on the evening of January 25 in Valle de Sajta, Bolivia, a considerably sloshed couple got in a taxi along with their nine-year-old daughter and, when they arrived at their destination, inadvertently left the girl behind.  The taxi driver, realizing the couple’s mistake, drove off with the young girl and was caught soon later in the act of raping her.

Clearly, no matter how this “story” is written up in the paper, it is absolutely terrible.  A young girl was raped.  And her parents made a horrible, perhaps inexcusable, mistake.  But what should bother us more–that these drunk parents left their kid in the car, or that this taxi driver saw that fact as an opportunity to RAPE the kid?

And yet, if we read the article carefully, the “news story” that this reporter seems to find most relevant is the parents’ negligence.  The full title of the article, with the subtitle, reads, “A Taxi Driver Rapes a Young Girl in the Valley: CARELESSNESS-Inebriated Parents Forget Their Daughter in a Taxi Cab in the Tropics.”  A paragraph later, the article states, “…last Monday night, the drunk parents of the victim got out of a taxi without their daughter, and the driver, taking advantage of their state of inebriation, drove away with the child to sexually abuse her.”  This reads disturbingly like an implicit validation of the driver’s decision–as if anyone in a similar situation, facing a similar “opportunity,” would naturally take advantage, were it not for the watchful eye of the parent (or, perhaps, of the husband, boyfriend, or other protective father figure).

The article closes with a matter-of-fact review of the statistics of child rape in the region of Cochabamba, where this crime occurred.  (At least the reporter has the decency to call these stats “alarming.”)  In 2009, there were 400 reported cases of child rape in Cochabamba.  (How many, I wonder, unreported?)  The final sentence of the piece informs us dryly, “Of these cases, only 1% of [these victims’ rapists] were sent to prison.”