Warrior women: contested understandings of violence and gender in Highland Mexico
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date08/07/2020
Based on 15 months of ethnographic research in Milpa Alta, a rural, southern municipality of Mexico City, this thesis focuses on local understandings and contestations surrounding “violence against Indigenous women”, while questioning the meaning of “violence”, “Indigeneity”, and “femininity,” and the relationship between these concepts. I argue for rethinking violence, as present interventions in Milpa Alta may contribute more to perpetuating than alleviating it. Newly circulating discourses of human rights and women’s rights, and high numbers of femicide and sexual trafficking victims in the region, have made Milpaltenses aware of the issue of violence against women. Paradoxically, many acknowledged it to be widespread, while insisting that women and men are equally powerful: Local ideologies of work and love emphasise complementarity and interdependency in marriage. In practice, interdependent work and love contain within themselves potential for violence. Instead of directly discussing “violence”, Milpaltenses often spoke of “order” and “chaos”: They interpreted certain acts as maintaining or changing embodied states and the social order. Violence was also often likened to love, as one may find expression in the other, and both engender transformation. Instead of viewing women as “victims”, a pejorative epithet, they were frequently lionized as “strong women”, “hard workers”, “strugglers”, and “warriors”, protecting their families and communities from all kinds of harm. Historically, women have fought alongside their men in the communal struggle to defend the local forest against the interests of mining companies and paper factories. In sum, my analysis of local discourse, life history interviews, historical and mythic narratives, religious practice, and gendered work shows that violence against Milpaltense women can neither be understood in terms of “culturally legitimate violence”, nor in terms of patriarchal oppression alone. Thus, anti-violence strategies promoting an individualist notion of women’s rights are not only inefficient, but also risk socially isolating the women accepting this approach. I conclude that intervening to save women from “cultural violence” and imposing a particular understanding of violence, is ineffective. Development initiatives would be more likely to meet women’s needs if they built on local understandings, which link love and violence, rather than oppose these.