Re-imagining Citizenship through Transnational Feminist Mobilization
On the eleventh of November 2019 the street performance, “Un Violador en Tu Camino,” (“A Rapist in Your Path”), created by feminist collective, Las Tesis, was performed for the first time on the streets of Valparaíso, Chile. The piece references several iterations of violence against women, alleging to state sanctioned violence in lyrics and body movements. Clips of the performance spread rapidly via social media as Las Tesis called for local interpretations to take place and be shared back to the collective via their social media accounts—the response was global. The viral spread of “A Rapist in Your Path” was another #MeToo era example of transnational feminist mobilization, as feminist activists performed this protest art in pursuit of their own just citizenship. The transnational mobilization of “A Rapist in Your Path,” can be viewed as a re-imagining of citizenship articulated along three components: exposing injustice, art as activism, and public engagement.
Citizenship carries with it the question of who belongs, and what the criteria to belonging are. While feminists involved in the transnational mobilization come from various nation-states, where laws and social customs differ, they draw attention to gender-based violence as a shared experience of women in societies across the globe. As emphasized by Lisa Baldez, “when women mobilize as women,” they address “expectations about women’s behavior;” and, in doing so they “highlight women’s shared experience of exclusion from political power.” Such creative protests unite feminists across the world building community through collective participation rather than allegiance to the state.
Given historical exclusions from formal political power, feminist movements have often utilized ‘informal’ methods to engage the public and make political demands. Creative strategies utilized to pursue feminist political goals include marches, social media, song, dance, and art, among academic as well as economic techniques such as boycotts and strikes. Not only does art allow space for these creative expressions of experiences, individual or collective, but its interpretive qualities enable what are often deemed radical ideas to be presented directly in the public sphere. Public art spaces can be inclusive, accessible to all and inviting of potential adaptation from a variety of contexts. Initially for Las Tesis, this took several forms. For example, individual performers were encouraged to wear whatever they liked to the performances, while spreading a sense of unity over the topic of sexual assault.
This form of art becomes protest. The combination of uniformity and individuality, precision and imprecision, speaks to collective demands while simultaneously commenting on the often isolating experiences of each woman. Through the use of art and creative expression of grievances, women’s movements expand their presence in public spaces, increasing societal awareness of those issues, united not as one but as many. The public presence of these art installations can push activism to the next level: public engagement.
Not only is “A Rapist in your Path” an artistic expression of protest, but it intentionally engages directly with the community by inviting unlimited numbers of participants. Feminist activists involved have taken to the streets in great numbers to tackle these global issues. The uniform blocks of protesters swaying in sync is a visual spectacle that also draws in an audience from any passersby on the street. The everyday spaces where these performances take place speak back to normalised, systemic acts of violence against women, but also empower women in those same public environments. In this way Las Tesis makes a powerful commentary on the ownership over public space, challenging the status quo and interrogating the public-private divide.
The lyrics include the repeated line “our punishment is the violence you don’t see” commenting directly on the inherent violence of the public-private divide. Feminist activists such as Las Tesis, and the other performers from across the globe, take up space and engage in dialogue about private experiences. They create community in doing so, shedding light on the hidden reality of gender-based violence. Systemic violence survives on fear-induced silence, shame, and stigma. By making these conversations public, and artistically displaying them in this way, the performance creates a feminist community. In this sense, public protest is both symbolism and community building.
The performances took place in the streets, but were disseminated in people’s homes, blurring the line of public versus private. While it is important to consider that “active citizenship” is a marker of privilege and not all feminists were able to perform “A Rapist in Your Path” on the streets, many privately viewed the performances. Footage, clips, and eventually artwork inspired by “A Rapist in Your Path” spread through social media accounts of individuals and large international organizations. With the click of a button private life experiences could become public, expressing beliefs and calls to action. “A Rapist in Your Path” encouraged “transnational feminist networks” to get back into the streets, when possible, moving the #MeToo movement out the front door, while continuing to spread globally through digital connections.
By the end of 2019 reports of “A Rapist in Your Path” performances reached 200 cities, spread across six continents, from Valparaíso and Santiago to Mexico City, Paris, Nairobi and Tokyo, suggesting ‘bottom-up’ artistic displays of activism can be utilized as a mechanism to re-imagine citizenship.While Las Tesis created “A Rapist in Your Path” with Chile in mind, women globally relate to its message. The transnational feminist mobilization is a community fighting for shared goals. In this sense, citizenship does not end at a border, but rather weaves in and out of them, crossing oceans, and stretching continent to continent to include intersectional identities of feminists. It’s a sense of belonging based on mutual purpose rather than any demographic label.
About the Author: Brianna Griesinger (she/her) is a master’s student in Conflict Transformation and Social Justice at Queen’s University Belfast. Her current dissertation research focuses on feminist identity formation and storytelling as a means of pursuing justice.
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