Devised by a little-known South American feminist collective, the song, Un Violador en Tu Camino, has been performed by women from Washington to Istanbul. Why has it captured people’s imagination? by Gaby Hinsliff, Feb 3, 2020, The Guardian
‘A rapist in your path’: Chilean protest song becomes feminist anthem by Guardian News, Dec 6, 2019
The rhythm is infectious, the crowd of women exuberant as they pump their fists and move their feet. Their voices rise as they chant the chorus line, translated from the song’s original Spanish: “It wasn’t my fault; not where I was, not how I dressed.” How many women wouldn’t guess, from those words alone, that this is about rape? And it is that visceral, shared understanding that has helped a song and dance, devised by a little-known Chilean feminist collective called Las Tesis, spread across the globe. Since November, Un Violador en Tu Camino (A Rapist in Your Path) has been sung everywhere from France and Mexico to Kenya and India as a protest against the systemic use of sexual violence to repress women. Most recently, it was performed outside the New York courtroom where Harvey Weinstein is on trial for rape.
Like the pink pussy hats or The Handmaid’s Tale-style scarlet cloaks adopted by other feminist protesters, the spectacle is easy to copy and highly shareable on social media. But its real power lies in how it feels, not how it looks.
A Rapist in Your Path
“There were some tears afterwards,” says Zakiyah Ansari, the advocacy director for a US education charity, who performed it outside the Weinstein courtroom and Trump Tower. “It could make you think about a past experience, but in the moment there was such power. It’s exhilarating – it’s like a moment of sadness and relief.” She thinks there is something particularly cathartic about the way the women move through the dance steps as one – hugging each other when it’s over – but also about the accusatory final lines: “The rapist is you!” The women yell it, often while pointing at a government building or courtroom. Or, as at Trump Tower, at the former home of a president himself accused of multiple sexual assaults.
The song’s message is that rape doesn’t happen in a political vacuum; that it is welded to patriarchal power structures as a means of keeping women down. The title mimics an old slogan portraying the police as “the friend in your path” and the lyrics describe systemic use of sexual and other violence by Chilean police. Even the dance steps tell a story: performers squat three times, representing the degrading position arrested women have allegedly been forced to adopt for body cavity searches, often while stripped naked.
It’s more like street theatre than a traditional political protest, and that’s the point, says Paula Soto of the British-based Assemblea Chilena En Londres, a Chilean solidarity group that staged a performance of the song near Tower Bridge in London last month. To South American eyes, she explains, British political marches look bafflingly dull – “people just walking, and walking very slowly at that” – while in Chile, protest is more of a performance. “There’s a lot of music, and generally a lot of singing and movement. And the movements are always symbolic – when you’re shouting for something to fall, a woman will go down low.”
But if it is deliberately eye-catching, the lyrics are deadly serious. The song accuses judges, police and politicians of committing or failing to stop rape. And in some countries, performing it is a risky business. In India, female protesters have faced police armed with water cannons. In Turkey, female MPs sang it defiantly in parliament after police broke up a street performance.
The #MeToo movement against sexual harassment is sometimes accused of speaking mostly to white western women living relatively privileged lives, and this movement comes from a place it didn’t quite reach. Phoebe Martin, a student at the UCL Institute of the Americas, first encountered the song last year while living in Peru and researching a PhD thesis on feminist activism. She returned to London in time to see it performed next to Tower Bridge.
“It’s amazing that it has come from Latin America, from the global south to the north,” says Martin, who points out that ideas haven’t always flowed that way.
Four years ago, the murder of a pregnant 14-year-old Argentinian girl called Chiara Paez sparked a grassroots campaign against misogyny and murder known as #NiUnaMenos (Not One Less). It brought thousands of women on to the streets across South America, yet never became as celebrated as the hashtag inspired by the Weinstein allegations. It is still sometimes called “the Latin American #MeToo” despite having predated it by two years.
It’s like saying: we are calling time on your BS and on your patriarchy
The chant was created by Las Tesis, a collective of four women based in the port city of Valparaíso. Their name means “the theses” to show their interest in feminist theory – and in “The rapist is you!” they have married the music and dance steps of vivid street protests Soto describes with the Argentinian-born anthropologist Rita Segato’s theories about tackling violence against women by dismantling male power structures. “They managed to incorporate concepts that are quite intellectual and complex in a very few words and gestures, and make them almost universally understandable,” says Soto.
When Las Tesis performed the song last November to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the protest went viral on social media. It was copied across South America, and then further afield as the Latin American diaspora began picking up on it. Some women did it blindfold or wearing green scarves (symbolising the fight for legal abortion); many did it in party dresses – emphasising their right to dress up without fear of attack – or even topless as a way of reclaiming autonomy over their bodies. But what sticks in Soto’s mind is a protest led by older women outside the national stadium in Santiago. After the 1973 coup that brought Pinochet to power, the stadium became a prison camp where political detainees were tortured and murdered. Some of the women singing that day were survivors, and the crowd was so big it stopped traffic.
“When I saw it, I cried, and I spent the rest of the day crying. But I also laughed and was happy because it’s such a strong, cathartic thing,” says Soto, whose parents are Chilean exiles. “It’s difficult to explain, but I lost people during that time – one of my cousins was tortured and raped, and she took her own life years later. One of my uncles disappeared, and we know he was tortured.” For years, she says, she rarely spoke about what happened to her cousin; the song seems to help unlock things that were buried.
Yet as it spreads around the globe, the song is acquiring new layers of meaning, becoming intertwined with other political causes in places such as India or Lebanon. In the US, it has tapped into black Americans’ fear of police brutality, and Ansari thinks it speaks to anger about “old white men” stealing women’s rights over their own bodies by restricting abortion and contraception services too: “It’s like saying: ‘We are calling time on your BS and on your patriarchy.’”
While the original context remains important to Chileans, Soto approves of women adapting it to local struggles. “When it started going viral, what the collective said was that it was great that this had taken on a life of its own. The important thing is that it talks to women everywhere from very different realities.” And if it generates wider interest in Latin American feminism, then all the better.
For, as Phoebe Martin puts it, the appeal of these protests is that they are collective experiences, part of a new global feminist ecosystem. “For me, it’s a combination of a feeling of absolute anger and frustration, but also shared solidarity and joy. You’re with other women, just saying: ‘We’re not going to put up with this.’” And what’s more universal than that?
Refer also to:
“Unf*ck the system.” Alberta’s Neanderthal “Justice” system assaults sexual assault victims. “The judge in this troubling case was none other than former Deputy Justice Minister Ray Bodnarek, a PC loyalist appointed as a judge by former PC Justice Minister Jonathan Denis who himself resigned under troubling allegations of domestic violence.” Commenter: “So who exactly is the crown protecting by blocking the publication of the victim’s name?” Another commenter: “My guess…..the ‘system’. It stinks and it’s all because of the judges & lawyers.”
“When judges don’t know the meaning of rape, there is little hope of justice” never mind that some (one is too many) are racist misogynistic bigoted troglodytes in society’s “Upside Down of Patriarchy.”
“Hey look Ma!! Racists won!!” Ontario Law Society’s Statement of Principles (SOP) abolished by dinosaurs. “Shows how corrupt our legal (definitely not justice!) system is. May all White supremacists rot in hell.” … “It is from this circus of clowns we choose our judges, and it shows in our injustice system.”
All the world’s not a stage, it’s a pedophile ring! Is Rod MacLeod’s ungagged legal victory against basilian pedophile priest why catholic/extreme right white lawyers took over Ontario’s law society a year later? To keep vatican’s Pedophile Ring & “Silent Shuffle” busy? Jury was blunt: “Put children in harm’s way – grossly negligent. … Betrayal of trust with the community.” Meanwhile in Australia, the ultimate court-ordered gag order betrays the public’s trust
“Law Society of Ontario taken over by ‘right-wing, fundamentalist religious zealots?’” Taken over by the catholic church to better protect and feed its sex-crazed, child-abusing “celibate” priests? Do white privileged people think loading up on religious self-righteousness and the church will hide the law society’s pedophilia? It’s not working.
In the US, Rainn offers support at 800-656-4673 or by chat at Rainn.org. In the UK, the rape crisis national freephone helpline is at 0808-802-9999. In Australia, support is available at 1800Respect (1800-737-7328) or 1800respect.org.au. Other international helplines can be found at Ibiblio.org.