By Nicolás Pérez Lindo Linarez: student of Anthropology, UNC, Argentina.
A rather interesting course of events regarding gender sets the agenda, both politically and in the media in Argentina. It has sparked long debates in cafes and taken up entire television programs. Discussions in the media repeatedly feeding a public opinion that responds as an echo. These events are part of an opening process, which involves the incorporation of new players in the Argentinean political life. I am referring to the imposition of a cultural script for women in politics that brings more challenging ideas, as opposed to a script that limits action to more conservative logics of gender. The novelty in the challenging script lies in having the woman as protagonist and head of a political project. While the conservative script prioritizes an assigned and defined role for women, namely that of accompanying the man.
I can still remember people discussing this defiant script on Television back in 2007. It generated a social alarm among the sympathizers to the conservative script. The women Dr. Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner ran for «presidente». In Spanish, «president» is not really gender neutral, but actually male because it ends with an e. If you are to make it female it should end with an a, becoming «presidenta». Thus, the discussions revolved around whether Cristina would become «presidente» or «presidenta», if she would win the elections. Attributing gender to the highest position in the nation implied that the «chemists» and «mathematicians» of the Spanish Royal Academy had to review whether the female term «presidenta» had any validity at all. The word «presidenta» finally became very frequent throughout Argentina, as in the whole Latin-American continent. This meant a victory for supporters of the defiant script in the discussion over words in our language.
From Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner won the elections in 2007, until today, these political scripts have been competing against each other, similar to what happened in the English neighbourhood Wiston Parva, as told by Norbert Elias (1998). There, the oldest residents made use of different gadgets in order to maintain their status above those who more recently moved into the neighbourhood. The defiant and the conservative script of women in Argentinian politics interact with a similar logic to that of the neighbours – becoming a dispute between established and marginalized. The neighbourhood is like the political scene, and the established are those who oppose against having a woman – not only occupying an important position – but the highest one in the whole nation.
Years of dispute continued like this. The supporters of the conservative script often used techniques of gossip, just like the established neighbours. Entire television programs were dedicated to the clothes of the presidenta (as the female version of the word had by then become common), her jewelry, and above all her (supposed lack of) ability to run the country.
“Stigmatization as an aspect of the relationship between established and outsiders is often related to a specific type of collective fantasies, developed by groups of established people” (Elias, 1998: 111). Furthermore, Elias makes it clear that, within the established residents of Wiston Parva, there were a strong cohesion, which allowed them to maintain power over the newcomers. While newcomers did not have the same level of cohesion. In the Argentinian case, the defiant group managed to occupy senior positions (as president) and ruled uninterruptedly for 12 years, ergo there was a great cohesion between its members and much of the electorate. In that sense, on a political level, the scripts were peers. But the disparity was generated from the hegemonic media, which openly supported the conservative sector, and which in the end generating public opinion.
After the elections in 2015 Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner had to resign from office. Elections expressed the voice of the vast majority of Argentines, and by a minimum margin, the conservative script won. This script claimed that the women should stay at home, be a companion, and take care of housework. Similar to what Robert Hertz (1990) describes in his book La Muerte y la Mano Derecha (Death and the Right Hand). A dual division for understanding gender, linking women and femininity to passive tasks, the domestic, the profane and the hidden. For example, the Argentinian magazine «Noticias», famous for its misogynist covers and heavy violent loads on women, made a sales-record for publishing a cover that sparked the controversy again. The headline said: The Return of the Decorative Women: she left everything to accompany Macri. Representing the discreet and traditional wife at service for her home. The woman on the cover is Awada, the new first lady and wife of Mauricio Macri, who was elected presidente. This time without any revision of the validity of the word by the Spanish Royal Academy.
Still today, the political scene is framed under these complex processes introduced above. Two scripts for being women and doing politics, in conflict, one conservative and the other transgressive. These gendered scripts are not merely marking the difference between different political parties, but also between sectors and supporters of the same party. The same political party that accompany Mauricio Macri to presidency also consecrated a woman as governor of the Province of Buenos Aires, which surrounds the capital of the country. Thus, it is noteworthy that there are complexities that do not necessarily represent contradictions to the political spaces. Both scripts are immersed in both political parties, although some prevail over other. These years brought important advances for women in politics and all aspects of society, but the struggle continues today.
Elías Norbert. 1998. «Ensayo teórico sobre las relaciones entre establecidos y marginados», in La Civilización de los Padres y otros ensayos. Ed Norma S.A. Santa Fe de Bogotá, Colombia.
Hertz Robert. 1990. La Muerte y la Mano Derecha. Ed Alianza. Madrid, España.
noticias.perfil.com 11.03.16. «Estilo Juliana Awada: el regreso de la mujer decorativa». 01.04.16. http://noticias.perfil.com/2016/03/11/estilo-juliana-awada-el-regreso-de-la-mujer-decorativa/
noticias.perfil.com 07.11.12. «El goce de Cristina: Cada día se muestra más desenfadada y sensual». 01.04.16. http://noticias.perfil.com/2012/09/07/el-goce-de-cristina/