Wednesday, October 27, 2010

He who mistreats a woman is a fag

When it comes to the usage in Latin America of Spanish-language terms that most people would deem homophobic, I admit sometimes I am left feeling a bit flummoxed.

There is, for example, the song "Puto" by the legendary Mexican rock band Molotov. The literate translation of the title is "Faggot" and it has a quaint chorus that says "matarile al maricón" ("kill the fag").

But whenever I've called it a homophobic song I've gotten push-back from people who say that in the song's context "Puto" does not really refer to gays but, instead, to the powers that be. And, to be sincere, I partly get it. The band itself has said as much and, in the face of criticism, insists on playing it live during their tours.  But even if "fag" can be contextualized to mean something else in a song, do their fans make the distinction?

These thoughts come to mind today in light of a new campaign launched today by the National Women Services Ministry of the Chilean government (SERNAM):

SAY WHAT? Yes, the Chilean government says a "fag" is he who mistreats a woman (official government announcement here).

Speaking to La Tercera, Carolina Schmidt Zaldivar, Director of SERNAM, explained:
[Domestic] violence is based on the abuse of power and a poor understanding of what true masculinity is.  Does it make you more of a macho man to mistreat, beat up or denigrate a woman?  The answer is clear: He who mistreats a woman is a lesser man... let's say things as they are.
 I do think the Minister makes a relevant point which actually is also pertinent to the discussion about the Molotov song: The Mexican rock band and the Chilean government might argue that "maricón" and "puto" is in no way related to "fagness" but they both admit they use the homophobic terminology as a means to question a man's masculinity.

Here is what complicates things somewhat: The first man you see in the video is Chilean soccer referee Pablo Pozo who has previously denounced soccer fans calling him a fag at several games and directly challenged homophobia in one of the most homophobic sports in the world.

The second man is television personality and talk show host Jordi Castell who is one of the few openly gay personalities on Chilean television.  They both say they decided to participate in the campaign as opponents of domestic violence.

The ads also have the backing of the country's leading LGBT rights organization, the Homosexual Movement of Integration and Liberation (MOVILH), who tweeted the following tonight:
With the SERNAM campaign things are left clear: Relatives and people you know who are gay aren't fags. The man who beats up his woman is. 
MOVILH, really?

There are a couple of things that strike me as very wrong with this brief statement. MOVILH lets SERNAM use the word "faggot" in a campaign and backs it up.  They also buy into the meme that 'fagness' can be used to denigrate a man's masculinity.

In addition, the campaign assumes all domestic violence in a heterosexual partnership comes from the man, which is not always the case.

One Chilean LGBT rights organization is not having any of it.  Speaking tonight on Radio Bio Bio, Marcelo Aguilar of Acción Gay said the campaign was discriminatory and questioned whether the message would be received as intended.

Tonight we have an answer to that: The term "maricón" [fag] became the #1 trending topic on Twitter in South America tonight thanks to SERNAM.

I personally think it's an awful campaign, it elicits unintended consequences, and gives people license to use the word "maricón" as if it wasn't anything bad.

But what's your take? Does the shock value make men respond? Is the campaign homophobic? Please let us know.



Marc said...

Boy is this stupid. Sure, over a hundred or so years, puto may come to mean a man who beats a woman but in the meantime, it's just confusing.

It equates being gay with being beating women. I don't get it.

Unknown said...

It is just the result of the work of people that is untrained,who lacks of technicality and professionalism,the outcome of many of the LGBTQ Groups and their leaders , This people that "work" for our cause that is not trained and definitely not prepare for such a position of power and representativeness,How could they support a campaign like this, was any good amount of money involved? FURIOUS..Lack of ETHICS and SERIOUSNESS.SHAME ON MOVIHL!

ANDRES : WOULD YOU PLEASE TRANSLATE Your article so we can send it to LATAM I am sure will make headlines all over. many thanks.

Lucrece said...

Well, puto in Venezuela is just a male whore, but more used in the context of "fucking", as in "puto carro" (fucking car).

But maricon is beyond the pale, and for gay organizations to pretend that the word will never imply homosexuality, just effeminacy, is sheer intellectual dishonesty.

The audience toward whom that word is geared will certainly have its homophobic sentiments titillated.

Shame on these organizations, and it's obvious that MOVILH is really just towing to the country's leftist coalitions ahead of the interest of its gay community.

It's in some ways a relief to no longer reside in Latin America, with the openly common usage of that slur.

libhom said...

Just because an LGBT person does something doesn't necessarily mean it isn't heterosexist.

Michael said...

Andres, I think you're missing a brilliant rhetorical move in the Chilean campaign.

I understand the term maricón to mean both "coward/sissy" and "fag." The commercial is playing on this first meaning: The real sissies are not gay men but rather men who beat women. Coupled with the images of the famous gay men, this meaning becomes very clear. Just brilliant. A complete defense of gay men, and a critique of associating gay men with the term sissy.

Perhaps the meaning "sissy" does not carry over into all parts of the Spanish world, and hence your different understanding?

I cannot speak to "puto" as this is a Mexican term that I do not completely understand. However, I do know that it too can be used in many contexts and does not refer exclusively to gay men.

Michael said...

Addendum to my post above.

The Chilean poster that you show here makes it very clear. My translation:

"A sissy is he who mistreats a woman." And in smaller text below: "Let's say it to he who deserves it."

This text is below the famous gay celebrity.

To understand the campaign, you really must translate "maricón" in this context as "sissy," which is its more original meaning, before the term starting being applied to gay men.

tcs3600 said...

Even if you read the m-word as "sissy," the message is still bad. It's not ok to use an effeminate man as an exemplar of a horrible person!

It would be sad if yet another gay advocacy group was willing to throw the less macho under the bus.

The "sissy" slur also exploits and reinforces sexism, and isn't DV based to a large degree on cultural sexism?

If they actually meant "coward," then they should have used the right word in the first place.

I agree that shame is a good weapon. How about shaming the perps based on what they actually are: Out-of-control, insecure, unfair, old-fashioned... Is that so hard?