The gender politics of Buenos Aires

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South America » Argentina
March 8th 2011
Published: July 2nd 2017
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International Women's Day / Día de la Mujer (today, 8th March) seems to be more visible here in Buenos Aires than I remember it being in London.

This almost certainly, in itself, says nothing about the gender politics of this country; the difference might be due to the fact that people in Argentina are rather more taken with the idea of celebrating 'themed days'. (As an aside, it has always seemed strange to me that, whilst Argentina has a very long list of occasions to mark each year, it can be surprisingly difficult to find somewhere to buy a greetings card.)

Even if the greetings card industry in Argentina is somewhat comatose, other commercial interests can't wait to jump at the chance to use International Women's Day. This week the Alto Palermo shopping centre is singing out "Clothes shopping. A passion for women! International Women's Day - enjoy it with a 25%!d(MISSING)iscount!". I guess we make up our own minds as to whether we feel this represents some typically Argentinean – possibly even Evita-esque – form of feminism that is to be embraced, another cheap and cheapening form of capitalist oppression or simply a great opportunity to get 25% off. Those who know me well might guess my money's on number two.

I have no doubt that sexism is as deeply rooted in Argentinean culture as in most others. However, perhaps a heart-felt cynicism about capitalism provides a kind of cultural buffer against some forms of sexism here. Whatever it is, something appears to create a reasonably progressive culture here in Buenos Aires at least, and I have met some women who feel that the city provides a welcome sense of relief from many of the sexist social pressures that exist in European towns and cities.

At the same time, I have met women here who say that they feel more scrutinised and objectified here than in any other city they've known. Sexist wankers in Buenos Aires certainly seem surprisingly relaxed about using a wolf-whistle to remind a tall or blonde woman that she doesn't look typically Argentinean. So very thoughtful.

As a man and a tourist here, I am not in a position to give a personal view on what it is like to be a woman living in Buenos Aires. However, there are a few other facts and observations that spring to mind from my last eight months here.

First off, it feels pretty meaningful to me that job adverts here in Argentina are often blatantly discriminatory. In the UK, you would have to search hard to find job ads for a “waitress” or “male sales assistant” – the kind of adverts that are commonplace in Argentina. (Of course, there are plenty of employers in the UK that still discriminate in practice, but the law forces them to be a bit quieter about it.)

Cheekily, as someone who has only recently started learning the language, I'd suggest that the gendered nature of Spanish, and many other languages, is at fault here. When your language contains no gender-neutral word for the majority of professions (for example, in Spanish there is a word for “the male teacher” and a word for “the female teacher”, but no word which just expresses “the teacher”😉 it feels logical that this would make employers feel more confident in stipulating which gender they're after when they advertise a particular post. Even those employers who believe that their intention is not to discriminate might claim that they picked one of the two job-titles, either the male or female version, in order to avoid the grammatical clumsiness of asking for a “profesor/profesora” or “maestro/a”.

In the much less gendered English language, an aspect of English I have learned to love recently, the progressive thing to do, at least in the UK, seems to be to search out and use more gender-neutral job-titles, or to adopt job-titles traditionally used to describe men (“actor”, for example) to describe both men and women. However, here in Argentina, a country led by a woman President, the trend for using gendered job-titles is so entrenched that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner demanded a new word be created for “female president” (“presidenta”😉, and that this word be used whenever she is referenced.

CVs in Argentina are also bizarrely willing to equip employers with all the information they need to discriminate. The cultural norm here is to include a photo of yourself with your CV and clearly state your gender, age, marital status and even whether or not you have children. Asking questions about these things in job interviews is also considered fair game. A visit to a country like Argentina can really make you appreciate how good anti-discrimination law is in the UK.

Then there is the law on abortion in Argentina. It is shameful that abortion is still prohibited here. A while ago, at an event here in Buenos Aires, I watched an interview with the authors of a book called Everything you want to know about how to have an abortion with pills (produced by an organisation called Lesbians and Feminists for the Decriminalisation of Abortion), and I was totally thrown. On the one hand, it was great to see that groups and books like this now exist in Argentina, but the fact that 40%!o(MISSING)f all pregnancies in Argentina are terminated illegally and around 80,000 patients per year are hospitalised as a result of complications during illegal abortions, only to face legal proceedings assuming they survive the experience, really is beyond shocking.

So far, I am painting a bleak picture of gender politics in Argentina, and possibly a very misleading one too, since something in the air here has always left me feeling that both women and men are somehow more at ease with their bodies and with the way they look than they are in the UK. And, whilst advertising here, like in the UK, is very much skewed in favour of pressuring women to adapt, disguise and hate their
Graffiti saying "I had an abortion"Graffiti saying "I had an abortion"Graffiti saying "I had an abortion"

It's clear that safe abortions, although illegal, are available here to people who can afford to go to private clinics.
bodies, this advertising doesn't seem to be quite as pervasive as back home. The UK experience, for example, of walking into a newsagents and seeing a wall plastered with airbrushed images of women (notably on the covers of the magazines aimed at both men and women!) doesn't seem to be replicated here – if only because newsagents don't exist in the same way.

The closest I have found myself to drawing any kind of conclusion is that perhaps sexist pressures here are slightly more fussy about who they target than in Northern and Western Europe. For some, walking around Palermo might be a much less oppressive experience than walking down Pall Mall or into the Pompidou Centre. However, for a woman in Argentina who chooses to have an abortion, a woman on the receiving end of a Buenos Aires wolf-whistle, or a woman looking for bar-work and standing in front of a “Wanted: Barman” sign, Buenos Aires must seem as desperately in need of a heavy dose of equality as anywhere else in the world.

The website "Agenda de las mujeres" provides more information and contact details of organisations. A separate list of feminist and/or women's organisations in Buenos Aires/Argentina can
One of the more sexist ads on Argentinean TV...One of the more sexist ads on Argentinean TV...One of the more sexist ads on Argentinean TV...

...although, to be fair, I believe Jorge Hane is from Colombia and now lives in the US. Watch the ad on Youtube:
be found here: However, I do not know how up-to-date either resource is at present.


9th March 2011

I agree with almost everything you have said here and I am a woman living in Buenos Aires. It kills me that open sexism is completely allowed here. While I have always believed women to be equal, I never considered myself a feminist, but be
ing here has certainly gotten me fired up. Men treat women as second class and are simply not taken as seriously here. I was also shocked to find out how much info is fair game in a job interview. Apparently, a man's wife can be called in to be talked to if he is up for a job! That is ludicrous. I feel like there is a lot of pressure to be in a relationship of some kind here. I am a single girl who pays for her own apartment. Most girls my age live with their parents or with a man. I find that when I tell people I am single they look at me like a wounded animal. "but why?! you are so pretty!". It rarely occurs to anyone that I might choose to remain single or perhaps not just take what I can get. Great article, very well put!

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