On November 25th 1960, in the Dominican Republic, three women were clobbered to death by the henchmen of the dictator then at the head of their country, General Rafael Trujillo. Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa Maribal were vibrant, educated and courageous women who resisted not only Trujillo’s violent and bloody regime, but the man itself. The culprit at the heart of their death can be traced to the machista culture so well documented and rampant in the Dominican Republic. The General loved the company of young girls and consumed them at will. Before becoming a revolutionary, Minerva had caught his eye and had refused his advances by slapping his face-the untinkable- while attending a private event. Publicly humiliated, Trujillio from then on tormented Minerva’s family and toyed with her personal life, fuelling and provoking the rebel in her and her sisters. It is not per se the sisters’ involvement in clandestine activities against the violent government that signed their death sentence, but the simple fact that they were women who had defied the supreme male authority.
Six months following the deaths of the Mirabal sisters, also known as Las Mariposas (the Butterflies), the general was assassinated- an event most likely precipitated by the murder of the sisters- toppling the regime. While Las Mariposas became an iconic symbol of feminist resistance and courage throughout the country, still today, the impact of their sacrifice on the reality of women is heartbreakingly negligible. In the Dominican Republic, as in many other Latino countries, the wave of femicide- the murdering of a woman by a man because of her gender- is frightening. In Central America and the Caribbean this scourge has not yet been contained.
Most if not all of these gender-based murders share one strong common denominator: they are committed in male dominated cultures, cultures that encourage, legitimize and normalize violence to women, whether physical, sexual or psychological. In these countries, women are limited by the perception men hold of the feminine role, rarely allowing women to step outside the script they have been told to follow. In this world inhabited by insecure men who sadly rely on domination, denigration and control to establish their virility, the independent woman may pay a high price for pursuing ambitions that fall outside of the family arena. This machismo culture has infiltrated minute aspects of daily living, at home, at the workplace, diseasing the government apparatus meant to protect everyone. Everyone. For this dance to be allowed, there needs to be an accomplice. This accomplice is machismo’s counterpart, ingrained also in the Latino culture: the marianismo ideal. This unattainable ideal presupposes that women are to be obedient, passive, pure, dedicated solely to the family imperatives. The many women that adhere to this blue print of unreasonable gender behaviour signals to society that they are tacitly willing to ignore acts of abuse. This is where hyper-masculinity collides with an unsustainable feminine archetype, with one clear victim: women. I urge these capable women to keep on moving and to transform this marianismo ideal into a modern one capable of opening new avenues and securing new defendable modulations of co-existence.
Unesco defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.” Because of the misogynistic brutality at the centre of the murders of the Maribal sisters, Unesco, since 1999, has declared November 25th to be the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
These murders have come to symbolise the plight of women caught in a world made of men afraid of the feminine being, men frightened by their own vulnerabilities. Hatred, spite and condescension have targeted women the world over, for hundreds of years, yes. But to the men of the Dominican Republic specifically, I now say this: honour the message these courageous women have given you. Help your mothers, your sisters, your wives, your partners and your daughters become the best of themselves knowing your country as a whole will pulse to the beat of a unique vibrancy, that of a society thriving on equality. Most of all, Dominican men, abandon the obsolete code of honour at the heart of your machista way of thinking; they only highlight your cowardice, insecurities and contribute to the murder of women, no less. Instead, embrace the bright, positive and constructive code of conduct your Spanish ancestors have laid out, the caballerismo. There, bravery, not aggression, respect, not degradation, accountability not gutlessness, dictate the strong man’s moral code.