INTERVIEW: Attacks on radical feminists reach Argentina

On February 15th, during an assembly of the Argentinean Violence Against Women Collective, Ni Una Menos, a male trans activist physically assaulted a woman. The gathering had been organized to plan events to be held on March 8th, International Women’s Day, and feminists had been invited to address the congregation with their demands for the day in prepared statements. A group of women — members of Feministas Radicales Independientes de Argentina (FRIA) — were scheduled to speak, but when a member named Ana went to take the microphone, the audience began chanting, “Kick her out! Kick her out!” The toxicity reached a boiling point when a male trans activist lunged at Ana and physically assaulted her.

The violence was condemned on social media, but not by Ni Una Menos.

It is worth noting that during the weeks prior to the assault, several national newspapers published articles and opinion pieces blaming radical feminists for the male violence perpetrated against trans-identified people and comparing them to Nazis.

On February 8th, left-wing Argentinian newspaper Pagina 12 published an article by trans activist Marleny Wayar, which concluded with an ominous threat:

“As a movement, the trans community suffer poverty, lack of resources, internal infighting, structural poverty, unintelligencies, lack of structural power and much more, but there will come a time when we will be offered equality, sovereignty and autonomy. And when that time comes, we will put you [radical feminists] on trial, just like we did with nazi genocides, and wherever you are, we will seek you out.”

I spoke with two members from FRIA — Ana and Maira —  to learn more about the incident and their organization.


Raquel Rosario Sánchez: Tell me about your history with feminism. What draw you to the feminist movement? How did you begin?

Ana: I got interested in feminism when I realized that being born a girl meant that I suffered specific forms of violence. Like many feminists, I entered feminism through liberal feminism, which is the hegemonic feminism, at least in Argentina. Then, through Facebook groups, I started to learn about radical feminist theory and activism, and I found a place for the concerns that I already had. For example, I had been questioning the term “cis.” I began to discover that women, regardless of how many differences we may have, share some experiences in common.

Maira: If I remember correctly, I became interested in feminism in 2015, because of the movement to end violence against women and femicide that kicked off [in Argentina] at that point. That’s when I started to investigate the movement to abolish prostitution. I read so many articles and books against prostitution —  mostly written by radical feminists — which led me to question the concept of gender itself. Partly, because I needed to understand why women were subordinate to men, and I felt like there was a piece of the puzzle that was missing. But also, because those feminists who were abolitionists — like Sheila Jeffreys and Andrea Dworkin — were also gender abolitionists.

RRS: You are part of a feminist organization called FRIA (Feministas Radicales Independientes de Argentina). Can you tell me about the group? When and why it was founded?

Maira: It came about at the end of 2017 — it was an initiative that sprung up from a radical feminist Spanish platform on social media that was collecting radical feminist quotes. So, the radical feminists in Argentina decided we wanted to get to know each other — first through a Facebook group, and later in real life. At first, we had picnics and consciousness-raising meetings, but as International Women’s Day approached, we decided we wanted to organize ourselves so we could participate in the Ni Una Menos protests against the advancement of the pimp lobby and queer theory. That’s how we created FRIA.

Among our objectives, we want to educate ourselves and other women about radical feminism through reading circles. That’s because we understand that a feminism without a theoretical basis is too malleable to hegemonic interests.

RRS: On February 15th, there was a violent incident at a Ni Una Menos gathering. What happened?

Ana and Maira: We signed up as speakers for the Ni Una Menos assembly to plan the March 8th events, along with other radical feminists and independent organizations. The leadership of Ni Una Menos is entirely liberal, which is why they introduced us as “radical feminists,” even though we had deliberately asked them to address us as “an abolitionist front.” This was a gimmick they deployed to prevent us from being heard. As soon as they said that, almost everyone present at the Assembly started yelling and jeering at us.

When Ana took the microphone to read the statement we had written together, asking for freedom of speech to be respected, a trans activist [male who identifies as a woman] physically assaulted her. Thanks to the intervention of our comrades, it didn’t escalate beyond that. But after Ana was attacked, the other radical feminist organizations present (RADAR and other independent organizations) no longer felt safe to speak. It should be noted that there was no critique of trans activism in the statement* we planned to read out. We believe that this censorship of our ideas was rooted in a backlash from sex industry advocates who want to foment infighting against the movement to abolish prostitution.

RRS: I understand that this may be difficult to talk about, but could you describe what happened as you took the microphone?

Ana: I was the woman who was attacked. As you can imagine, it was a very confusing moment. But what I remember is that this person grabbed me by the neck and started shaking me. I pushed them away with my arms, trying to get them to back off, but this person lunged at me again, grabbing me with one arm and lifting their other arm in the air, as if to strike me. When I saw that, I chose to do nothing, because I didn’t want anyone to say that this was a two-sided fight, as opposed to an attack. Either way, I was at a physical disadvantage.

Luckily, several feminist sisters intervened and pushed my attacker away from me. It could have been far worse. It’s odd to talk about it, because this violent act was very confusing. I feel as if it didn’t really happen to me, and — like all women — I often think “Well, it wasn’t that bad” because, as women, we tend to minimize things until it’s too late. I feel like I’m the one being judged here.

RRS: We now know that after the attack on February 15th, there was a considerable backlash online, as people condemned the violence. Nonetheless, the Ni Una Menos collective framed this backlash as“transhateful speech.” How did the Ni Una Menos assembly react to the attack?

Ana: After the attack, the Ni Una Menos assembly began to chant “trans resistance lives here!” so that we would be further prevented from speaking. In effect, this was justifying the attack and granted legitimacy to our censorship and the persecution of radical feminists. There was a very heated discussion (which you can see in the video), [among those who wanted] to prevent us from speaking and a few people outside our own organization who supported our right to speak. In the end, we had to leave, given the fact that, even after a physical attack on us, we were being censored.

RRS: About a week after the attack, the Ni Una Menos collective issued a statement, justifying it, comparing radical feminists to fascists, and accusing them of promoting “a hateful narrative which denies existences and is violent towards trans identities.” The statement included a censorship motion calling for all radical feminists to be banned from speaking at a subsequent gathering on February 22nd, scheduled to continue organizing for March 8th. What has been the reaction within Argentinean feminism? Have you felt supported?

Ana and Maira: We received some support from abolitionists organizations, but we were taken aback that many organizations — including abolitionists who supported us — did so with hesitance. For example, they said they repudiated the aggression but that they didn’t support transphobia, which granted legitimacy to the idea that radical feminists are transphobic. Other feminist organizations didn’t show solidarity at all, while others within the women’s rights movement supported the attack. The Ni Una Menos collective apologized, not for the violence against women,but for the fact that we were even allowed to speak.

There was support but it was scant and lukewarm, particularly given the severity of the situation and how widespread the feminist movement is in Argentina. We received more support from radical feminists abroad than from feminists in our own country. After what happened, we feel devalued and are concerned about the way we are being defamed and abused. We are being abused politically, symbolically, and ideologically — to the point that we fear for our safety. We doubted it would be safe to march on March 8th. We did decide to march, in the end, with the abolitionist front, but we didn’t bring our FRIA flags with us because we didn’t wanted to be identified. Despite all this, radical feminists will continue to fight for women’s liberation.

RRS: How is the clash between women’s rights and trans rights going in Argentina? What’s the view of sex self-identification in Argentinean feminism?

Maira: It’s widespread. Almost the totality of the feminist movement is trans feminist [a version of “feminism” that supports gender identity ideology]. The least bit of critique or questioning of trans activism leads to censorship and exclusion from “feminist” spaces that should be safe for women. It’s important to note that in Argentina we have a Gender Identity Law which is based on self-identification. That law opens the door to interpretations and applications that have dangerous ramifications for women and even for [trans-identified women].

RRS: What would you like to say to the English-Speaking women reading this interview you, after having gone through such a horrific experience?

Maira: After such a violent attack, which sets a precedent and closes off all possibilities of dialogue, we want to cultivate a closer relationship with feminist organizations in other countries so that we can create an international radical feminist network against patriarchal oppression. This isn’t a passing trend; we are all bracing ourselves for harder times. There are many special interests seeking to make a scapegoat out of us.

Ana: I’m afraid I’ve got nothing optimistic to say. These are dark times for women who struggle for ourselves and for each other. Today, within our own ranks, a form of [so-called] “feminism,” is enabling violence — physically and symbolically — against women for theoretical or political reasons. This attitude from “feminist” sectors is clearly misogynist, because it is blaming women for the actions of men who are responsible for the violence committed against women and girls, boys, transsexuals, and trans-identified people, and other men. Radical feminists would never rejoice, support, or condone any form of violence against people who identify as trans. We are not the enemy but we are being caricatured as such to break the feminist movement.

RRS: Any final thoughts you’d like to share with Feminist Current readers?

Ana and Maira: We are going back to the witch hunts and we’re are undoing work that has taken centuries. I believe our only path forward is resistance. Resistance may not mean insisting on being present in spaces which are clearly adverse and harmful for us (even if the people in those spaces paradoxically speak about democracy and inclusion), but may just mean deepening our education in radical feminism. We need to educate ourselves and learn from each other. We need to hold consciousness-raising sessions and we need to organize among ourselves, instead of seeking to destroy each other.

There is a solid basis to radical feminism — both conceptually, in the way it is articulated theoretically, but also in terms of the values we learn from it, making our struggle for liberation easier to carry. Therefore, we must hold on to it to prevent the struggle for the liberation of women from being diluted and co-opted by other struggles which claim to be our struggles but are not. What is clear to us is that the movements which produce the most resistance are the truly revolutionary ones.

*Full transcript of the statement Ana and other members of FRIA intended to read at the event:

This March 8th, women will go on strike and we will rally against the patriarchal and capitalist system and against all the oppressions that women suffer. We demand:

  • Safe, legal, and free abortion rights. No more dead women and girls. No more forced maternity.
  • The Law on a Humanized Birth to be enforced. A feminist training for all medical personnel. Enough obstetric violence.
  • The approval of a Menstrual Management Law project. Menstruating must not cost a fortune.
  • The government to declare violence against women as a national emergency. Proper budgeting and efficient strategies towards the enforcement of Law 26485, which seeks to provide comprehensive protection against gender-based violence and femicide.
  • Complete rejection of all forms of reproductive and sexual exploitation of women. We are not incubators and, therefore, our uteruses are not for rent.
  • The justice system to be made non-patriarchal. Enough women in jails for defending themselves against male violence! A revision of the sentencing of Nahir Galarza. A revision of the sentencing of Lucia Perez femicide and the destitution of the three judges who oversaw the case. An absolution of Higui and Joe Lemonge. Enough hatred of lesbians! Enough of the used of the inaccurate ‘Parental Alienation Syndrome’ in cases of child sexual violence.
  • The enforcement of a Comprehensive Sexual Education in schools with a feminist perspective which positions itself against rape, sexual terrorism, prostitution culture, and pornography as a form of misogynist pedagogy of rape.
  • Employment and housing for victims of human trafficking. Economic and social opportunities and protection for those women, travestis, and trans people who want to escape prostitution and can’t find another way to make a living. Don’t mess with the Human Trafficking Law!
  • We demand the abolition of prostitution, pornography, gender, compulsive heterosexuality, and all patriarchal institutions.
  • We reject the misrepresentation and persecution against radical feminists.
  • We remain in struggle!
Raquel Rosario Sanchez

Raquel Rosario Sanchez is a writer from the Dominican Republic. Her utmost priority in her work and as a feminist is to end violence against girls and women. Her work has appeared in several print and digital publications both in English and Spanish, including: Feminist Current, El Grillo, La Replica, Tribuna Feminista, El Caribe and La Marea. You can follow her @8rosariosanchez where she rambles about feminism, politics, and poetry.