Remember when the internet rejoiced over US Rep. Maxine Waters' repeated phrase, "Reclaiming my time"? Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was bumbling on with awkward platitudes, clearly trying not to answer a question about President Trump's financial ties to Russia. It was then when Queen Maxine laid in. More recently the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Carmen Yulín Cruz, fielded remarks from President Trump, who described her as "nasty" when she criticized his administration's lack of response to the damage caused by Hurricane Maria. Cruz did not mince words when she then wore a shirt with the word "NASTY" emblazoned across it in an interview with Jorge Ramos.
This year brimmed with public instances where women had to hold their ground in the face of an interrupting male colleague or, in the case of Trump, a political leader resorting to using his favorite word ("nasty") to describe a female. Most interactions in the category of toxic machismo, however, go under the radar, never seeing the light of public opinion. On the daily, though, we encounter men who don't listen, offer unwarranted advice, treat us as inferior, objectify our bodies, ignore us in professional and personal settings, or write us off when we simply don't conform. These kinds of behaviors—the ones that appear to be diffuse, but never cease to sting—are at the very core of how patriarchy exercises itself.
An important study, one of the first of its kind in New Mexico, is dedicated to tackling the question of gender equity, or at least pulling apart the threads that make the patriarchy the patriarchy. "Gender justice," as NewMexicoWomen.Org defines it, is a "commitment and movement to end patriarchy and create a world free from misogyny." The nonprofit's approach, as outlined in their publication The Heart of Gender Justice in New Mexico: Intersectionality, Economic Security and Health Equity, "is rooted in intersectional feminism" and a twin recognition that oppression is always bound up with other forms of inequity, including "classism, racism, ableism, and other 'isms.'"
NMW.O, the mission of which is to advance opportunities for women and girls, is a program of the New Mexico Community Foundation. In the summer of 2016, it kicked off a collaboration with a research team of multidisciplinary scholars and women of color at the University of New Mexico about how to most "effectively advance gender equity work in New Mexico." As Fatima van Hattum, program manager of NMW.O, tells SFR, "No one body had been looking at gender statewide." This seemed surprising, but less so when I found out that only seven percent of philanthropic giving is dedicated to women and girls. Given this lack of policy focus, an important question arises: What kinds of conclusions might we come to when we get with our comadres to talk about everything from intergenerational trauma, sexism and racism to colonization and socioeconomic inequity?
NMW.O did just that. They brought together over 50 participants in seven community dialogues that took place across the state. Based on the resulting published study, which has a qualitative and quantitative component offered in both English and Spanish, it was clear that women and women-identifying individuals' actual experiences speak volumes about how oppression shapes their everyday lives. The published research bears witness "to an old story that folks from those communities have long known." Body-shaming, food deserts and histories of colonization that limited breastfeeding all came up.
What I find refreshing about the study is the focus on social determinants; the various structures of power (think hetero-patriarchy and capitalism) that shape our movements, interactions and, to a large degree, even our bodies. To build healthier communities means identifying those most impacted by social determinants, including "women of color, young women and girls, elders, LGBTQ-identifying people, immigrants, and rural and low-income communities." While this was only mentioned in the study, it bears repeating that men and boys are "also damaged by patriarchy." There was also an emphasis on community strengths rather than weaknesses, a framework much needed in New Mexico.
Still, there's more work to do, as Van Hattum made clear. "A lot of voices were left out; for example, young black women who experienced disciplinary action in schools." I'm particularly interested in how we begin to speak publicly about the very basis of gender binaries. Yet, the goal is to keep building, and "to get more feedback and to hold up a mirror to the blindspots of the study." But with the conversation pried open on a local level, the possibilities are endless.
For now, professors at the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University have brought the research into their classes in women's studies and health policy and, according to Van Hattum, "programmatic folks are using the report in their foundations" as well. As we move forward, we can take to heart Dr. Patricia Trujillo's words: "I imagine a New Mexico where women take up more space—where women are professors, farmers, doctors, storytellers, policy makers, artists, leaders, and where we get paid equally for our work."