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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 09-02-2018 16:22

My life as part of the feminist Gestapo

Last week, Roberto Pettinato, a 62-year-old TV presenter and former 1970s rock star of sorts, came up with the phrase "feminist Gestapo" after he was called out by many women for alleged harassment and inappropriate behaviour in the workplace. I regret to inform you that there is no man-hating secret police...

It’s a full-time job. Being constantly irritated by misogynist comments, wondering if they’re worth arguing over or even pointing out. Gradually losing all respect for most cis men in my life while they explain basic concepts to me. Getting shouted down at Sunday lunch with my boyfriend’s family. Ruining the mood by not laughing at a joke and explaining why. Listening to The Guilty Feminist podcast.

But if any of the above sounds familiar, fear not. You haven’t been recruited into a Nazi cult without realising it, despite what some may have you think. Last week, Roberto Pettinato, a 62-year-old TV presenter and former 1970s rock star of sorts, came up with the phrase “feminist Gestapo” after he was called out by many women for alleged harassment and inappropriate behaviour in the workplace. They came forward after he claimed that “50 percent of men would back down" if only women would just say "I don't want to have sex with you" quickly enough. If only.

Anyway, I regret to inform you that there is no man-hating secret police akin to the infiltrated agents that terrorised their country by brutally suppressing their enemies outside of the legal system, linked to one of the most vilified leaders in human history. I’m afraid you’re just a plain old feminist, not part of some elite squad putting fear into the patriarchy’s heart with corresponding enamel pins on Etsy.

True, “feminist” sounds more boring. What's interesting, entertaining even, is the need of those who are not feminists (in this case, cis white men) to articulate an enemy within feminism, distinguishing "good" feminists from "bad.” For example, a popular term here that’s been around for a while is “feminazi”: an efficient portmanteau equating those who call out misogyny to grammar Nazis obnoxiously correcting double negatives. According to Pettinato in a follow-up interview, the problem was that he “used the word ‘harassment’ wrong.” He clarified that “[...] women should live, one shouldn’t kill them [or] hit them. Feminists are all very well and good but not the feminist Gestapo.”

The number of femicides (the killing of a woman or girl, particularly by a man and on account of her gender) came to 298 in 2017, meaning that last year one woman was killed every 29 hours. Even worse, the women’s rights watchdog Ni Una Menos recorded 13 femicides in just the first 15 days of this year. At least “good” and “bad” feminists agree that femicides are awful. However, Pettinato alluded to a “conceptual error” in “humanity guiding itself with a social imagining in which a certain person is stigmatised.”

In a world of #MeToo and #TimesUp, alongside a national context in which Ni Una Menos has permeated the language (despite becoming something of a misused hashtag), it's unfashionable to bash feminists or gender equality. However, global influence stops around there: there hasn't been room for a full, mainstream exploration of feminism until now. Although the movement has been here for 30 years, it’s now nascent on conventional platforms and Argentines across the board are interested. Even abortion was discussed on the extremely popular talk show Intrusos last week, in a string of segments on feminism.


Despite this new resonance in the media, a definite victory, there is an alarming misunderstanding about feminism and a marked resistance to questioning the patriarchy  — one feminist guest on Intrusos was pressed on her “hatred of men” and chastised for being “aggressive.” “Gender equality” is fine but advocating it without backing down (ruining many a social gathering in the process) is simply exasperating. The answer? A feminist Gestapo pedalling a “socially imagined” stigma.

The creation of an elusive but suffocating force within feminism akin to the Dark Side is an ideal undermining mechanism to characterise serious demands for gender equality as “unnecessary fuss.” It’s also useful for deflecting attention from predators to “those evil feminists.” Therefore, that perceived “fuss” — like women coming forward to accuse a big TV presenter of harassment — must be actively rejected in order to talk about how egalitarian we are in peace.

In fact, Pettinato contended that the “feminist Gestapo” were behind the controversy of his comments, saying they are “putting people off from the conversation.” Thus, men and women are equal but holding high-profile men accountable for harassment in the workplace is messy and bad for ratings. 

So feminists, be “good” and lighten up because you’re fine, really. You have the vote. Also, don’t mention the LGBTQ community, non-whites or anything beyond the binary, please, that sort of thing does nothing for the ambience at an asado. In all seriousness, this isn’t a conversation subdued by so-called fundamentalists: this is the annoyance of an interrupted monologue of privilege.

In addition to general ignorance and crass allusions to the Third Reich, the problem is that aggressors are rarely held accountable. Twelve percent of femicide victims in 2017 had protective measures already in place against their murderers: nobody is expecting Nuremberg. Pettinato is far from going down the way Harvey Weinstein did. Although renowned radio Ari Paluch was taken off the air last year, he wasn’t really a big fish, so enforcing that trend is unlikely for now. And we haven’t even mentioned Bailando Por Un Sueño yet. When contemplating the ocean of Argentine television and misogynistic celebrity culture, Paluch was in fact closer to plankton.

The plethora of women who came forward after Pettinato’s remarks on sexual harassment is heartening bioluminescence, but the current reality isn’t promising. He might think twice about groping a female co-worker next time but remains untouched professionally. As a plain old feminist, this hurts, but that’s the depth of machismo in the Argentine system. As I say, it’s a full-time job.

There is hope, though. The creation of a feminist “Gestapo” to be quashed is born from the necessity of having a valid enemy. Beyond a scapegoat or a bogey-(wo)man, it’s a substitute name for what the Argentine macho cannot admit to being afraid of: plain old feminists.

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Valen Iricibar

Valen Iricibar


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