Their weapons against street harassment in Mexico City are song and confetti, but smashing machismo can still be a dangerous undertaking for Las Hijas de Violencia, the Daughters of Violence, the punk group whose recorded street confrontations went viral last month.
“We’re trying to change a paradigm and because of that we get strong responses,” said Ana Beatriz, 25, who formed Las Hijas de Violencia along with Ana Karen, 28, and Betsabeth, 24. The women, who often perform wearing animal masks, declined to give their last names in order to protect their identities.
“The harassers have responded like we expected,” Ana Beatriz said. “The fear is subverted because we switch the roles and they are the ones who are startled. It’s only for a second because they see that it’s just confetti, but it’s subversive.”
The project is simple, but not easy. When a man catcalls any one of the members while they’re out in public, the group launches into a performance of their theme, “Sexista Punk,” shooting confetti from a toy gun as the grand finale. Blared from a portable player as the women sing into microphones, the song lyrics literally put the men on blast.
I’m always confronted with this everyday
The same looks and words of aggression
“How pretty, how tasty, Mamacita, what an ass!”
And I just ignore the denigration
In one such encounter two men threatened to rape and kill them—the one time they can all agree that the situation became fraught. But, said Ana Karen, they did not try to hurt them physically.
“It was a threat of intimidation,” she said.
Nevertheless, only Ana Beatriz carries her confetti gun in her purse. “It’s a daily performance,” she said. “If they harass me, I shoot but I don’t sing the song, and that’s it.”
Reaction from their families—Ana Karen and Betsabeth are cousins—has also been mixed.
“It’s been, ‘What do you hope to get from this?’,” Ana Karen said. “Men in our families have questioned what we’re doing, but at least the topic is on the table for discussion. One of my uncles said, ´Well, there’s liberty of expression.’ My brother asked me what he’s supposed to do if a woman harasses him. I told him I didn’t know, I’m doing an investigation.”
In fact, the members are candid about the fact that Las Hijas de Violencia is not based on any feminist theory, but rather is a way to explore being a woman through art. Their performances started out as an experiment and they give the impression they’re still along for the ride, learning along the way. They are quick to point out that they do not speak for the women of Mexico and acknowledge that they enjoy privileges—among them, living in the city and attending university—that cause them to experience sexism in a different way. What the group does acknowledge is that street harassment is one cultural construct that cuts across social stratas.
“It reflects the ideological root of machismo under which we live, it has to do with them saying something to you all the way to femicide,” Ana Karen said.
Despite the serious topic, all three founding members maintain a sense of fun about the project. The name, Las Hijas de Violencia, plays off both the culture of violence towards women and Violencia Rivas, a character played by Argentinian comedian Peter Capusotto, who claims to be the mother of punk. A more direct translation would actually be Violence’s Daughters, which sounds like the hardcore neighbors of Destiny’s Child. The work of artist Alicia Murillo, who recorded her confrontations with street harassers in 2011, influenced the project, as well as the guerilla performances of Pussy Riot, they said.
They landed on using confetti guns as a witty critique of men’s dismissal of street harassment, explained Ana Karen.
“The harasser will say, “I just said that you were pretty,” or, “I was just looking.” And I say, “Well, it’s just confetti and it’s just a song,” said Ana Karen. “It shows how art can be such a powerful weapon.”
Women have responded positively to the work, sending support online and collaborating on a music video, among other performances. A video produced by AJ+ of one outing has more than nine million views on Facebook, and the women have been invited to speak at street harassment panels in Mexico. Moving forward, they said they want to develop shows and programs for young girls and on college campuses.
But with greater visibility comes…greater visibility. Now the group is facing a different kind of harassment.
“Because we’ve gone viral, it’s increased to a grand scale,” Ana Beatriz said of online harassment. “We’ve received a lot of threats, a lot of trolling, talking about murder and rape. The virtual space is not a space in another world, it reflects the same.”
Rather than scaring them off, the threats have acted as a call to arms for the Daughters.
“There was so much solidarity with the video,” Ana Karen said. “We also see that with the online harassment.”