How A Death Challenged Gender Perspective In Puerto Rico’s Culture

A few days ago (Feb. 8 at 12:54 am), a woman was run over as she was crossing a street. The driver fled the scene. In an Island (Puerto Rico) where the deaths per weekend have been known to reach the double digits, this death might have easily gone unnoticed. Except the woman who died was Ivania Zayas, a local singer/songwriter with a small but loyal fan base, who brought people’s attention to this tragic event in the social media.

However, what brought this into the public eye wasn’t simply the loss of a talented musician to an act of tragedy, but the comments of Félix Bauzó, director of the Homicide Division of Criminal Investigation Corps, who questioned the logic of why Ivania was walking the streets alone at that hour.

“It is unusual for a lady, around 1 am, to be crossing that avenue (65th Infantry) and therefore we have to investigate whether she was alone or accompanied. If she was alone, it is worrisome, if she wasn’t, then it would be interesting to know what they were doing, where they came from, that kind of details.” (Translated from NotiCel)

I think there is no need to explain the nature of this comment as it speaks for itself more clearly than I could ever portray. The comment sparked a social media backlash in the form of the hashtag #AndandoLaCalleSola (Walking the street alone); challenging the idea that a woman walking alone at night is an invitation for violence.

Although Officer Bauzó later retracted his comments, they did give a clear image of the rampant gender stereotyping, sexism, and victim blaming within Puerto Rico’s society. This exposition demonstrates the need to promote an open discussion and education about how society views women and gender stereotypes as a whole. Interestingly enough, in an uncommon act of proactivity, the government is currently developing a program for the Department of Education based on Gender Perspective, by which they will educate our youth about the damages caused by gender stereotyping. Unfortunately, these efforts are being shut down, not by the “Patriarchy” and “Machista” community (not that the machistas mind it being shut down), but by a limited but very aggressive group of religious fundamentalists who view opening the discussion about Gender Perspective as the gate way to the “Gay Agenda.” Interestingly enough over 40 other religious and social organizations have established their support to the project.

And there lies the main problem of our society, a society so willing to cover their ears with their own prejudice, that ignores its reality. A society where religious extremists want to ignore any conversation about sexual orientation and gender discrimination, as if that made the LGBT community and open gender stereotyping to disappear. A society where machistas ignore any conversation about women’s rights and gender equality, as if this created a social reality (that never existed to begin with) where a woman’s role was to serve her husband.

Perspectives should never be ignored just because they are not your own and knowledge should never be suppressed just because it makes you uncomfortable. We owe future generations to provide them with the information, the tools, and the vision to create a better Puerto Rico, and a better world. As a great man once said, “Reasoning doesn’t have a gender.” (La razon no tiene sexo. - Eugenio Maria de Hostos)

This is a topic I have dealt with since I started writing online as can be evident from my first article for GMP, How Macho Culture Sets Men Up to Fail.

I was part of a debate run by Meryland Cuevas on this topic earlier this week for Otros Veinte Pesos, a Spanish speaking site. 

This is the first part of the debate.

And Part 2. Additional information and closing comments.

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