In this guest post, Marta Mensa writes on machismo culture and gender violence in Latin America, and argues that advertisements for social campaigns against gender violence should be carefully designed.
Latin America is one of the continents with the highest rate of violence against women. The most extreme form of this crime is called femicide, the murder of a woman for the fact that she is a woman. Advertising can be a good tool to reduce this violence, but social campaigns have portrayed women as victims and not as empowered. Unfortunately, Latin American advertisements for social campaigns reinforce the idea that women need protection, which is used as an excuse for machismo to control them.
Machismo in Latin America
I have lived and worked in Mexico, Peru and Chile, and from personal experience, I can confirm that there is not one or universal form of machismo. In each country where I lived, I found a different kind of machismo:
- If you really want to understand what machismo means, please visit Mexico. I learned a lot about gender discrimination walking on the street and talking with Mexican people. A very visible example is public transportation: metro has different compartments for men and women to protect women from harassment and sexual assault. However, Machismo is accepted and promoted by men and women, where women expect men to invite them to dinner and to pay for it.
- Peru has a basic machismo where women are submissive, and men think about them as a sexual object. Women accept their subordination to men, and perpetuate this situation by being coquettish. I studied creative women in Peruvian advertising and I found that there is a kind of creative women called “mujer vitrina” (shop-window woman), who are young, sexy and beautiful. They are hired to entertain creative men.
- Finally, in Chile you can find a more subtle machismo. Men seem very polite to women, but in fact use this kindness as a way of control. Women think that they have the power, but when they are alone with a man they accept his decision.
There is no doubt that campaigns are an important tool for raising awareness about violence against women, because they can influence people’s behaviour and change it. The UN declared in 1985 that violence against women is a human rights violation. Gender may have become a trending topic, but we still have a long way to go to eradicate violence against women in Latin America.
Gender violence and femicide in Latin America
While the United States experienced the Me Too feminist movement, in Latin American this was called Ni una menos(Not one [woman] fewer). The name refers to femicide, women’s deaths committed by men for the only reason that they hate women. In Chile, this concept is more extensive, and it includes a woman’s death when she kills herself for a gender issue (for example when a boyfriend spreads her intimate photos on the web, or when she dies as a result of an abortion, which is illegal and therefore carried out with very unsafe methods). According to Gender Equality Observatory for Latin America and the Caribbean, at least 2.321 women were murdered in Latin America during 2018. Brazil leads the list of countries with most deaths, followed by Mexico and Argentina.
Violence is not innate but learned. Social Learning Theory explains that human behavior is obtained through modeling and observation of other people. In machismo culture, men are socially educated to have the power. Therefore, they acquire and internalize norms and values which justify violence as an exercise to consolidate the patriarchal privilege and subordination of women.
Advertising Against Women Violence
Advertising can be a good tool to fight against gender violence and to invite bystanders to denounce these situations. But we should not forget that advertising has created gender stereotypes against women, portraying them as housewife or sexual objects.
My recent research analyzed 407 ads for social campaigns against gender violence in Latin America. The results show that 42.5% of the ads aim to prevent and denounce gender violence. However, 71.7% of ads do not include a contact telephone number, which makes it difficult to denounce a crime. Another significant result is that 45.4% of women are shown as victims and 28.2% as empowered. The examples below illustrate these two types of ads.
Advertisements which feature women as victims are hugely problematic, because such images perpetuate the idea of male superiority versus female inferiority. Furthermore, women as victims reinforce the idea that they have to be protected, and protection is an excuse for justifying machismo. Therefore, social campaigns should portray an image of women as empowered, for examples as a survivor.
Unfortunately, machismo rules Latin America and its eradication will require much more work. Men have the power and they are afraid to lose it. For this reason they will fight, consciously or unconsciously, to keep the control and power.
Advertising cannot forget that it has a huge responsibility regarding its message, not only with social advertising but with all kind of communication. Achieving gender equality is difficult, but it is not impossible.
Marta Mensa is Associate Professor in the Social Communication Department at Austral University (Chile). Her current research focuses on gender and creative advertising in Latin America.