Sabina Berman: “López Obrador has tried to minimize feminism because it hinders his project”

Sabina Berman during a photography session.
Sabina Berman during a photography session.BLANCA CHAROLET / Courtesy

Sabina Berman (Mexico City, 1955) appears on the other side of the screen with her hair tied back, a serious face and a certain sparkle in her eyes. In the middle of the pandemic that in Mexico already more than 100,000 people have been killeds, the playwright speaks with this newspaper from her home. His voice is deep and slow, sometimes he seems to be declaiming a poem and he ponders each question before answering, as if chewing several times before swallowing. The writer has been awarded numerous times for her work in film, theater, literature and journalism. He currently writes ‘Fables’, a weekly column in the newspaper The universal and until a week ago I had two programs on television. He just left the one he was driving with academic John Ackerman, after report machismo and workplace harassment of your partner last November 10. Public television, where it all happened, never made a statement about it. Defender of the Fourth Transformation (Q4) led by President López Obrador, Berman reflects on what she has experienced these days and on the awakening of the feminist movement in Mexico.

Question. How are you after what happened last week?

Reply. I’m fine. Satisfied with what I did. I think our country needed the image of someone who would stop the harassment live. It was very obvious and I thought, “What options do I have?” One was to resist like a Carmelite nun, to keep the secret of what everyone was seeing; another was to resist as a dignified woman of the twentieth century, who abandons everything and leaves; the other was to intervene and stop the harassment, show it, name it and that’s what I did.

P. He said that at that moment he thought of his nieces …

R. I have four nieces, all very feminist and I wanted to give them that image. I thought of the women in Cancun who protested the umpteenth femicide the day before. A woman was killed, dismembered, kept in garbage bags; there were protests by young women and the police dispersed them with gunshots in the air. After six minutes of the program in which John completely ignores me, I took a short respite to address the interviewee who was the secretary of Public Education to say: “As you have noticed, he does not let me participate. What do I do when faced with such a show of machismo?

P. And what did you think of the answer that the Secretary of Education, Esteban Moctezuma Barragán, gave you?

R. It struck me as the response of a well-meaning man who doesn’t understand what workplace bullying is and doesn’t know how common it is for women in this country. He told me: “Sabina, be patient” and I say no, I have endured the harassment for two months, in which the channel authorities have asked me for patience. I resigned up to three times and in all of them they asked me not to leave and to be patient.

P. He has said in other interviews that he denounced up to eight times the harassment of his partner. What did the directors of Canal Once tell him?

R. They told me he was right. That we were co-drivers, that John was not my boss and they asked me for patience to talk to him and make him understand that he couldn’t run over me.

P. She has received numerous expressions of support from various colleagues and other women through social media. Have women in Mexico realized that they are not alone?

R. Once I was at a Sunday lunch for an extended family and while the soup bowls were passed out, a woman said: “Javier, your brother hit me and last Saturday he sent me to the hospital.” There was a long silence and the older brother said, “Why are you spoiling our Sunday lunch?” Another said: “You must have done something.” Someone else said, “Fix it between yourselves.” This is what we have been saying to women for centuries, the big difference now is sisterhood. Know that we are not alone. A score of communicators, notorious women in our culture, shared a supporting letter where they express something very simple: harassment is not acceptable and nothing justifies it. Point.

P. What difference do you think there is between a sexist on the right and one on the left?

R. The right-wing macho is more sincere. From the beginning he says: “I do not want women to abort, women should not be in the Government, the best job they can have is having children.” The machistas of the left are more deceptive because they use the narrative of the left to justify their acts of violence, like John when he justifies in his tweets that he does this for Q4 and democracy. You have to say that I am an infiltrator of the right to justify that you used violence against me.

P. What is the most urgent thing to resolve regarding violence against women in Mexico?

R. The most serious problem is the manifestation of violence in the form of femicides. We have 10 daily femicides in the country and they continue to increase. We are not making progress and at the same time, we have a government that claims to be feminist with a joint cabinet, joint congresses, while women in power are two steps behind on these issues.

P. After two years of joint government, do you think there have been changes for women or that it was an electoral measure?

R. It was an act that was demagogic, mediated by a misunderstanding: that some women hold positions of power is not feminism. What feminism wants is that many women have positions of power so that the living conditions of all women change. This second step is the one that this joint cabinet is not following.

P. At this point, are you disappointed in the cabinet feminists?

R. No. Feminism is a cultural revolution and it is a long process that aims to change the subordination that women have had to men for millennia. I think we are close to solving it, but ignore me because I am an unrepentant optimist.

P. In other words, you believe that they are not letting the feminists in the cabinet act …

R. They don’t let them and they assume the harassment, because that is also harassment. They shut them up, they threaten them, they tell them that if they talk about feminism they are betraying the 4T. Several ideologues of the 4T have expressed that first there are more urgent things such as the equality of the population and they do not realize that half of the population is us. That blindness is called machismo.

P. And do you think that workerism and feminism can still be understood or are we facing an imminent separation?

R. I believe that today they are the two main social movements in Mexico. Obradorismo seeks to eradicate corruption in Mexico and achieve equality; feminism seeks equality between men and women, they are complementary. Who has insisted on placing them [a las mujeres] in opposition are the workers.

P. What do you think of Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s attitude towards violence against women and feminism in Mexico?

R. President López Obrador spent 18 years preparing for the presidency and now that he arrives with everything planned for what he wants to do, feminism appears to him as an issue that he had not contemplated and he has tried to minimize, limit, because it hinders him from his project. I think it does not get in the way, it complements your project and it is a loss for workers and feminists that we cannot bond.

P. Do you consider that the feminist movement is being criminalized in Mexico?

R. Yes, it is being criminalized and that causes a radicalization of the younger feminists. The State has to change its strategy and make an act of contrition for the machismo accumulated over centuries in the country. If not, you will not find how to deal with this radical feminism. The amount of nonsense that has been said about them: that they are related to Soros, that they are paid by the right wing, that they are vandals and anarchists … It’s the same thing that would have been said at that family meal: “Shut up, woman. Don’t break our comfortable balance with your suffering. You are a woman, suffer in silence ”. These girls, daughters and granddaughters of feminists, say: “You are screwed. We are not going to suffer in silence ”, I am with all my heart with them.

P. After what happened with John Ackerman, are you still hopeful in Q4?

R. Of course I am still hopeful. John Ackerman has nothing to do with what 4T is. What John did is a rough, long and intense act of machismo. He uploaded defamations and everything covered by the 4T, but the 4T never told him that that was what he had to do. Also protected by the power of his wife, the Secretary of Public Function, Irma Eréndira Sandoval, whom he uses as a tray of power. I am concerned that in the face of an act of human violence as flagrant as the one experienced on television and seen by thousands, many men and women of the 4T remain silent. I have received many communications from women on the left these days, but none public.

P. Sabina, if this were a play, would it be one of those that ends well or those that end badly?

R. So far it is one that ends well, but I worry about the near future because John Ackerman has unleashed an army of bots in the networks with the version that I harassed him and that I harassed our team of young university students. I worry that John will use them to make up a very unpleasant story and I have no doubt that he will because that is what he does, making up stories, making them pass for reality. I make up stories but for the theater, for novels and when I write a story in the newspaper, I say it is a fable.

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