Blog post

The Writing on the Bodies of Women

Veronica Gago and Luci Cavallero on the struggles against austerity in Argentina, and the growing wave of violence against women - including the kidnapping and torture last week of the teacher Corina de Bonis for resisting the closure of schools in Moreno, Buenos Aires.

Verónica Gago, Luci Cavallero19 September 2018

The Writing on the Bodies of Women

As Argentina celebrated Teachers’ Day last Wednesday, the teacher Corina de Bonis was kidnapped and tortured because she resisted the closure of schools in the locality of Moreno (where schools have been closed since a gas explosion, in an underfunded and unsafe school building, killed two employees) in the Buenos Aires metropolitan region. Her kidnappers carved the words “no more pots” (“no más ollas”) onto her stomach, referring to ollas populares or popular community meals, meals being provided by teacher-activists to hungry children without a school to go to. The scene of horror is powerful: they literally write on women’s bodies the terror that they want to communicate. They write on the body of this woman in struggle, torturing her. They write to transmit a message: as they had already done with posters saying that the next community meal would be in the cemetery. Because power sees the pots in the streets in the same way as they saw witches’ cauldrons: as spaces of meetings, nourishment, and conversation where resistance is woven, where we come together to form a common body and cast it as a spell against hunger. We gather around the pots to cook, to oppose and to conspire against being condemned to poverty and resignation.

Why do they literally write “no more pots” on that body? Because they are afraid of the ollas populares, of the pot. Because the pot destroys all the abstractions hidden by the words of financial terror: both the “zero deficit” and the immaterial dimension of the stock markets collapse when they are confronted with the blunt force of a pot. The pot is translated into a concrete and unobjectionable image of inflation and austerity measures in everyday life.

This week women brought their pots to the streets (like they did in the roadblocks before and after 2001): once again there is an emergence of community know-how, capacities to collectivize what people have, and to foreground the defense of life as part of a feminine politics. Bringing pots out into the streets politicizes the domestic, as the feminist movement has long been doing: freeing it from enclosure, confinement, and solitude. Turning the domestic into an open space in the street.

The crisis grows at the rhythm of inflation, of the structural adjustment imposed by massive layoffs and cuts to public spending and the bankarization of food purchases (through “food cards” that can only be redeemed in certain stores and now are not being recognized because of the “lack” of prices, caused by the speculation engaged in by some supermarkets). Today all of this is translated into hunger for millions of people. And now what becomes criminalized is hunger: we see the militarization of social conflict underway, the specter of “looting” used to threaten repression, and the persecution of protests in the name of “security.”

Several women from social organizations have already told us that they do not eat dinner, applying austerity to themselves in the face of food scarcity and to be better able to provide and share food among their children. Technically it’s called “food insecurity.” Politically, it highlights how women risk their bodies, how their lives are differentially impacted by the crisis.

Financial speculation carries out war against bodies in the streets and the pots that resist. The pots today are connected with the cauldrons from before. The pots become cauldrons.

Today in Argentina, there is a crisis of social reproduction in many neighborhoods; when confronted with this, the government redoubles its commitment: financial terror, terror in the style of tasks groups (as were responsible for state terror under the dictatorship) and a climate of affective terror. When we speak of financial terror, we are not only referring to the business carried out by banks with the exchange rate difference or the speculation on investment funds facilitated by the government and IMF goals. We also refer to how that “strategic opacity” (that sort of meteorological phenomenon in which the language of speculation is spoken) is translated into a drastic reduction of our purchasing power, the value of our wages and benefits, and uncontrolled price increases. The speed and vertigo of that “depreciation” of value is part of the terror and disciplining that attempts to make us submissive through fear, we should fear that everything could be even worse. Financial terror confiscates the desire for transformation: affective terror forces us to only desire that things do not keep getting worse.

But there is something else. When we speak of financial terror we are also referring to how finance (at the hands of banks and their subsidiaries – from “cash now” operations to credit cards, and including other more informal dynamics) have taken control of domestic and family economies through popular debt. Today the financialization of family economies makes it so that the poorest sectors (and now not only those sectors) must go into debt to pay for food and medicine and pay for basic services in installments with enormously high interest rates. In other words, everyday subsistence generates debt on its own.

Financial terror, then, is a structure of obedience over the day to day and the time to come and it forces us to take on the costs of austerity in an individual and private way. But it also normalizes the fact that our everyday life is only sustainable through debt. Financial terror, then, is an everyday “counterrevolution” in the sense that it makes us desire stability at any cost.

It is not a coincidence that the Women20 meets in Argentina in two weeks: that is, the group of women that the G20 has organized in order to translate the feminist movement’s agenda into a neoliberal register. It is not by chance that they want to hold it in Argentina, where the feminist movement is attracting attention from around the world because of its massiveness and radicality. It is not a coincidence that one of its main proposals for women’s “financial inclusion” is to make us believe that we can be entrepreneurs if we can manage to go into (even more!) debt.

The pots-cauldrons emerge in opposition to the luxury menu that will be offered to the entrepreneurs of the Women20. Finance wants to take our lives (which it exploits, indebts, and terrorizes), but for some time we have been saying that we want ourselves alive, free, and without debt. The pots in the streets weave a politics of bodies in resistance, they light the collective fire against the non-existence to which they want to condemn us, and shout that we are not afraid of them!

Originally published in Spanish, and translated by Liz Mason-Deese and Ana Vivaldi.