Editor’s Note: This column was written a few days before the contested presidential election in Honduras in November 2017.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.” (Alice Through the Looking Glass)
Today I woke up joyfully after a beautiful women’s demonstration that revealed the fears of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández and his friends when they sent in tanks, soldiers and gas masks, to confront our flowers and songs. I felt so strong listening to my companions’ speeches, their diverse voices coming from all over the country–from Choloma to Choluteca and through the center, as a handful of us sneaked around sowing life in the esplanade in front of the new Presidential House. We planted what we called “the women’s garden”. We planted a jacaranda tree, to represent our laughter and joys in a country where life pulses and death always calls.
We gifted life to a city that drowns in concrete. We knew immediately that they would take our beautiful wooden plaque, a heart carved in wood, when a soldier came to look us straight in the eye and we held his gaze. Taking advantage of his presence, cautiously we took our wanderer heart and placed it safely inside a car so that it could accompany us many more times. After all, life will go wherever we go. It will be a traveling garden, a garden of hope. When I got home, I was overflowing with gurgles, like a baby, and went to sleep with the feeling of happy tiredness.
While I was preparing a day of work and exams, I received the call from Fatima Mena. Fatima was being attacked by one or several of her political colleagues, who, with absolute impunity, laughed at her in addition to attacking her. I was alarmed and started looking to see what I could do because for months I’ve witnessed how she has been attacked, beaten, ridiculed and threatened with death.
Her case has been documented by the Women’s Political Observatory, which works with other feminist organizations. But despite everything, the first reaction of colleagues from “solidarity” organizations, let alone the media, was: Is she is telling the truth? Did it really happen to her? Why don’t we listen to the other party? Be careful not to fall into electoral games!’
It doesn’t matter that she has been documenting this type of violence for some time, nor does it matter that her life, her integrity, and her family are in danger. Moreover, no one asks what proof we have, which in these days is the visual, what cannot be hidden, a video or a punch in the face, I suppose. What we have registered doesn’t count, nobody bothers to inquire further. Her word is suspect, and then I understood, that it will always be her word and therefore ours.
As I usually do, I “climbed the walls” with rage. And that’s valid–we must sustain that indignation, without letting it cancel us out, because we are emotional and thinking beings. Being angry doesn’t discredit me, nor does it limit my critical capacity.
I remembered my own case a few months ago when I too heard: ‘But did it really happen?’ ‘Are you sure?’ ‘Surely, it wasn’t that serious. You’re not imagining things?’ And again, I heard that voice of my childhood, a policeman’s voice, who asked my mother as she choked, nearly suffocated by the hands of her partner, ‘What did you do to him? Did you provoke him?’ And the voice of my own family when they said to me: ‘Did he really do that to you? He looks so polite…’ Your partner harassed you? Noooo, that can’t be. What did you do to him?’
It’s not enough for me to recount time and time again how I had to staunch the flow of blood from my broken head broken after a brutal blow that, unlike the ovoid Humpty Dumpty, could be put back together. That should be proof enough, but no, I probably just hit my head against something and forgot how it happened–because my word is not enough. Everyone suddenly becomes an oasis of male indulgence. And I don’t know what to do about it, except to denounce it, because silence and particularly that of women, is a thousand times more comfortable to power, than speaking up.
Thinking about that, I hear a spiral of voices from years ago. Our voices, the responses—always on the edge of ‘I don’t believe you’– as if we were masters of fantasy and invented everything, the product of some brilliant but somehow malevolent mind, Agatha Christie-style. At this point I can say, from my own experience, that reality far surpasses fantasy. Not even in my wildest dreams, could I have thought that some things would happen, like the coup d’état, for example. And from there, backwards or forwards, because time always slips away from our possibilities, like in Wonderland.
I can say that I didn’t do anything I shouldn’t have done, like many other women. We’ve only lived and tried to be where we think we should be. I haven’t moved any more or any less than other women. I have traveled paths already walked and I have added, maybe, my part to build up women’s word so that it is no longer always on the threshold of being distrusted; I’ve tried to make a difference.
On principle, the word of a woman raped or assaulted violated should never be under suspicion. But it is placed in doubt today, as it was yesterday–my truth, my mother’s truth, my grandmother’s truth, Gladys Lanza’s and Daniela’s and Margarita’s and Magdalena’s truths, and those of many others.
So now, I fight against the fierce desire to stop writing these texts and dedicate myself to writing the great novel that will place me, if not in the Cervantes awards, at least in the Tusquets or something similar. But I feel forced again, and until it is understood, to step forward with my body and rebel against the uncomfortable question of: will it be? To take the floor, alongside the neighborhood lady who has to repeat two or three times the story of how she was beaten, alongside the teenager who was harassed or the girl who was raped, next to the abused trans classmate, together with the woman defender who shouts day after day for help that never arrives, the woman who laments poverty as an incessant echo, along with others who denounce or experience violence. Along with Fatima Mena today, Suyapa Martínez yesterday, and Merly Eguigure recently. Because speaking out is not easy, and it’s not just once. You speak up when you can’t take it anymore, not when someone touches your shoulder kindly and it startles you.
That for me is more than obvious. It’s also obvious that if they have to resort to beatings, threats and ultimately to military, police or violent leaders to assault or delegitimize our voice, it’s because they are afraid of us. Simple and plain.
Because the truth that’s known and accepted, as Humpty Dumpty would say, will always be power’s truth, and we will always be like Alice asking questions, breaking the molds, ignoring the admonitions to remain quiet or to be silent, disobedient, even of ourselves, using the word and our bodies to move forward. I believe that despite everything, we do move forward, one after the other, rebels, taking as much time as we need.
And that can never be suspect.
Jessica Isla is a feminist, Honduran writer and columnist for the Americas Program www.americas.org.
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