We are experiencing a watershed moment in the US. What is that? I’ve witnessed a few: Watergate. The personal PC on your desk. The first internet. The #MeToo moment that started two weeks ago when actor Alyssa Milano asked women to call out their own experience with sexual assault is still trending on social media. Now the fate of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein has many men lying awake at night wondering when their past bad behavior will cost them their job, their current relationship, their family and for some, their freedom. Finally. Maybe once and for all the silence around sexual assault and harassment will end. There is so much at stake for all women but this watershed moment may impact Latinas in a different way.
First, let’s be clear that we have historically been cast as the most sexualized character in media or the ones with the least power and subservient. The sex worker. The maid. The girlfriend that tolerates abuse. The peasant. The first time I saw a young Latina character on mainstream US television in such a remarkably authentic role was America Ferrera cast as the lead character in Ugly Betty. That was 2006! Oh, by the way, that show was based on a telenovela in Latin America and produced for ABC by Salma Hayek! Rarely are we cast as physicians, lawyers, scientists, therapists, teachers, or political figures. The sexualized, coquette woman in film—the bad one—is both lovely and exotic and that somehow has translated into brown and curvy. You might as well put a sign on our foreheads: You can do anything you want and get away with it.
Second, there is no question that many Latinas take absolute unquestioned joy in fashion, beauty, and music of every genre. We celebrate our lives in every artistic form and Latinas love crafting their very own style. And we (rightfully!) have no fear featuring our curves, our hair, or that must-have red lipstick. This flair for the artistic fashionista—even flamboyant--trendsetting will not end. Nor should it.
Our unwavering flair for style coupled with the cursed stereotype of the passive, ever-suffering Latina must not allow the #metoo moment to pass us by. Our bodies and what we do with them or our fashion sense is ours alone. Men who look at all this as somehow permission to view Latinas as the one group that can still be subjected to sexual harassment or assault cannot be sheltered. Just because Latinas (or any woman) lives her beauty out loud on her own terms is not an invitation to make sexual comments or worse. We are not “asking for it”. For the umpteenth time: Sexual harassment, assault and abuse are all signs of a warped sense of power over another human being. It is not about attraction.
Latinas remain over represented on the front lines of every industry’s workforce rather than in management. This makes it much hard to access leaders who can intervene and defend their positions. Many do not trust HR for even hiring male predators in the first place. Fear of job loss, demotion, or continued abuse is a reality for any group that lives on the margins of the social gradient of power in the US today. But #MeToo is not just for Hollywood actresses, congresswomen, or lawyers. It’s for us. #YoTambien