• voicesofgenz

Mental Health Within the Hispanic Community: A Look Through Sexual Harrasment

Updated: Oct 25, 2020

By Natasha Santana and Giulia Becker Miller


Art retrieved from The Concordion


It wasn’t until I was finally given permission to walk to the bodega alone that I experienced a drawback to being a young girl. The taste of independence felt so sweet as I held my small head up high with 3 dollars in my hand. Then, I felt it: the eyes of the men on my block. They told me “Que niña tan linda” (what a beautiful girl). My hands gripping the bills, another man said, “The legs on that one.” When I came home with my voice shaking, I told my father the events that occurred; it was his response that made my young mind think that this was normal. “Just don’t wear shorts then,” my father said. I was 12 years old.


I am now in college and I am no longer living with my father. I attend college full time and work full time. I work at a popular chain that asks for my presence early in the morning. I take an hour subway ride every day to work to get there on time, often leaving my apartment in the Bronx at three in the morning to make it on time for my shift at 4:30am in lower Manhattan. The experience is not an unusual one for me to feel fear sitting on the bus ride to the station or standing at the end of the platform with tired eyes alert and focused on the movements of the men around me. This creeping continuous sentiment exists in reaction to the men who exerted their power over me when I was twelve years old and from the men who honked from their car at me while my steps made their way across the crosswalk between the bus and the station; “Damn! Thank you for wearing those pants! I can see everything!” they screamed from their lowered car windows.


I am not living with my father any longer; I do not hold any resentment against him for his words or beliefs—yet I still hear the words he posed to me on that day after I returned from the bodega whenever I hear a car honk or a man’s booming invasive comments dart my way. I do not blame my father for passing down a response to me that points blame to my still growing body. These excusatory phrases have unfortunately been passed down through a long lineage of men in Latinx families. This belief shows itself in the immigrant Latinx communities of the Bronx, all the way down to the southernmost end of Argentina.


Just the travel to a corner store creates long lasting paranoia, and it's become a major conversation among women. The idea of travel is an actual study, but specifically the solo travels of women. With the $125 billion of expected spending on ‘women-only’ travels this year, the repercussions for women are just as high. For women like Carla Stefaniak , Louisa Vesterager Jespersen and Maren Ueland, no surge of money can repay nor replace their lives. The fact that the abundance of information in ‘female airfare’ is so vast, but the efforts to make sure that women are safe is so miniscule. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN women, stated “We have evidence that shows that women face risks that men don’t face in public spaces, at home, wherever they may be.”


The New York Times illustrates the complete ignorance towards women. As Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka states, "The root cause of this kind of violence against women in communities and in public and private spaces has a lot of do with the underlying gender stereotypes, social norms, entitlement and patriarchy.” From the corners of the United States to the edges of Europe, there is a constant need to look over one's shoulder, and hold the keys between your fingers. In America, the conditioning is sexism, the man towering over women, having the privilege to let these dangers roam around women, making it normal. For countries in South America, it is the deep rooted machismo that creates traveling, and in-state women feel threatened daily. For a reporter like Katy Watson, being in South America it made her woman-hood shrivel up, angering her. Watson revealed in her article that According to the UN, a woman is assaulted every 15 seconds in Brazil's biggest city, Sao Paulo. Blogger Flora had visited Colombia, where just her bare legs brought the howls of men crossing by, just like my experience at 12 years old, putting into perspective the logic behind Machismo, sexism, and street-howlers. That no matter the age, no matter the human decency, I see some legs. From Brazil to Colombia, to Los Estados Unidos, begin to question, when will we be safe?


The following is an article based on an interview with a Latinx woman:


“The men,” M.M. explained, “they’re very, like, a macho-man way to live… they think it’s okay to call girls in the street. They still think it’s okay.” Men — in Brazil, particularly in Miller’s case — live according to a different code of ethics than women; to be a “macho-man,” you must emit your power in some way, and sexual harassment acts as one way to do so. In other words, she best understands sexual harassment as a way to prove macho-man status for the male population and therefore as a normal, even expected, act.


Sexual harassment enables the opportunity to diminish the character and confidence of a woman. It is not inspired by an intention to swoon or charm a woman, but rather a portrayal of power over a vulnerable person.


In one experience with sexual harassment, this one in Brazil, M.M. was dressed in a uniform that made her “look like a child” despite her being 21/22. This sexual harassment encounter, according to her, is the worst sexual harassment encounter that she has experienced yet. M.M.’s interview spotlit a key identifier of sexual harassment: the men who sexually harass seem to be most inspired to do so by people in vulnerable positions, like immigrants, women, [perceived] children, etc.


Ironically, M.M. attributes the characteristics of those who are sexually harassed as those who “portray that image of being more mature than what they actually are.” Throughout the interview, her personal experiences seemed to highlight men sexually harassing her based on vulnerability. Yet, M.M. observes that other victims of sexual harassment display themselves as mature and, therefore, sexually available. The question of maturity based on presentation is often used against women in sexual harassment and abuse cases where they decide to come forward against their assailants, but the concept of maturity being an influence is not supported when focusing on the power dynamics of sexual harassment. Men do not sexually harass women based on maturity; sexual harassment occurs as a reminder of vulnerability.


To demonstrate the theory of maturity in sexual harassment, M.M. refers to a cousin who she remembers as “really beautiful, gorgeous… She had high heels on, and she had mini-skirts and short shirts.” M.M. recalls, “I had uncles going around and calling her to talk,” implying the sexual harassment of her cousin at Christmas parties. She makes a point to state that these uncles did not act the same way with the other girls at the party. In this situation, these men were still acting based on vulnerability, not maturity. This girl was in a position of vulnerability compared to them as their niece and as a 14 year old girl. The wardrobe may have influenced their actions but not in the way that her presentation emitted maturity. Rather, the clothing she wore offered easier access to her body, making her more vulnerable to their sexual desires. The vulnerability of this remembered cousin is blatant. Yet, the main argument that often excuses sexual predators from their degrading actions continues to be used — Her clothing… mannerisms… make up… made all the males believe that it’s okay for them to sexually harass her. The reality behind this excuse is that “Men… seem to employ their reason to justify prejudices” and women, like M.M. in this case, will often believe these excuses as relevant. Sexual harassment is a portrayal of power that only takes into consideration the maturity of the woman being harassed when evaluating their vulnerability.


Art retrieved from Angelica Alzona/Gizmodo


M.M. wished to leave my generation with a message that she believes the women in her generation would also offer as advice: “If you are in a situation where you’re feeling harassed, that you're not feeling comfortable… you should speak up. You should speak up for yourself. You should do something about it.” While M.M. and her generation were forced into the dark by a lack of education about sexual harassment and abuse, Millennials and Generation Z have been exposed to sexual harassment as a wrong in a way that other generations had not. Sexual harassment existed as a normal expectation of men in the past; excuses were made in support of the existence and continuance of sexual harassment. In recent years, the world has spoken up against sexual harassment. M.M.’s generation was taught and pushed to submission when reacting to sexual harassment; to continue in silence to avoid conflict. Her generation and M.M., herself, have taught their children, members of Generation Z, that silence is not the path to take. By speaking up about sexual harassment and other discrimination based on sex and gender, “we can start to talk with each other more openly than in the past and create a community of support for each other so we can deal with ourselves and others with integrity and can therefore keep working.” M.M.’s interview exposed sexual harassment as a portrayal of power over vulnerable persons, but above all, her words amplified the importance of speaking out and breaking the silence.


Written by writers Natasha Santana & Giulia Becker Miller

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