On Friday morning in Cartagena, issues of gender, revelation, and transformation were in the spotlight: Cristina Morales and Carolina Sanín spoke on their recent work and the oppressions of the literary establishment; Lydia Cacho discussed the nature of masculinity the violence of machismo culture.
Morales and Sanín had come to discuss literature, they emphasised, and not to tell anecdotes. “Male writers gather to give talks about literature, and end up recounting the time they met Garcia Marquez,” said Sanín. The tradition is specifically, if not exclusively, masculine, and the focus on autobiographical anecdotes perpetuates the myth of the ‘great author’ with the ‘great life’. More toxically, it promotes the idea of knowledge as a list of contacts, knowledge passed between a collective of ‘great men’.
Morales agreed, and spoke of the subverting the literary canon: “This is the authority figure against which, with the tools that I have, I can battle.”
She spoke of the preoccupation with locating yourself in the literary, which is to bear the burden of - and be forced to place oneself inside - a tradition which is both machista and capitalist.
The Colombian literary world in particular is "superconservative, asphyxiated, and trapped in mediocrity." Sanín said. "It is fixated on criteria of ‘high literature’ and traditional themes which limit experimental work."
“It’s recalcitrant, restrictive, and highly machista.”
The two turned to the ideas of revelation and epiphany– a sudden moment of access to truth which does not relate to logic or ethics, which can cause transformation in nature or consciousness, or a call to action – be it veganism or feminism.
Lydia Cacho, journalist and author, spoke about the global revelations of the #MeToo movement, a call to action for all of us: feminism blew a hole in the floor, and we have to work out - together - what to refill it with, she urged.
“It is not a ‘witchhunt’. It is a hunt for harassers and abusers.”
The movement reveals, she said, the secret set of negotiations to which women have been subjected in the workplace, forced to enter a paradigm in which our bodies are an object for others.
“There is an existential crisis around emotional and sexual interactions – we don’t know how to relate to one another.”
However, the too-common assertion that feminism is destroying eroticism is misplaced. “It doesn’t put seduction at risk, it creates the possibility of two-way seduction.”
Feminism will be absolutely crucial to creating peace – it’s an ideology of equality which educates us, tells about other experiences, and helps us discover how we can live together.
“Without feminism, there can be no real peace process in Colombia. What women want is for men to think, to take on some of the work we have been doing for 200 years, and we ask that they are brave enough to choose peace over war”.
Her recent book of interviews with men, #EllosHablan, explores the formation of masculinity from childhood, and rejects entirely the argument that men are naturally aggressive: violence is a cultural construction, and a voluntary act.
As a result of social conditioning, we are surrounded by men who are brutally repressed in terms of how they experience and express desire and how they relate to others. This cycle leads to fear and violence - against women, children, and the vulnerable.
“They do not want to be on the side on the oppressed – they would rather be on the side of the oppressor, even though this has ethical consequences”.
Cacho, who recently received an official apology from Mexico’s government for the violation of her rights as a journalist, received a standing ovation from the audience. She finished by advising, “Love what you do, keep your passion alive.”
Listen to Cristina Morales and Carolina Sanín in conversation with Giuseppe Caputo on the Hay Player
Listen to Lydia Cacho in conversation with Javier Lafuente on the Hay Player