By Liza Martin
My fake ID said I was eighteen years old, and my name was Micaela. It was technically not a fake ID but a document I had found, and instead of returning it, I decided to use it as if it was my own. Micaela and I were similar, but it was pretty clear we were not the same person. For starters, I was fourteen at the time.
Not like the guards in the clubs cared. If the club was for 18+, you could expect to see only minors inside. Those who were eighteen or older went to clubs that were for 25+. The same happened with quinceañeras—you only went if you were under fifteen. Getting into places with a fake ID was especially easy for girls because girls attract boys, and boys usually pay, making it a win-win situation: we get in, and the clubs earn more money.
We liked to pretend we were older than we actually were. We wore high-waisted mini skirts way too tight with ugly crop tops that were barely enough to cover our developing bodies. We didn’t know that blending our foundation was a thing, so we walked proudly with our necks two skin tones lighter than our faces. We were lucky if we managed to do eyeliner properly without getting it in our eyes. After hours of preparation that concluded in liters of perfume and the smell of burnt hair, we were ready to go. Nothing could stop us; we were invincible. I felt invincible.
Until someone in the club touched me under my skirt.
More and more strange hands. Their skin against mine. Male bodies “dancing,” pressed against my own, offered me a couple of drinks to “let loose” and, just like that, to forget that even more hands were touching me under my clothes in that dirty, dark club.
The first time it happened, I was confused—maybe it was an accident? Yet another hand touched me, and another, and another. I tried to stop it, to call my friends, to find some help … yet when I saw my friends were also being touched and liked it, I felt ashamed. Not scared or angry—just ashamed.
Was this normal? Seeing everyone around me going through the same thing and not reacting at all made me hesitate as to whether to tell someone or do something. But it felt so wrong, and I was so uncomfortable. More and more drinks. More and more hands. Was I overreacting? I used to answer myself that yes, indeed, I was. I had to understand; that’s how it works––that’s the Latino culture. In fact, if you were lucky enough to be the target of teenage hands grabbing and caressing you, it meant you were attractive. So come on, be happy, smile, stop complaining! Enjoy the compliment and embrace your culture. Let them touch you; let them press their bodies against yours!
I saw my friends not only enjoying the harassment (as I call it now, but most definitely not how I called it then) but intentionally trying to get more of it. Noticing that only I felt uncomfortable with the situation, I thought, You are definitely the one in the wrong, Liz. I just trusted it was normal—because everyone acted as if it was.
When I look back, I always try to find a culprit, yet I always fail. It would have been easier if my parents had blamed my outfit or if my friends had explicitly said that getting touched was a compliment. I could then look back and say, “See? Look what they tell us when we are young. That’s why we acted as we did.” But the truth is, no one told us anything. That’s just not how it works—in Argentina, you learn on your own. You walk outside, and you follow the clear expectations that society places on you. You copy what others do, overhear conversations and take them personally, get punished or rewarded for your actions, and learn to survive in that savage jungle we call home.
When I was a child, during lunchtime, boys would be taught how to hammer while we were taught how to make pompoms out of wool. No one said it, but we learned that girls were weaker than boys. Boys wore pants and were allowed to wear shorts during Physical Education. We were absolutely banned from wearing shorts during P.E. but were expected to wear mandatory skirts every other day. No one said this explicitly, but we learned that girls should look attractive to look formal but never to be comfortable. In the clubs, girls don’t pay an entrance fee but are expected to express their sexuality and let strangers touch them. No one said so, but we learned that if no one touched us or pressed their bodies against us, it meant we were ugly and undesired. And all we wanted at fourteen was for someone to desire us.
“Liza, prendé el bajón,” my mom asked. Bajón, in English “anticlimax,” is how my mom referred to the evening news—a channel where journalists exploit the suffering of others and turn horrific news into morbid entertainment. That night was no different.
A woman is murdered every 30 hours in Argentina due to sexist violence. There have been 286 femicides so far this year, and today we…
My mom turned the TV off. She knew what had happened that afternoon and couldn’t bear to hear it again. Chiara Paez, who was only fourteen, had been brutally murdered by her boyfriend after finding out she was pregnant. Fourteen. Just like me at the time, which is why my mom didn’t want to keep on listening.
But Chiara’s death was impossible to ignore. Everywhere, public demonstrations and marches arose like flowers in the spring. Women were tired—fed up with the killings and the raping, and the terrible violence that came with the curse of being a woman in Latin America.
The TV stayed off for the remainder of the week in my house.
For the first time ever, Argentina experienced a social outbreak focused specifically on sexist violence. The use of the word “femicide,” a mix of female and homicide, grew stronger as a way of explaining the murders of women at the hands of a man solely due to misogyny. A whole concept that stressed the gravity of sexism in our cultural context where gender violence and discrimination were common currency. Chiara was the final straw—Argentina couldn’t remain silent. That little girl’s assassination gave life to the Ni Una Menos movement, a feminist group that shook the country, spread to the Latin continent, and later reached North America as Me Too.
Meanwhile, all I cared about was which club I would go to on the weekend. About to turn fifteen, I was oblivious to the reality outside my bubble. I still craved the attention of those men in the clubs. I wanted to oversexualize my body and pretend to be older. I wanted to walk alone at night and dreamed about running away. And it wasn’t just me. My friends, most people my age, condoned all of those actions. While marches and demonstrations fought for a feminist future in the streets, the internal speech had not changed as quickly.
Feminists said that women were getting raped, and that mustn’t happen. At the same time, teenagers learned that being touched without consent was a compliment. Feminists said that men were killing women, but meanwhile, we were expected to seek male validation at all costs. Feminists protested and fought against Chiara’s and every other girl’s assassination. Meanwhile, the media, run by men, portrayed feminists as exaggerated and aggressive individuals. No wonder I soon started saying that feminists were crazy and that I didn’t like their modus operandi.
“Mamá, look what they’ve done!” I would say, looking at whatever thing those crazy stupid women had done that time. Like a parrot, I repeated the media’s message that feminists wanted to combat violence with more violence, which was useless and inconvenient. “I would never be part of that.”
My poor mother—she never argued about it with me. Instead, she kept silently attending those marches, patiently waiting for me to grow and join her in the fight. She knew how hard it was to wake up to the fact that feminism was not the enemy but the ally while being fed misogynistic speech and growing up in a sexist environment.
Why would I even support a movement that failed to help me? I would have loved to have had such support that first night out when I was fourteen, on my first encounter with the Latino nightlife. And yet, I had learned to accept my culture and its ways. Or worse—I had learned to like it. Why wouldn’t they do the same? Why wouldn’t they just remain silent and accept the world as it was? Why did they have to go out and destroy the streets during pointless demonstrations to change something that would never change?
My father, just like me, believed what the media portrayed. Violent women destroy public squares, wreck national monuments, vandalize governmental buildings … If we dared to talk about it during dinner, my mom would stand strong with her arguments, and a peaceful meal would turn into a heated fight. The voice of the media was louder than my mom’s during those nights. Until one day, when we opened our eyes.
The femicides had risen from one woman every thirty hours to one woman every twenty-three. During a Ni Una Menos demonstration, a group of women covered their faces with bandanas and scarves and vandalized the Cabildo of Buenos Aires, a historic building once used as the seat of the town council during the colonial period. The graffiti filled the entire wall with the names of hundreds of women who had been murdered that year, among other common feminist phrases.
“Graffitis ruin the cabildo’s facade,” “Insurgent protesters vandalize historic buildings,” “Violent demonstrators cost the city 270k pesos…” The media went wild. The Cabildo, located in the main square of the country’s capital city, had been destroyed. A building with historical value was completely ruined by inconsiderate women who were not satisfied with being allowed to protest peacefully but had the need to use violence––thus harming the innocent Argentine people.
“270,000 pesos! And this is a public building, so we will be paying that with our taxes. Outrageous!” My dad, worried about our income, had completely missed the fact that an entire wall was covered with names of girls my age who had been brutally murdered. Still young and oblivious, I had also missed the point.
“Don’t you guys see?” my mom asked. “Neither money nor the cabildo is the problem here. You can repaint the wall. You cannot bring those girls back to life.”
Suddenly, it all made sense. I felt as if someone had cleaned my pair of glasses, and the world I once saw blurry was now well-defined and clear. It felt like when one increases the brightness on a computer screen.
Feminists were not the enemy—the media was.
All around me, women dressed in green and purple chanted feminist songs that made my skin instantly flare with goosebumps. Thousands of banners and signs plagued the street. My mom, next to me, joined the women in their scream, “Never again, ni una menos!” My heart was pumping, and I felt quite overwhelmed. It was 2016, and as I attended my first march, I felt a paradigm shift in my mind.
Another girl had been killed. It had been over a year, and the femicides were still rising. I used to think feminists were unnecessarily violent. But why wouldn’t they? (Why wouldn’t we?) More than a year of peaceful protests, and what was the result? Even more femicides. How were murders, rape, and discrimination accepted but protests frowned upon?
I looked at my mom, and she smiled. Her smile delivered a clear message: among all the chaos, right there and then, we were safe. Surrounded by signs with the faces of the deceased girls, marching next to the victims’ families, and protesting against the never-ending violence, we still felt safe. There was a feeling of empowerment and belonging that was hard to put into words. We were not just individuals fighting for a cause; we were a collective—a family.
That mix of empowerment and despair remains with me to this day. I have not stopped going to demonstrations, simply because the gender-based murders and discrimination haven’t stopped either. And while it will take time to eradicate the sexist dynamics that plague my country, I can proudly say that Argentinean women were the pioneers in a movement that spread quickly through The Americas, and that, hopefully, changed the paradigm of many others who, like me, didn’t even have the word feminism in their language.
Born and raised in Mendoza, Argentina, Liza Martin left home when she turned eighteen to study for an International Baccalaureate in Thailand through the United World College program. Completely alone on a foreign continent, writing became her refuge—her therapy. Once she graduated, Liza was accepted into The University of Oklahoma on a full scholarship, where she is currently studying English Literature with a minor in Professional Writing. Being the first in her family to complete her studies abroad and the first to speak a second language, Liza aspires to represent her roots in her field of work. She writes in Spanish and English to make her art and culture accessible to both languages.