Video en Español

Rita Segato on Cuerpo, territorios y soberanía: violencia contra las mujeres

2:00 min to 8:27 min

Interviewer (Roxana Hidalgo)

Dr. Rita Laura Segato, who has worked on the issue of violence against women in a very systematic, interesting and provocative way. Rita, there is a systematic increase in violence against women but also new forms of cruelty and cruelty in women’s bodies. How can we understand this situation at this moment, after two centuries of feminist struggles in women’s liberation movement that have produced profound changes at the institutional level, but also at the level of everyday life? These are social movements, they also imply academic thinking and legal changes, etc. How can we understand this resurgence in these moments?


Well, there are several hypotheses. One of them is the hypothesis of the restoration of masculine revenge, which is not…it exists, and this response of masculinity is revived, but it is not the hypothesis and the explanation that I use or the one that seems to me to be the most interesting. Yes, naturally, automatically, the man emasculated by the ascension of the woman sets off to recover his masculinity through tribute, what I call in my book the “elementary structures of violence;” the extraction of a tribute that goes from the feminine position to the masculine one, and that constructs that masculine position. So this would be the restoration of masculinity through the victimization of women, that’s one side. 

On the other side, […] well two other sides, to which I am going to refer, is that gender issues cannot be ghettofied. That is, one of the problems that I see, the mistakes made by some feminisms, is to consider the gender issue as a problem between men and women, that is, that it is only a gender problem. And I believe that the analysis has been very limited when it is ghettofied, when it is closed in this way, in its central actors, but who in turn are influenced, are under the pressure of an epoch, of society, of the economy, politics, the historical epoch in which we find ourselves. Therefore, I believe it is very important to situate all violence and gender violence also in its historical phase, and to see how power is expressed, because the gender relationship is primarily a power relationship, a relationship of power.

As we were saying yesterday in class, it is very difficult for jurists and judges, the operators of the law, to work with this gender dimension, which is a power relationship, which is not a relationship between equal individuals. Because, let’s say, lawyers all trained in law learn that we are in a society of citizens, a society of contracts, where all people have equal freedom, equal power, and are in a position of equality with respect to each other. So, when they judge gender crimes, they cannot place them where they really should be placed: in a setting of power…And that it is a setting of power, not only between those two people […]–or sometimes they are not really two people, they are gang members and a woman, a gang and more than one woman–[…] those two positions in life that are the male and female positions. [This is because] they consider that it is a relationship between people, and they don’t perceive it as a [power] relationship. That is, [there is] a relational structure of differential, asymmetrical powers that is expressed there. This is why it is so difficult to obtain a good conviction.

Hardly anyone in our movements, in the feminist movement, is happy after a conviction for gender violence, because justice does not manage to think in terms of power relations. But this power relationship is affected by the economy, by the political phase, by the historical phase with all its elements. This is why an analysis of gender violence that is not placed in this historical context is insufficient.

That is the other reason: There has been an increase, because this historical moment–I call it the apocalyptic phase of capital–is a world of owners, and in the gender relation, power is currently expressed as ‘ownership-possession’. That is, power is ownership and possession; it is lordship over a body; it is the pressure to exercise lordship, because lordship, ownership-possession, is the form power has in this time in which we live.

Why? Because of economic concentration, the concentration of wealth has reached levels never seen before in the world, like a kind of refeudalization of territories with much less common spaces than in the Middle Ages, which, let us say, gave a space of freedom to fiefdoms. Today, we have gigantic corporate fiefdoms, that is, people who, because of the degree of wealth they have, which they administer, have power over life and death. And this power over life and death, which produces an institutional failure and shows the fictional nature of the State, is expressed in what happens to women’s bodies. It is expressed in domination, in the ownership-possession of the female body. It is like a symptom of that moment, of an economy, which is an economy of owners with very weak institutions, because there is no institution that can put a stop to it, that can put limits to those levels of wealth, to those levels of concentration.


You say that we should not talk so much about inequality, although of course it is also a concept…, but this concept of ownership-possession contributes to understanding a little bit this extreme power that is being exercised.


Of course, because it is insufficient today to speak of inequality, because it is an inequality of such magnitude, that is, the small group of rich people has such great wealth that, in reality, more than unequal, they are owners; they are owners of life and death. So I believe that we are in another historical phase, in another phase of capital, where this ownership-possession is expressed in what happens to the bodies of women and of all those who are dissident, divergent, disobedient in relation to the mandate of ownership-possession, which is the patriarchal mandate. Male ownership-masculine possession is the extreme form of patriarchy.


Not only of women, but also of young people, children, sexually diverse groups, indigenous people….


…of all disobedience, including racial disobedience, which is felt as a contempt, everything that threatens, everything that diverges from the model of that subject owner.