The Anthropology of Femicide in Juarez
Cecilia Balli talked to a UT audience about the ongoing murder problem in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico
By Matt Martinez,
4:12PM, Mon. Mar. 3, 2008
Over the past 15 years in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, strings of rarely-solved murders of young women have persisted in an atmosphere of fractioning authority and violently-contested territories – be that of street gangs, the police, or more organized drug cartels.
But in a city where men are murdered at a far higher rate than women, the murders of these maquiladoras, – or assembly plant workers – while garnering some attention, have not garnered nearly enough of the right people's attention, says Cecilia Balli, an anthropology doctoral candidate from Rice University. Not all the young women who were murdered were maquiladoras, says Balli, but the term has come to say something about the infrastructure of towns like Juarez, where industrial complexes and campuses are on opposite ends of town from many residences, forcing students and those lucky enough to find work into contact with the ills of society during their long walks or bus rides to work/school.
Balli has reported on the murders for Texas Monthly and spoke to an audience at UT Monday about anthropological factors that could have contributed to the culture of violence against women in Ciudad Juarez. She said that classifying these murders as simple jealousy killings for women's recent upward mobility in the workplace or educationally was too simplistic – as was the explanation these murders are perpetrated entirely by drug lords and power brokers in shady trade near the Mexico-U.S. border.
In a social system even more patriarchal than our own, masculinity in Mexican border towns is characterized by violence and the struggle for autonomy or sovereignty. Poor day laborers, who have little to no authority over anything in their day-to-day lives, have begun to fit the mold for lashing out against women.
In such a contested arena, "Poor men have no masculinity without a domination of space," said Balli. "So victimizing women keeps this idea of masculine status" tangible to the poorer men.