This post is part of our series on Gender and Sexuality in Latin America in collaboration with The North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA). Stay tuned for more articles.
Reading Coral Herrera is like blowing a blast of fresh air and optimism into the struggle for the respect of diversity. Her blog [es], her articles, her books [es] and her ideas go right to the heart of what is considered obvious and normal. Coral is mainly interested in gender equality, and in the effect of romantic imaginaries on the way men and women relate to each other and see themselves.
Coral Herrera is also part of a new generation of activists who start with gender equality but refuse to stay there. Her writings analyse structural problems in Western societies, and identify the discomfort that has expanded in the intimate lives of men and women. The idea is to conduct a deconstructive and honest critique of the causes and consequences of concepts that are perpetuated, and the imaginaries that we defend without even knowing why.
Coral Herrera is a great enthusiast of new media, where she shares a large part of her work. But in addition to being a blogger, Coral has a PhD in Humanities and Audiovisual Communication. Born in Spain, she moved to Costa Rica a few years ago, and has worked as a teacher and consultant for UNESCO, the United Nations Latin American Institute for Crime Prevention and Treatment of Delinquents (ILANUD), and the Spanish International Development Agency (AECID), at the Paris-Sorbonne University and in Madrid’s Universidad Carlos III.
Her main specialisation is in gender and her point of departure, romantic love. Thus much of the work that Coral Herrera has published online is focused on the defence of diverse loves [es], myths [es] and the political and collective dimension of how we understand love. In Los mitos románticos [es] (Romantic Myths), for example, she looks to the origins of the images that we have about love, and hits the nail directly on the head:
Through romantic love, inoculating foreign desires, patriarchy also controls our bodies in order to hetero-direct our eroticism, and make us assume the limits of femininity and dream about the arrival of The Saviour (Jesus, Prince Charming…) who will choose us as good wives and offer us the throne of marriage.
Regarding the cultural structures within which this phenomenon occurs, she explains:
In our Western culture, love is constrained, at least in the hegemonic cultural discourse. Homophobia is cultural, transphobia is cultural, racism and speciesism are cultural. Culture is where the fear of the other, of the different, grows; it is in culture where myths, goals, prohibitions, prejudices and social obligations are created.
The author also highlights the importance of the stories we tell ourselves. Part of Herrera’s work is to help us realise the ways in which certain imaginaries, ideals, and goals are passed down from generation to generation, through narratives that are also supported by dominant circles. However, according to many social movements, what is constructed in one direction can take another direction:
The logical thing should be to transform the stories and tell new ones, change the idealised models that have become obsolete, construct flesh-and-blood heroes and heroines, create new myths that help us construct societies that are more just, egalitarian, environmentalist, cultured, and pacifist. Direct our efforts towards the common good, work to propose other realities, fight to construct new ones, instead of fleeing from emotional paradises and individual promises of salvation.
The books are readily available on her blog, where Coral also shares her press articles and her YouTube channel, where you can see some of her conferences and academic talks. Her last book Bodas diversas y amores queer [es] (Diverse Weddings and Queer Loves) is “a book that lies halfway between an essay and a story, in which theoretical reflections are mixed with personal anecdotes, life stories and quite a few analyses of alternative romantic nuptial rituals.”
Why do people get married on such a massive scale? Why are there some people who only get married once, while others get married seven times? (…) Why does everyone ask about a baby but it’s frowned upon if the bride is pregnant? Why do we make romantic videos of our weddings and torture our relatives for months? Why do women invest so many resources in finding a partner? (…) Why can’t three people who love each other live together and get married? Why do we get excited when we are offered marriage? Why do we want this so much? Why do people endure conjugal hell for so many years? Why are there people who never get married? What are weddings like in other cultures? What comes after weddings?..
To offer a more thorough reflection on the struggle for gender equality on the internet, we will present Coral Herrera’s work in two parts. We will close this installment with the first part of an on-line discussion we had with Coral, in which we talked about the role of new media in the struggle for gender equality.
Global Voices: How can new media challenge old media regarding the construction of romantic myths? / How can new media fall into the same role as traditional media?
Coral Herrera: Traditional media is still stuck in traditional patterns and in a worldview that is completely patriarchal and capitalist, they still sell us hegemonic ideology in the form of entertainment. Advertising and mass culture transmit values that are totally selfish, individualistic, based on fear and on the permanent dissatisfaction of this age of consumption.
That’s why I think that the internet is one of the best things that has happened to us in recent years.
What is not so clear is whether we can live from this, because we have become accustomed to everything being free. I myself can’t support the people I read due to my precarious situation in Spain, first of all, and secondly, as an immigrant in Costa Rica, though I pay the phone company so that I can be connected and access content.
And although I think that we still haven’t found the way to earn an income (though there are some cases of people living from this), I think the crises we are facing are making us more conscious of what we consume, where it comes from, and under what conditions it was produced. The consumption of culture is now (and will be more and more) a political act, a demonstration of support for artists and thinkers who offer us stories in as many formats as possible.
The internet has been beneficial for culture in general because now we have access to choreographies, sculptures, films, news reports, video creations, songs, novels, essays, stories, short films, academic articles, photos… We as creators have more freedom to innovate and offer other models, other heroines, other situations, other forms of relating. I definitely believe we are breaking away from the old narrative structures that reduced us to simplified conflicts.
GV: What do these new technologies mean for the fight for gender equality?
CH: Thanks to the internet, we are all transmitting content. [This makes us] less vulnerable to the construction of reality to the one imposed on us, because we can refute their affirmations, because we can make visible all those things that are kept hidden so that everything can stay the way it is.
It’s true that we have to assume that privacy is non-existent, that we are being watched, our data is being sold, and we are being censored, but even so I think that we have to be online.
GV: What advantages do you see in the use of new technologies for conversations about gender (especially in Latin America)?
CH: Well I’m very optimistic. In spite of the digital divide that separates us, I think we are creating very important transnational networks of information and collective reflection. These networks allow us to support each other, to make problems visible, to gather signatures and have political impact, to organise actions in the real world that will have an echo in the virtual world. We can create synergies, lend each other ideas, copy models that work in other countries and adapt them to our local realities, we can teach each other, we can contribute to the construction of collective knowledge, and we can modify political agendas thanks to the echo that actions have in social media.
In the next part, which will be published next week, we will discuss with Coral the evolution of the fight for gender equality. In the meantime, we recommend having a look at the Haika editorial project [es], managed by the author, where much of her work can be downloaded.