All links lead to Spanish language pages unless otherwise specified.
Many people today still don't understand why it is necessary to talk about women's (hi)stories. The short answer is that only by studying, acknowledging, and valuing women's experiences and contributions to society in all of their diversity can we really talk about the history of humankind. This is why the focus of this post will be on some of the online spaces Puerto Rican women have created to express ideas, creativity, exchange information, or provide resources that further education on women's issues and equality.
Culture and History
The history of the women of Puerto Rico is long and complex, making it impossible to get into here with detail, suffice it to say that it is full of many hard-won conquests that continue to be contested in a still patriarchal society such as Puerto Rico. The following video offers the views of different women about gender-based violence, labor rights, and health in an electoral context.
To learn more, one can check out the online compilation of articles that focus on women found in the social sciences journal Homines, published by the Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico, which contains many excellent pieces about women in Puerto Rico. Feminist scholar and journalist Norma Valle Ferrer also published a brief history of women in Puerto Rico “Las mujeres en Puerto Rico” that offers a wealth of information.
Puerto Rican women have a rich legacy in many fields, but we will focus on the arts, particularly literature. From the poet Julia de Burgos (whose 100th anniversary is celebrated this year) to authors working today such as Mayra Santos-Febres and Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro, to authors in the diaspora such as poet María Teresa Hernández, better known by her artistic name, Mariposa [en], women have made an enormous contribution to Puerto Rican letters that been studied in depth mostly since the advent of the feminist movement.
In order to encourage more women to find their voices as writers, the blog Ovarios de Acero (Steel Ovaries) was set up to provide a place where women could publish their poems, short stories and essays in a safe and supportive environment. They also have a very active Facebook page. The about section of the blog states:
Es un espacio que no juzga o requiere que seas una escritora profesional, solo debes ser mujer y tener el genuino deseo de crear y compartir. El concepto del blog, mayormente recoge una sola voz, pero Ovarios de Acero propone recoger todas las voces posibles. De esta forma creamos una antología de lecturas maravillosas y una diversidad sin límites.
It is a space that doesn't judge or requires that you be a professional writer, only that you be a woman and have the genuine desire to create and share. The concept of the blog mainly deals with just one voice, but Ovarios de Acero proposes to gather as many voices as possible. This way we create an anthology of wonderful readings and limitless diversity.
The blog Mujeres en Puerto Rico (Women in Puerto Rico), by VeronicaRT (@MujeresenPR), offers news, commentary, and links to other content on the web that create awareness about feminism and to empower women. It also has a YouTube channel with content that complements what is posted on the blog. In a similar vein, the blog Poder, Cuerpo y Género (Power, Body, and Gender) by Nahomi Galindo also offers news, commentary, and content from around the web. The blog of the feminist coalition Movimiento Amplio de Mujeres is also an important online resource.
An important effort that has greatly contributed to the empowerment of women is Proyecto Matria, which seeks to help women survivors of gender-based violence and women who are the head of a family with very little income become financially independent and self-sufficient individuals. This non-profit organization operates an array of services in Puerto Rico that include psychosocial services, assistance in starting a microenterprise, and help in getting an education, among others. Its innovative approach transcends the still prevalent notion of casting women as passive victims that receive charity, focusing instead on helping women become not just successful entrepreneurs, but fully accomplished human beings.
Stoping Gender-Based Violence
Gender-based violence is still, sadly, something that costs many women their emotional and psychic wellbeing, and their lives every year. That is why Ada M. Álvarez Conde decided to start an organization that would help educate teenagers and college-age women and men about dating violence, something rarely discussed in Puerto Rico. The Fundación Alto al Silencio (Stop Silence Foundation) organizes group talks in schools all over Puerto Rico to create awareness and gathers resources from around the web on its webpage, blog, and Facebook page that not only provide information on the warning signs of an unhealthy relationship and how to get help, but also statistics, news, and a training program for other people interested in getting involved. Álvarez Conde shares how the Foundation started:
Comenzó la inauguración de la fundación con un entrenamiento a más de 150 personas en la Convención Anual de la Coalición Nacional en Contra de la Violencia Doméstica, en donde hay personas de los 50 estados que trabajan con víctimas y están encargados de los refugios a mujeres entre otros programas comunitarios. Alto al Silencio es la primera organización dedicada a tratar el tema de la violencia en el noviazgo (señales, relaciones saludables, autoestima, organización comunitaria) en español y para la comunidad latina como enfoque principal.
The foundation got its start with over 150 people getting trained at the Annual Convention of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, where there are people from all 50 states [of the U. S.] that work with victims and are in charge of shelters, among other community programs. Alto al Silencio is the first organization that deals with dating violence (signs, healthy relationships, self-esteem, community organization) in Spanish and with the Latino community as its primary focus.
Some Parting Words on Feminism
Though the women of Puerto Rico share a rich and fascinating history, full of many contributions and victories in the endeavor to forge a more equitable society, much work still needs to be done. More men and boys need to take responsibility and understand that they are necessary components in these efforts and to feel that they, too, can also be considered part of the feminist movement. Because ultimately, feminism is not just about liberating women, but also about creating the awareness that men must also work against patriarchy and sexism. Human rights activist Amárilis Pagán, in one of the posts from her blog Brujas y Rebeldes (Witches and Rebels), says:
Cuando las mujeres que trabajamos por derechos humanos hablamos del machismo, lo hacemos con plena conciencia de qué implica el término y quiénes son los que mueven la rueda de la violencia. Reconocemos, inclusive, cómo el machismo también oprime a los hombres al castrar su capacidad de sentir emociones, de amar libremente, de elegir qué hacer con su vida sin ser estigmatizados por renunciar a los privilegios que su sexo les otorga al nacer. También reconocemos las implicaciones económicas del pensamiento machista y cómo esa rueda de violencia tritura a hombres y mujeres que viven en pobreza, en desigualdad racial y de orientación e identidad sexual. Por eso seguimos apostando a la educación, al activismo, pero muy en especial al amor que nos sostiene en tiempos de pérdida o cuando se recrudece la violencia institucional y social hacia nuestros grupos más vulnerables.
When we the women who work on behalf of human rights talk about machismo, we do it fully conscious of what the term implies and who are the ones that move the wheel of violence. We acknowledge, in fact, how machismo also oppresses men by castrating their capacity to feel emotions, to love freely, to choose what to do with their lives without being stigmatized for renouncing the privileges given by their sex at birth. We also acknowledge the economic implications of male chauvinist thought and how that wheel of violence crushes the men and women who live in poverty, in racial and sexual identity inequality. This is why we keep our hopes in education, activism, but most especially in the love that sustains us in times of loss or when institutional and social violence flare up towards our most vulnerable groups.