Halldór Heiðar Bjarnason
At the time of writing this article Chilean president Sebastián Piñera has declared a state of emergency in his country. In one of the strongest economies in Latin America inequality reigns and the country’s citizens are currently voicing their frustration by taking to the streets in protest.
Economic inequality is far from being the only thing Chileans have had to protest in recent years. A little over four decades ago its citizens had to experience a U.S. backed military coup that overthrew the government. This resulted in more than 2,000 people being killed and thousands of people tortured, among those internationally acclaimed protest musician Victor Jara.
Events like these are bound to leave marks on a nation. It was not until 2004 that the liberty flame that Pinochet ignited in 1975 was put out. Not only are these flames (popular in many countries) a waste of energy and usually commemorate war and violence, but for decades families of those murdered by Pinochet had to see that flame burning.
The inequality in the country shows its teeth in other aspects of society as well. Femicide (feminicidio), although not as rife as in Mexico and Colombia, is a grave problem in the country. The term started being used in Latin America due to the hundreds of women murdered in northern Mexico since the 1990s. A specific term had to be coined for this type of homicide to design situations in which women were being murdered solely because they were women.
One of the main problems for women living through this history of violence towards them and their sisters is the lack of action from the governments that are supposed to protect them. Fortunately, this is changing – in some countries at least. In Chile, law number 20480, now also known as the femicide law, shows amends to violent intrafamiliar offenses and increases punishment for those crimes. These small steps come with many hurdles still, because the people in power of the judiciary system continue to find ways to lower sentences twisting language to their ways.
But all is not lost and today rises a new generation of musicians and activists that keep the protest flame lit and the legacy that Victor Jara and other artists left behind alive. One of these artists are the young women that make punk rock band Sin Lencería (which translates to ‘without lingerie’).
The band has been active since 2012 and since day one they have used their voices on and off stage to communicate to their audience the injustice their fellow women face in general society as well as in the very ‘machista’ punk rock scene. Their album Sin Lencería, Ni Miedos came out last August and, as they told me via email, the band has no other plans but to keep speaking up for women around the globe and fighting the good fight.
Halldór Bjarnason: Your music is a fighting tool against gendered violence. How have you perceived ‘machismo’ and gendered violence so far in the music scene around you and your community since the start of Sin Lencería?
Sin Lencería: Even though the punk scene tries to be more aware of social conflicts, it’s still in debt with gender related problems. There’s still harassment at gigs and very little participation of women in the public and as part of the bands and that’s something that needs to change.
Being female musicians hasn’t been easy, the band started in 2012 and since the beginning there’s been prejudice against us and the way we play, some people used to think less of us just because we’re women and because we look young. And sometimes even the compliments were weird, like one time a guy told our drummer that she was so skilled that she “played like a man”. He was trying to be nice but he didn’t even realise that by saying that he was implying that women usually are bad at playing their instruments.
But there’s still a bright side. There are some local collectives inside the punk scene that are trying to change this situation like “Femfest” or “Mujeres Al Frente”, they create different types of musical events that encourage inclusiveness and invite women to be part of the scene – providing safe spaces. Women are getting together and we’re raising our voices. “Mujeres Al Frente” has done 4 different feminist shows in these past years in Chile and one in Mexico. We love those events because they’re one of the few times that we get to see so many girls gathered together and at the center of the mosh pit with full energy!
HB: Has your music always been political or made in protest?
SL: Yes, since the beginning we’ve wanted to show our discomfort and talk about the problems that affect women in their daily lives. The band starts from that base point, from realising that it’s time to talk about sex harassment, gender violence, feminicides, discrimination, prejudice, etc. We need to change that Latin American culture that’s so patriarchal that needs special words that does not exists in other languages like “machismo” to explain how bad things are and the lack of equality that exists.
HB: Feminicidio (feminicide) is a fairly young term but an age-old problem that furthermore has been quite the plague on South, Central and North American countries. How do you feel your government is tackling this problem that you have sung about?
SL: In our country there’s still a long way to go for these problems to be taken seriously. There’s been some improvements over time but it’s not enough. A couple of years ago the government created the “Ministerio de la Mujer y Equidad de Género” (Ministry for Women and Gender equality) that supports women that are victims of violence, providing legal and psychological help. There’s also a “Ley del Femicidio” (Feminicide law), but these laws are still too soft towards this type of problems and the feminicide law only works for violence inside legally married couples or couples that live together.
The Chilean law is working on new ways to protect women that are not married and people that suffer couple/partner violence, but to this date it’s still not approved. The only thing women can do when they suffer harassment from a violent partner is to make a legal complaint with the police and they’re usually very questioned in the process, and even if they make repetitive complaints the best they can get is a restraining order in most cases and, even then, they’re left with fear that the violent partner could easily ignore the charges against them and find the victims anyway.
An example of the problems with the femicide law in Chile, that also affected the punk community, happened in 2017 with the murder of Isidora “Dorito” González. Her case was very brutal and cruel because she wasn’t only murdered, but her body was also dismembered. Once they found the culprit and took him to trial, he was initially sentenced to 40 years of prison for femicide. But later his lawyers argued that the victim and the culprit didn’t have a romantic relationship, nor they lived together or were married, so his sentence changed from femicide to simple homicide and they reduced his sentence from 40 to 15 years. And that makes it clear that the laws are still very basic and don’t reflect the Chilean reality, where women are still getting killed just because they’re women.
SL: People have been very supportive in general, we think it’s because Latin America is going through a period of change and we’re speaking up for women rights and diversity. What we like about making songs is to think that the same things we feel and go through are also experienced by other women and at the end of the day we’re not alone, instead, we are a huge net of sisters fighting for the same reasons.
But we’ve also been criticized by some people, especially because of our song “No quiero tus piropos” (I don’t want your catcalls) that speaks against street harassment and has some insults in its lyrics. But we like the fact that the song makes some people uncomfortable, because it’s the first step to start questioning why it makes them feel that way.
Our message flows in our songs by essence, but we also use other resources to get our message across. Playing live is very important, because it can help women to feel represented and motivated to start their own bands. Sometimes we create zines and sometimes we use social media to share our thoughts. We also try to participate as much as we can in collectives like the ones that we mentioned before.
Besides, nowadays is easier to share our music because of technology, in the past the options were limited and even if your music got some recognition, there was the fear that the media would misunderstand your message, like what happened with the press blackout of the Riot Grrrl! movement in the 90’s. In our case we manage our own media and that give us a lot of freedom to express what we want and to have a closer bond with people.
HB: What do you hope to achieve with your music?
SL: We hope that our music works as support for women that don’t feel protected or represented by social norms. And that when they listen to us, they can feel freedom to shout as loud as they can about everything that’s bothering them and that they had to keep quiet in the past. On the other side, we also hope that singing about these issues could help people to start questioning themselves and open up to be a little more understanding and empathetic.
HB: What bands or musicians influence you? Are you following any contemporary protest musicians?
SL: Our strongest influence is Bikini Kill and all of Kathleen Hanna’s projects in general. We’re also very inspired by L7, Joan Jett, The Distillers, 7 Year Bitch and other classic punk and postpunk bands like Ramones, Misfits, The Clash, The Slits and Siouxsie & the banshees.
On a Latin American level, we have influences from the Peruvian band Los Saicos, with his classic “Demolición” which we like to play live from time to time. And we also feel influenced by Chilean bands like Los Prisioneros, Los Ex and Lilits. In the present, we admire the work of a lot of our fellow hardcore and punk bands like Portaligas, Dizclaimers and Límbico. We’re also listening to music from around the globe and we like bands like Vivian Girl, The Coathangers, The Regrettes, Skating Polly and Hands off Grettel.
HB: What is on the horizon for you?
SL: At the moment, we want to keep speaking up for feminism, we plan on continue making music and recording new material, because we still have a lot to say. And in the near future we would love to travel around sharing our songs.
HB: Lastly, thank you for participating and for your music. Anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?
SL: Don’t be afraid to make music, don’t be scared to say what you think if you feel something’s wrong, your opinions are important, you are important.