Chronicle of Harassment Announced
By Dixie Edith
Cuban journalist and professor at the Faculty of Communication of the University of Havana.
On Twitter @Dixiedith
January 16, 2020
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
From a bad joke to sexism is only one step removed. Evidence abounds; it is enough to review, even as the crow flies, various communication spaces, in any format. But what happens when the dubious attempt of a joke, as if that were not enough, makes a crime acceptable?
The question is neither banal nor exaggerated. A few days ago, a group of students from the Communications Department at the University of Havana, had just finished their semester of studies on gender. They were debating via WhatsApp about the photo that accompanies this text. “But what is this?”, some asked. “Doesn’t anyone realize this nonsense?”, asked others.
The photo captured the pictograms that point to a public bathroom located in the new recreational space of the capital’s coast, at the intersection of 1st and 70th streets, in Playa municipality. The figures show a man sneaking a look at a woman, above what looks like the wall that divides the two stalls. And here, the frustrated attempt at a “joke” came and went.
We are no longer talking about old hats: top hats for them and full of flowers or lace for them; or stereotypical film characters showing the gallant and the maiden, the flamenca and the bullfighter. Not even of those other attempts at “creativity” that appeal to phallic symbols, heels or ties, or any other topic tinged with sexism, by the work and grace of the macho tradition that pursues us.
Now we are also witnessing incitement to an act that is punishable under our laws. And, as if this were not enough, it not only positions women once again as the subject – the “natural” victim – of hegemonic masculinity, but also places all men in the position of violators of the law, of victimizers. This is called symbolic violence.
In the opinion of Yamila González Ferrer, a lawyer and expert on gender and family issues, “when what this image is showing occurs, we are dealing with a crime of harassment, provided for in Article 303 of the Criminal Code, which refers to sexual outrage”. But, for her, the most serious thing in this particular case is that “this type of symbolism is used in a public place”.
The aforementioned Article 303 has three subparagraphs, which propose sanctions of up to “three months’ imprisonment” or a “fine of one hundred to three hundred pesos“ for those who harass other persons “with sexual requirements”; offend “modesty or good manners with obscene exhibitions or acts”, or produces or puts into circulation “publications, recordings, cinematographic or magnetic tapes, recordings, photographs or other objects that are obscene, tending to pervert or degrade customs”.
If I were to make a dynamic or evolving interpretation of the law,” says Yamila, “then subparagraph c of that offense of sexual abuse could be applied perfectly well to that case.
Another lawyer, Dr. Arlín Pérez Duarte, agrees with her, in this case an experienced criminal lawyer. In her opinion, this last section applies in this case from what she calls an “analogical interpretation” of the law, since it “appeals to the effects provoked”. The specialist says that, in this matter, “from the point of view of rights, there is a lot of room for improvement”.
For example, criminal implications could be sought from so-called voyeurism or, or as we say jokingly, peeping, which in the eyes of the law is considered a form of outrage or a crime against honor. Although traditionally this type of infraction in Cuba is not punished as a crime, but more as a contravention,. However, in the opinion of the penalist, in this case “it has a greater scope, since it is in an institution that provides a public service”. In other words, it goes beyond affecting an individual person.
The world of signage to label the doors of public toilets and bathrooms serves as a preview of what we will find inside. But it is an soup where multiple proposals are cooked. There are designs that move, between the thorny waters of good and bad taste, the vulgar and really creative. In this unfortunate case, to put more spice to the broth, the half-assed sign also violates Article 40 of the recently approved Constitution of the Republic, which defends human dignity; Article 43, which condemns gender violence in all its forms and Article 48, which defends the right to privacy. And we could continue looking.
Currently, many public discussions around the world are occupied with how to achieve more inclusive signage and urban spaces that do not reproduce those stereotypes that our patriarchal societies have imposed on women and men. There is talk, for example, of unisex toilets, which serve them equally, which would also help not to humiliate or discriminate against other people who have different sexual orientations and gender identities.
If we still find signs like the one in the above mentioned photo, it is clear that we are still far from those other controversies. The unfortunate thing is that the case is not unique. The same students who questioned and argued about the 1st and 70th signs also claimed to have seen similar pictograms in other establishments, especially in the self-employed sector.
As with advertising, urban design, intentionally or not, helps to perpetuate ideas through graphic codes and creative nods. And because machismo is so naturalized in our lives, we often find it hard to identify that behind those seemingly innocent jokes is a deeply violent, threatening message that, according to García Márquez, could become the advertised chronicle of a crime of harassment.