As part of our coverage of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I had the opportunity to interview M. Cristina Alcalde about her new book, The Woman in the Violence: Gender, Poverty, and Resistance in Peru. Alcalde is an Assistant Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Kentucky, “her research focuses on the interconnections among intimate, institutional, and structural violence in Peru and among Latinos in the U.S., as well as on masculinities and motherhood”.
The focus of her book is on women in Peru, and while providing us a glimpse rarely seen into the intersection of violence, poverty, gender and resistance in Peru, as Alcalde notes, her findings are in many ways relevant beyond borders. I was particularly interested in her use of “testimonios” which she discusses in the interview, which was conducted by email.
1. Can you talk a little about what led you to write the book and what your goals were in your research?
In the mid and late 1990s I was a graduate student in anthropology and I visited Lima to see family and to look into possible topics for my dissertation research. I had just finished an MA in Latin American Studies and I knew I wanted to continue my focus on Latin America, that I wanted the topic to be relevant to women’s lives in Peru, and that I wanted to focus on something I could work on for a long time. Meeting with members of nonprofit women’s organizations in Lima convinced me that intimate partner violence against women was a particularly relevant issue that needed more attention.
Violence in Peru had received a lot of attention, but it was the 1980s-1990s violence between the state and the insurgent group Shining Path. In anthropology, violence, ethics, and advocacy had also received significant attention, but in relation to inter-group violence, human rights violations, and genocide, not specifically men’s intimate partner violence against women. When I returned to the States, I began to write grant proposals and solicit fellowships, volunteered at a shelter, and read as much as I could about domestic violence to prepare to return to Lima to do fieldwork and work with shelters for at least a year.
Drawing on my fieldwork, in writing this book my overarching goal has been to make the largely unfamiliar setting in which women’s lives unfold in Lima familiar and the largely invisible and intersecting forms of violence women experience, as well as the strategies women create to resist violence, visible. Drawing on women’s life stories and my analysis of these and the broader context, throughout the book I’ve also sought to challenge stereotypes about women, particularly about poor women of color, in abusive relationships; to address the gap between activist practice and academic research on domestic violence; to contribute to a theory of everyday resistance that speaks directly to the experiences of women in abusive relationships, and that moves beyond simplistic dichotomies of staying and leaving; and to show multiple dimensions of women’s lives. In connection to the last point, I examine how violence affects women’s lives in their roles as mothers, daughters, sisters, workers, wives, migrants, and community leaders without reducing women’s lives to episodes of violence. It was also important for me to move beyond the dominant focus on physical violence in domestic violence literature to bring more attention to sexual, psychological, and economic violence in women’s lives.
2. Why Peru? In what ways does what you learned apply to other Latin American countries and throughout the world in general?
I worked in Peru because I wanted my work to somehow connect with and contribute to women’s well-being in the place I am from. However, because men’s violence against women crosses national, cultural, social, racial, and economic borders beyond Latin America, this book is not just about women in Peru or Latin America.
One aspect that I think is applicable to other settings has to do with the connections among different forms of violence in women’s lives. We tend to focus just on state violence, or just on institutional violence, or just on domestic violence, and in doing that we miss the opportunity to examine how all these forms of violence intersect in women’s lives. Women’s experiences in Lima make visible the continuum of violence in women’s lives, and caution us against placing any one form of violence above the other.
Another point that could apply to other places has to do with the intersection of racism and violence within intimate relationships. Especially in the life stories of indigenous women who had moved from rural areas to the capital and who spoke Quechua (an indigenous Andean language), I found that societal prejudices about race sometimes included men’s use of ethnic slurs, followed by physical and sexual violence, against their intimate partners. Racism may also play a role in men’s intimate violence against women in other settings. Continue reading »