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Sex-based discrimination: an interview with Dominican feminists Michelle Morales and Violeta Jimenez

This article is part of a series of interviews featuring international perspectives on the ramifications of the concept of ‘gender identity’ within public policy. We are grateful to all the women who have agreed to be interviewed. Their perspectives will sometimes disagree, which enriches the series. Most importantly, thank you to Dominican newspaper El Caribe for its commitment to support women’s right to discuss public policy openly and without censorship.

In this interview series, we are addressing the imposition of the concept of ‘gender identity’ within public policy. These conversations have been prompted due to the insistence of several sectors from inside and outside the Dominican Republic to enshrine, surreptitiously and hidden from the public, this novel concept within our public policies and national legislation. These efforts are being conducted without the necessary analysis and debate which forms the basis of a consensus-based, democratic process.

We have spoken with feminists from all over the world: Mexico, the United Kingdom, Spain, New Zealand, Australia and there’s a surprise one coming up… but, where are the feminists from the Dominican Republic?

Their voices are instrumental, which is why in this article we are speaking with two Dominican feminists: Michelle Morales, who is a doctor specialising in anesthesiology and cardiopulmonary resuscitation and with Violeta Jimenez, a lawyer who specialises in public policy and is a columnist for the Z Digital broadcaster.

Raquel Rosario Sánchez: Thank you both so much for this interview. First up, I would like to know how you discovered the feminist movement?

Michelle Morales: I would say that I arrived at feminism as a result of the nagging feeling I’d get from observing things around me. I would notice those differences between what the boys were allowed to do with liberty versus what I was told “looked ugly” if the girls did it. I never felt satisfied with the answers I would receive when I would question the differences in roles and behavior that were assumed as the norm. People would say, for example, that women just had to put up with being mistreated because “that’s just how men are” or that things were unequal “just because”. One day I asked myself, with these exact words, “Could this mean that I am a feminist?” That’s when I started to investigate and I found my answers in feminism.

Violeta Jimenez: I started reading up on feminism after a video from a Woman’s Place UK meeting that I found on Youtube. I think it was the one in Bath. You’re Dominican and I saw that you were there so that piqued my interest. I started reading more about WPUK (Who were these women? Why were they deemed so controversial?), following the social media accounts of feminist academics and gender critical personalities and after that, I was off to the races!

RRS:  From your point of view, is gender an identity to be reclaimed or system which needs to be abolished?

VJ: I think gender is neither good not bad. The problem is not with the concept itself but with what people make of the concept. We must abolish all harmful preconceptions with exist within gender, those which are imposed by society and the ruling class. Those preconceptions which say that if you are a woman, it means you are weak or cowardly, and that if you are a man, you must be emotionless.

MM: Gender is an oppressive system which must be abolished.

RRS: Would you be interested in having the rights of girls and women in the Dominican Republic based on sex? Why or why not?

MM: Of course, I’d be interested! Sex is observed and it’s in our genetic material. Erasing ‘sex’ from the laws and public policies render invisible the sociocultural realities which begin to affect us from the moment we are born female, such as male violence. Let’s be frank here: ‘gender identity’ policies are very convenient only if the intention is to, for example, render invisible the violence committed by men against women from the statistics records or the social protection that mothers need based on their unique capacity to gestate and give birth.

VJ: It is imperative that our laws both define and enshrine sex as a protected characteristic. Especially for the protection of women and girls in the Dominican Republic, we are long overdue for our sex to be shielded within our laws.

Luckily for us, the Dominican Republic hasn’t gone to the extremes that we are witnessing in countries like Canada or the United Kingdom. Here we can see quite clearly why it is necessary to separate the bathrooms which girls use from the bathrooms which men use. But if we were to based our laws on ‘gender identity’, then we would be opening a Pandora’s Box which would be difficult to close.

I would like our local feminist organisations to make an effort to educate our legislators on this topic, in a manner which is free from prejudice and based on science. Too many people here want to jump on the bandwagon of so-called “progressive ideologies” without fully understanding what they actually mean on a practical level or their consequences.

RRS: There are people who would argue that by talking about scientific things like chromosomes and genetics, we are “reducing women to their biology”. Shouldn’t we focus on loftier ideals such as “equality”?

MM: Yeah, right. That’s like saying that if we talk about children, we are reducing humans to an age range! It would be ridiculous if adults started arguing that we are being discriminated against because we are not allowed into children’s creches, we are denied pediatric attention, the laws around child abuse and protection exclude us and that the biological characteristics of that age range deny our existence.

I must ponder: why are women made to feel guilty or ashamed for wanting to speak about the biology which makes us female? How is it progressive to encourage women to reject and feel embarrassed about our own bodies? Isn’t that what patriarchy has always done?

Michelle Morales

RRS: So far, in the Dominican Republic, the rights of women and girls are based on ‘gender’, as opposed to other countries where they are based on ‘sex’. Within our National Congress, there are law projects which seek to cement these rights based on an alleged ‘gender identity’. What is your opinion of these three perspectives?

MM: Both gender and gender identity are concepts which exist to mask the power relation between the sexes, so that the cause of oppression remains hidden and men don’t feel singled out. If gender is the stereotypical sex roles which sustain the hierarchy between men and women, then the purpose of gender identity within public policy is to turn that inequity into an innate and essential human condition.

This would obviously hinder the efforts being undertaken in the Dominican Republic to protect women and aside from that, it creates massive legal confusions to replace a biological category with a socially constructed one.

RRS: Now, you are a young feminist and some people would contend that the proliferation of the concept of ‘gender identity’ is simply the arrival of novel ideas. Are the divisions on this issue a generational divide?

VJ: We can’t ignore the generational effects of social changes, be those positive or negative. I think that the culture of ‘political correctness’ which has arrived with our generation, has opened the door to an absolute permissiveness and the shutting down of free thinking.

The ideology of ‘gender identity’ has gained ground at a noteworthy speed because the younger generation is terrified of being branded discriminatory. That word is the cudgel used by any progressive group with an agenda: “if you do not accept what I say, you are discriminating against me.”  The dearth of information relating to the concept of gender identity means that it is remarkably easy for these lobby groups to persuade people that they hold the absolute truth.

RRS: It appears as if some of the most ardent defenders of this reconceptualisation of gender as an individual identity are the feminist organisations. Why does it seem like it is the feminists themselves who have taken up the cause of eliminating women’s sex-based rights?

MM: Because this issue is a Trojan horse. Those feminist organisations make a commitment with the international funders who coerce them into implementing these initiatives, at a local level. This puts them in a position of having to superimpose the guidelines set by international lobby groups over the needs and demands of local women.

VJ: That impression is accurate because there are, indeed, certain feminist groups who are keen to raise their profile and numbers and, as a result, are willing to accept funding from whomever. I would like to think that this is due to a lack of understanding of this issue and some misdirected empathy. Women have been historically discriminated and mistreated, based on our sex. And even though there have been many gains, the women’s liberation struggle has never been fully accepted in society.

Therefore, feminists are eager to support the struggles of minorities who are oftentimes abused, because we know what it feels like. But that empathy, tied together with the arguments of progressive ideologies, have made many within the feminist movement open the doors to some troublesome ideas and concepts. We could support one another but attempting to blend our struggles together, as if it was one and the same, is detrimental for women and girls, given that females are the historically oppressed class based on our sex.

RRS: What would you like to say to women who may feel confused or overwhelmed by this issue?

VJ: Don’t let anyone intimidate you. Learn about the international cases: read about what is happening in the United Kingdom, in Spain, in Mexico, in Canada with regards to gender identity policies. Using your critical thinking skills and questioning a movement which carries harmful repercussions for girls and women, does not make you discriminatory. This is a struggle for women so we must protect each other. The feminist struggle has never been, nor should it ever be, about men’s right to be considered women.

MM: Do not let the bullies silence you. At this moment in time, being lukewarm is just as detrimental as the proposals to erase us from the laws. The most revolutionary thing that we can do is to tell the truth, loud and clear, and say no to gender identity policies.

RRS: Have you suffered any repercussions as a result of the feminist analysis you share on your writing or social media? If so, what compelled you to speak out?

MM: Yes. Some people argue that I should not be allowed to practice medicine because I represent some sort of danger and my words exterminate the trans community. I know that this is obviously not true, so I carry on doing my thing and writing. I started speaking out about my concerns due to the horror I felt seeing the disinformation being spread on this issue about biology and the lies that I saw were promoted to justify the endocrinological treatment of so-called ‘trans children’. This is unprecedented and there is a dearth of scientific research on this.

I was compelled to speak out when I thought about my country. Sadly, here in the Dominican Republic we have very low education levels, we do not teach sex education in schools and sexism is too ingrained in our society for us to be messing about with absolute nonsense like gender identity policies which would only sink us even deeper into backwardness.”

A special thank you to both Michelle and Violeta for joining us in this series and for their outspoken defense of women’s rights in my home town. On our next interview, we will speak with a feminist politician about the interaction between democratic principles and the pressure to impose gender identity policies worldwide.

Raquel Rosario Sánchez is a writer, campaigner and researcher from the Dominican Republic. She specialises in ending male violence against girls and women and is currently pursuing a PhD with the Centre for Gender and Violence Research at the University of Bristol.

The original, shorter version of this interview was published by Dominican newspaper El Caribe on December 9th, 2019. You can read it in Spanish here.

Read all the interviews in the El Caribe series on sex and gender identity within public policy here.

@8RosarioSanchez

You can watch the films from our Bath meeting by clicking on the links below

Professor Clara Greed

Sarah Ditum

Raquel Rosario Sanchez

Sarah Johnson

 

 

 

 

 

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