Women’s Unequal Citizenship at the Border: Lessons from Three Nonfiction Films about the Women of Juárez
GENDER EQUALITY: DIMENSIONS OF WOMEN'S EQUAL CITIZENSHIP, Linda C. McClain, Johanna L. Grossman, eds., Cambridge University Press, 2009
24 Pages Posted: 15 Dec 2009 Last revised: 18 Jan 2010
Date Written: 2009
There is no better illustration of the impact of borders on women’s equal citizenship than the three documentaries reviewed in this essay. All three deal with the femicides that befell the young women of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico between 1993 and 2005. Juarez is just across the border from El Paso, Texas. Performing the Border (1999) stimulates the viewer’s imagination regarding the ephemeral nature of borders and their impact on the citizenship of women who live at the intersection of local, regional, national and international legal regimes. Señorita Extraviada (2001) is an intimate portrait of the victims which illustrates why the private grief of their survivors should have been a cause for public national mourning. Finally, Battle of the Crosses (2005), the work of social scientists, offers a panoramic description of the complicated social terrain on which the Juárez femicides occurred and their meaning was fought over. Together, the films suggest how borders are constructed and “performed” through law and law enforcement in ways that jeopardize women’s rights as citizens. The films also show how women in turn challenge law and law enforcement to transcend the limitations of social, political, and economic borders and assert their right to equal citizenship.
Confronted with state intransigence in the face of the murders of dozens of young females, the women of Juárez used their traditional female roles as a springboard to political engagement. Overcoming the debilitating effect of class and ethnic marginality, patriarchal mass violence, and governmental corruption and lack of accountability, the women turned back the state’s effort to belittle the murders as private matters and the victims as deserving of their fate. The documentaries together provide a vivid case study that proves the importance of understanding the synthetic quality of borders and their relationship to women’s equal citizenship in a globalizing world where borders can pop up anywhere and at anytime.
Keywords: gender equality, political citizenship, social citizenship, gender, race, ethnicity, human rights, documentary film, US-Mexico relations, civil rights, discrimination, women, international borders
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