Sofia Cotrona reflects on the power of the viral feminist transnational performance A Rapist on Your Path.
CW: rape, gender-based violence
November 2019, led by the Chilean feminist collective Las Tesis, a mass of cis women, transgender women, and non-binary people poured into the streets of Santiago during the International Day against Gender Violence. Dressed in the most disparate ways but all wearing a black blindfold on their eyes, they began to perform and chant the lyrics of A Rapist on Your Path (Un Violador en Tu Camino). With a simple routine of moves to accompany the words, their performance became viral, spreading quickly firstly across Latin America and then across the globe. Presenting the song in different languages and adapting it to different cultures, it even arrived in Edinburgh for International Women’s Day. Groups of non-binary people, and trans and cis women came together all over the world to perform this hymn against gender-based violence and an act of collective empowerment.
Defined as an act of transnational feminism, this performance showed the universal experience of cis women, trans women, and non-binary people living within a violent patriarchal system. The lyrics of the song clearly denounce the role of state forces, politicians, police, and legislative systems that support the existence of rape culture. “Patriarchy is a judge that judges us for being born and our punishment is the violence that we face: femicide, impunity for my assassin, disappearance, rape”, chants the song while the participants perform a series of squats with their hands behind their head in a gesture that recalls the position that those under arrest are forced to assume.
In the chorus, the expanse of performers roars the words “It wasn’t my fault, nor where I was, not how I dressed” whilst jumping on the spot in an outburst of anger and empowering joy as they scream against centuries of victim-blaming. The single voices, the single experiences of violence, repression, silence, come together, rising high above the individual whose personal experience becomes validated by that of the collective. These chants that resonate across the globe, sung by women wearing the most diverse arrays of outfits reinforce the meaning of the performance: violence has nothing to do with where the victim is, nor what they were wearing.
The power of this performance lies in its collective nature. A mass of participants refuses a narrative of violence so intrusive within the life of non-binary people, cis and transgender women that it becomes white noise following them everywhere. Through this performance and its collective voice, it becomes possible for women to reclaim their bodies which are under constant threat and their space freed of a narrative that leaves the perpetrator unpunished and places victims under stricter self-surveillance.
The blindfolded performers allude to the personification of ‘Justice’ represented as a woman with her eyes covered to express her fairness in determining the outcomes of people’s trials. Embodying this virtue, the dancers finally bring justice to gender-based violence. “The rapist is you” is the final verdict screamed by the performers as they confront the audience pointing fingers at them. The singers go further than condemning the single perpetrator as they point at wider institutions chanting that the rapist is “the police, it’s the judges, the system and the President.”
Through these words, those who have faced gender-based violence seem to find their lost voice: the voice that so many times got choked in the back of throats out of fear and isolation. Now that voice roars in the masses across the world to claim a space to be heard, to come together and to fight.
Image: Un Violador en Tu Camino performance.
Image credit: Paulo Slachevsky via Flickr