August 22. 2011
by Margaret Thompson
Journalists and social communicators from several Latin American & Caribbean countries met to explore how women’s strategies of survival and recovery from gender based violence can offer clues to curb the vicious cycle of the “shock doctrine.”
Connecting the “patriarchal shock” of violence against women to the “shock doctrine” developed by Naomi Klein can provide strategies to break the “shock” that follows natural disasters or political crises that are often used as “opportunities” to implement radical neoliberal economic and political changes that shift massive power to corporations. And women as “experts” with strategies of survival of violence say that breaking the silence and building alliances are key strategies to break the shock, as suggested by participants in a dialogue facilitated by María Suárez Toro of ESCRIBANA.
The conversation group was one of several held during the Latin American General Assembly & Regional Meeting by WACC – World Association of Christian Communication – entitled, “New Communications to Guarantee Communication Rights in our Communities,” which took place August 18-21, 2011 near San José, Costa Rica. Fifty-five journalists, social communicators, educators, human rights activists and religious leaders traveled from several countries in the Latin American region to attend the event.
The shock doctrine
The shock doctrine developed by Naomi Klein focuses on how proponents of the global free market and neoliberalism exploit natural disasters and political crises – ranging from earthquakes, tsunamis, terrorist attacks, market collapse, coup d’états or war – which puts a population of a country in a state of collective shock. Proponents use these as an opportunity to quickly launch radical changes in laws and policy at a time when the population is paralyzed by the shock and unable to resist, with changes that they would normally oppose.
Klein also talks about “disaster capitalism,” which originated with the free market ideas of Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago, who trained the “Chicago Boys” who were students from Latin America who later returned home to implement these policies. Friedman said that in free market capitalism “only a crisis-actual or perceived-produces real change,” which often involves massive privatization of the social and economic structure of the state and policy reforms that shift power to transnational corporations and the political and economic elite.
Examples of the shock doctrine include the military coup d’état in Chile in 1973, which involved the overthrow of a democratically elected president to install the brutal dictator Pinochet, along with implementation of radical economic and political reforms. Likewise, the terrorist attacks of 9-11 in the US resulted in immediate passage of the Patriot Act and the invasion of Afghanistan and later Iraq.
Other examples include the massive South Asian tsunami in 2004, after which major tourism projects displaced local coastal populations in Sri Lanka and Thailand, and Hurricane Katrina, which led to the elimination of public housing and hospitals, and privatization of education in New Orleans.
All involved a colossal disaster or crisis followed by radical shifts to privatize and install a corporate agenda which further disempowered marginalized groups in particular, including indigenous peoples and other minority groups, women, and the poor, but in many cases attacked the labor unions and other political/social movements, and the middle class as well.
In some situations a crisis is deliberately created or perpetrated by those in power, such as in Honduras where following the 2009 military coup, extreme violence and other human rights violations carried out by security forces, paramilitary “death squads” and criminal gangs keep perpetuating the collective shock of the coup itself.
Klein said, “As we progressed in the investigation of how the market model was imposed around the world, I discovered that the idea of exploiting crisis and disaster was in fact the classic modus operandi of Friedman’s followers from the beginning.” 1 And violations of human rights in the name of maintaining “order” and control are viewed as necessary means to the desired end result.
The shock doctrine has implications for social and political movements that seek to organize alternative transformative resistance to the neoliberal model of corporate globalization. It is urgent to design strategies to help communities and peoples to leave the shock to expand and strengthen their resistance, because it is known even at a micro level that a body in shock has difficulty in developing autonomous responses, usually maintaining in a reactive mode just to survive in the midst of shock.
ESCRIBANA is working to reconceptualize the shock doctrine from a gender perspective, including the identification of women’s strategies of survival in the face of gender based violence, which serves to keep women in shock and paralyzed.
The conversation group at the WACC regional conference was the second step to including women as “experts” by asking them to share their experiences in dealing with the shock, which can later be applied to designing strategies to resist the shock doctrine at the political, social and economic level.
The first step is a journalistic analysis by Suárez who is looking at the case of Puerto Rico for a report for the Latina American Women´s Feature Service (SEMlac for its acronym in Spanish) She discovered and made the link between gender-based violence as a form of shock doctrine that dates back 6,000 years ago with the emergence of patriarchy and how neoliberal shock doctrine, because it is also patriarchal, uses it against women. That unpublished research paper also recognizes for the first time that women´s expertise in curbing the shock in of violence is crucial to developing strategies by social & political movements to curb the neoliberal Shock Doctrine of the last 30 years.
Women’s experiences with the “patriarchal shock doctrine”
At the workshop, Suárez explained that the policy of neoliberalism and free market capitalism is not the only means of applying the shock doctrine, but the patriarchal societies of the last 6,ooo years have used a shock doctrine against women, expressed in all forms of violence against us with the same objective Klein describes: maintaining control and domination, to implement patriarchal projects without resistance.
This means that women have a great experience about how to break through the “patriarchal shock” of (mostly male) violence that immobilizes them, to instead become survivors and agents of change in our societies, said Suárez. It means that movements may integrate strategies to resist shock as a means to fight for their rights and for social justice can draw on the accumulated historical experience of women.
Through participatory research, ESCRIBANA is trying to recover and systematize the strategies that women use to deal with the shock of the violence they have experienced. This does not involve collecting the full range of systematic strategies to eliminate violence against women, but to initiate a process to identify and resist patriarchal shock doctrine against women.
The 15 participants in the small group discussion facilitated by Suárez at the WACC conference came from Ecuador, Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Brazil, and the United States, ranging from journalists and social communicators, human rights activists, educators and religious leaders.
Participants were asked to define “shock” for themselves as it related to violence, which for Sandra López, an indigenous activist from Ecuador, meant “blocking” a psychosocial sense of belonging. This can best be unblocked by interacting with life and nature: planting, nurturing, and caring for one’s body and health to help restore the flow of vital energy.
Rebecca Cascante, a psychologist from the Young Women’s Pastoral in Costa Rica, said that “paralysis” is their word for shock. Telling the story and developing networks of solidarity are very important, as is access to information. “Fear is the greatest enemy, which we to get rid of to move out of shock… we know that connecting with our bodies is an antidote to the shock. And we tell our stories, breaking myths and creating support groups. ”
Vera Vieira, a longtime feminist journalist from Brazil said that as a battered woman for many years in her first marriage, the first step out of domestic violence was to break the silence, telling her mother what was wrong and then seeking other support. “The shock is perpetuated when we feel alone and isolated, unable to name what happens.”
Claudia Floretín, a theologian and communicator from Argentina noted that violence is not only the physical blows, but the everyday discrimination and insults to women’s integrity that diminish their capacities and self esteem. She said that identifying and recognizing these patriarchal strategies aimed at women has been important, as well as recognizing the stories of her own life as a form of re-birth.
Xinia Chacon, a young Costa Rican Lutheran minister and lawyer suggested that one way out of the shock is to make an inventory of skills and strengths that each woman has and how these can be used to break out of the “paralysis” created by violence.
Claudilene Silva, a young Afro-Brazilian woman from the Afro Observatory of Brazil said that the Afro women’s organizations in her country have systematized ways of dealing with racism, which can contribute to the discussion. The Afro Observatory has identified four phases of dealing with racism: The first phase that Afro women experience is assimilation, where they try to be like whites and deny their identity. A second phase is to recognize the “impact” of racism and the fact that they are not are white. A third phase is “militancy,” which consists of actions to assert their rights as Afro women and their communities. And the fourth is “articulation” which refers to the collective construction of alternatives and strategies.
Silva said, “One strategy we used in Brazil against domestic violence is to take action in the moment of shock or impact. We do not expect to avoid the impact, but when a woman is being beaten, women group together with horns and tools that make noise, and we stop outside the house where a woman being is being abused and call for the violence to stop. It works! ”
Angie Barrios, of the Association of Collective Women and the Law in Costa Rica, noted that public policy, which is created by those in power, often creates a form of shock. She said that connecting with other women in their communities, as well as the struggles of women worldwide helps to break the shock. “When this country goes mad, then we will see the madness as normal and only then will we realize that what we have lived in was an injustice… in a state of shock we may seem crazy, but it the madness results from trying to get out of the shock,” said Barrios
Role of media and the shock doctrine
Margaret Thompson (author of this article), a university professor from the University of Denver in the United States and also with ESCRIBANA, said the media also contribute to shock by the way they promote and portray so much violence.
“They are part of the Shock Doctrine because the owners are often corporations and invested in the neoliberal agenda, and also because the traditional values of what makes news put conflict and violence at the top of the media agenda….’if it bleeds, it leads,’” noted Thompson.
Ximena Gudiño, a radio journalist from Ecuador who also works with the Latin American Radio Network for Human Rights added that change happens when societies mobilize. She said that alternative media networks along with the new media technologies play an important role in supporting change. ”They are seeds that help build hope and are antidotes to the shock by naming things clearly. The levels of violence are devastating and we must seek paths of hope by looking for the problem at its root,” said Gudiño.
Marcela Gaviud, a journalist from Argentina said the networks created by women journalists have greatly helped as a forum for women to talk and be listened to about the violence they experience in their work in the media. “Women always find ways to connect, to build alliances to leave a situation, knowing that we are not alone.”
Gavuid also said that the Shock Doctrine can easily be applied to the dictatorship of the 1970s and ‘80s in Argentina; and it is only now emerging that women were raped as a form of torture. Marcela noted that this strategy of shock was directed at women, and the impact it had, besides the silence of many years, still greatly affects many.
Applying anti-shock strategies to strengthen social & political movements
By identifying women’s strategies of surviving violence as a means of breaking the shock, the shock doctrine has important implications for social and political movements that seek to resist the radical advances of corporate neoliberalism and promote alternatives for social change. Suárez described how research on torture shows that a body in shock as a result of violence has difficulty developing autonomous responses, so usually reverts to reactive behavior just to survive in the midst of shock
There are many examples. Women’s movements against violence and men who are opposed to such violence have designed strategies for women to resist and overcome the shock to move from victims to survivors and even “thrivers” as agents of change and transformation.
Feminism has made a special contribution to identify these forms of violence as an expression of gender inequality, particularly imbalances of power, which are essential to understand the shock doctrine as well.
1 Klein, Noami (2007). The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, p. 9. New York: Penguin Group.