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‘Bordertown' centers on a story depicting the sexual assault and murder of various Mexican women working in a Maquiladora factory in a Mexican bordertown, Ciudad Juarez. There is a clear depiction of open discrimination and oppression against women in ‘Bordertown'. We can also see the invisible forces of patriarchy as an intricate and complex system working against women and defining how they should live their lives. This movie allows us a closer inspection into the system of patriarchy but exploring the realm of economic control over the women working in these Maquiladora factories. These Mexican women often have no say or control in their work or daily lives and are forced to conform to a male dominated world in order to keep their lowly paid jobs to earn a living for themselves and their families. The movie also portrays how Lauren, a female Mexican-American reporter for the Chicago Sentinel, struggles with her role as a woman in a male-dominated work place. Patriarchy is hence being explored in this movie as an oppressive institution and also an economic control over women.
In his article ‘Patriarchy', Johnson (1997) defines patriarchy as a society that is “male-dominated, male-identified and male-centered” and “involves as one of its key aspects the oppression of women”. Therefore, not only is society's existence identified through the men's point of view, but also a women's existence and her role in society. Patriarchy is depicted both explicitly and in more subtle ways in the movie; however, one common factor is that it affects women, regardless of class, in both Mexico and America. This can come as quite a shock for some as these two countries have very different cultural backgrounds and values, but share a common patriarchal society structure. Firstly, in ‘Bordertown' it is quite obvious that all the people in power, both in Juarez as well as America, are men. In Juarez, the police officers and government officials are almost always men, whereas in Chicago Sentinel, Lauren's boss and the people with large corporate power and influence are also men. Such a scenario serves as an excellent illustration of Johnson's (1997) definition of patriarchy in his article.
With male dominance as one of the key factors of a patriarchal society, it allows men to “shape culture in ways that reflect and serve men's collective interests by, for example … adjudicating rape and sexual harassment cases in ways that put the victim rather than the defendant on trial” (Johnson, 1997). This scenario is one in which the movie ‘Bordertown' centers around. The many rape and murder cases of female Mexican factory workers are ignored and even covered up by the local police in Juarez. On the surface, it seems like an attempt to protect the image of the local government and also the profits of wealthy capitalists who set up Maquiladora factories in Juarez. Delving deeper into the scenario, we can observe how a not-so-subtle form of patriarchy is at work. If the victims in this scenario were men, the consequence would most probably be very much different.
A patriarchal society not only focuses on men, but also devalues the importance of women, be it at home or at work. As mentioned earlier, the patriarchal system disregards women regardless of their class. This can be seen when Lauren was patronized and not taken seriously by the police officers in Juarez when we went to cover a story on the murder cases of women in Juarez. Even back in America, her boss chose to sidestep the issue she brought up with regard to the women in Juarez and killed her story due to external corporate and government pressure. We can see that even though Lauren does not belong to the same social class as the female factory workers in Juarez, both are victims of a patriarchal society.
Oppression is another factor in which the women in Juarez faces in the movie. Frye (1983) defines oppression as being “caught between or among forces and barriers which are so related to each other that jointly they restrain, restrict or prevent the thing's motion or mobility.” This alone, however, does not provide the full picture in which oppression takes place in the movie or real life. According to Johnson (1997), “oppression is a social phenomenon that happens between different groups in a society; it is a system of social inequality through which one group is positioned to dominate and benefit from the exploitation and subordination of another.” Johnson's definition gives a more accurate view on oppression in general, as well as in the movie.
In her article “Homophobia as a Weapon of Sexism, Pharr (1988) states that “economics” is one of the biggest weapons used against women. Chafe (1977) also mentioned that a women's economic status is controlled by men, hence, they are subjected or expected to have “economic dependency upon men”. Such economic control of women in workplace is exemplified by the system of patriarchy in the movie. The female Mexican factory workers in the movie are treated like machines or at best homogeneous female workers, by men in power, who benefit from their cheap labor. These women are paid a meager salary and often have no power or say at work and also in their private lives. However, as Chavez suggests in her article “Hispanics and the American Dream”, most of these Mexican women working in the Maquiladora factories put the needs of their families above their own. The victim in the movie, Eva, is a good example of such women who left her home and family to work in a Maquiladora factory in Juarez in order to earn a living.
On the same note, even women of a higher social class in Juarez such as Teresa, who is the founder of an organization helping women in Juarez, is not spared from oppression in the patriarchal society. In his article, Chafe (1977) highlights that “the act of challenging prevailing norms meant living on the edge of alienation and apart from the security of those who accepted the status quo.” This is depicted in ‘Bordertown' as Teresa told Lauren not to put the rape and murder case of Eva on trial as they stand no chance of winning but in actual fact, she is also afraid of the repercussions of putting the case on trial. This provides a little irony since she is the founder of an organization that seeks to help women, but it also showcases the conflict women faces in a patriarchal society.
All in all, ‘Bordertown' is excellent in portraying the conflicts and oppression women faces under patriarchy. By showing women of different nationality and social classes, it brings to our attention that such oppression and struggle is a common factor that women in general face. The various articles also support the concept of patriarchy as an intricate system that oppresses women, hence serves as a perfect complement which supports the issues of patriarchy and oppression as depicted in the movie.
- Chafe, William (1977). Sex and Race: The Analogy of Social Control. Women and Equality: Changing Patterns in American Culture.
- Frye, Marilyn (1983). Oppression. The Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist Theory.
- Johnson, Allan ( 1997). Patriarchy. The Gender Knot: Unraveling our Patriarchal Legacy.
- Pharr, Suzanne (1988). Homophobia as a Weapon of Sexism.
- Chavez, Linda (1997). Hispanics and the American Dream. USA Today Magazine, 126, 2626 (July 1997):22-26. http://www.hillsdale.edu/hctools/imprimistool/archives/1996_11_imprimis.pdf