A Challenge to Mexico's View of Women

MEXICO CITY -- A year ago, Claudia Rodriguez, a 30-year-old mother of five, went out dancing. She has been in jail ever since. Her case has become the focus of a strong women's protest movement -- itself a rare event in Mexico.Claudia was accompanied by a girlfriend, and her friend's lover, Juan Cabrera. As the night wore on, Cabrera, who had been drinking heavily, propositioned Claudia.Angered by this, the two women set off for home. Cabrera followed, telling them that women were whores and suggesting all three go to a hotel. When they were on an elevated walkway, Cabrera grabbed Claudia by the arms, pushed her against a guardrail, ripped her blouse, exposed himself, and told her no woman had escaped him yet.Claudia pulled a .22 pistol from her purse -- she had started carrying it two weeks earlier after a robbery -- and shot Cabrera in the gut.Charged with murder and jailed, she has had 30 hearings. A judge is expected to decide on her guilt or innocence soon.The evidence supports Claudia's story. She had bruises on her arms and waist. Her blouse was torn. The trajectory of the bullet is consistent with her claim that Cabrera was leaning over her. Claudia's friend -- Cabrera's mistress -- confirms her version. Not even the judge doubts she was being attacked.But Claudia's case may have more to do with who she is and her lifestyle than with what she did.The prosecutor in her case has been quoted asking, "If she was a married woman, what was she doing out dancing?" And a psychologist who interviewed Claudia told her that if he saw his wife out at 4 a.m. with another man, he'd divorce her.Claudia is married and working -- one of millions of women who have entered the workforce over the last 20 years to keep their families afloat, as Mexico dipped and dived into one recession after another.Claudia sold cosmetics to women who work in office buildings. At the time of the shooting, she was earning three times as much as her husband, who works for the Mexico City water department."In many marriages it's customary that the woman stays in the house and the man works and goes around partying," Claudia said, in a jailhouse interview. "It wasn't like that for us."Cruz would make meals for the children; Claudia would help him with electrical jobs neighbors hired him to do. They built their concrete-block home together. And at times Claudia, who married at 14, would go out with friends, without her husband.Neither one ever believed their lifestyle would be so important, yet Claudia's honor -- or perceived lack of it -- has been a major question in the case.The judge who decided that Claudia should stand trial wrote that because she was sober and Cabrera was drunk Claudia should have done something to avoid his attack -- should have waited for a helpful passer-by or shot him in another part of the body. He argued, "Being that drunk, it's logical that the deceased wasn't able to defend himself and that she took advantage of him.""That's what makes trying the case so hard," says Ana Laura Magaloni, a professor of constitutional law who is defending Claudia free of charge. "If she'd been dressed in pink, walking her children along the street and a rapist jumped her, they'd probably have called it self-defense because she's a woman fulfilling the stereotype."It upsets them that a woman carries a gun, that a woman defends herself from rape, that Claudia is married and spent time in a bar with a man who wasn't her husband."What also counts is that Claudia is without money or influence. In Mexico City last year an executive shot and killed a man trying to rob him of a watch and "in 24 hours they decided it was self-defense," Magaloni said. "Claudia's case isn't about robbery, but about rape."The story of Claudia Rodriguez has galvanized the women's movement here. Women who would never call themselves feminists have rallied to Claudia's cause. Actresses, female politicians, and writers have signed an open letter calling for her release.Women's groups take Claudia's case as one more proof that in Mexico justice isn't given, it must be taken. But they also take it as an example of just how profoundly Mexico is changing these days."In other countries, I've noticed it's very routine for people to report crimes, to demand their rights," said Ana-Maria Hernandez, of SIPAM, a women's health organization that has taken up Claudia's cause. "Not in this country. That's why her case is so important. Claudia acted in her own defense -- didn't let something happen to her -- and she's demanding to be let free."

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