A wave of controversy has washed through the beauty blogosphere this weekend. I was alerted to it via the weird and wonderful world of twitter, which is fast becoming my first port of call for news, both gossip, beauty and fashion related, and increasingly, political. The recent upset chatter is in reaction to the Fall 2010 fashion collection by Rodarte and an upcoming collaborative beauty collection by MAC and Rodarte, based on the Mexican border city, Ciudad Juarez.
The Rodarte collection was inspired by a roadtrip taken by designers Laura and Kate Mulleavy from El Paso, Texas to Marfa through the bordertown landscape. The Rodarte collection avoided much controversy when it was shown (perhaps the connotation with Juarez was not obvious to many), and was praised for its beautiful romantic and ethereal pieces. However now that MAC is getting involved, set to release a makeup range in September with nail polishes named with explicit reference to the region, such as ‘Juarez’ and ‘Factory’, people are upset. Very upset.
For those of you that don’t know much about the Mexican border cities, and Juarez in particular, I can hardly blame you. There is so little reported on it in this country and it’s grossly under-reported on even in the US, its very close neighbour. I, by chance, happened to write my university dissertation on the US-Mexico border region, focusing on the exploitation of women (mostly young women), both economically – through gruelling sweatshops known as maquiladoras – and physically, through sexual assault, rape, murder, and brutal mutilation of their bodies. I may never have known about this myself had it not been for the year abroad during my degree which I spent at the University of California, Santa Barbara. There I enrolled in Chicano Studies courses led by Sylvanna Falcón, author of ‘Rape as a Weapon of War: Advancing Human Rights for Women at the U.S.-Mexico Border’ and other articles on the subjugation of Mexican women. That’s where I first heard about Juarez, the maquiladoras, and the rapes and murders known as ‘femicide’ (violence against women). I was truly shocked and moved, and determined from that moment to write my dissertation on it. So this issue is very close to my heart. It gives me a lump in my throat just to talk about it, having spent six months immersing myself in books, articles, videos and real-life testimonials, and pouring all my energy into trying to understand the horrific events that have been taking place there.
When I wrote my dissertation in 2008 there were over 500 reported cases of murdered women from the Juarez area, just across the border from El Paso, Texas, although it was estimated there were hundreds, even thousands more. Most of these women had been raped, many mutilated, and their bodies often found abandoned, naked, in the desert. Most of them were young maquiladora factory workers, attacked on their commute in the dark to work long, physically demanding (and often dangerous) hours in predominantly US owned factories, for peanuts of a wage. Today I’ve heard a much higher number of 5000 deaths being reported; whatever the exact figure the situation is clearly an epidemic. And one which has been happening since 1993 –that’s nearly 20 years.
You may be starting to see why basing a fashion and/or beauty collection on Ciudad Juarez is in poor taste.
Aside from the obviously horrific things which are happening to women in Juarez, what is almost equally as disturbing is that no one has been brought to justice. These brutal killings and rapes have been happening for nearly two decades but such an intricate and powerful system of corruption exists, which, in many scholars’ opinions, involves a number of players including drug barons, maquilardora factory owners (many of whom are Americans), the police, the Mexican government, the US border patrol, perhaps even the US government, either directly or indirectly.
“Investigations by the United Nations, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International, members of the U.S. Congress and other groups have repeatedly shown that local police have mishandled or fabricated evidence and failed to follow logical leads.” (Sullivan, In Mexico, a Question of Guilt by Protestation.)
No one knows who’s responsible for these murders. It may be just a handful of sick individuals who actually commit the crimes, but they are being protected by a wall of silence that exists around the murders, protected by the powers that be. And that in itself is a crime. The silence has been broken only sporadically due to the incredible hard work of grass roots campaigners in Mexico and the US who’ve put their lives at risk to raise awareness of the plight of women in Juarez. And yet, justice still has not been done. To my knowledge (and at least as was the case in 2008), no one has been found guilty; a few men had been made scapegoats, but with little evidence, and the murders have continued. They continue today.
Why the silence? Well, scholars believe that those in power, both economic and political, are profiting from this in some way – either directly or indirectly by protecting their business and/or political interests and their positions of power. The maquiladoras are huge business for the US, European and Japanese companies who run the sweatshops, and the drugs trade helps support the Mexican border cities’ economies. All of that leads to massive corruption and an imbalance of power which unfortunately works against young, poor, vunerable Mexican women. Some theorize that some of the murders are to do with underground organ trafficking. Others claim that it’s become a breeding ground for serial killers with sick sexual fantasies (Michael Newton, Ciudad Juarez: The Serial Killer’s Playground). Whatever the details, there is clearly a huge amount of corruption and collusion between those in power, which is allowing for these atrocious attacks to continue. Instead of protecting these women, for years the women in Juarez have been portrayed as immoral, sexually promiscuous, and branded as prostitutes, in essence suggesting they are to blame for their fate. The women in Juarez are treated as disposable as the products they manufacture on the production line in the maquiladoras.
The Rodarte designers claim that the inspiration for their Fall 2010 line came from the bordertown’s ‘ethereal’ landscape and the inspiring vision of young, pale-faced women walking to and from work to the factories during the night. It’s a sick irony that many of those young women never made it home from those walks.
I have never intended for this blog to become a slating ground for brands, and I don’t intend to go too much into how wrong I feel MAC is to produce this line. It doesn’t need to be said that their choice of names for these products was ill thought out and in poor taste. For both MAC and Rodarte to romanticise a place which is so full of violence, misogyny, and exploitation against women is baffling to me. It’s astonishing really that MAC, such a huge global brand, based in the US, could have possibly overlooked the connotation between Juarez and female exploitation. And since they must have known, the only way this could possibly have been an honourable thing to do would have been to actively use their global fame and immense marketing power to raise awareness AND MONEY for the affected families of the murders and the organisations working so hard to petition the government to do more to investigate the violence and injustice.
MAC have, in light of some backlash already arisen from the US press, bloggers and consumers, announced that they’ll be giving a portion of profit from the range to help those in Juarez ‘in some way’ and have apologised for the offence they’ve caused. This is not enough. The only way I can see MAC and Rodarte salvaging their reputations and integrity in this situation is to donate ALL profits from the Rodarte/MAC range (or at the very least from the ‘Juarez’ and ‘Factory’ nail polishes) and make a serious attempt to turn this negative situation into a means of creating positive change – through raising awareness of the very real exploitation and violence happening everyday in Ciudad Juarez.
A number of other bloggers are posting tonight about this issue, voicing their opinions and upset about the MAC/Rodarte collaboration. Please read their thoughts too, and feel free to leave your comments.
London Makeup Girl
British Beauty Blogger
Pretty in Dayton
So Far So Chic
Vex in the City
Bangs and a Bun
London Beauty Queen
Lady of the Lane
Just Nice Things
Le Petit Jardin de Liloo
The Beauty Button
My Lips But Better
Makeup Advice Forum
WildCat Makeup (YouTube video): MAC Cosmetics – One Step Too Far? wildkatmakeup
For more information on the situation in Juarez (because I could go on for hours, but don’t think a blog is the place for it really), here are some great information sources about the Juarez murders and the maquiladoras:
Women on the Border
The Juarez Project
Taken by the Sky
Michael Newton, ‘Ciudad Juarez: The Serial Killer’s Playground.’
On the Edge: The Femicide in Ciudad Juárez, documentary by Steev Hise (Illegal Art, 2006).
Juarez: The City where Women are Disposable, documentary by Alex Flores and Lorena Vassolo (Toronto, Canada: Las Perlas Del Mar Films, 2007).
I’d also be happy to share my dissertation with anyone that’s interested in my more academic take on the situation. Just drop me an email – firstname.lastname@example.org.