Abstract In Mexico, the newly adopted law against gender violence has had a symbolic impact on victims of intimate partner violence that stems from the power of the law to bring to light an experience of injustice that has been naturalized and normalized by tradition. Through a qualitative study, it was observed that the perceptions of what is fair or deserved (based on a notion of justice anchored in tradition) contrasts with the concept of law. This article analyses the symbolic effects of the new law, as well as the different meanings attributed to it in the testimonies of battered women in Mexico City. We believe this symbolic strength stems mostly from the influence of important cultural, demographic, and social changes in the nature of the family, in addition to the legitimacy it has achieved through the language of human rights. I. INTRODUCTION In 2007, Mexico enacted the General Law of Women’s Access to a Life Free of Violence (‘General Law’) (Diario Oficial de la Federación, 2007), which treats violence against women as a gender crime. The social impact of this new law is an interesting subject for empirical investigation, since gender violence affects a significant number of women in Mexico (ENDIREH 2016).1 The question of this law’s symbolic efficacy for victims of gender violence is also socially relevant since women are now potentially in a position to denounce their assailants after the passing of the ‘General Law’. The creation of this new law stems from international commitments assumed by the Mexican State linked to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (UN General Assembly, 1979), the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (UN General Assembly; 1993) and the Convention for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Convention of Belém do Pará (OAS General Assembly, 1994), to name the most important. The role of female legislators in the Chamber of Deputies, members of various commissions such as the Special Commission on Femicide and the Commission on Gender and Equality played a central role in developing the legislation.2 The General Law of Women’s Access to a Life Free of Violence considers five types of violence against women: psychological, physical, sexual, economic, and property-related. It also mentions eight modalities of violence: domestic violence, violence in the workplace and at school, sexual harassment and assault, violence within the community, institutional violence, and femicide. The law outlines courses of action to deal with each of these scenarios, and identifies the actors responsible for the implementation of these plans. Procedures pertinent to domestic violence include concrete actions in the field for the full reintegration of the victims into society: reeducation, separation of the aggressor from the victims’ home, and the creation of refuges for them and their children. In addition, they contain recommendations within the legislative fields, such as the criminalization of domestic violence, the recognition of said violence as cause for divorce, the loss of parental authority and custody of minors, as well as ‘sentencing’ the aggressor, via judicial processes, to participate in free re-educational services, among other things. This law has been well-received by various feminist groups from within and outside the country because it transcends the almost exclusive emphasis on the family as a fundamental right, as observed in other countries on the introduction of myriad types of gender violence and femicide.3 Socio-legal studies and legal anthropology (Merry, 1990; Ewick and Silbey, 1992; Cotterrell, 1992; Yngvesson, 1993; Sarat and Felstiner, 1995) have demonstrated the symbolic effect of the law by the way the law shapes relationships and identities upon being interpreted socially. In keeping with these studies, the qualitative analysis of women presented here who suffer from intimate partner violence points toward certain indicators of the symbolic efficacy of this new legislation: the symbolic power of the law to bring to light the experience of an injustice that has been naturalized and normalized by tradition (Agoff 2009). This is due to the fact that the law offers a language that is both legitimate and legitimizing4 which allows women to decode the meaning of the violence suffered in a way that is different from the previously established one. The naturalization of domestic violence in Mexico has historically been reinforced by the imagery surrounding the family, which is almost sacred there (the phenomenon is known as familism) (Heller, 1979; Harris et al., 2005). The value placed on marriage and on family is also evident in the high proportion of individuals who form a committed relationship at least once over the course of their lifetime (95 per cent), and in the relatively low divorce rate (13 per cent) (Quilodrán, 2004). While traditionally the model for the exercise of ‘femininity’ as motherhood in the domestic sphere is associated with an ideal of suffering (Bartra, 1987), new mindsets and practices began emerging among women in Mexico in the late 1990s: they have come, to an unprecedented extent, to see themselves as subjects of rights, in particular reproductive rights (Ortiz Ortegaa et al., 2006). The many transformations that have taken place in family settings in Mexico City – changes that are reflected in a range of ideas about what constitutes a couple and a family – are demographic, economic, and cultural in nature. While changes in practice may come quicker than changes in mindset, there are signs that ways of thinking are also beginning to change (Oliveira, 2000). It is in this context of expanding rights that the ‘effects’ of the law become visible (even in Mexico, a country where there is little trust in law enforcement institutions like the police and the courts (Zepeda Lecuona, 2004; INEGI 2017)) insofar as the law redefines reality by giving new names and, hence, new meanings to everyday problems (McCann, 2006). According to McCann, legal knowledge provides a socially-accepted lens to give experience meaning, to ‘see’ in culturally sensitive ways. We can then observe a context that features a growing ‘subjective appropriation of rights’ (Agoff, 2009) or a legal consciousness (Merry, 1990; 1995) that arises in part from public debate about domestic violence as a crime, as set forth in the new legislation. By criminalizing violence and labeling it a felony, the law has a particular symbolic strength that, among other things, consists of the possibility of putting an end to the referential horizon of the traditional gender order according to which violence is a legitimate punishment that is justifiable or common for women in general. Even if legal recognition has some difficulty in challenging the structural conditions that cause gender inequality, we are interested in seeing how women exercise their rights in every possible way, as seen below. In other words, the law provides not only space for resistance, but most importantly a cultural way to cope with the problem and increased awareness for resistance (Merry, 1997). With this in mind, we are interested in observing the law’s constitutive (not instrumental) power, its ability to create the social world as described by Cotterrell: ‘not just for immediate regulatory purposes, but also in the wider consciousness of all who participate in social life’ (Cotterrell, 2006: 24–25); that is, its role as a producer of cultural meanings (Merry, 1995) which can be observed in the capacity to define an experience of injustice derived from traditional gender stratification, as well as the coercive force of authority that, thanks to the new law, women now possess over their victimizers. This article presents the results of an analysis completed in 2008, a year after the General Law was enacted. Significantly, the process of incorporating the General Law to states’ penal codes has taken many years. The General Law was incorporated into the Penal Code of Mexico City in July 2011, three years after the period when the interviews were conducted (March–April 2008). It is, of course, difficult to assess with certainty the impact of legislation enacted in 2007 on the basis of data collected just one year later. What the analysis attempts to capture, therefore, is its symbolic impact on people as expressed in their perceptions, emotions, attitudes, and thoughts regarding a new phenomenon (the law) that counters the naturalization of the experience of violence.5 This symbolic impact was the fruit of a mass consciousness-raising campaign in the media on gender violence during the period when the law was passed. Additional components of the campaign included changes in operating procedures in cases of gender violence at health centres,6 and training programs. A fixed budget was allocated to the issue of gender violence prior to the enactment of the law, and public initiatives on the issue included campaigns undertaken by the National Institute for Women (Inmujeres) to increase the visibility of gender violence and to encourage reporting misogynist aggression. Inmujeres also supported the research component of the legislation, aimed at combating gender violence with tools like the National Poll on the Dynamics of Household Relationships (ENDIREH for the acronym in Spanish). At the initiative of Inmujeres and with the collaboration of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the National Institute of Statistics, Geography, and Informatics (INEGI for the acronym in Spanish) launched the ENDIREH in October, and in November of 2003 the National Institute of Public Health carried out the National Poll on Violence against Women (ENVIM for the acronym in Spanish), which provides information on intimate partner violence (IPV).7 While there is increasing recognition in Mexico of a woman’s right to a life free from violence, this does not appear to be a significant factor in the decision to leave a violent partner. A comparative analysis of the ENDIREH for 2006 and 2011 shows that in 2006 98 per cent of all women surveyed recognized the right to a life free of violence and 99 per cent were in favour of reporting violence against women – figures that did not change in 2011 (Casique, 2015). The rate of reporting such violence has increased slowly, which shows that the recognition of the right precedes reporting the crime. Thus, of women subject to physical and/or sexual violence at the hand of a partner over the previous year (though they may have been subject to violence earlier as well) who went to the police, between 1994 and 1999 7.23 per cent did so; between 2000 and 2006 this increased to 13.46 per cent, then to 15.86 per cent between 2007 and 2013, to 20.20 per cent between 2013 and 2014, and to 36.65 per cent in 2015 or 2016 (see analysis by Frias, S. (unpublished data) on the basis of ENDIREH for 2016). The symbolic effects that may originate in the enactment of new laws are not inalterable: this analysis addresses a specific juncture, the year after the enactment of the ‘General Law’ and how certain battered women perceived their situation at that point. Insofar as it is a unique and unrepeatable juncture, it is of socio-historical importance; it can be read in relation to what happened prior to the law’s passage and also to what is happening in its wake. In what follows, I develop the idea that since the enactment of the new legislation and the discourse seeking equality, the way of understanding violence has largely split into two groups according to their generation. For some women, the symbolic impact of the law sets off tension between the traditional ideal of family and love on one hand and the defence of victims’ individual rights, on the other. For others, it can be observed that the law offers a space for self-identification. The symbolic impact and efficacy of the law, in the case of intimate partner violence, are influenced by forces that are external to the legal sphere; these forces come from a transition from the traditional family structures toward new family values and arrangements. Symbolic efficacy on a subjective level arises not only from the legitimate strength of the law, but also from the changes produced in the social position of certain women, due to cultural and structural transformations that in turn lead to new family values. II. RESEARCH METHOD This article presents the results of a qualitative study based on group discussions carried out with women who have been victims of violence. From a theoretical–methodological standpoint, the group discussion is a data production device that collects the communicational exchange prompted by the moderator, as well as that which spontaneously emerges (Bohnsack, 2010). Such interaction offers valuable data on the extent of consensus and diversity among the participants. A single expression is taken into account only insofar as it produces some kind of echo, either by group response or silence; that is, in its emerging role of group discussion. The representations and meanings of intimate partner violence are an expression of predominant gender norms which are determined by culture in certain social spaces. Specifically, the discussion group technique aims at exploring the common areas of experience that emerge and crystallize within group exchanges. Thus, every group discussion represents privileged access to gender representations and the meanings attached to intimate partner violence from the perspective of battered women. Six group discussions were conducted (total participants: N = 61) in Mexico City between March and April 2008 with women chosen under three selection criteria: intimate partner violence regardless of the specific type of violence experienced; whether they were still in the same relationship or if they have separated; and age (from 20 to 29, 30 to 39, and 40 years and over).8 The respondents had an average level of 9.4 years of education and an average income of between 3 and 5 times the minimum wage (minimum wage stands at US$110 a month).9 Following this procedure, for each age range we had a group of women who were living in situations of violence at the time of the discussion, and another group with women who had already separated from their spouses or partners. This use of segmentation to create groups composed of particular categories of participants (Morgan, 1996) enabled us to have homogeneous groups of women arranged by age, socioeconomic status and place of residence (Mexico City). It also allowed us to make age comparisons in the analysis of the use women who successfully separated themselves from their partners have made of different resources. Furthermore, it allowed us to observe variations in terms of the representation and meaning of violence. None of the women knew any of the others prior to the discussions. Each group discussion was a 2-hour session, conducted by a professional group moderator, co-moderated by the author and both taped and video-recorded. The discussion was guided by a question set that covered the following topics: 1) violence as a normal experience in conflict resolution, 2) tolerance and types of violence, 3) presence, type and quality of social networks, 4) legitimation and justification of male violence, 5) autonomy and empowerment and 6) justice and reparation. All these topics explored in particular the tensions between the ideals of a family’s formation and the subjection to standards of traditional behaviour (like the obligation to maintain the family unit for the good of its members and because of social coercions), on one hand, and the perception of the right to a life free from violence and the concept of gender violence as a crime, on the other. The qualitative analysis consisted of an inductive procedure through which meaning and theory were generated from data (Strauss and Corbin, 1990). Analytic induction allows for the identification of patterns or recurring themes, as well as the discovery of categories in the data. In our case, the primary focus was on the analysis of the most recurring themes across all groups. Afterwards, using the open and axial coding strategy (Strauss and Corbin, 1990), we identified the most salient categories for each of these topics. All the participants gave their informed consent and were guaranteed anonymity. All of them received economic compensation for their participation in an amount equivalent to $20 USD, and were provided with information about services and care centers to which they could go. The group discussions were held and transcribed in Spanish. For the purposes of this article, however, we hired a professional translator whose native language is English, was living in Mexico City and has good knowledge of the cultural context and colloquial uses of Spanish. Two assumptions guided the investigation. On one hand, people’s distrust of state institutions does not inhibit any type of social impact due to the new legislation. And on the other hand, the existence of the new law’s social impact could crystallize into a confrontation between law and tradition since domestic violence is an expression of gender inequality anchored in customary practices. III. THE TENSION BETWEEN JUSTICE AND LOVE WITHIN THE FAMILY In Mexico, the language of personal and intimate relationships, particularly in families, is alien to the law. State involvement in the form of a law that regulates private affairs, in this case family relations and violence against women and the children in her care, is the result of feminist activism10 (See Lewis et al., 2001; Pitch, 2003). The language of law has come to disrupt the family space (where the language of love, of care or of custom has traditionally prevailed) to label something previously accepted as normal as something now seen as a crime. The upsurge of this new legal order and legal language regarding the family exposes a tension expressed as ‘love versus justice’. The cultural vision that has predominated until recently assumed that the family was a private sphere separate from the public, political, and economic spheres, where the shared principles of justice were suspended, or more specifically, a place that was exempt from the application of the law. The rhetoric of a family was used only as one versed in love, care and need, and stems from the idea of love as a spontaneous, genuine feeling, rather than a moral principle (Kleingeld and Anderson, 2008: 287). According to the cited authors, different schools of thought explain this tension as follows: (a) Claims of justice may threaten love since they set the unity and interests of the family against the selfishness of its members who are looking out for their own interests and benefit; (b) Claims of justice can become a safety net when love runs out; or (c) they can also be expressed as an irresolvable, but necessary tension to protect weaker family members. Both concepts – love and justice – are part of the family’s social sphere and every family should establish limits on the validity of their principles; (d) The most radical view considers love a potential threat to justice, as in the case of intimate partner violence. The question that emanates from this false dichotomy is: should a personal relationship between two people, in this case family members, be governed by care or law? Should it be by trust, responsibility, self-sacrifice or fair treatment? If in the 1980s feminism observed differentiating principles that governed family relations that stood out from the ‘ethic of care’, it was seen as women’s unique sense of justice (Gilligan, 1982). Today the idea that these values are equivalent to rights is no longer supported (Moller Okin, 1989; Friedman, 1995). In a self-declared simplified version, Smart voices a new perspective on the issue by saying: ‘no longer can the ethic of care be seen as a feminist corrective to the influence of the ethic of justice’ that the law and social politics embodied (Smart, 2006: 124). Instead, it follows that the problems derived from gender inequality within intimate relationships and families are overall problems of justice. Therefore, it is necessary that both things – justice and love – be understood as ‘family values’. Gender perspective and feminist criticism proved that the rhetoric for love and care hides extremely unjust situations regarding the division of labour (domestic tasks) and care (of children and the elderly) for girls and women within families. The woman (mother and wife) is additionally responsible for keeping her family together as an indivisible group or unit of common interests based on the premise of love. Linked to this responsibility, women are the holders of the honour of all the members of the extended family, a phenomenon that has been also observed in transitional societies with a strong traditional and collective nature (Haj-Yahaia, 2002; Yount, 2011). Thus, the contradictions of some victims of male violence can be understood; they cannot defend their individual integrity (falsely interpreted as the defence of selfish interests) because it would turn into an attack against family cohesion. The social norms that guarantee reputation and legitimacy come from this patriarchal understanding of what a family is (Young, 2008) and kindle a false pair of opposites: love-justice (or the tension between family unity and individual integrity), observed ideologies that confront legal norms against social norms (Agoff, 2009), or the opposition between law and custom according to Segato (2003). The principle claiming that ‘family union is greater than the personal interests of its members’ does not guarantee the basic human rights of autonomy, respect and dignity to women. On the contrary, it masks the gender inequality that causes male violence, the most ostensible expression of a continuum. If the moral integrity and identity of people in intimate relationships are not guided by the universal and impartial principles of justice, but are instead tied to the ethics of the particular community and governed by tradition, the latter often contributes to the reproduction of violence. This shrouds the very mechanisms of violence that make it possible to justify the action of a man who beats his wife because, for instance, she does not take care of the children. Based on this ethic, victims can also be persuaded to forgive their attackers, appealing to the virtues of forgiving and forgetting, and led to believe that a demand for justice is more an act of vengeance and rejection (Herman, 2005). Both family life and the law are gendered processes that have profound material consequences for family members (Diduck and O’Donovan, 2006: 5). The visibility of intimate partner violence as a crime also brings to light the interconnectedness between violence and other inequality structures that further their social reproduction: forced unions or marriages as a result of a teenage pregnancy; cohabitation in the man’s parents’ home11; women’s lack of resources, employment, and assets that leaves them and their children at the mercy of and dependent on their victimizers, etc. The traditional family is materially based on marriage or a union in a single domestic space, on sexuality, on material assets and on parenting. The ideal is found in a communion of feelings – love and care. Within this framework, a woman’s identity is shaped under the figure of ‘living for others’, which implies self-abnegation and self-sacrifice (Beck and Beck-Gersheim, 2002: 56). This ideal love and female identity that are effected in the family pose a disadvantage for the defence of the individual integrity of women victims of intimate partner violence and limit the principles of justice. The alleged tension between love and justice that describes the ethics of family relations conceals the true relationship of female subordination, one in which women must bear violence used against her in the name of love or to maintain family unity. IV. THE SUBJECTIVE INTERPRETATION OF “WHAT IS FAIR” According to gender norms, the sense of duty and the privileges of every member in the family reveal an unequal distribution of tasks and chores. In general, it goes unquestioned until the appearance of serious violations to the principles of respect and integrity that arise from male violence against a woman. This violence unmasks the concept of the relationship, as well as the expectations and identities it outlines. In this framework, some women stand by a concept of the just or deserved, which has been violated12: ‘… Even if you don’t work, you still have the right to be respected because you are a couple. He didn’t marry a maid to serve him’. (Group of women over 40; current violence) Experiences of violence and disparagement are precisely what awaken the debate over ‘the sense of duty’ in an intimate relationship and the sense of one’s own deservingness. This is how this testimony appeals to the idea of the right to be respected, based on the traditional gender-related division of tasks. This is not about a claim to the principle of equality in the distribution of labour, nor is it a claim to the expression of a legal consciousness that reveals an appropriation of the rights that shelter it and domestic violence as a crime. The cited testimony reveals a condemnation of male violence based on the terms of a traditional code of ethics that leaves the basic problem of male domination untouched. Furthermore, in this traditional idea of the division of household chores under which the woman is in charge of the domestic tasks and childrearing, battered women believe it is only fair that they be considered deserving of respect.13 The family mandate (particularly that coming from mothers and mothers-in-law) of submission to husbands’ violence to maintain family unity and uphold a social image14 constitute a powerful source of social constraint and acting against it carries considerable emotional cost, a process plagued by contradictions even in women who can confront these familial coactions: ‘… my mother would tell me “go back, go back” and I stood my ground, “no and no”. It is hard work because you’re fighting against, well, against those people around you and your feelings as well, with your doubts because in your family you’ve never seen anyone divorced. In my family everyone is married, all my siblings, I’m the only one who is divorced and they look at you like: “Whoa, you’re weird.” In fact, they don’t hang around much with me and it’s hard in that respect, in terms of society, in terms of family’. (Group of women from 30 to 39 years old; past violence) Not all women can doubt the nature of violence – traditionally interpreted as the common destiny of all women – or question the adherence to the norms and traditional social values that condemn and stigmatize the divorced woman either, as evident in the following testimony: ‘The thing is that I was raised the “old-fashioned way”. I had a church wedding and a civil ceremony, like my grandparents, like my mother (…) I try to cope with the situation, because that’s my motto: “till death do you part…” I don’t know, in the so-called old-fashioned way, society marks you out when you’re divorced. For example, in my family everyone is married by the church and his family too and there is no divorce or anything like that …’. (Group of women from 30 to 39 years old; current violence) This testimony evidences, through the expression ‘old fashioned way’, the tension between the expectations of maintaining family unity (and to do so, to cope with the situation of violence) and the possibility of divorce, protected in the new right of women’s defense, revealing the competition between the language of love and that of justice. The testimonies that are presented next evidence the lack of critical appraisal of that assembly of values and norms that regulate the relationship between genders, which leads to justification, tolerance, and submission to masculine violence, contrasting with new women’s rights: ‘I see myself reflected by my parents. Mom lasted with my dad 47 years of marriage, so I reflected that based on that one ought to be always with their partner, no? [The participants agree] because of your parents, because of the family that surrounds you, because of your brothers… What’s important is that as a woman you value yourself, you respect yourself, no? Not let yourself get beaten. I believe that people yell at home, we all yell, in some way no? I’m not saying that you not yell at home, but I avoid problems, I think that’s the healthiest way; that aside I know my husband, you have to give him priority, you have to give time to time; one does it for their kids too, no? It’s part of the functioning of a family: father, mother, and children… It can’t just be mother with children… I think, there is also so much corruption, in the aspect of children being raised in different environments, no?’ (Group of women 40 years and older with current violence) The ideology of gender literally crushes any capacity to critically judge the violence experienced: the idealization of the family and the maternal responsibility of unity, keeping in mind the example of her parents, leaves the women completely at the mercy of partner violence. The moral duty ‘before society’ consists in ‘not failing’, a term that condenses the responsibility to protect her status and respectability as a married woman. Enduring the violence becomes a social mandate of submission, which is justified through the renunciation of her individual integrity: among themselves, ‘give him [the husband] priority, you have to give time to time; one does it for their kids’. ‘Marriage is an illusion, I think marriage is an illusion, coming out in white and having your party… we all make mistakes like Mrs. R said, no? And I’m not saying that it’s perfect but there’s also a good point… I think it hasn’t been so terrible, no? In the case, maybe of one of you yes, the aggression… there are insults that yes plainly hurt a lot but when the person cares about you and wants to change he will do it, there is no other way… And when faced with society it’s like saying “what will they say?” I already failed, my kids need that paternal support too… dad is dad, mom is mom; so I can’t take that space… Am I making sense? I try to find a solution for my problems, that’s why I’m telling you “Do you know what he doesn’t like? Then don’t do it, no?” I try to avoid that, that type of conflict… Why? To have a better relationship… Plus, if I look at it from another angle… economically I’m not badly off, I have what I need, no? […]’. (Group of women 40 years and older with current violence) These narratives offer us a balance of the experiences of violence and the tension between the family and justice in the form of separation and defence of the individual integrity women, which is examined when it is time to explain it. The severity of the violence is relativized by assertions such as ‘everyone yells’, the pain of the insults is relativized and minimized when faced with the fear of ‘failure’, or the lack of parental support for their children. The strategy to avoid violence is to submit completely to the wishes and desires of the husband, while consolation is sought in economic security or the children’s welfare. The constituent dependency of a person on the recognition of the others, assumes for many women orienting themselves according to a normative and value-based world that can only be questioned with difficulty and is imposed as the only possible way of life. If they appeal to the right to not be beaten, they risk the possibility of self-affirmation and recognition that the family relationship confers to them. In this manner, it is possible to derive the preeminence of the uses and customs regulating social life, and the role that community plays as the source of social recognition for excellence turns out to be an obstacle in the way of women becoming aware of and exercising their rights. Confronting family-imposed mandates of submission is not possible for everyone since the devices put into play collaborate in forming an imagined future of ruination and vulnerability that as a divorced woman, in addition to seeing one’s social image stained, is often judged as being ‘available’ for male sexual abuse: ‘You’re free game, aren’t you? When you’re divorced, it’s like they say, “Oh! Poor girl, they’ll just take her –as they commonly say– to bed …” [Laughter] It’s just that you hear the things they say about divorced people and you say “damn”…’. [The participants talk at the same time]. (Group of women 40 years and over; current violence) In our groups, we found that younger women (20–29 years) and women 40 years and above were not particularly receptive to the equality discourse. These groups showed a higher frequency of employing strategies of veiled resistance, which does not necessarily mean directly challenging male domination. After a few years of experiencing violence, these strategies are no longer enough, as seen in the group of women aged 30–39 years. Young women express a sense of confusion in trying to connect the ideas of the love that supposedly joins a couple and of the recurring violence and their response towards partner violence, known as ‘avoidance coping strategies’ (Moos, 1995). ‘Because I think that people we say we love, or think we love, look for a way to justify it [Several women agree]. So when you start to realize “I wasn’t wrong. He was wrong”…’. (Group of Women from 20 to 29 years old; past violence) In an earlier study, we observed that women who are not tied down by the traditional family dogma, close communities or the solitude of their homes show less attachment to traditional norms and religious dogma. As a result, they can openly submit to the public judgment of the violence they experience. The model of moral dependence on a man (Agoff, 2012) does not represent any ideal, as seen in the following testimony: ‘Mothers don't want you to separate and they try to force you to go back to your husband, either telling you to go back or asking what are you going to do without a husband. I think older women think that without a man, there’s no respect. I always told my mom, “No, Respect is something you give yourself”’. (Group of women from 30 to 39 years of age; past violence) One indicator of this is the growing ability to critically ponder the supposed normalcy of the experience of male violence and question the generic model of socialization: ‘… Because we were brought up in a sick environment. Then you don't realize it and you go around thinking you’re right because they say that what most people do is normal and if that's what most people do, that's what most of our mothers accepted… But there’s something inside you that after every beating says, “No and I don't deserve this and no…”. (Group of women from 30 to 39 years of age; past violence) Living with violence is an inherent part of a range of typical experiences and expectations of female biographies over generations (‘what most of our mothers accepted’), which is then shattered by enhanced awareness. In another case, we observe the critical capacity of breaking with mandates of submission and of not accepting the prerogatives that the patriarchal framework gives husbands to use violence freely. ‘So, as a mother, that lifts your spirits and as a woman you see that you aren’t unfulfilled (.) that one single life story that you lived based on patterns and that you decide to break out of them, but that your life isn’t over, that you staked everything and you can tell him, “You, you don’t change that attitude and you won’t see [the kids] again and you know that I'm not going to change my mind anymore. You have no right to hurt them just to hurt me. Got it?”’ (Group of women from age 30 to 39 years; past violence) In our study, the women between 30 and 39 years of age are in the best conditions to challenge the gender order that justifies intimate partner violence. It is possible to find certain changes in values, portraying current times as a period of adjustments and transitions towards horizontal, non-hierarchical family models of co-responsibility. In effect, the analysis of the discussion groups proves that, along with the traditional gender norms and values related to the phenomenon of moral dependence, certain indicators of transformations to this model of ‘femininity’ (Agoff, 2012) appear. Thus, it is possible to observe a certain spirit of transition through the characterization of a separated woman and in light of this, it is now possible to find virtues in a situation that was previously condemnable according to the old values: Moderator: ‘What do people in general think of a young woman like you with little kids and decides to separate?’ J: ‘That she’s a strong woman…’. G: ‘Things have changed so much that instead of seeing it as a bad thing, sometimes…. [in chorus] they applaud it… because they say: “You can do it. You're showing you don't need a man to go on with your life…”’. (Group of women between 20 and 30 years old; past violence) The increasing plurality of familial arrangements and new value orientations in this sphere make the debate over the right to a life free from violence, the search for new identity ideals and aspirations of equity more accessible, but the price can be familial ostracism and stigmatization by relatives.15 ‘When I went to file charges, the police told me: “It's that your mother can render statement; your mother can testify!” And I told him: “Oh, no! Not my mother… My mother thinks I'm the worst person in the world” And he says, “but why?” And I say, “Because I'm all alone and I don't want to be with the person that treats me badly.” He says, “What’s wrong with that?”’ (Group of women between 30 and 40 years of age; past violence) This testimony is especially revealing in terms of the difference between one generation and another in their understanding of violence. The possibility of finding formal help and filing charges nowadays happens through access to support that is not obtained through the family. Before the new law was enacted in 2007, according to the ENDIREH (2006), 26.08 per cent of the women experienced physical and/or sexual violence at the hands of their boyfriends, partners or husbands in the year prior to the survey. Almost two out of every three women (64.6 per cent) chose a course other than that of returning to their families (Frias and Agoff, 2015). V. THE SYMBOLIC IMPACT OF LAW Passing new legislation and conducting sensitivity campaigns have given rise to expressions in daily language (‘they say intimate partner violence is now a felony’) that encloses a complex universe of implications that put an end to the horizon of reference which until then had encompassed the perception of male violence towards women. The law is a language that allows new and different significance to be ascribed to violence that had previously been experienced as natural and inevitable; thus, it gained a new meaning: it is now a crime. This expression does not mean that violence was not condemned before; it means that an implication outside of the sphere or scope of private or community life has been recognized by designating it a felony or a crime. With whom does the new legislation resonate? Who exercises their rights? Why do they turn to law enforcement agencies when there is very little trust in the authorities if there are informal sources of support? In our study we have observed that the women who are most open to the discussion and the exercise of their rights are those between 30 and 39 years old. Testimonies reveal these women’s perspectives on the new legislation: the information they possess, the confidence and security that comes from the knowledge that they are not alone, and even the concrete experience of dealing with officials that are receptive when receiving reports of violence and following up on these reports. The phenomenon Merry (1995) calls ‘legally engendered selves’, which refers to strengthening the feeling of being empowered by the law, is evident in these testimonies. The impact of new legislation is seen in the confidence it has generated in women because they are now able to see themselves protected and defended by these laws. This is crystallized in the characterization of situations as happening ‘before’ and ‘now’, with the new law marking a watershed. While before they felt vulnerable and unprotected without any support, many women now feel confident and secure in confronting their victimizer. Moreover, the long-engrained disparagement found at police agencies when filing complaints has been replaced by shared information about new, positive experiences in which women are not victimized again, but listen to instead: ‘Before, the authorities didn’t do anything, now everything is changing. For some time now, they say, “If you aren’t bruised, no. If he didn’t do this to you, no.” … they don’t want to listen to you. They think you are wasting their time. Listen to this, I went to file my complaint at roughly ten at night and they got around to taking my statement at one in the morning. Imagine that!’ (Group of women between 30 and 39 years of age; past violence) C: ‘A person is more protected now than she was before. Before, they didn’t listen. You’d go with bruises and they’d say, “No, it’s because you provoked him.”’. [Everyone murmurs]. D: ‘They’d even laugh’. (Group of women between 30 and 39 years of age; past violence) The common sense interpretation of this new legislation is still a long way from prosecuting gender inequality, but it moves closer to the condemnation of violence as a means to achieve or uphold the subordination of women. This piece of legislation helps women put an end to the vulnerability they have experienced. Herman (2005) has found that the victims generally want their families and communities to adopt a clear and univocal position on the condemnation of male violence, and deprive men of underserved respect and privilege. ‘Beyond acknowledgment, what survivors sought most frequently was vindication’ (Herman, 2005: 585). Victims who do not receive validation from their families in their unjust situation and who, on the contrary, are blamed for it turn to police agencies to find recognition. It is plausible to think that women still prefer receiving support from their families. If support of this kind cannot be obtained, victims turn to law enforcement agencies or women solve the problem on their own.16 Given that respect and dignity are intersubjective values and play out in very close relationships, recognition is traditionally what can lead to the reparation of the offence. Elsewhere we have discussed the importance of the social values in societies where work and the legal sphere have provided little in the way of social recognition of women (Agoff, 2009). In this sense, filing complaints with police agencies hardly fills the need to see victims unshackled from the shame that stems from violence. Nevertheless, a different type of benefit is obtained from exercising their rights: protection, child support, the threat of punishment and so on. In effect, one of the symbolic impacts of the new legislation is found on a subjective level: the sensation of not being alone in the presence of the victimizer, which in turn generates a feeling of protection and security: D: ‘Plus now there is more information everywhere, especially on TV. Now they show a lot [of things] about physical aggression, verbal aggression [many agree], economic, “we will help you, stand by your side, you are not alone”…’. L: ‘There’s more help for women…’ C: ‘Before you didn’t know what to do…’. D: ‘No, it’s also because they were very afraid of leaving their husband because of [their] financial situation. “My pension won’t be enough…” [Many murmur.] Now you know that whatever happens, under the new laws they have to provide child support and it gives [you] more confidence to do something…’. L: ‘more security…’ C: ‘more security…exactly…’. D: ‘A person is more protected now than she was before. Before, they didn’t listen. You’d go with bruises and they’d say: “No, it’s because you provoked him”’. [Everyone murmurs.]… L: ‘They even laughed at one woman…’. (Group of women between 30 and 39 years of age; past violence) These women, without any type of security because they do not have and maybe never had informal networks of support, find encouragement in the new legislation to stop allowing themselves to be victimized by their husbands. This perhaps allows them to understand the efficiency of the language of law as a safeguard and as Merry (1997: 67) says, it offers women security and confidence to act on their own while men are confronted with a framework of punishments, which should inspire fear. Moderator: ‘But let’s see, going back to those two ideas. A said that it helped to file a complaint because she feels safe [They nod] and G said that it worked to show them “enough is enough”’. G: ‘And see that you won’t let yourself be hurt and that you won’t do what they [men] want you to’. T: ‘Now, I filed a complaint, I left him for two months and the time has gone by and he didn’t hit me or beat me or anything… so it does scare them…’. (Group of women between 30 and 39 years of age; past violence) These testimonies reveal a perception of the law that primarily suggests an association with security, protection, dissuasive power, and coercion. Neither the concept of equality between men and women nor that of personal autonomy as individual rights seems possible in the discursive universe or in the practices of these women. Much more work is still needed to reach that point.17 VI. CONCLUSION The symbolic efficacy of the law against gender violence is observed first of all in the possibility of categorizing the experience of violence as punishable and as a felony. Consequently, it opens up an opportunity to stop accepting it fatalistically. The law is a language that defines identities and relationships; it is also a coercive language of authority. Thus, it can encourage women to defend themselves because this type of language becomes a space for self-identification and replaces traditional family ideals (Agoff, 2012). In any case, the traditional family as an institution and the law as a different horizon of reference represent languages that still compete to define reality. The testimonies collected in this study seem to suggest that there are indications of change in perception in certain women due to the legitimacy of law that can give a language and a new perspective from which to understand one’s experience, though other testimonies point towards conserving the ideology of gender and the patriarchal family. The influence of the language of rights is more visible in women between the ages of 30 and 39 years. While it is possible to venture hypotheses on why that is the case, only future studies will be able to corroborate or refute that finding and to shed light on the phenomenon. However, in these cases the symbolic effectiveness of the law seems to amount to providing an effective way out or a countercultural manifestation of moral principles against the ethical life of customs, which gives rise to the violence men exert. Younger and older women still find themselves immersed in the fairly conservative normative and evaluative models upheld by those surrounding them, which in turn forces them to bear with the violence. Nevertheless, increasing diversity in family arrangements also implies diverse ethical codes and social norms related to social identity. We find ourselves facing extremely diverse realities, a reflection of the heterogeneity of Mexico City’s population and the transition period in which we live. The plurality of values and norms is reflected in contrasting realities like forced marriages due to unwanted pregnancies, as well as the fulfillment of women through maternity and having a family; but it is also possible to legally have an abortion in Mexico City, assisted fertilization or even a same-sex marriage. This incipient transformation of practices and awareness is the fruit of joint efforts carried out in different spheres, including legal, economic, social, and subjective ones. This new legislation offers a space for new action, in addition to defining identities and relationships. As a result, they shape and endorse new practices and forms of agency that challenge unquestioned or tolerated legacies that are reproduced across generations. What a grandmother saw as her destiny, her granddaughter can see it as unfair or even a felony. Footnotes 1 According to data from 2016 National Survey on the Dynamics of Household Relationships (ENDIREH) 43.9 per cent of women has suffered domestic violence (in any form) at some point. 2 For an analysis of the ‘General Law’ see Lagarde (2007). 3 See the study that compares the Mexican, Argentine, Costa Rican, Spanish, Brazilian, and Chilean experiences. The confluence of certain tendencies, with respect to the beginning of normative, programmatic marks and the services that are offered to attend, prevent, and punish violence against women (Incháustegui et al., 2010). 4 Cotterrell (2007) distinguishes source of authority of the law and its legitimacy from mere force, compulsion, or coercion. 5 The analysis that I develop in this article is continuous with other analyses of the same data from the perspective of the sociology of law. The four earlier publications on this same data undertake analysis from the following perspectives: (a) tension or conflict between judicial recognition that grants women new rights, on the one hand, and the social valorization of women and sources of social recognition, on the other (Agoff 2010); (b) the right to a life free from violence as space of self-identification (Agoff 2012a); (c) the possibility for subjective appropriation of rights on the part of battered women in the framework of the expansion of minority rights in a context of extreme social violence (Agoff 2012b); and (d) an analysis of the passage from a culture of feminine virtues to a culture of rights (Agoff 2013). Significantly, there are still no studies exploring the symbolic impact of the ‘General Law’ on victims of IPV in Mexico. 6 Official Norm for Benefits of Health Services (Norma Oficial de Prestación de Servicios en Salud) for NOM-190-SSA1-1999 for medical attention to victims of family violence. 7 Both polls, undertaking during 2003, have turned out to be basic instruments for the comprehension of gender violence. Also, the Special Commission to Understand and Pursue Investigations about Female Homicides in Ciudad Juárez on behalf of the LIX Legislature began in 2003 and the Special Office of Attorney for Violent Crimes against Women was established in 2005 on behalf of the Attorney General of the Republic and the General Law for Equality between Men and Women was promulgated in 2006 and the program for Women’s Affairs and for Equality between Men and Women for the National Commission of Human Rights created. Lastly, Mexico City’s Commission for Human Rights was also involved, and has always taken on an active role, has considered this type of violence a violation of human rights, even before the existence of general laws (Lagarde, 2007). 8 The three large age groups reflect different moments in the lifecycles of women and the demographic situation of most of the female population in Mexico: women between the ages of twenty and twenty-nine have at least one child under the age of five; and women over forty have at least one adult child. The difference in the age of children is associated with whether or not a battered woman decides to leave her partner. According to Frías (2013), one of the factors that favours going to the police is having one child under the age of ten. 9 While this study does not aim to be representative, it should be noted that the average level of schooling of the female economically active population stands at 9.9 years. The average income of women in Mexico is MXP $30.8 pesos an hour (less than $3 US dollars). At http://www3.inegi.org.mx/sistemas/temas/default.aspx?s=est&c=25433&t=1 (last accessed 05 May 2017). 10 The first wave of feminism propagated the principle of equality (formal equality or sameness of treatment); since then there have been advances in another direction: ‘Formal equality resolves only the “problem” of treating people or situations differently; it does not redress dominance, nor does it always recognize the different treatment may sometimes be required to compensate for disadvantages created by institutions or structural conditions’ (Diduck and ÓDonovan, 2006:11). 11 This phenomenon is fairly extensive among young couples and derives from the rural tradition of ‘patrivirilocalidad’. (D’Aubeterre, 2002). 12 Willen (2012) points out that rights claims specific to a legal discussion distinguish themselves from deservingness claims, of a vernacular character, and specific to a particular situation. The author states: ‘And unlike the juridical discourse of rights, which presumes blindness to individual particularities, moral assessments of deservingness are typically relational’ (Willen, 2012: 814). This is seen in the case we are looking at now of a deservingness assessment grounded on tradition, not on law. 13 An ample conception of justice should comprehend as an object not just ‘the fair’ but also liberation for its members, and that not only a few develop at the expense of others: that everyone can develop capabilities, have experiences, and make their own decisions. (Young, 2008: 323). 14 See Agoff et al. (2007). 15 The intersectional analysis shows the existence of several levels of constraints while the strategies women develop, as seen in the quoted testimonies, reveal that there is no single, immovable solution that can eradicate individual or systemic abuse (Richie, 2010: XVI). As Kandiyoti (1988: 285) points out: ‘Women’s strategies and coping mechanisms can help to capture the nature of patriarchal systems in their cultural, class-specific and temporal concrete and reveal how men and women resist, accommodate, adapt and conflict which each other over resources, rights, and responsibilities’. 16 It has been found that societies characterized by individuation, autonomy and privacy rely on formal legal resolution of conflicts (Baumgarten, 1993 cited by Lewis et al,. 2001: 118) For the case we are currently examining, that does not yet have those characteristics, informal resolution of conflicts or informal social control is not prevalent or effective, precisely because ‘the community simply reinforces and supports traditional forms of patriarchal power’ (Lewis et al., 2001: 119). 17 The mobilization of these rights as a language of equality turns out to be a pending and necessary task if, as Smart (1995) affirms, this language can be used by everyone, independently of gender or class. 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International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 23, 2018
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