San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Feminists in Costa Rica challenge church with SlutWalk

Watch a video of the protest here.

Shirley Alarcón’s bristly black hair stood out as she zoomed around San José’s Central Park, across the street from the enormous Metropolitan Cathedral. Alarcón’s tie, facial piercing and cut-off jean shorts represented a radical contrast to the churchgoers at the cathedral dressed in their Sunday morning best. Other demonstrators wore just bras and short-shorts, fishnets or hot pink wigs. Men dressed as phony priests.

The church bells clanged. The mass of people outside screamed over them.

“A ver a ver, quién dirige la batuta, los machistas o la Marcha de las Putas”.

Let’s see, let’s see, who carries the baton, the chauvinists or the March of the Sluts.

“We have an environment that tends to victimize the violence,” said Alarcón, one of the protest organizers. “It’s important that we respect the rights of every person and whatever they want to wear. Some think the way you dress intensifies your sexuality (and invites violence). That is not justifiable. The way you dress should never justify violence.”

A movement known as SlutWalks arose to counter that way of thinking. The protests started in Canada in April after a Toronto police chief said women should not dress “like sluts” to avoid becoming rape victims. SlutWalks have spread to places like India, Iceland and Nicaragua. U.S. feminists marched in Washington D.C., last Friday.

The catalyst for Costa Rica’s SlutWalk occurred on Aug. 2, after senior Catholic clerics made controversial comments at a ceremony honoring Costa Rica’s patron saint, Nuestra Señora de los Angeles (Our Lady of the Angels). Mexican Cardinal Francisco Robles, who attended on behalf of the pope, gave a speech that said women should create “a more humane world by exercising creativity in the household” instead of “emulating men.”

Cartago bishop José Francisco Ulloa asked women to dress “modestly” to avoid being “dehumanized.” A women’s ultimate purpose was “fertilization,” he said.

Those words to the country’s two million Catholic faithful, including the country’s first female president, Laura Chinchilla, outraged feminists.

“¡Fuera los rosarios … de nuestros ovarios”!

Get your rosaries off of our ovaries.

“The church has much more power than in other countries,” said Montserrat Sagot, a university professor and feminist leader. “There is a direct relationship between the state and the church. … But what I think is positive in all this is we are awakening a sentiment very strong in the society. There’s a new generation that does not necessarily conform, and that wants to have a secular state.”

Ulloa responded Tuesday to the daily La Nacíon, calling the SlutWalk “heresy.” He condemned “sacrilegious” acts, referring the marchers dressing up images of the patron saint in lewd clothing. Members of the Episcopal Conference of Costa Rica’s told the newspaper that the demonstration went too far. Religious leaders said the event was “disrespectful,” “offensive,” “hurtful” and attempting to incite violence.

Through Facebook, the event gathered 3,500-plus supporters. The turnout was much smaller, approximately 700 people, including many moms and their young daughters.

Jesus loves the sluts

A woman at Costa Rica’s SlutWalk holds up a sign proclaiming that Jesus would love women no matter how they dress. The protest was in response to Catholic church leaders who said women in Costa Rica should dress with more “modesty” and remember their primary purpose is “fertilization.”

David Boddiger

Cecilia Aguerro, 67, strode up to the church stairs and berated those watching the affair from the steps. She condemned restrictive laws and pedophile priests, screaming that “God is spiritual” and not controlled by the church. A wide-brimmed purple hat protected her from the noon sun. 

An amused spectator retorted that she should go home and make some rice. “I don’t cook,” Aguerro snapped back.

“No es no. Te dijo que no! Que parte no entendiste, la ‘N’ o la ‘O’”?

No is no. I told you No! What part do you not understand, the “N“ or the “O”?

Most of the churchgoers avoided confrontation. They left out a side exit or watched for a few minutes, and then carried on with their Sunday. A group of elderly women, in long dresses, seemed bewildered by the display. They were impressed by the number of people in the park clamoring for women’s rights. But the ladies deflected questions about their thought on Robles’ sermon. They wouldn’t say if they supported SlutWalks.

A man exiting the mass referred to the event as “craziness,” but didn’t want to give any opinion beyond that.

The rally tackled other feminist issues beyond rape victimization. Protesters addressed Costa Rica’s ban on in vitro fertilization, domestic abuse, abortion (“If men gave birth, then abortion would be legalized”), and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.

“No quiero tu piropo. Quiero tu respeto”.

I don’t want your catcalls. I want your respect.

“They’re our bodies, our ways, our clothes,” Alarcón said. “We demand not only that the church omits those types of (sexist) messages, but also that the government backs our position, and that they defend the way we choose to be.”

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