Alongside Spain and Mexico, Argentina is one of the most important producers of entertainment media in the Spanish-speaking world, and certainly the most important in South America. Within such a big industry, it’s always certain that at least some popular actors are abusers. While Argentina has a long history of female leadership, such as the legendary Evita Peron and the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, it nonetheless still suffers from a strong culture of machismo and its population skews overwhelmingly Catholic. For these and other reasons, it’s taken a while for a big accusation to come out and gain popular support. This Tuesday, it finally happened.
Actress Thelma Fardín, aided by the Argentine Actress collective, uploaded a video to YouTube herself. While sobbing, she describes in graphic detail how Juan Darthés — a well-known ‘heartthrob’ soap opera star who frequently works with children — raped her on a 2009 publicity tour of Nicaragua when she was just 16. During the attack, Fardín begged him to stop, yelling that she was the same age as his children. Darthés replied by pointing at his erection, saying “look what you do to me.” The video’s title references this disgusting utterance: #MIRACOMONOSPONEMOS, meaning ‘look what you do to us’.
Like #MeToo in the US, the Argentine hashtag caught on immediately, being included in almost 1 million tweets on its first day of use, with thousands of celebrities, journalists, and politicians partaking. The flood of support for Fardín gave other women the confidence to finally break their own silence about sexual abuse they’ve suffered. Additionally, three other women also came forward to accuse Darthés of further acts of sexual violence.
Since 2015, a millions-strong women’s movement has been making waves in overwhelmingly Catholic, male-dominated Argentina. In the last year especially, it has grown at an astronomical rate. Its signature symbol — a green handkerchief — has become ubiquitous everyday attire for most young women. Since Argentine women were already united, organised, and uncompromisingly fighting for their rights, Fardín’s video comes at the perfect time for gaining the traction that it merits.
Reactions have thus far been overwhelming and positive; something very important, as the responses of the media and those outside the women’s movement could have gone either way. The last time Darthés’ was publicly accused of sexual abuse — yes, this isn’t the first — things went very differently. Last year, actress Calu Rivero came forward with her complaints against him. The reaction of the media was to immediately give Darthés a platform to make it all about him; he went on live TV, denied her allegations and made himself out to be the victim. As a result, they quickly fell out of the mainstream gaze.
Not this time, though. Thanks to Fardín’s soul-crushing tell-all video and the rapid expansion of the national women’s movement in the last year, #MiraComoNosPonemos has dominated the news cycle since Tuesday afternoon. In just a few days, hundreds of women have been given a platform in the media to share their opinions and their experiences, with all except a few outlets having the common sense to simply let them speak for themselves. In a prominent example, the Thursday frontpage and first eight pages of Clarín — the right-leaning flagship newspaper of the biggest media conglomerate in the country — were entirely dedicated to largely supportive coverage of #MiraComoNosPonemos.
The storm generated in the past two days is something that’s been desperately needed in Argentina for a long time, not in the least because sexual harassment and violence is ubiquitous, with 95% of women being victimised before the age of 18. Infact, non-physical sexual harassment only became a crime last year, with the government simultaneously setting up a phone line specifically for women to report gendered harassment and violence. Since Tuesday, the volume of calls to the hotline has doubled, clearly showing the inspiring power of #MiraComoNosPonemos.
It’s not all good, though…
Just as in the US, some responses to the scandal have been questionable. First, Infobae.com, Argentina’s equivalent of a British-style print-anything tabloid, ran a story with the headline “Juan Darthés, gallant family man, accused of sexual abuse.” The content of the article focused not on the accusations and the victims, but instead on how the abuser might move past this episode and continue on with his career. The article was quickly called out on social media, so it’s since been heavily edited. Still, even the edited version focuses almost entirely on Darthés. It’s littered with positive pictures of him and his family and it lists his career highlights as if to say look how good this guy is — the accusations can’t be true.
Additionally, one journalist, Mauro Viale, was quick to give Darthés a platform, much like last year. On Thursday, he met Darthés for an on-camera interview on news channel A24, already giving him the chance to further his own distorted version of the story. To Viale’s credit, he definitely didn’t go light on Darthés, refusing to believe his narrative and bringing up all of the other accusations against him. It is, however, a shame that he was unable to resist the mass viewership that he knew the interview would bring.
Darthés essentially took Fardin’s story and turned it around, saying that it was actually her — remember, she was 16 — that came on to him, a man in his 40s. He describes himself as some sort of paragon of moral virtue who turned her down, explaining that he was actually the one who said that Fardín was young enough to be one of his children. It’s so obviously half-assed and poorly thought out that it would be comical if the topic wasn’t so serious.
Nonetheless, this interview spurred a hashtag in support of Darthés on Twitter, #YoTeCreoJuan, meaning ‘I believe you, Juan’. Originally, it was used by a few hundred people who supported his side of the story, but it has quickly been appropriated by his detractors, who have turned it against him entirely. It’s clear that, at least on social media, the support for Fardín is far, far, greater than that for Darthés — a very exciting development, considering that Calu Rivero’s earlier accusation was met with the exact opposite reaction.
What happens from here?
As we know all know too well, it’s often difficult to meet the prohibitively high standards of evidence required to prosecute sexual crimes in court, doubly so for historical allegations. Fardín, however, is not backing down. Before releasing her video, she went to Nicaragua, where she filed an official police report against Darthés. It may, however, prove difficult to get him extradited to even face trial. In his aforementioned interview, he pledged that he would travel to Nicaragua to be judged before the law, but it’s a lot simpler to say that than it is to have the guts to actually do it.
Whether formal charges succeed or not, however, #MiraComoNosPonemos was always destined to be far bigger than just Darthés. He is but a prototypical example, one abuser in a country full of them, as the hundreds of thousands of women sharing their own experiences clearly demonstrate. The Argentine women’s movement has been very active this year, especially in the fight to legalise abortion. Over the last couple of years, it has time and time again proven itself a potent force for positive change. With the wide support for #MiraComoNosPonemos, it’s emphatically done so once more. The activism and bravery of these millions of women has rapidly brought women’s issues of all kinds to centre stage, an especially important achievement in a country where doing so has usually been notoriously difficult. Its example may even further inspire women’s movements across Latin America, creating a much-needed regional wave.
The future of gender equality in Argentina, and perhaps across the continent, is finally looking bright.
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Categories: Politics and Society