Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies

Representation as a Technology of Violence: On the Representation of the Murders and Disappearances of Aboriginal Women in Canada and Women in Ciudad Juarez

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies

Representation as a Technology of Violence: On the Representation of the Murders and Disappearances of Aboriginal Women in Canada and Women in Ciudad Juarez

Article excerpt

Introduction

Las muertas de Juarez (the dead women of Juarez) is the name that has been given to more than 600 women who have been murdered since 1993 in Ciudad Juarez (Monarrez Fragoso 2009), a Mexican border city neighbouring El Paso, Texas, known for its maquila (sweatshop) industry, its multiple bars and brothels, and the powerful Juarez drug cartel (Delgado Ballesteros 2004; Zermeno 2004). Many of the murdered women were raped, tortured, and usually stabbed or strangled, their bodies discarded in dumpsters or in the middle of the desert (Amnesty International 2003; Monarrez Fragoso 2009). In Canada, more than 600 Aboriginal women have either gone missing or are thought to have been murdered in communities across the country in the past two and a half decades (Native Women's Association of Canada 2010). Their bodies have been found in ditches along highways, in swamps, and on a "pig farm" (1) (Jiwani and Young 2006). However, the Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC) believes "that the incidents that have come to light are part of a larger pattern of violent assaults, murders and disappearances of Indigenous women" that have taken place all over Canada (Amnesty International 2004, 14). At different points in time, the Canadian and Mexican media have either ignored these crimes or have turned them into a spectacle through sensationalist reporting, and have done so even as social movements have emerged in response to this violence and actively contested the media's actions.

This article focuses on the press coverage of the murders and disappearances of Aboriginal women in Canada and women in Ciudad Juarez to analyze the relationship between the representation of violence and the violence of representation. Representation is never innocent: power is at the core of the construction of what is newsworthy and, when it comes to the representation of violence against women, newsworthiness is invariably linked to the discursive production of "worthy" and "unworthy" victims (Gilchrist 2010; Jiwani and Young 2006; Meyers 1997; Wanzo 2008). The distinction between worthy and unworthy victims is, at the same time, a central element of discursive strategies that draw a boundary between "clean and proper" (Kristeva 1982) bodies, subjects, and social orders and "degenerate" Others, who constitute a threat of contamination (Razack 2000). Given its fragility, this boundary must constantly be redrawn, and violently so, through sensationalist and increasingly graphic accounts that mark Others as worthless and disposable in life and in death (Janzen et al. 2011). Yet the construction of some women as disposable and as deserving victims is not purely discursive. The expectation that violence is the inescapable fate of some women does materialize in their discarded and mutilated bodies (see Segato 2008), as opposed to exclusively in the violent visualization of their murders in representation. The comparative analysis of the coverage of the murders and disappearances of Aboriginal women in Canada and women in Ciudad Juarez thus takes as its point of departure the notion of representation as a technology of violence that has both discursive and material effects (Corona 2010; Jiwani and Young 2006).

In comparing the representation of these murders and disappearances, it is not my intention to equate Canada with Mexico or these women's experiences of violence. Rather, the aim of this comparative analysis is to gain a better understanding of representation as constitutive of processes through which gender and race are constructed in relation to material and structural conditions in different social and historical contexts (Glenn 1999). A comparison between Canada and Mexico might not seem straightforward at the outset, given each country's distinctive cultural history. Yet, Canada and Mexico have come to share economic ties through the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that have gone beyond economic change. …

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