Sometimes, what is most obvious simply never occurs to us.
That is what struck me last year as I was sitting at an event about ways to prevent violence. The Secretaria de Gobernacion had organized the discussion and my expectations were very low.
Then, in the early-morning babble about plans and progams and iniciatives and outcomes, I heard something that stunned me.
“The source of all violence is domestic violence.” The speaker was an older woman, a visiting expert from the Interamerican Development Bank. Behaviour is acquired, not innate, and a child who watches his father beat up his mother learns that it’s OK to beat people up.
Why was I surprised? First, because of how self-evident her analysis was. And second, because I was suddenly ashamed that I had not thought of it before.
In the narrative of violence in which we have immersed ourselves in Mexico, women seem to play walk-on parts. The roles have become almost cliched. They are mothers – always grieving, often angry, sometimes defiant. They are heroes, unwilling to submit to despair. They are victims, murdered because they are women, caught in the crossfire, or naïve girls who fall in with the wrong lot.
And occasionally, they are the cause of violence, the face of evil, like María de los Ángeles Pineda Villa, the decorative half of the couple that the government says turned the city of Iguala into their personal criminal enterprise.
But the narrative seems to pick up near the end of the story. If we want to tell the full account of Mexico’s violence, we have to reach back towards the beginning.
That means we have to write about everyday violence.
We could begin with economic violence. In Chiapas a couple of years ago, I visited a woman called Carolina Hernández, a widow with six children living in a one-room concrete house on a rocky hillside where she tends a few goats. Her husband had recently died – he drank too much, she said, although she offered no more details.
There is reproductive violence. I saw eight women released from a Guanajuato prison one day after spending years inside for the supposed crime of homicide after they had suffered miscarriages or undergone abortions.
Without power over property, women are sapped of their autonomy, unable to make the decisions they believe best for themselves and for their children. Without legal power, they have no means to redress injustice.
But no woman is an isolated victim of violence. Each is like a stone flung into a pond, the waves of the impact traveling outward.
Now imagine many stones thrown into the pond, the waves crossing and colliding.
*Elisabeth Malking es reportera para The New York Times.