For a Spanish translation, see the Global Voices post here.
Coral Herrera blows a blast of fresh air into the struggle for the respect for diversity. Her blog, her articles, her books, and her ideas examine pointedly the notions of the “obvious” and the “normal.” Coral is mainly interested in gender equality and the effect of romantic imaginaries on the way men and women relate to each other and see themselves.
A contributor to publications such as Uruguay’s La Red 21 and Chile’s El Ciudadano, Coral Herrera is also part of a new generation of fighters who start with gender equality but refuse to stay there. Her writings analyze structural problems in Western societies and the discomfort that arises in the intimate lives of men and women. Her work conducts a deconstructive critique of the causes and consequences of societal norms and the imaginaries that we defend without knowing why.
Coral Herrera is a great enthusiast of new media, where she shares a large part of her work. But in addition to blogging, Coral also pursues an academic path, with a PhD in Humanities and Audiovisual Communication. Born in Spain, she moved to Costa Rica a few years ago, and has worked as a teacher and consultant for UNESCO, the United Nations Latin American Institute for Crime Prevention and Treatment of Delinquents (ILANUD), and the Spanish International Development Agency (AECID), at the Paris-Sorbonne University and in Madrid’s Universidad Carlos III.
Her main specialization is in gender, and her point of departure, romantic love. Thus much of the work that Coral Herrera has published online focuses on the defense of diverse loves, myths, and the political and collective dimension of how we understand love. In Los mitos románticos (Romantic Myths), for example, she traces some of the origin stories of societal glorification of heterosexual love:
Through romantic love, inoculating foreign desires, patriarchy also controls our bodies in order to hetero-direct our eroticism, and make us assume the limits of femininity and dream about the arrival of The Saviour (Jesus, Prince Charming…) who will choose us as good wives and offer us the throne of marriage.
Herrera draws on what she sees as the realm of “culture” to explore common societal limitations on love and acceptance:
In our Western culture, love is constrained, at least in the hegemonic cultural discourse. Homophobia is cultural, transphobia is cultural, racism and speciesism are cultural. Culture is where the fear of the other, of the different, grows; it is in culture where myths, goals, prohibitions, prejudices and social obligations are created.
Herrera also highlights the importance of the stories we tell ourselves—the ways certain imaginaries, ideals, and goals are passed down from generation to generation. She notes the limitations of trying to rework established narratives of gender and sexuality with an immediate cultural reversal, but she still dreams about the hopeful possibility:
The logical thing should be to transform the stories and tell new ones, change the idealized models that have become obsolete, construct flesh-and-blood heroes and heroines, create new myths that help us construct societies that are more just, egalitarian, environmentalist, cultured, and pacifist. Direct our efforts towards the common good, work to propose other realities, fight to construct new ones, instead of fleeing from emotional paradises and individual promises of salvation.
Her books are readily available on her blog, where Coral also shares her press articles, her YouTube channel, and her conferences and academic talks. Her last book Bodas diversas y amores queer (Diverse Weddings and Queer Loves) is a book she describes as lying “halfway between an essay and a story, in which theoretical reflections are mixed with personal anecdotes, life stories, and analyses of alternative romantic nuptial rituals.” Her work on marriage demonstrates the wit and incisiveness that dominate her writing:
Why do people get married on such a massive scale? Why are there some people who only get married once, while others get married seven times?...Why does everyone ask about a baby but it’s frowned upon if the bride is pregnant? Why do we make romantic videos of our weddings and torture our relatives for months? Why do women invest so many resources in finding a partner?…Why can’t three people who love each other live together and get married? Why do we get excited when we are offered marriage? Why do we want this so much? Why do people endure conjugal hell for so many years? Why are there people who never get married? What are weddings like in other cultures? What comes after weddings?
To offer a more thorough reflection on the struggle for gender equality on the internet, we will present Coral Herrera’s work in two parts. We will close this installment with the first part of an on-line discussion we had with Coral, in which we talked about the role of new media in the struggle for gender equality.
Global Voices: How can new media challenge old media regarding the construction of romantic myths? How can new media fall into the same role as traditional media?
Coral Herrera: Traditional media is still stuck in traditional patterns and in a worldview that is patriarchal and capitalist. It still sells U.S. hegemonic ideology in the form of entertainment. Advertising and mass culture transmit values that are selfish, individualistic, based on fear and on the permanent dissatisfaction in this age of consumption.
That’s why I think that the internet is one of the best things that has happened to us in recent years.
What is not so clear is whether we can live from this, because we have become accustomed to everything being free. I myself can’t support the people I read due to my precarious situation in Spain, first of all, and secondly, as an immigrant in Costa Rica, though I pay the phone company so that I can be connected and access content.
And although I think that we still haven’t found the way to earn an income (though there are some cases of people living from this), I think the crises we are facing are making us more conscious of what we consume, where it comes from, and under what conditions it was produced. The consumption of culture is now (and will be more and more) a political act, a demonstration of support for artists and thinkers who offer us stories in as many formats as possible.
The internet has been beneficial for culture in general because now we have access to choreographies, sculptures, films, news reports, video creations, songs, novels, essays, stories, short films, academic articles, photos…We as creators have more freedom to innovate and offer other models, other heroines, other situations, other forms of relating. I definitely believe we are breaking away from the old narrative structures that reduced us to simplified conflicts.
GV: What do these new technologies mean for the fight for gender equality?
CH: Thanks to the internet, we are all transmitting content. [This makes us] less vulnerable to the construction of reality to the one imposed on us, because we can refute their affirmations, because we can make visible all those things that are kept hidden so that everything can stay the way it is.
It’s true that we have to assume that privacy is non-existent, that we are being watched, our data is being sold, and we are being censored, but even so I think that we have to be online.
GV: What advantages do you see in the use of new technologies for conversations about gender (especially in Latin America)?
CH: Well I’m very optimistic. In spite of the digital divide that separates us, I think we are creating very important transnational networks of information and collective reflection. These networks allow us to support each other, to make problems visible, to gather signatures and have political impact, to organize actions in the real world that will have an echo in the virtual world. We can create synergies, lend each other ideas, copy models that work in other countries and adapt them to our local realities; we can teach each other, we can contribute to the construction of collective knowledge, and we can modify political agendas thanks to the echo that actions have in social media.
In Part II, which will be published next week, we will discuss with Coral the evolution of the fight for gender equality. In the meantime, we recommend having a look at the Haika editorial project, managed by the author, where much of her work can be downloaded.
Laura Vidal is a Venezuelan doctoral candidate in informal learning and education at the University Paris XII Créteil, Paris, France. She specializes in intercultural exchanges and the Web 2.0.