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via @SkSksjacky

What #Pobrezafilia Means for Mexico

Photos of poor, brown-skinned women, naked, in sexually suggestive poses, are flooding social-media networks.

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The woman in the photo has long, stringy, dyed blonde hair. It’s wet, and wavy on the ends where it falls against her back. Standing with her knees slightly bent in toward each other, she is leaning forward on a metal-frame bunk bed. On the mattresses lie piles of clothes, blankets, and toys. The flash from the camera casts a glow on her backside; the room’s cement and plaster walls remain in the shadows. 

She’s naked and is probably young, maybe 19 or 20. It might be a friend who is taking the photo, a lover, or a relative. By the looks of the accumulated clutter, a lot of people live in this home. She might be living with her mother, or her daughter, or both. But the crudeness of the photo makes it hard for me to imagine her in any kind of domestic situation.

This lewd portrait is full-size on my iPhone. Like so many others on this metro train in Mexico City, I’m scrolling through Twitter, and my index finger scans past her photo and hundreds similar to it. Mexican Twitter and Facebook feeds are full of these images, and they’re all marked with the same hashtag: #pobrezafilia (warning: NSFW images).

 

Hashtags wield serious power in Mexican society. #Ayotzinapa43, #YoSoy132, and #justiciaparalxscinco and are just a few of the internet-based campaigns that have propelled momentous political movements across the country, drawing attention to the plight of the missing students in Guerrero, the allegations of bias in the country’s 2012 election, and the murders of journalist Rubén Espinosa and four women in his apartment in Mexico City, respectively. Yet, throughout the mesh of social media there also exists a throng of hashtags that succeed in magnifying the discrimination and marginalization of poor, brown-skinned Mexicans.

Pablo Majluf, journalist and professor at Monterrey Institute of Technology, writing in an essay for CNN, says what we’re seeing in many cases in Mexico is what he calls “self-inflicted discrimination,” that which is instigated by the same people it attacks. “Indigenous peoples discriminate against one another, mestizos discriminate against indigenous and other mestizos,” he wrote. This inter-race brutality is merely illuminated through the prisms of Facebook and Twitter.

In late 2014, for example, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter feeds burst with memes mocking indigenous Mexicans by attaching tl, a common suffix in the Aztec language of Nahuatl, to both English and Spanish phrases. Although their popularity has diminished slightly, these memes usually feature photos of stern-faced indigenous people in traditional garb, bearing captions such as #jajatl, #yolotl (with the exact same meaning in English: “You only live once”), and #losertl. In December, the National Council to Prevent Discrimination (CONAPRED) issued a statement condemning the trend, which only brought on a wave of contemptuous reactions. Still today, hundreds of #tl tags are posted and shared weekly on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

The #tl fad and Mexico’s penchant for memes and hashtags is a glaring reflection of its obsession with the internet. In 2013, the Mexican Association of Information Technology Industry determined that 90 percent of Mexican internet users have social media accounts. The mini screens flashing news feeds and messages around me on the metro, however, convey this country’s infatuation with social media better than any research study.

In Mexico, accessible and cheap internet, which is vastly owned and controlled by Carlos Slim, has amplified social media’s popularity. A cell phone data plan with unlimited Facebook and Twitter access costs as little as 200 pesos ($12) a month.

And all that affordable internet has spawned a culture of cyber photo-sharing. What I’ve noticed while living here is a culture that impressively surpasses the US for being more selfie-obsessed. Here, vanity and this desperate need for validation are practically considered human nature—in a society where men are depicted as lovable tyrants, and women are meant to be pawns who adore them.

In the 2014 video for the song “Tomate Una Foto” (Take a Photo) by reggaeton singer Maximus, a young woman with braces snaps and sends the singer racy selfies with her phone. In the 2011 video for the Norteño hit, “El Tierno Se Fue” (The Tenderness Is Gone) by Calibre 50, singer Edén Muñoz videotapes a woman undressing as he croons, “Tell me already that it hurts all the way to your soul, and you can’t do it anymore, while I record a video like this with my cell phone.”

 

via @clarimondos

The convergence of seductive cell-phone photos and hashtags intended for sharing and searching information has fostered the growth of an exploitative and abusive form of pornography. #Pobrezafilia, #putipobre (poor bitch), #misseria (Miss Poverty), and #TanRicaYTanPobre (so tasty and so poor) infiltrate Twitter feeds by the minute, facilitating a widespread pornography movement. The words are tagged to photos of Mexican and Central American women lying seductively on tattered mattresses or posing before concrete wash troughs. These young women, nude or wearing very suggestive clothing, rampantly cycle through Twitter and Facebook feeds for a day or two at a time, until new photos are uploaded and nearly all of yesterday’s are forgotten.

The sound of “pobreza” (poverty) and “filia” (-phile) pushed together could almost sound poetic, if the word didn’t mean having a sexual affinity for poor, young women. 

#Pobrezafilia photos seem to adhere to specific criteria. The subjects are often just wearing a thong or a soccer jersey. The settings tend to be dirty rooms lit with intense fluorescent lights: cluttered kitchens, a bedroom marked by its disheveled bedspread, or no furnishings at all, just brick and concrete walls. The women are staring coolly into the camera, or maybe flashing a shy smile. The portraits are excessively intimate, exposing not only the women’s bodies but also the intricacies of their homes. The photos are virtual slum tourism, says Dr. Alethia Fernández de la Reguera, gender studies professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. “These are almost always one-room homes,” she told me over coffee at a café on UNAM’s campus, “rooms where everything in that person’s life is done.” 

More critically, Fernández de la Reguera believes #pobrezafilia is an outright symbol of Mexico’s discrimination against poor, young women. “#Pobrezafilia is an example of the dominator versus the dominated. It’s naturalizing violence against women,” she said.

Social media has made objectification of women normal in Mexican culture, agrees Paola Ricaurte Quijano, a research professor who specializes in e-politics and cyber activism at the Monterrey Institute of Technology’s cultural studies department. “Gender abuse is bred profoundly on Twitter,” she says.

For the most part, the identities of the photographers and their subjects are unknown. Yet perhaps it’s this element of anonymity that gives these hashtags momentum in the spheres of social media. I contacted several Twitter and Facebook accounts that were posting #pobrezafilia portraits. A couple replied initially, but none were interested in actually being interviewed.

The sound of “pobreza” (poverty) and “filia” (-phile) pushed together could almost sound poetic, if the word didn’t mean having a sexual affinity for poor, young women.

The hashtags echo a silent and mysterious form of revenge porn. A Twitter account belonging to a Mexican woman named Karla Jiménez was recently flooded with nude photos carrying the #pobrezafilia hashtag and Jiménez’s phone number. When I texted her to ask about it, she wrote back, “Someone bad is posting my phone number and photos.” She didn’t respond to any further questions. Her account was recently deleted.

In July, Miguel Ángel González Trujillo, general director of the progressive online magazine IZQ, wrote an op-ed criticizing #pobrezafilia, making an argument that hashtags that marginalize certain populations should be monitored. The article blew up, with more than 23,000 shares on Facebook. A week later, CONAPRED reposted the IZQ article on its blog, and the levees broke. Hundreds of Mexicans, especially women, took to Twitter and Facebook to denounce CONAPRED’s post.

These women’s tweets were crass verbal assaults directed not only at the women in the #pobrezafilia photos, but also at women they knew personally. They were explicitly cheering the hashtag on.

Reading these tweets, I was unfazed. My own experiences of female rivalry in Mexico are eerily reminiscent of the girlish disputes in my elementary school. “Some women might use #pobrezafilia against other women to establish their social status. It’s a discrimination practice to refer to other women who are poorer or have darker skin,” says Fernández de la Reguera. “Marking [other women’s photos] as #pobrezafilia shows to everyone that they are higher up in society.”

CONAPRED’s post was meant to be a PSA on cyber-discrimination, but the public backlash caused #pobrezafilia’s popularity to skyrocket. According to Juan Hernánez, who wrote a follow-up to IZQ’s original post, “#Pobrezafilia was a phenomenon only known to a small sector of the population [that] went viral and reached a great number of people thanks to CONAPRED’s posting of the text on its social media networks.”

I reached out to CONAPRED officials twice to discuss the incident; both times they told me they were too busy to chat.

 

via @compartoesposa

Most of the Twitter accounts posting #pobrezafilia photos seem to be owned by men. Aside from their handles and names, there is no other information about them or the women in the photos. This anonymity is what makes #pobrezafilia both creepy and intriguing. We don’t know who these women are, why they took these photos, or whether they had intended them to be shared with the world. They could be sex workers, they could’ve been coerced, they could be women engaging in a sexy photo shoot for a friend or partner, they could even be taking these photos for their own enjoyment. Whatever the reason, it’s certain that in order to be a contender for the #pobrezafilia label, the subject must be female, very young, and almost always thin and brown-skinned.

“[This plays out] similarly to how Anglo white men travel to places, sex tourism spots (like Thailand), to sleep with what they consider exotic women because they are poor, young, and non-white. #Pobrezafilia depicts this fetish,” said Fernández de la Reguera. “In the case of Mexico, men may feel they can exercise more power over these women because they are poor and young.”

And the reverse is true—and it feeds the #pobrezafilia trend in a nasty cycle. In Mexico, just as poor, young, brown-skinned women are fetishized, rich, young, white men are mocked and also glamorized using the hashtag #mirrey, #pobrezafilia’s Mexican-bro counterpart.

#Mirrey, which means “my king” and is sometimes spelled “mirrrey” to exaggerate the rolling r, is a tag assigned to photos of the sons of Mexico’s wealthy class. The #mirrey wears a crisp, white, pressed shirt, pops his collar, and braces his elbow to his chest to show off an expensive watch. He’s on a yacht, in a jet, golfing, or at a club with #lobukis, or “little bitches,” hanging off his elbows.

Every year, the students at Instituto Cumbres, an elite, all-boys, private Catholic high school in Mexico City, maintain their high-life stereotype by producing a top-dollar short film celebrating the graduating class of mirreys.

In the 2015 video, young women (who are actually models) take turns auditioning for a panel of real-life Cumbre students, to be their dates to graduation festivities. They give them their sexiest pouts and deepest hip swirls, and then the boys yawn and shoo them off. This year’s Cumbre video drew more attention and incited more controversy than any other. It struck a chord for so many because the video was such a raw representation of how women (not just the young and beautiful) are treated by men in Mexico.

#Mirreys are young and primed to become Mexico’s next corporate leaders and politicians. Already having the digital world at their fingertips, they’re praised when they tweet or make a post about a #pobrezafilia photo.

“It’s the #mirreys that exploit #pobrezafilia,” says Fernández de la Reguera.

We don’t know who these women are, why they took these photos, or whether they had intended them to be shared with the world.

Unlike the women of #pobrezafilia, we know who the mirreys are; their eye-popping debauchery has been well documented. During the 2014 World Cup, Jorge Alberto López Amores, son of the then-Chiapas state attorney general, was partying on a yacht off the coast of Brazil. “I’m going to make history. I’m going to stop this ship!” he yelled, before diving off the yacht’s 15th floor and plummeting to his death. In July 2012, Luis Armando Reynoso López, son of former governor of Aguascalientes state, decided to celebrate his 26th birthday by throwing a garishly massive party, in which he paid a nine-year-old nearly $6,000 to DJ.

In Mexico, 45 percent of the population lives in poverty. The ostentatious behavior of these rich young men bewilders—and fascinates—a large part of the country. The Mirrreybook Facebook page has over 87,000 likes. On Instagram, there are nearly 29,000 photos tagged #mirrey.

In a country with such deep-seated economic and educational disparity, that number will most likely only continue to grow. Yet, the bottom line is that these men are just the brunt of a joke; their lifestyles are being mocked, not exploited—unlike the women of #pobrezafilia.

In metros all over the world, people pass the time by gazing into their phones. I, too, let the memes, tweets, and photos distract me while I wait for my stop. What spins through our news feeds are images of the world that surrounds us. Emblems of the oppressed being further beaten down, both by the privileged and by themselves.