Mexican sexism on trial in slaying Stereotypes: Women rally around a married mother of five who went dancing and was charged with murder after shooting a man who sexually assaulted her.

Sun Journal

February 05, 1997|By Sam Quinones | Sam Quinones,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

MEXICO CITY -- About a year ago, Claudia Rodriguez went out dancing with a girlfriend and her girlfriend's lover. As the night wore on, her girlfriend's companion, Juan Cabrera, a married man, drank heavily and propositioned Claudia.

Enraged, the two women set off for home.

Cabrera followed, telling them that women were whores and suggesting they all three go a hotel. On an elevated walkway leading to a subway stop, Cabrera allegedly grabbed Rodriguez by the arms, pushed her against a guardrail, ripped her blouse and told her no woman had escaped him yet.

Rodriguez had taken to carrying a .22-caliber pistol for protection since a robbery two weeks earlier. She pulled it from her purse and fired one shot that struck Cabrera in the left side. She then gave her gun to a metro security guard. Cabrera died in the hospital within a day.

That was on Feb. 3, 1996, and Rodriguez has been in jail ever since, charged with murder. A judge is supposed to decide by the end of this month whether she is innocent or guilty of the charge. If she is found guilty, she could be sentenced to up to 15 years imprisonment.

But the case of Rodriguez, a 30-year-old mother of five, has focused attention on sexism and women's status in Mexico. Rodriguez is a married woman, and therein lies a story that says as much about how Mexicans live today as about how one of them died.

Release is demanded

Indeed, the case has galvanized the women's movement here. Actresses, female politicians and writers such as Laura Esquivel and Elena Poniatowski have signed an open letter calling for Rodriguez's release from jail. Maria Felix, the grande dame of Mexican cinema, said she too would have shot Cabrera.

Much of the evidence presented in court supported Rodriguez. She had bruises on her arms and waist. Her blouse was ripped. The trajectory of the bullet supports her claim that Cabrera was leaning over her. Plus, Rodriguez's girlfriend witnessed the events and confirms Rodriguez's version. Not even the judge doubted she was being attacked.

But Rodriguez did not match the old stereotypes of a woman. She was one of the millions of women who entered the work force to keep their families afloat. As Mexico dipped and dived from one recession to another, a wife who only tended house became a luxury that few middle-class families could afford.

Rodriguez sold cosmetics to women who worked in office buildings. By the time of the shooting, she was earning three times as much as her husband, who works for the Mexico City water department. But the kind of social behavior Mexicans find acceptable for women has lagged far behind the economic responsibilities they are expected to fulfill.

Unconventional marriage

"In many marriages, it's customary that the woman stays in the house, and the man works and goes around partying," says Rodriguez in an interview from jail. "It wasn't like that for us."

For her husband, Jorge Cruz, the blending of marital roles grew from economic necessity as well as a husband's and wife's genuine fondness for each other. Cruz would cook for the children; Claudia would help him with electrical jobs neighbors hired him to do.

"We communicated well," Cruz says in the living room of the concrete-block home they built together. "She was always with me. We had fun together. When you're lucky enough to be friends, you get along."

Claudia, who married at 14, would sometimes go out with friends. She would go without her husband. And since her arrest, the couple has had to try to justify that behavior -- because her honor, or the perceived lack of it, became an important question in her trial.

In a newspaper interview, the prosecutor was quoted as saying, "If she was a married woman, what was she doing out dancing?"

A psychologist who interviewed Rodriguez told her that if he saw his wife out at 4 a.m. with another man, he would divorce her.

In deciding that Rodriguez should stand trial, Judge Gustavo Aquiles wrote that because she was sober and Cabrera was drunk, and because Rodriguez knew his intentions, she should have done something to avoid his attack. The judge said she should have waited for a passer-by to help, or fired the gun so that the shot wouldn't have killed him.

The judge's argument: "Being that drunk, it's logical that the deceased wasn't able to defend himself and that she took advantage of him."

"That's what makes the trying the case so hard," says Ana Laura Magaloni, a professor of constitutional law who is defending Rodriguez in court free of charge. "If she'd been dressed in pink, walking her children along the street and a rapist jumped her, they'd probably have called it self-defense because she's a woman fulfilling the stereotype.

'Nothing to do with law'

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