Feminism Gets A New Platform In Argentina An Argentinian daytime talk show, known for stoking fights among scantily clad cabaret dancers, broke format and suddenly invited nuanced conversations about feminism, sexual harassment and abortion.
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Feminism Gets A New Platform In Argentina

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Feminism Gets A New Platform In Argentina

Feminism Gets A New Platform In Argentina

Feminism Gets A New Platform In Argentina

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An Argentinian daytime talk show, known for stoking fights among scantily clad cabaret dancers, broke format and suddenly invited nuanced conversations about feminism, sexual harassment and abortion.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

What did a daytime gossip show in Argentina have to do with achieving a milestone in women's rights? In a few weeks, Argentina's Senate is going to vote on a bill to legalize abortion. And if it passes, the country takes a step closer to being one of the only ones in Latin America to offer the procedure. NPR's Jasmine Garsd grew up in Argentina. She says that feminism and the movement to legalize abortion found an unlikely platform to reach into homes across the country.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: I watched a lot of television when I was a kid. My grandmother, Yaya, would pick me up at school. Her apartment was dark and humid. When we turned the TV on, color, sound and sex would pour into the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: Argentine talk shows are bizarre, Fellini meets Jerry Springer. The women are pumped with silicone, sometimes wearing almost nothing. When I was growing up, it was a parade of pasties, stilettos and feather boas. One of the most popular shows back then was with a guy named Jorge Rial. He's still on TV. These days, he hosts a show called "Intrusos" or "Intruders" in which he stirs up fights among his voluptuous guests. Every time someone says something shocking, ominous music rolls out.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "INTRUSOS")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: Grandma Yaya, she was the target audience. We'd watch the show under the gaze of her little statue of the Virgin of Pompei. She was a good Catholic - anti-divorce, anti-abortion. And she loved to watch this daytime morality play. I moved to the U.S. after high school. But sometimes, when I get homesick, I still watch "Intrusos." When I tune in, I'm not 5,000 miles away. Yaya is alive. Nothing has changed. Nothing ever changes on Argentine TV, until suddenly, a few months ago, something did.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "INTRUSOS")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: One night in February, I tune into "Intrusos," and I see this tattooed woman with a Lauren Bacall voice.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "INTRUSOS")

SENORITA BIMBO: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: About 500,000 women in Argentina have illegal abortions every year. She was wearing a green scarf around her neck, the symbol of the movement to legalize abortion. I'd never seen that scarf on daytime TV. She's a comedian. Her stage name is Senorita Bimbo. And on the show, she talks about how abortion is so taboo...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "INTRUSOS")

SENORITA BIMBO: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: ...You can't even talk about it in fiction. In Argentine TV, she says, unwanted pregnancy is solved by a villain pushing you down the stairs, causing you to miscarry. And then Senorita Bimbo slips in this world...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "INTRUSOS")

SENORITA BIMBO: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: Misoprostol. She says, I want girls to know about misoprostol. Officially, misoprostol is a drug used to treat stomach ulcers, but it can also be used to induce labor. So in a continent where abortion is mostly banned, it's taken to cause miscarriages. The story of how a feminist talking about DIY abortion got airtime on an Argentine gossip show is a plot worthy of daytime drama.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: (Singing in Spanish).

GARSD: That's the theme song for the soap opera that was huge when I was a kid. It's about this hunk with feathered hair who falls in love with a beautiful girl. She never says I love you back. Surprise reveal - she's mute. She is played by actress Araceli Gonzalez. So one day back in January, Gonzalez is a guest on "Intrusos." She gets introduced as a strong independent woman, a feminist. She immediately sets the record straight.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "INTRUSOS")

ARACELI GONZALEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: "I am not a feminist," she says vehemently. "I have a wonderful husband and a beautiful son." The Internet explodes. Argentina's feminist movement, as massive as it is, gets mostly ignored by TV. Instead, they live on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube. They start tweeting stuff like, what does having a son and a husband have to do with being a feminist, you idiot? A spot like that is like catnip to "Intrusos," so the executive producers decide to book a feminist on the show to keep the argument going.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "INTRUSOS")

FLOR FREIJO: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: That's Flor Freijo, a writer and academic, patiently explaining feminism. At the bottom of the screen, a banner in large bold letters reads feminism, it's a movement for women's rights. And here's the ultimate plot twist. A producer says the ratings that day were excellent, so they decided let's do it again and again and again. And that's how feminist activists turned this show, at least for a little while, into a public town hall to debate women's rights. For the producers, it may have been about the ratings, but for a lot of young feminists, this was an opening.

ANITA: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: Anita Ocampos (ph) is 16 years old. She says sometimes after school, she goes to her grandmother's house. They drink warm tea together and turn on "Intrusos," just like I used to. Except when Anita watches, she's wearing the green scarf around her wrist, the pro-abortion symbol. And one day on TV, she sees a woman wearing a scarf like hers.

ANITA: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: "Look, Grandma," Anita says, "just like mine." Later that night, she approached her dad and made him an offer.

ANITA: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: "If you watch this episode of "Intrusos," the one featuring comedian Senorita Bimbo, I'll massage your feet." He agreed. Actually, she got the whole family, even her grandma, to watch several episodes. And it opened up a conversation which Anita says they've been having ever since. These days, the host of "Intrusos" refers to himself as a recovering misogynist. Mrs. Ocampos says she is one, too.

OCAMPOS: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: "I'm 70 percent there," Mrs. Ocampos reflects.

OCAMPOS: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: "I still have 30 percent left to go." Jasmine Garsd, NPR News, Buenos Aires.

(SOUNDBITE OF LA MAQUINA CINEMATICA'S "INTRUSOS")

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