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Puerto Rico: Student Detained After Performance Deemed “Indecent”

Charlene Jane González de Jesús, a student at the University of Puerto Rico, was detained by state police last Thursday, April 19, 2012,  at the institution's Río Piedras campus after taking her top off in public as part of a performance art piece in protest of gender inequality.

The fourth year Drama major was approached first by campus police, who intervened after having received several complaints from offended parties and proceeded to drive González to the Río Piedras police station once she refused to put her top back on. At the station, she was interviewed by state police and received a citation for next Friday, April 27.

The case was widely reported by all major local news media outlets, except by the University of Puerto Rico's own newspaper, Diálogo and its online component Diálogo Digital [es]. Diálogo reporter Joel Cintrón, who covered Charlene's story, expressed his frustration through local blog [es], which ended up publishing the censored piece:

[...] la historia fue reseñada, pero el presidente de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, Miguel Muñoz, dio la orden de que el tema de Charlene y su arresto no se trataran de ninguna manera por Diálogo Digital. Así me lo hizo saber Melba I. Guzmán Díaz, relacionista pública que fue nombrada como directora de Diálogo pero quien en la práctica funge como relacionista de la administración.

[...] the story was covered, but the University of Puerto Rico's president, Miguel Muñoz, gave the order that Charlene and her arrest where not to be addressed in any way by Diálogo Digital. So I was told by Melba I. Guzmán Díaz, the public relations manager named director of Diálogo who in practice acts as a publicist for the administration.

Questions about why campus police had taken Charlene González directly to the police station and not the University's security office were left unanswered by said institution's security personnel.

Charlene Jane González de Jesús, at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus (Source: Facebook Public Profile)

Charlene Jane González de Jesús, at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus (Source: Facebook Public Profile)

Local bloggers and social media users where quick to disregard University president Muñoz's wishes that the story go unreported – with many chiming in on Charlene's story. Perhaps most controversial was PODER 5′s Michael Castro, who describes himself as a “Christian human father, husband, teacher, blogger” on his Twitter account (@MichaelDCC), and led the charge against Charlene's protest.

On his post “Charlene Jane Gonzalez: The body as a weapon to make fool of yourself” [es], Michael writes under his blogger name, Prometeo:

Personalmente entiendo que ni hombres ni mujeres deben andar por ahí descamisados[...] En una playa, si un hombre quiere andar descamisado lo hace y punto y la mujer usa su bikini y ya está. Si quieren ir a una playa donde ir topless sea para ambos entonces esas playas tienen acceso restringido porque no todo el mundo quiere verle los pechos a una mujer[...] Hay un lugar para cada cosa pero algunas personas no entienden eso, en especial gente como Charlene Jane Gonzalez [...]

Personally, I understand that neither men nor women should walk around topless[...] At a beach, if a man wants to walk around topless he can do so and a woman can wear her bikini and that's it. If you want to go to a topless beach for both, then those beaches have restricted access because not everyone wants to see a woman's breasts [...] There is a place for everything, but some people don't understand that – especially people like Charlene Jane Gonzalez [...]

He continued, making numerous references throughout his post to Charlene's breast size:

Si Charlene quiere que la acompañen va a tener que buscar otras muchachas con su condición de microbusto para que la acompañen en la lucha por los derechos de las que no tienen… derechos.

If Charlene wants people to join her she better find other women with her condition of “microbust” so that they may accompany her in her fight for the rights of those who don't have any… rights.

The misogyny was not lost on all readers, some of whom reached out to Michael through Twitter, Facebook, and blog comments:

Nadie Hernández (@aerigirl80) questioned via Twitter: “Why make constant references to her [chest] size? If they were big, would they be “melons”? Is the fact relevant? [es]

Hector Ramos similarly addressed the subject in Raul Colón's blog post regarding the issue, “Topless Self Expression, Noise & Using the Right Platform”:

How did she open herself for mockery? By failing to have breasts big enough for your liking? Your repeated comments regarding the size of her breasts show a lack of respect towards women.

Blogger “Elco Lao” was moved further towards Charlene's defense after reading Prometeo's post, writing in his “Letter to Prometeo about Nude Protests and the University of Puerto Rico's scandal after noticing a student protesting with her naked breasts…” [es]:

En el caso de Charlene González de Jesús, su PROTESTA DESNUDA es un acto en el que ejerce un DERECHO HUMANO DE LIBERTAD DE EXPRESIÓN, que NINGUNA SOCIEDAD DEBE CONDENAR… Pero, que tú, o que yo, no estemos dispuestos a realizar este tipo de protesta, sea por los criterios morales o éticos que cada cual tenga [...] no es JUSTO que impongamos nuestros criterios a la hora de limitar o prohibir una MANIFESTACIÓN PACÍFICA que denuncia las actitudes de discrimen en nuestra sociedad, INCLUYENDO EL RECHAZO AL CUERPO DESNUDO EN PÚBLICO…

In the case of Charlene González de Jesús, her nude protest is an act in which a human right to free speech is exercised, which no society should condemn [...] That you or I are not willing to participate in this type of protest, be it for the moral or ethical criteria that each of us may have [...] it is not fair for us to impose our criteria in order to limit or prohibit a peaceful protest that denounces discriminatory attitudes in our society, including the rejection of the naked body in public…

What remains crystal clear is that there are still many more people on the island that, like Michael Castro, dismiss Charlene's protest and subsequent arrest as something worthy of public ridicule. Katherine M. Cepeda-Rivera writes for Cruce – an online culture magazine published by Puerto Rico's Metropolitan University – about the more than 800 comments [es] posted under leading local newspaper El Nuevo Día's initial news report about the incident:

Los mismos nos plantean un problema grave: un problema grave de moralidad. Tanto hombres como mujeres se dedicaron a escribir insultos dentro de los cuales se encontraban: “puerca”, “sucia”, “puta”, “inconsciente”, “loca”, “desquiciada” [...] Aparentemente mostrar las tetas es un acto más lascivo que, de acuerdo con algunas personas, un beso entre gays o lesbianas, más lascivo que un hombre se case con una mujer veinte años menor o viceversa, más lascivo que el problema de trata humana en Puerto Rico. Repito, TRATA HUMANA en Puerto Rico (el cual no ha tenido cobertura). El que una mujer muestre las tetas es un acto más lascivo, más lascivo… LASCIVO.

These pose a grave problem: a grave problem about morality. Both men and women wrote insults, including: “pig”, “dirty”, “whore”, “irresponsible”, “crazy”, “mad” [...] Apparently, showing your breasts is a more lascivious act for some than a kiss between gays or lesbians, more lascivious than a man marrying a woman twenty years younger or vice versa, more lascivious than the problem of human trafficking in Puerto Rico. I repeat, HUMAN TRAFFICKING in Puerto Rico (which has received no news coverage). For a woman to show her breasts is a more lascivious act, more lascivious… LASCIVIOUS.

Amárilis Pagán Jiménez states her concerns in a separate column for Cruce, “El cuerpo en guerra” [es] (The body in battle):

En Puerto Rico al día de hoy, los cuerpos de las mujeres son campos de batalla devastados por el fundamentalismo religioso, el conservadurismo gubernamental y la hipocresía de los líderes políticos que seguramente disfrutan plenamente de sus propios cuerpos y que prefieren guardar silencio con una mojigatería que les debería avergonzar. Acuso a esos líderes, a las iglesias cuyos discursos sólo contribuyen a reprimir el cuerpo humano y a verlo como pecado y a las empresas que se lucran de la venta de nuestra sexualidad, de todas las agresiones sexuales, la violencia en relaciones de pareja y la represión de expresiones políticas legítimas que hoy nos avasallan. Pero también asumo parte de la culpabilidad, y creo que el resto del país debe asumirla. Porque en la medida en que guardamos silencio, miramos a otro lado o nos sentimos con demasiado trabajo como para apoyar las acciones de defensa de nuestra humanidad, nos hacemos cómplices de quienes nos agreden.

In Today's Puerto Rico, women's bodies are battlegrounds devastated by religious fundamentalism, government conservatism, and the hypocrisy of political leaders that surely enjoy their own bodies to the fullest – and that prefer to remain silent with a prudishness they should be ashamed of. I accuse those leaders, and the churches whose discourse contributes to the repression of the human body and to see it as sin, and the businesses that make money by selling our sexuality, from all the sexual aggressions, violence between couples and the repression of legitimate political expressions that subjugate us today. But I also assume part of the blame, and I think the rest of the country should too. Because as we remain silent, look the other way or feel too busy to support the defense of actions in favor of our humanity, we become accomplices to those who assault us.

And as interest for Charlene's story dies down, one comment lingers and a question remains. As blogger and Twitter user Michael Castro wrote to fellow Twitter users @aerogirl80 and @elcolao in their back-and-forth about this incident: “My attitude is a reaction to Charlene's “protest”. Some praise her, some defend her, and I laugh.”

What will Puerto Rico do?

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