Laura Chinchilla: First Female President of Costa Rica, Doesn’t Really Like Women

Earlier this week Laura Chinchilla was voted in as Costa Rica’s first female president.

The socially conservative, pro-business former vice president hails from the party of incumbent President Oscar Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize winner for his work in the 1980s to end Central America’s wars.

Chinchilla’s victory was widely seen as a vote for continuity in a politically stable country that enjoys one of the region’s highest standards of living.

It’s the first time Costa Rica has chosen a woman to lead the nation. Chile’s Michelle Bachelet and Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner are the other female chief executives in Latin America. In the past, Panama and Nicaragua also had female presidents.

I suppose this is one of those things you would be excited about..except, Chinchilla is opposed to same-sex marriage, abortion and the morning after pill. We are proven once again that having a vagina does not ensure you will protect others that have them.

Women’s Glib as more on this conundrum
and Matthew Cordell on the rise of female leadership in South American countries.

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31 Comments

  1. Lily A
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think it’s really fair to impose our North American “requirements” for feminism on Latin American politicians. In most of Latin America, opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion is basically a requirement for being a politician. It doesn’t mean she “doesn’t really like women,” it just means she holds positions that make her electable.

  2. Brittany
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    So she’s compromising her morals and/or lying to be elected?
    Sounds alot like politicians here.

  3. Jack
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    I think that “doesn’t really like women” may be pushing it a bit. Admittedly, I don’t know the first thing about her politics, but given that this particular post focuses on the fact that she’s pro-life (anti-choice, whatever term you like) and opposed to gay marriage (which doesn’t really strike me as an issue that you need to be on the right side of to be a feminist) it’s probably safe to assume that she doesn’t hold many other leanings that one would describe as being anti-feminist.
    I don’t agree with her on abortion: my view is that it’s not really my business, since I don’t have a uterus. But I think that a lot of people tend to assume that people who are against abortion have some kind of malicious reason for doing so, as if they’re sitting in a back room under a haze of cigar smoke, cackling that they finally have control over women’s bodies! I don’t think it’s like that. They think that the thing growing inside the woman is people, and needs to be protected. The fact that the only way of doing so is by limiting a woman’s rights is more or less incidental.
    Again, I’m not saying they’re right, and I know there’ll probably be people who disagree with me on this. And it’s not right that they have the view that the rights of a cluster of cells that might grow into a person is more important than someone who’s already a person. I won’t say that there aren’t people out there who think that a woman is nothing but an ambulatory incubator, but I would call that the minority. But the fact that she doesn’t support abortion doesn’t make her an anti-feminist.

  4. Lily A
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know if she’s compromising her morals and/or lying — it’s highly possible that these positions are what she actually believes. But even if that’s the case, then her beliefs / positions do reflect a big chunk of public opinion in Chile. So in countries where positions we’d consider anti-feminist are the norm, should we demand that no woman ever run for office unless she’s willing to take a position which would likely preclude her from winning?

  5. bntk
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    Where you expecting something different?

  6. Dena
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    Why doesn’t this surprising me? I agree with Lily A, I’d say the same is true for politicians running in Caribbean countries as well.

  7. supremepizza
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Agreed. Making abortion the litmus test for feminism is to make 9 months the whole life of a woman.

  8. Brittany
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    Yes. I don’t think that you should run for president if you change your beliefs to fit the majority instead of standing firm. I’d respect her more if she actually believed those things rather than conveniently change them to suit the masses.
    Then again, I guess if I expected everyone to be honest when running for positions of power, we’d only have a few people left.

  9. Dawn.
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    Jack, I respectfully disagree.
    …and opposed to gay marriage (which doesn’t really strike me as an issue that you need to be on the right side of to be a feminist)…
    Opposing marriage equality is a feminist issue. Feminism is a political, social, and economic movement to achieve full equal rights for all people. How does opposing same-sex marriage fit into that philosophy? It doesn’t.
    They think that the thing growing inside the woman is people, and needs to be protected. The fact that the only way of doing so is by limiting a woman’s rights is more or less incidental.
    But the fact that she doesn’t support abortion doesn’t make her an anti-feminist.
    First of all, my question is, who is this “they” you refer to? Are you talking about anti-choice politicians, anti-choice groups like Focus on the Family, or anti-choice individuals in general? Because my perception of what “they” think depends on who “they” is. If you’re talking about anti-choice individuals in general, then I can agree with you to a certain point.
    For example: my mom is an emphatically anti-choice fundamentalist Christian, and she is passionate about “the babies.” She frames her debate as if the U.S. government is turning a blind eye while doctors convince millions of “confused” women to exterminate millions of “poor innocent babies.” But there’s the rub. It ends up becoming all about these “confused” women and what they’re doing wrong and how they’re destroying society as we know it and how they must be stopped. My mom used to be a clinic escort in the ’90s, when all the violence was going on, and she would take me along sometimes. I remember her marching and praying and yelling at women, “YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING!” while I sat on the sidelines and ate candy. I know all about that movement and it is anti-woman by its very nature.

  10. supremepizza
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    Good point you raise Lily. We talk a lot about intersectionality, but often its in a USA vein. Laying in an international perspective changes things. For instance, what would a feminist in Saudi Arabia, or Nigeria, or China look like? Probably a lot different than feminists in NYC.
    To take Saudi Arabia for moment, in a society where women can’t even drive, why would they focus on abortion? We forget that our own feminist ideals are on a treadmill. A hundred years ago Suffragettes weren’t worried about ERA.
    Probably a better way to evaluate her would be on more pedestrian & bread & butter issues, eg equal pay, sexual harassment, rape, etc…

  11. Lisa_G
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    a female comes to power. and she gets misogynic comments, I don’t agree with her politics, but I don’t think she hates women

  12. Dawn.
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, I didn’t mean “my mom was a clinic escort,” obviously! She was one of those lovely anti-choice protesters.

  13. Athenia
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    I agree—perhaps we need to say that her policies ignore certain women–she privleges her experience over others.

  14. Jack
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    I remember her marching and praying and yelling at women, “YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING!” while I sat on the sidelines and ate candy. I know all about that movement and it is anti-woman by its very nature.
    No disrespect intended to you or your mother, but I would suggest that most people are not anti-choice extremist fundamentalist Christians. The “they” I’m referring to is pro-life people in general, anyone you would walk by on the street that might have different political views than you do. Some people who identify as pro-life are Catholic, or Jewish, or Lutheran, or Muslim. Some are Hindu, some are Buddhist. I imagine you have a few Wiccans in there. My sister is strongly opposed to abortion, and she’s an avowed atheist. Most of them don’t picket clinics or bomb Planned Parenthood. Most of them don’t terrorize young women as they go to have the procedure done. I think it’s unfair to judge everyone who doesn’t support abortion rights based on the actions of people like your mother.
    Opposing marriage equality is a feminist issue. Feminism is a political, social, and economic movement to achieve full equal rights for all people. How does opposing same-sex marriage fit into that philosophy? It doesn’t.
    I didn’t say it wasn’t a feminist issue, I said that it wasn’t necessarily something that you had to be in favor of in order to be a feminist. I’m strongly in favor of gay marriage, and I think that people who aren’t are wrong. But I also don’t think that a person who disagrees with me on gay rights automatically disagrees with me on the rights of women. I think you can be a feminist and still not support gay marriage. Maybe not the same kind of feminist that I am, maybe not a feminist that I’ll like very much, but a feminist nonetheless.

  15. Maeve
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, I think Lily A makes a very good point. If she was elected as a politician here in the U.S. or other “Western” countries, we would have every right to call her an anti-feminist for her anti-gay and anti-abortion views. The reason why abortion is such a hot issue in this country is because it literally divides the nation. There’s a large amount of people on both sides of the fence. In South American/Caribbean Catholic countries this isn’t the case. The vast majority of the population is against abortion. I think we should give her time, or at least find out more about her positions on other feminist issues before we jump the gun in saying that she hates women.

  16. kandela
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think that you should run for president if you change your beliefs to fit the majority instead of standing firm.
    Being an elected official has got to be hard; you are expected to hold firm to your own beliefs, and at the same time you are supposed to listen to and enact the will of the people.

  17. R. Dave
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 6:01 pm | Permalink


    We are proven once again that having a vagina does not ensure you will protect others that have them.


    Which is a good thing. Having a vagina shouldn’t prove anything about you other than the fact that you have a vagina. It shouldn’t prove that you’re sensitive; it shouldn’t prove that you’re weak; it shouldn’t prove that you’re less qualified, less ambitious, more nurturing, less rational, or any of that other shit. And it sure as hell shouldn’t prove that you’re less free-thinking and self-determining in your political views than anyone else is.

  18. kandela
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    I don’t really know which way to come at this article.
    On one hand I want to ask, why are we so surprised? Both men and women propagate the patriarchy, that’s a well understood principle.
    Then I also want to say that this article seems to be judging women by a harsher standard. Where are the articles about other South American presidents and politicians who are anti-choice or against gay and lesbian marriage.
    I support what the article advocates, but I feel it’s coming at the issue in an odd way. Women’s views are shaped by the same power structures that men’s are. Yet I get the impression that the OP thinks that simply voting for a woman is enough to fight those power structures, and that this instance is a particularly unexpected type of betrayal. It’s not that simple, and we all have to look beyond gender to policy in the politicians we support.
    The election of Costa Rica’s first female president can be viewed as a reflection as evidence of that societies acceptance of women in powerful positions. It says something about the views of Costa Rican society – something positive. The policies the president presented to get elected also say something about that society. I think that’s the key to understanding this issue, politicians views are going to be a representation of those of the society they represent.

  19. Cecilia
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    Being Costa Rican, I feel compelled to comment. I agree with some of the commenters above, that this post has a bad title. “Your politics suck” does not equal “you hate women.”
    But I also object to those who say that US ideas of feminism should not be imposed on Costa Rica. Sure they should. Costa Rica is actually a lot like the US or Europe. Its economy is stable, its people are well-educated, and fairly evenly divided on social questions. Yes, we’re nominally a Catholic country. But so is France. Would you all be jumping up and down and saying “Hey, let’s not impose our big bad Western feminist ideas on France?” I think not. It’s deeply condescending of you, really. How dare you assume that my country is filled with socially conservative Catholics who would never elect a liberal! I don’t assume your country is full of batshit crazy evangelicals because you elected Bush! Feminism is feminism. It’s not anti-feminist to say that Laura Chinchilla is not a feminist. It’s accurate. She isn’t, any more than Sarah Palin is.
    That being said, Costa Rican politics is a bit of a tangled web. The other thing about Laura Chinchilla is that she is widely regarded (by those who opposed her election) as Oscar Arias’s mouthpiece. Many Costa Ricans saw her campaign as the Arias presidency continued, and expect her to take her orders from him, so to speak. Much like the situation with Putin in Russia. Whether this will be true or not remains to be seen.

  20. LalaReina
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    Being Hispanic myself I know our communities tend towards the socially conservative in some areas but I wouldn’t call that “hating women”. I think we can be in disagreement without trying to cast someone as the villain.

  21. Tracey T
    Posted February 13, 2010 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    Not being a feminist, calling yourself a feminist, or being against what some people consider feminist values doesn’t mean you dislike women.

  22. Tracey T
    Posted February 13, 2010 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    But in claiming these positions does she actively seek to prevent others from having freedoms? It is one thing to not advocate for a politically unpopular thing and quite another to actively seek to prevent others from having those freedoms. Are we suppose to excuse politicians that support jail time for non-straight people or deny the possibility of rape within marriage, or restrict access to birth control, or make abortions illegal because their countries have different standards?
    How far before taking a position becomes advocating for this position? I think it is ridiculous to say someone doesn’t like women based on certain litmus tests, but I think it is perfectly appropriate to recognize if they don’t respect certain human rights and freedoms. This post fails to say how far she goes in restricting those freedoms, whether she says she opposes them or actively seeks to enact legislation to curtail them.

  23. GREGORYABUTLER10031
    Posted February 13, 2010 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    I have to disagree with all the cultural relativism here – abortion rights, the morning after pill and same sex marriage are basic human rights everywhere on the planet – and yes, that includes Costa Rica!
    They have gay people in Costa Rica, and Costa Rican women have uteruses and the capacity to get pregnant – the fact that they are Latino does not negate this.
    So, yes, President Elect Chinchilla is objectively taking misogynist and homophobic positions here (which isn’t that surprising, since she’s a right winger).

  24. Naomi
    Posted February 13, 2010 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    This is exactly why it’s so hard for me to read feministing sometimes. Although the stories you lead me to are fascinating, and although a lot of the time the commentary leads to enlightening discussions and debates, this is the sort of sensationalistic reporting that I have absolutely no respect for.
    “Doesn’t really like women?” What? Does that make ANY sense at all? Her politics are different. They’re not feminist friendly. But that’s a pretty big jump to disliking an entire half of the species.
    This is the sort of headline I’d expect from Fox news. I hope my disdain translates.

  25. Aimee
    Posted February 13, 2010 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

    I get what you’re saying, but Alice Paul wrote the ERA in 1921. It was first introduced to Congress in 1923. So, the Suffragists were worried about the Equal Rights Amendment.

  26. Toongrrl
    Posted February 14, 2010 at 12:07 am | Permalink

    I do think the “Hating Women”
    proclamation is an exaggeration
    but I do see her as another
    Sarah Palin!!

  27. gatanegra
    Posted February 14, 2010 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know that the headline for this article is the most appropriate, but I also don’t understand why there are posters defending her here on some kind of cultural relativity basis.
    It saddens me that the predominant feminist lens here is still one that only looks at certain issues as a litmus test for appropriate politics. Some of the posters are correct in pointing out that these issues — same-sex marriage, abortion, etc. — don’t have the same priority for women in other countries. Yet, no one wants to talk about global capitalism here generally.
    Chinchilla is a pro-capitalist, neoliberal president. The fact that she is a woman is almost meaningless. She wants to dollarize the Costa Rican economy. Her economic policies and social views will do more to harm women (and men and children) than her stance on same-sex marriage. There is a continuum here. All of these issues are important to women, but we can’t forget material conditions.
    BTW, the politics of abortion in Latin America are much more complex than is being represented.

  28. syndella
    Posted February 14, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    Why should she get a free pass on issues that any other woman would get torn apart for? By your own standards, she’s anti-woman.

  29. everybodyever
    Posted February 15, 2010 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    The other thing about Laura Chinchilla is that she is widely regarded (by those who opposed her election) as Oscar Arias’s mouthpiece. Many Costa Ricans saw her campaign as the Arias presidency continued, and expect her to take her orders from him, so to speak.
    Do you think that widespread belief is mostly born of sexist attitudes toward female politicians, e.g., an assumption that a man must be pulling the strings because a woman could not accomplish what Chinchilla otherwise does? And even if it is informed by sexism, do you think that to an extent it’s still a legitimate concern? Especially given the barriers that exist to women’s entry into politics, especially for women who aren’t already connected to high-level male leaders? How relevant is the criticism?
    I know little about Costa Rican politics specifically, so I’m asking out of curiosity, not as a challenge. And I know penty of female politicians in the Americas and elsewhere (here, Hillary Clinton) have faced similar accusations.

  30. Dawn.
    Posted February 16, 2010 at 12:26 am | Permalink

    My sister is strongly opposed to abortion, and she’s an avowed atheist. Most of them don’t picket clinics or bomb Planned Parenthood. Most of them don’t terrorize young women as they go to have the procedure done. I think it’s unfair to judge everyone who doesn’t support abortion rights based on the actions of people like your mother.
    I never said that my mother is an accurate portrayal of all anti-choice people. I was using my mother’s opinions and “pro-life” activity in the past to reference my point: no matter how “pro-life” people feel about it, their movement is anti-woman by its nature. Many of them may be similar to your sister, a non-religious person who may feel its a moral/social issue. I’m sorry, but this isn’t a litmus test. If you to take part in a movement that erodes women’s rights, then I don’t consider you to be a feminist. Plain and simple.
    I didn’t say it wasn’t a feminist issue, I said that it wasn’t necessarily something that you had to be in favor of in order to be a feminist. I’m strongly in favor of gay marriage, and I think that people who aren’t are wrong. But I also don’t think that a person who disagrees with me on gay rights automatically disagrees with me on the rights of women. I think you can be a feminist and still not support gay marriage.
    IMO, opposing the liberation of LGBTQ people is anti-feminist because it denies equality. So you’re saying someone can tell you that they support women’s equality, but they are all in favor of denying a portion of the population their equal rights based on something as uncontrollable as sexual orientation and/or gender identity??? Really??? Does that sound like someone who believes in the liberation of marginalized communities??? Not to me. If someone tells me they oppose marriage equality, they are telling me they are in favor of some people in this country living as second-class citizens, and to add insult to injury, those “some people” include me. Does that sound feminist to you? I sincerely hope not.

  31. Dawn.
    Posted February 16, 2010 at 12:33 am | Permalink

    Chinchilla is a pro-capitalist, neoliberal president. The fact that she is a woman is almost meaningless. She wants to dollarize the Costa Rican economy. Her economic policies and social views will do more to harm women (and men and children) than her stance on same-sex marriage. There is a continuum here. All of these issues are important to women, but we can’t forget material conditions.
    Excellent point, gatanegra. I was completely unaware of how pro-capitalist and neoliberal she is. After reading your comment, I looked her up and WTF. That is what we should be shining a spotlight on. I do think taking issue with her stances on reproductive rights and marriage equality is important, because those are basic human rights violations, but her pro-capitalist policies will surely wreak more havoc, as they often do. Thanks for speaking up.

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