Today is International Women’s Day.
I would like to tell you about Linda McCartney, Patti Smith, my mother and sisters—and all the the other women who inspired me to become a photographer. Yet this March 8, this article is dedicated to Marina Menegazzo and María José Coni.
Women travel to feel small, to get lost, to feel big, to write books, witness the world’s injustices, change little particles of history, to grow up, fix broken hearts, and learn the languages of the world.
Everywhere my travels have taken me, I have always been met with overwhelming kindness, endless generosity—and acute prejudice for being a woman traveling alone.
In China, it was the staring, sticky looks from men everywhere, taking pictures of us, gaping in the street. In Europe, I got used to the catcalling, having to change pavements, sometimes being drunkenly followed home. On a plane to North America, a man once refused to sit next to me. In Turkey, I was not permitted to sleep beside my brother on long distance coaches. In South America, I became accustomed to a macho reality where women are chased, pestered, harassed and exasperated: in the street, at school, on public transport, at work, in bars—by night and by day.
And then there are the questions we all know.
“Why do your parents let you travel alone like this?”
“What does your boyfriend say?”
“Shouldn’t you be afraid of traveling as a woman?”
“It’s too late for you to be in this neighbourhood.”
These sermons have come to make my blood boil. It is as if, as women, our own freedom and independence should be a mark of recklessness, insolence—or even provocation. As if, as women, to move where we want, when we want, and in the company we want were some form of self-entitlement.
I’ve trekked across dusty deserts, glassy lakes and stoic mountain ranges. My traveling years have been the most valuable schools of my youth; I discovered a love for photography, met people who changed my world, and learned more than any education could teach me.
One month ago, Marina Menegazzo and María José Coni set off with that same inner fire. They left from their home city of Mendoza, central Argentina, which I backpacked through myself some summers ago. Aged 21 and 22, they traveled up to Peru and Ecuador. Last weekend, they were due to fly back to Santiago de Chile, and catch a bus home—the same long coach ride I once sat through myself—my shoes full of sand and my head full of exhausted wonder. They never made it to the plane.
That same week in Ecuador, their bodies were found wrapped in black bin bags, dumped along a beach in Montañita. Some nights before, they met two men who shortly after attempted to rape them. Upon resisting sexual assault, the girls were both murdered—María José with a blow to the head that shattered her skull, Marina from deep knife wounds that bled her to death.
And then of course, the same questions returned. Headlines all over South American media cried out about the two girls traveling “alone”. Newspapers and journalists made speculations about the girls’ hitchhiking plans, the way they chose to spend their own money. Questions were raised as to the girls’ grieving parents, and their upbringings. The Argentinian journalist Mariana Sidoti stated on Twitter:
“They were two women, legally adults, traveling together. Yet they were ‘alone’. Alone from what? Missing who? There were two of them. But as they were born women, being two was not enough. In order to not be ‘alone’, they were missing something… Guess what that was.”
In Western press, the case has been silenced. A slither of mentions through English-speaking media, a few short articles buried within Google’s search results. As if somehow for our Western world, gender-motivated brutality, macho-incentivized murder, and the denial of basic women’s rights in South America were “non-news”. As if for having been born women in a patriarchal culture and male-dominated region, their tragedy were minimized, the crimes were foreseeable, and their deaths were their own business.
For María José and Marina, we must continue to tell their story. We must continue to roam free, stray off the beaten path, sleep under foreign stars and chase the cold morning light over a hill. We, as women, must continue to travel far and wide, dance barefoot in the Earth and let the wind play with our salty hair.
This is a tribute to two girls, and the femininity in the wild landscapes where they will forever wander.
We must remember the story of these two women whose lives were taken for having dared to be free.
Kamila K Stanley is a British-Polish photographer whose work has been showcased in numerous magazines such as Dazed & Confused and VICE, and exhibited around the world.