Sofie Martinez by a bookshelf in Jepson Hall

Sofie Martinez, '23

March 15, 2023

As soon as her parents realized their first child was a girl, they knew they had to leave Mexico, said Sofie Martinez, ’23. They worried that Mexico’s gender-based violence and dismal economic outlook would limit Sofie’s ability to thrive. And so, at age 5, Sofie moved with her Mexican father and Mexican-American mother to the United States.

Now she is researching gender-based violence and its connection to patriarchy and capitalism in her senior honors thesis in her leadership studies major. Her minors in women, gender and sexuality studies and Latin American, Latino and Iberian studies inform her thesis as well. Dr. Kristin Bezio serves as her faculty mentor.

“I am looking at three case studies,” Martinez said. “The Salem Witch Trials; the femicide in Ciudad Juárez, a Mexican city that borders El Paso, Texas; and sexual assaults on the campus of a U.S. liberal arts college. I am finding that where there are patriarchal and capitalistic systems, there is gender violence. Capitalism is violent by nature—consume or be consumed.”

To support her argument, she points to the 1999 discovery of the first mass grave of murdered women found outside Ciudad Juárez, a city infamous for drug cartel violence. Then she draws a connection between Juárez’s increase in femicide and the onset of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994.

Maquiladoras—the Spanish term for factories—sprang up as the United States and Canada started outsourcing labor to Mexico,” the senior said. “The new factory jobs brought a huge wave of Brown, Indigenous women into the workforce. Maquiladoras are akin to sweatshops—with 12- to 16-hour shifts, fluorescent lighting, no windows, no breaks, no unions, and virtually no conversation permitted between workers.

“Women left the factories when their shifts ended at 1 or 2 a.m. Many disappeared. The police assumed they had run away or were with their boyfriends. But then came the discovery of a shallow mass grave containing the bodies of hundreds of women, many showing signs of similar modes of death—likely the work of multiple serial killers.”

Femicide continues unabated in Juárez today. Those who speak out against it, including politicians and journalists, often end up dead too, Martinez said.

“Many femicides are cartel initiations,” she said. “Men trying to prove to other men that they’re masculine.”

From Juárez, to Salem, Massachusetts, to a college campus, much of the violence directed at women, Martinez said, results from cultural norms. “Testosterone does not necessarily equate to violence,” she said. “Much violent behavior results from indoctrination. This gives me hope, because we can unlearn what we have learned.

“In my thesis, I argue that instead of upholding a hierarchy built on violence, patriarchy, and capitalism, leaders should take responsibility for the community.”

Update: In April, The Jepson School named Martinez a 2023 Jepson Scholar, awarding her an all-expenses-paid scholarship to attend the University of Oxford, where she will pursue a Master of Science in Latin American studies.