My Sneak Peak at the World of Machismo
I looked out the window of the airplane and saw the snow swirling around the runway, I felt like I was cheating the system. Every Mainer knows that if you suffer through the months of bitter cold and excessive snow, you will be rewarded with the sunny, breezy summer days that follow shortly after. But I was escaping avoiding one full month of chapped lips, dry hands and staticky hair trading it in for a month of warm sunshine. Thank you, JanPlan. I spent the weeks that followed in Quito, Ecuador with 15 other Colby kids learning Spanish, how to barter with indigenous people, that guinea pig is served with whiskers intact, that one can blame the altitude for every ailment, that turning signals are not in fact necessary (the horn is far more effective)--oh, and all driving laws are mere suggestions.
And it was fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. Except for one thing: it appears that feminism hasn't yet reached Ecuador. Okay, that was a gross exaggeration. Let me clarify. It's not as if women are stuck in the Dark Ages. They can vote and many have jobs. But as an American woman, life for an Ecuadorian woman seemed utterly suffocating.
One day I came home from school for lunch and my host mom wasn't home yet. When she did get home about twenty minutes later, she couldn't wait to tell me, with a twinkle in her eye, that she had "left the house that morning" while I was at school. Mind you, she had only gone to have coffee with her friends, but to her it was the biggest news of the week. Every other day of the month she spent the afternoon tidying the house, directing the maid and preparing for when the family would come home for lunch. She was trapped--literally unable to live the life of freedom and possibility that an American woman takes for granted.
My host sister, Lorena, and her five-year old son both live with Lorena's parents. You see, young women in Ecuador do not live alone. After Lorena got divorced, she was forced to move back into her parents' house. The move was as much about tradition as it was about security and finance. But Lorena is a chemistry teacher; she is a very intelligent woman and a capable mother. It doesn't matter. Without a man, she can't live independently. And as I dream of moving to a city by myself to explore and venture, to get a job and to live on my own, I can't stop thinking about how constricted Lorena must feel. My dreams will never be a possibility for her.
But it's not just that women are forced into dependence. It's also that they are degraded on a daily basis by the men that surround them. One day I was walking home from school when a man in a business suit looked me up and down before waggling his tongue out of his mouth in the most vulgar manner possible. It wasn't an isolated incident. Similar situations happen every single day to hundreds of women in the city. My host sister warned me not to wear a dress or skirt of any sort on public transportation because men won't hesitate to reach up your skirt when you have nowhere to escape. In public, respect for women is nonexistent.
In the house, the situation reverses. Instead of being degraded, women are placed on an altar. And for a very good reason: they do every bit of work in the house. Cooking, cleaning, serving, you name it-- the woman is solely responsible for it every single day. In my host family my mom rarely ever sat and ate a meal with the rest of the family. Instead, she stood behind us in the kitchen, always busy preparing the next course, always ready to remove the dishes the second you put down your fork. And not once did my host father say thank you. It wasn't a privilege for him to have a hot meal on the table three times a day; it was his right.
The director of our school told us time and again that we had to accept differences that we noticed as "cultural differences" and find them interesting rather than frustrating. But I wonder to what extent that is true. The few Ecuadorian women that I talked to, especially the older generation, didn't seem angry about the pervasive patriarchy. And if they aren't angry about it, how will it ever change? Was it at all my place to voice my frustration about the disgusting machismo or should I merely "respect it as a cultural difference"? I've spent a whole week at home now thinking about it, and I still have no answer.