…But it wouldn’t be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl.
Before arriving in Ecuador I read and was told many stories about the culture I would be living in, and one concept that constantly recurred was the idea of Machismo. In short it is the practice of a largely male dominated society — unequal work sphere, gender inequalities, and exploitation of male sexual power — that has profound effects that shape daily life. When I thought about this ideal State side I never once stopped to consider what effect this would have on my homestay and that is really where I should have begun.
We are often distracted by what is happening on the streets and on the news that we forget — or it takes us a long time — to look behinds our own closed doors. The questions that we search for if understanding cultural norms and regional traditions could be more easily answered if we started from the place were lessons are (or not) taught: home.
Home is different for everyone, but I will take the risk in generalizing that in a female-male run household more often that not the women’s job — on top of one she might have outside — is to run the home and take care of the children. I believe this is a true statement for both the States and Ecuador. In both places I have rarely seen a father that does all the families laundry or cooks every meal. Or how a man’s household chores consist of repairing broken parts, providing the money for the bills and being a threat when kids misbehave. All actions that posses a sense of power or authority in our minds. Why is it that bringing home the money to pay the bill is seen as greater sense of power than knowing how to make food out of what the money bought? Both are necessary for survival but one is praised and the other is taken for granted.
If asked last year what Machismo in the context of a home life was I would have responded with something along the lines of “a relationship where women work their butts off and men do much less for the upkeep of a home and family” but that is no longer true. For me the true definition of Machismo is a lack of respect for your partner and a conscious effort to maintain an unequal way of living in your favor.
A woman who serves her husband or boyfriend food does not make the relationship machismo; If the man was served after demanding to know where his food was and never saying thank you would change the scenario. Or if a woman answers the house phone because she wants to instead of being called in from doing the dishes when the husband is closer to the phone and only watching a movie.
In my mind what stops the United States from being truly Machismo is these differences that surround the idea of respect. Because you would never hear of a man standing behind his wife at lunch time until she gave up her seat and ate on the floor so that he could sit. These are just a few of the situations that made me reconsider my definition, because I can not think of one family in the States that I would consider machismo but at the same time the woman fills all the same roles as the woman of my family here.
This difference between my two homes brings me back to the beginning the home and what is — or is not — taught there. I think about how both my brother and I would help my mother in the kitchen, each reluctantly doing our month of dishes. I now hear and see as girls are keep in the kitchen, unable to play with their friends, while their brothers and male peers run free. Or how when I turned 16 my curfew and weekend freedoms were the same as his were at that age. Here I watch as my sisters and I get dropped off hours earlier than and off the boys have to return (if they have a curfew at all).
Which brings me to the thought that gives me chills, if the mothers of Machismo families are the ones at home, teaching right from wrong, respect and cultural values, that means children are learning these inequalities from the same people who are made unequal. That an ideal that is the largest reason for women’s problems in life is really 50% their fault? How can that be possible how can we continue to teach lessons that will only make our daughter’s lives equally as hard. Can we truly be to blame?
Because if “It’s a man’s man’s man’s world” it is staying that way with the help of woman and girls.