This particular blog has troubled me for quite some time. Two months living in rural, southern Ecuador, I have been struck by the great contrasts that la mujer, the woman, illustrates. But how do I explain to you my perception of mujeres, acknowledging how the lenses my U.S. education and personal experience narrow my vision, while simultaneously putting what I am learning in a relatable context? I’m not sure, but I am going to try my best by offering little accounts from my diary that, together, will hopefully paint a fuller portrait.
“Don Guillermo, my semi-supervisor, always insists that I go first and that he does the work. I have heard quite a bit of talk of “machismo” here, which is essentially acting in a “masculine” and semi-womanizing way according to my education. But when I asked Don Guillermo why he wants me to go first, he himself brought up machismo – “It’s not because of machismo. In Esmeraldas, where I’m from, men will always offer their seat to a woman on the bus. It’s simply the culture.” So is this machismo? I don’t know, but I’m not letting him do all the work. ”
“My Tía is badass. At the Ecoparque, she works harder than anyone in my opinion. Turning wet, clay-based soil with a pick for four hours straight? That deserves some serious respect. When I am out helping her, I get tired so fast. Thinking about the volume and difficulty of work that she does, I’m not sure I know very many people (man or woman) that could do the same. Not to mention, she decided not to marry and so she does all of the upkeep of her fields and livestock by herself after work, too. “Strong woman” means something very different to me now.”
“Amazing and scenic trip south to Loja and la Toma today with Tía and Doňa Rosa; they take care of me like I am their daughter…I thought we were going to sleep on the bus tonight. I was totally down for it since, heck, it’s free! But [Tía and Doňa Rosa] said it is dangerous because “somos mujeres,” we’re women, but sleeping on the bus became out of the question because the driver and his friend had been drinking a lot. We ended up going to a hostel.”
“Marcela [my sister] and I had some girl time this morning making breakfast. I asked her if she thought men and woman are treated and considered as equals to start a larger conversation about Machismo and what it means to be a woman here. But, to my surprise, she responded “ahora, sí, somos iguales.” [“Now, yes, we are equals.”]. Well that sure shut down that conversation.”
[On asking my host mom about marrying much later than other women, at the age of 27]
“’It was really hard watching my friends and sister get married. I had my daughter [Sandra] already, but without a husband I was considered somewhat untouchable. Dirty, almost…Lauro [my husband] is her padrasto [step father], and he treats her well. Many men here only cuidan, look after, their own children. Maddy, look after yourself and make sure you are independent when you marry. You need to get a professional degree to be respected by men…please help encourage Marcela to be more than a young mother. Please.’”
“Tonight we played indoor [a version of soccer played on a smaller field with a smaller, harder ball], and since there were many players, the women all decided to play a game “de solo mujeres,” women only… as we assembled on the field, my mamí called to the group of men, ‘so while we’re playing, make dinner.’ Everyone (women and men) laughed in a haha-why-would-men-make-dinner sort of way. It bugs me that this is taken by both men and women as so out of the question, but more so that I have heard almost the same conversation in the U.S.”
Take from these few snapshots what you will. I am still struggling with them – how do I know that what I have learned from in the U.S. is “right” or “good?” What if the lifestyle here is healthier? Has what health class and mom taught me narrowed my vision more than they have expanded my mind? Are the genders as distinct as the el and la of Spanish suggest? Am I putting such a distinct filter of confirmation bias on my experiences that I don’t have the opportunity to really understand?
What I believe now can be summarized in a line from “Colors of the Wind” from Disney’s Pocahontas:
“You think the only people who are people, are people who walk and think like you. But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger, you’ll learn things you never knew you never knew.”
If only we woman could walk in the footsteps of men, and vice versa. If only the women I live with here could walk in the footsteps of women in the United States, and vice versa. If only you would walk in my footsteps, and vice versa. Who knows what we could know?