As I enter my second week in Quito Ecuador, I feel that I have only just scrapped off the surface of what the Quitenian life is; knowledge that I use to construct the summaries that I send home in reply to the question of “How’s it going?” Most times conversations end with me talking about how my Spanish es mejor or how from the living room of my host family’s home, I can see two volcanoes, one of which is active.
However, my host mother, Elizabeth, has proven to be the most useful means I’ve found to dig deeper and learn more about the culture and the people I will be immersed in for the next 7 months. Today, she accompanied me on a journey through what the concept of “Machismo” is through the eyes of a Ecuadorian wife and mother of two in a city dominated by Macho men.
One of the things that we were warned of was that Machismo in Ecuador was quite prominent and blaringly obvious, however, I, was truly shocked by some of what I came across. We were warned that cat calling in the streets was indeed common and that we should not react because it would only cause more problems and would put our safety at risk. However, they forgot to mention how hot the anger and disgust would be as it boiled inside and fought against my reason, begging to confront the macho men. Just this morning, as I walked to school with Kate, I heard at least 3 cat calls aimed towards her and men who shot her dirty looks as they whistled and sneered.
I decided to talk to my host mother in order to find out why it was like this and what fosters such behavior. Little did I know, I had hit a nerve. She began by informing me of the situation in Ecuador and how despite popular belief among the foreign world, this machismo is not seen as acceptable by many. She explained to me how she believed that we are all the same as humans, and men having physical strength shouldn’t be the reason why this Machismo culture should be allowed to continue. She explained how, despite being the only woman in her home, she always made sure that the home is a place of equality. Everyone in her house, she continued, is capable of doing the same types of work around the home. She rejects the (apparently common belief amongst many machismo families) that the kitchen and laundry is only for the women. I have personally seen this in her two sons, Diego and Matteo, who are actively in the kitchen cooking up a meal, or doing the dishes or laundry, all the while still maintaining all the aspects “manhood”.
She used her own home to segway into what she believes to be the real problem in the machismo culture. Many believe that this mentality comes from boys out in society trying to look cool and be the top dog. While this is true, Elizabeth also revealed a reality in Ecuador: Machismo begins at home. This dark take on the classic phrase highlights how, many children of all genders, are born into homes that may already passively be Machismo breeding grounds. Boys are born into believing that they should not cry nor show emotions because they are Macho and that even going into the kitchen is making them less of a man. Born into believing that they should whistle at attractive women because they are expected to and that women deal with it. Women are told that not only is it their duty to make sure food is ready, but to also know their places in society, to know that they will be cat called and that’s perfectly normal.
This influx of information also made me realize one very critical point. Feminism and Gender Equality aren’t concepts that belong to “developed” countries and must be obtained from developed countries before bringing them back as, there are people within the ‘developing’ countries who are aware of the social injustices. They are concepts that need to be supported and pushed by concerned members in order to grow. They are concepts that have people in support, but no voice to push forward the message.
The real question that arises is, how can this be done. Who can be the voice that the people will listen to because I can definitely say that it will not be, and likely never be, a gringo like you or me. However, I do think the role we can play is more of sharing the stories of those who haven’t the means to do so (so long as it is their desire) for others to read in the hope that, not a foreigner, but a member of their society will be inspired to stand up and lead the way for change, inspiring others to move with them.
All this, over a cup of tea and Ecuadorian soap operas.