To Be a Woman

Maria Bossert - Ecuador


October 14, 2018

*

 

I realize that I’m typing this with white knuckles.

 

I realize that my jaw is tense as the I recall the words of recent headlines swirling in my brain.

 

I realize that I’m biased, and I carry my biases with me in this blog post.

 

However…

 

This post is not about whether or not I agree with last week’s appointment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court.

 

This post is not about whether or not I believe the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.

 

This post is not about my political affiliation.

 

This post is not a #MeToo story.

 

This blog post is about what it means to be a young American woman living abroad while a conversation about sexual assault and masculinity is gripping the United States and much of the world.

 

To make a long story short, it’s not easy to be a woman in Ecuador. Not for me here temporarily as a white foreigner, not for my native host mother, my older sisters, mi mamita, or any other woman who has lived here all her life. Inherently, much of Ecuadorian culture glorifies masculinity and promotes the idea that women are meant to stay at home to cook, clean, and take care of children. My host mother and her mother do exactly this every day, and not to say there isn’t dignity in this work, but only that in a different country or culture, these women might have been given more of a choice in whether to do this or to pursue something more.

 

Many of these facets of the limitations on women’s role in Ecuadorian culture can be summed up in one word: machismo.

 

Before leaving the States for my Global Citizen Year, I was warned most about Ecuador’s machismo culture: the outdated patriarchal belief that confines us to specific gender roles and stifles equality. I was told to expect unwanted attention from men, to not be surprised when I would be hit on or shouted at, and even given an appropriate dress code to pack for. To be honest, I didn’t put much weight in these warnings. Sure, I’d been catcalled before; that’s just part of life as a girl. Sexual harassment is in our everyday vocabulary- in the news and in my experiences. Still, I felt like I could take it. And if things got out of hand, as someone who has trained in boxing, I know how to fight and defend myself if I’d have to; I would be fine.

 

But, I wasn’t prepared for the stares. I wasn’t prepared for the over-the-top greetings in English, simply because it’s so obvious I’m not Ecuadorian. I wasn’t prepared that I’d have to lie about being married to get a guy on the bus to leave me alone. I wasn’t prepared for the fact that the amount of attention I receive on the streets on a daily basis directly correlates to how much skin I’m showing. I wasn’t prepared for a police officer riding by on his motorcycle to honk his horn at me, smile, and wink while I stood on the sidewalk last week in downtown Otavalo.

 

I’m sharing these experiences now because I’m frustrated. I’m sick and tired of the attention I receive here, and how even though relieving, it all goes away when I’m out with a male friend.

 

In these moments of frustration, I often catch myself remembering my life before coming to Ecuador, when I didn’t have to deal with this degree of machismo nonsense every day. Yet, when I think about the United States, I’m still frustrated.

 

I’m frustrated because the conversation about sexual assault and masculinity in our country is just beginning. I’m frustrated because I know that when I come home in six months, my battle against machismo culture will be far from over, even in the “developed” country that is the United States. I’m frustrated because we, as Americans, whether living at home or abroad, have so much work to do about furthering this conversation and electing representatives who will make changes that reflect our beliefs.

 

So, let’s get to work.

 

*photo taken by Fellow Jazz Johnson

Maria Bossert