I’ve been in South America for 7 months and my plans show no sign of a departure. I mean, why would I? I love the food. I love the dancing. I love the language and I’m actually getting pretty good at it finally.
All in all, I feel like I have found my new home here.
Culturally I am doing my best to adapt. There are certain nuances of communication that I still don’t understand. There are stricter rules about what is and is not said in conversation. I break these rules all of the time, sometimes consciously in defiant frustration, but mostly because I’m still learning.
Yes. I am adapting…but not to everything. There is one teensy, weensy little cultural hang up that I refuse to adapt to. Machista.
I hate machista. I don’t know what went wrong in Latin cultural development that men feel entitled to certain behaviors. I don’t know that I care enough to delve into the sociocultural explanations. Perhaps I will leave that for another day.
In the interim, allow me to enlighten you about the types of behavior that have come into daily practice, as the machista has grown legs and clawed its way to the epicenter of Latin culture.
One night I was walking down the street with a friend and a man walking in the other direction forcefully grabbed her ass. Another night I was walking to the bar to meet my boyfriend. I was approached by several catcalling men, one of whom grabbed my arm and, while laughing, told me that I was going home with him. I have had men grab me in discos at night. I have had men scream at me while I am walking down the street with my boyfriend. The cops aren’t much better, men in uniform have hooted and hollered at me from government vehicles. I can’t walk across the street to buy my daily bread without at least one man making some snide remark. They hang out of the taxis. They make kissing noises. They comment on my ass. The physically touch me. They objectify my body. They make my blood boil, and sometimes my hair stand on edge.
I know that one of you is thinking, “But this happens in my country too!” In the Western world, it happens. That I am not denying. But the line of extremeness and the cultural approach to the issues is completely different. Law officials would not be doing this here is they weren’t absolutely positive that there was nothing I could do about it.
People in Nightclubs
Also, men’s, and often times women’s, response to these instances is reflected by 100s of years of conditioning. One night, as I was going to meet my friend at the club, a man grabbed me on the street and tried to kiss me. He was wasted. I had to swing at him to get him to let go of my arm. I was furious. When I showed up to the discoteca my guy friend asked me what was wrong. I told him what had happened in between furious gesticulations. His response? “I feel that a man would not do something like that unless you had given him a reason, some kind of signal that you wanted it.”
So I ask you, just how much is it like your home country when it’s so excessive that these behaviors are mirrored law officials and the vast majority of the male population not only knows that they can get away with it, but actually believes that they are acting on some kind of seductive message sent from the victim of the harassment?
Not To Liberate
It’s not something that I believe I will ever get used to, mainly because I refuse. However, I don’t believe that I am here to liberate anyone. I come from another world, with different rules, lines, and, perhaps most importantly, priorities. I’m not going to liberate anyone because I don’t want to. But I’m also not liberating the women because they don’t seem to want to be liberated.
The ultimate social goal for many is still to find a husband with a decent job and pop out a few kids before hitting thirty. I’m not saying that this is the case for everyone, but even some of my most educated friends have told me, “You might as well get accustomed to the machista. They pay for everything. Let them.”
Twice I was accused of being a bad girlfriend because I didn’t actively seek out my boyfriend’s favorite Peruvian dishes and take lessons from locals to learn how to make them.
I do feel that with each passing generation there will grow an increased awareness of what should and should not be tolerated. I did not come here to tell people who is and isn’t oppressed, what behaviors are indecent and which are right. I came here to live and I stayed here to write. Period.
Machista Mixing with Genders
I feel like the machista crosses lines between the genders. Meaning that, as much as my inner feminist would love to blame this entirely on men, women aren’t guiltless. For example, women expect men to pay for everything. There is an underlying cultural feeling of entitlement. There are cut and dry roles. “I am the woman, so I do a, b, and c. He is the man, so he does x, y, and z.” I would never define machista the same as chauvinism. Machista does not necessarily mean that the men think that women are inferior as in chauvinism. I think of machista more as a list of certain behaviors, acting on cultural expectations and roles. Conforming to a cycle that was cut out by those who went before you. Oppressing the opposite sex, sometimes regardless of your personal gender, because they are “supposed” to be providing you with certain things, behaving in a certain way.
Let me expound on my distinguishing between chauvinism and machista. The first class that I observed when I came to Peru was 80% male. The teacher was teaching the word chauvinism as a vocabulary word, but also as a western concept. He explained the meaning of chauvinism and then had the students put their heads down on the desk. He asked everyone who thought that women were stronger to raise their hand. With the exception of one 15 year old kid in the back of the room, the entire class raised their hands.
I later went home and messaged my friend from Lima. I told him about the cultural phenomenon that I had witnessed. He laughed and said, “And what would you say in America? That we are equal. We know better. Women are stronger. We just show it in the house, not on the street.”
No, I don’t know the root source of the machista. I don’t know how far it will go and if the tumultuous cycle of harassment is destined to continue interminably. I just know that I don’t what to be a part of this cycle.
This article was written by first person account by one of my best writers Tina Stelling. This is her real account of her thoughts and times in various South American areas. that others should be aware of when travel in some regions of the world. She is a truly remarkable professional that everyone should consider taking a more thorough look at her works at her website. Her Website is www.tinastelling.com I welcome you all to check it out.