THE FEMINIST STRUGGLE IN MEXICO
How the engrained machismo in Mexican culture burdens women in modern society
By Romaana Shakir
Illustration by Maria Nekman Arevad
‘Guapa! Guapa!’ A group of men more than double my age shout at me as I walk home from doing my weekly shop.
This is followed by incessant staring and an uncomfortable feeling of an invasion of privacy in which I am simply unable to do anything but quicken my pace, and until I gaze in their direction, giving them a sense of acknowledgement; they’ve kind of got what they’ve wanted.
The issue of feminism is a funny one in Mexico and by funny, I don’t mean humorous or light-hearted, I mean quite problematic and at times, confusing. Unfortunately, machismo in Mexico and the rest of Latin America is very still much alive. There is the assumption that machismo and sexism are ‘two entirely different concepts’ as one of my Mexican friends had recently explained to me. To them, sexism is bad, but machismo is when a man is ‘protective’, ‘self-dependent’ and above all, ‘manly’ (this includes various qualities ranging from the incapacity to express emotions to an exaggerated sense of power) in which Latin American men are taught from a relatively young age, as I was told by two Mexicans at a party, in which they also told me that women were scientifically proven to be more emotional than man and unable to understand men. The conversation went well as you can imagine. To me, there is no difference, and, in both cases, women will always be treated as a second-class citizen.
When confronted with the question, ‘are you a feminist?’, by one of my good friends, I responded ‘of course’.
After a long pause, I asked her the same question. She said, ‘I think not’ because it seems to be an ‘attack against men’. I know the word ‘feminism’ for whatever reason can be ‘triggering’, so I explained it in terms of gender equality, but I was still faced with the same answer of a different form. Coming from a country in a society where feminism is almost always assumed, it’s difficult to understand why anyone would be against such a belief. But with depressing statistics showing that Mexico City and Bogota are the two most dangerous transport systems for women in the world and with 120 000 rapes in Mexico each year, it’s a baffling concept that feminism should be overlooked in any case.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. Women aren’t the only victims of sexism. In select clubs and bars, women have free entry and sometimes a free bar e.g. from 10-1am (which isn’t a occurrence exclusive in Mexico might I add). My first thoughts, as a naïve extranjera ‘HA! Great!’, only until witnessing this side of nightlife for myself, did it appear incredibly demeaning in that the sole purpose of this is to get as many intoxicated women into the club as possible. If women are there, the guys will follow. Although, I know that there are various ranging opinions, some thinking it should change and others not really minding a bit of gender discrimination to reap the rewards. I can’t help but think that this ‘advantage’ only strengthens gender stereotypes that women have worked so hard to battle.
I witness my blonde, white, ‘European’ looking friends stick out from the crowd like a saw thumb as they are bellowed with words like ‘guapa rubia’ on a daily basis. Billboards will always feature an unrealistically pale woman with light brown if not, blonde hair, because dark skin is often associated here as a less desirable aesthetic or inferior in terms of social class. Being a mixed-race female from the UK puts me in a rather interesting position, since people are usually shocked to find out I’m from England and British. Questions usually involve ‘Latina o Mexicana?!’ and I will almost always be spoken to in Spanish or handed a Spanish menu, unlike my European looking friends. Indeed, on one occasion a man said that he liked my skin color and proceeded to point to a girl whose skin was ‘too pale’ and another who was ‘too dark’.
Having said that, this isn’t always the case.
In my university, there were a series of protests in the central plaza with A4 sheets of paper hanging on strings, and on them were stories of sexual harassment in university. this massive protest clearly demonstrates that things seem to be going in the right direction, but there’s a long way to go for Mexico. Don’t get me wrong, there are issues needed to be faced in both England and Mexico, but it seems that contrary to England, Mexico has different issues to be dealt with first.
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