Dear women of the world (specifically the United States),
Ultra-feminism can be just as dangerous as what we call machismo culture.
This may chafe your thighs, but you cannot enter into another country and expect the same treatment you receive at home.
I got my first introductory taste of Colombian machismo culture before I had even left the United States. I was boarding for the final stretch (literally, there’s no leg room on the cheapie flights I scrounge around for) of flying after a red-eye midnight flight and long layover. It wasn’t some creepy man coming on to me though, it was an older, friendly, grasshopper-like man with bright blue eyes and a chatty mouth. He was probably confused, and somewhat worried about me, as we were both leaving from Florida and landing in the central artery of Colombia: Medellin.
I remember thinking that he was so tall and his gangly legs were sure to be squished on the budget airline seats; I imagined a daddy longlegs sitting criss-cross applesauce on a miniature plane. Despite the burning eyes, and aching limbs, I couldn’t sleep and instead found myself wound up in an interesting conversation about the culture of Colombia. He told me that the women don’t leave the house unless they’re perfectly manicured from head to toe, and their toes are housed in sky-scraper heels; a walking contradiction to that, I smelled like the germ-ridden floor of not one, but two, airports and had crumbs of unidentifiable food in my hair as if I had planned to be a visible rejection of the pristine Colombian women.
He then went on to tell me how he had come to spend so much time in South America; his brother had married a Colombian woman, and they had lived there for a few years before moving to the states. They were forced to move because she was unable to get a job that paid well enough unless she wanted to turn to prostitution. I remember immediately thinking how my husband had already been out there for a month and I added another layer of sweat to my already gross clothes. He went on chirping about the issue: machismo culture in Medellin. It’s probably the most beautiful place in the world, he said, but I would soon learn that being a woman meant something completely different out there.
As a loud, opinionated woman who was raised by loud, opinionated women, I have always prided myself on my…sturdiness. I can hold my ground in any type of conversation whether it be conversational or confrontational, and most of the time my tongue has a serrated edge.
Needless to say, I began to see that I was not molded for the world I was stepping into.
As I got off the plane, I felt as if I had been put in with a large load of laundry, and an extra spin cycle; I was the lovechild of exhaustion and excitement, both of which are not Spanish speaking, and immediately after getting through customs it began. A group of men started whistling and spewing phrases in my direction, and I was actually surprised how little I had to say. I said nothing, just put my head down and avoided eye contact with the circling vultures. The language barrier makes a difference, but the other big change was the way it felt. The comments were impotent and honestly juvenile—I wondered how these lines could ever snag the attention of a woman, but that wasn’t the way this hook worked. They didn’t cast their lines in the water and wait for a bite, they were intentional and in your face, kind of using the obvious discomfort as a tool to hook you into submission with verbal force.
I live in a safe area of Colombia, and I know that, but walking down the street still feels like a mission. I’ve been living here long enough to be somewhat desensitized, which is not something to be proud of, to the comments and whistles and know to march with a vacant gaze not giving any fuel to their machismo fire. I wear about one-eighth of the clothes I own, sticking mostly to loosely fitting pants and T-shirts. As an advocate for travel, I think it’s an important topic to discuss the environment surrounding females.
When you travel to a new place you respect the customs and culture. You pack and prepare according to climate, cultural climate included. So, although I don’t think as a woman I should have to alter my appearance in order to be left alone or treated better, it is arrogant to assume that it is always possible.
I have to admit that coming from my hometown, I myself was both naive and spoiled in this regard. I have been able to grow up under an umbrella where feminism rules and misogyny is tolerated in no way.
Intrinsically inclined toward a freeness with the human body, and cultivated in a land of free the nip movements, I am the first person to be an advocate for feminism. I believe in empowerment, but I do not believe in extreme polarity; if we want to truly move toward equal treatment for humans then we cannot close our eyes to cultural climates but rather keep ourselves open to discussions on how to make balanced progress.
As women, we have an unquestionable power and that should never be stifled, but it is reckless and unwise to carry myself the same way in Colombia as I do in the ultra-progressive, feminist hub of California. The conversation here is an ongoing one of how to wade through the waters of killing machismo and not allowing men to make a woman feel inferior or unsafe, but also recognizing the landscape on which you stand. I am not making a statement of strength as I walk down the street in Latin America wearing my crop top and shorts; something I hadn’t thought about until my recent move.
There are many people who will not agree, but this is not a resignation to machismo by choosing to cover up more in Colombia. It is recognizing my own power as a woman and respecting the current culture where I am living; raising awareness and continuing to respect myself and keep myself safe.
It is not okay to treat any human being in a way that jeopardizes their safety and integrity, but it is also not okay to oppose this by disregarding social climates and parading ourselves around. There must be a balance.
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