The Machismo Endemic

I have had a lot of ups and downs in my 9 months in Ecuador. Some days I choke on the bus fumes, car alarms ringing in my ears, walking at “ecua-pace” and mentally calculate how much it would cost to change my plane ticket home to the next day. Other days, I look up at Pichincha volcano in amazement, and wonder how I could ever go back to my mundane life in mid-Michigan. My students always ask me if I will stay in Ecuador and my answer is always a resounding no. I could not reside her permanently for a plethora or reasons. Of course I would miss my friends and family. I would miss the diversity and the freedom that the United States offers. Chinese food is not the same here, and I don’t love cities. But, all of these are hurdles that any expat could overcome with a little bit of time.

However, there is one lingering piece of Ecuadorian culture that is the absolute deal-breaker. It is a plague imparted on the civilization– not inescapable, but difficult to shake. Like a virus it has attached itself to Ecuador and infected the population. Machismo is my deal-breaker.

If you are unfamiliar with the word, machismo is chauvinism. It is male superiority and female degradation. We complain about this in the United States constantly. The fact that a man would catcall a woman exemplifies this problem. There are tumblr accounts dedicated to women being catcalled, and the horrible things that are said. We notice a glass ceiling and the fact women are paid 77 cents for every $1 that a male earns in Michigan. And all of these things are horrible.

These things bother me. But instead of complaining I work hard to exceed other’s expectations of me. We are closing the gender gap in the U.S., perhaps not as quickly as we would have liked, but we have made remarkable strides and we will continue to do so. We have female candidates for president, female CEO’s, and over 50% female attendance at many universities. We haven’t caught up to Europe with women in politics, but with a little bit of elbow grease and good old American determination we will get there. Women will rule the world with our intellect, determination, and strength.

I honestly cannot say the same thing about Ecuador, and everyday I feel the weight of machismo. Does machismo exist in the U.S.? Absolutely. But it is amplified to such a degree in Ecuador that it is not even on the same playing field.

In Ecuador merely walking to work in a raincoat would elicit around 10 kissy noises, calls of “princessa” or princess, honks, and “holas”. If you dare to wear shorts out in the 80-degree heat, you can expect even more unwanted attention. Today I went for a run in the park wearing running shorts and a tank top. I kept my head down and my ear buds in, but still felt eyes on me as though these men had never seen legs in their life. Even as I was running, men approached me in groups to say tell me how “beautiful” I was, kiss kiss. The icing on the cake was a man who approached me while I was running just to blow cigarette smoke in my face as his friend laughed. Let me tell you—I have HAD IT with this behavior. I can’t take it anymore, and I don’t think that I should have to. I am ready to return to a place where I do not feel uncomfortable going to the grocery store, or walking down the street.

Women teeter around in stiletto heels that they not only stand in all day at work, but also walk miles in. An image of a perfect female is one in a mini skirt with expensive blonde highlights. These men demand a perfection from their women that is neither realistic, nor appropriate. How can women rise in a society when they are quite literally considered nothing more than a piece of meat?

There may be a light at the end of the tunnel, and I see that in my students. I have classes compiled almost exclusively of men, and while this may speak toward a chauvinism of sorts, they are nothing but gentlemen. I have never felt uncomfortable with them in the slightest—in fact the opposite. They are some of the most charming and respectful people I’ve ever met. They should be the future of Ecuador, taking it from this dark place of female subjugation, and hopefully they will. But, there are so many problems that need to be addressed, the most important of which is obviously education.

I have so much hope for Ecuador, but it cannot continue down this path that it is on. I will look back fondly on my time on the equator, but the cultural machismo has certainly stained my experience. I hope that someday I can return to find a more comfortable environment, full of strong, motivated women challenging the status quo.

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