Why I Need Feminism

It’s Sunday night and I have both a 12-15 page paper (1.5 spaced – who knew there was a requirement besides double spaced) and a take-home exam due Tuesday. My time is minimal and there are a dozen other blog posts that I wish to share with you in the future. Yet, I had an experience today that, for cathartic reasons, needs to be documented and shared with you all.

It was around 5:50pm and I had gotten off the colectivo in Palermo to meet Laura at a café a few blocks away to work on our take-home exam. Of course, I decided to get off at the stop after the one I usually do because I thought it would bring me closer to my destination. I was distracted on the bus (the usual: people watching and my own imagination) and got off one stop later than planned. No big deal, I snagged my handy dandy Guia T and figured out how to turn around and get back on the right streets. Unfortunately I was a few more blocks farther than I would have liked, but today was a beautiful spring day so I didn’t mind.

Quickly enough I found the intersection where I hit Malabia and I took a right, beginning my straight 5-6 block trek to Voulez Vous Café. At one street crossing, I noticed a man standing on the corner across from me. He was fairly young, perhaps in his late twenties. He was wearing a nice light pink button-up and a dark vest, as if he were coming from a business meeting or a wedding, but took off his jacket because the sun was so bright and warm this late afternoon. Perhaps I shouldn’t have glanced at him for so long, but he was more attractive than most Argentine men I pass by on the sidewalk and I was genuinely curious by his confident stature, standing so content on the curb without appearing to be preparing to cross any time soon. I thought maybe he was lost.

Well, I was wrong. Less than a block later I casually glanced behind me and saw him a few yards away walking up the same sidewalk. The roads of Palermo were still fairly busy so there were people in between us and in front of me as well. I didn’t think much of it, though I have a habit of glancing back and making myself aware of any solo men walking behind me, particularly at night or if they’re singing/whistling to themselves. It’s a safety precaution as I prefer to recognize my environment and potential bad scenarios.

I cannot recall how many blocks I walked with him still behind me, but I know I was only two blocks away from my destination when I suddenly felt him picking up his pace and getting closer and closer to me. There were people that I dived around in front of me, hoping to trip him up and avoid being seriously followed. But there weren’t enough crowds to hide inside and I was too afraid to stop moving and cross to the right side of the road at this point.

Then, he came right up beside me. I was walking at a very quick pace, yet he kept right up with me. I looked away from him and tried to ignore the fact that he was walking closer and more in step with me than I do with my friends. I glanced halfway towards him through my peripherals and realized he was not going to budge. What was I to do? Moreover, what in the world did he want and what was he going to try to do? Especially when I made my way to Laura in Voulez Vous Café?

It was only me against him, yet I felt outnumbered. With each step I felt as though my power, my confidence, and my independent nature were dripping off of me like the sweat that accumulated on my forehead. He was gaining strength as I began to feel smaller and weaker. My mind was a jungle gym of random Spanish words that I might yell at him or things to do in the case that he tried to touch or grab me.

All of a sudden, something clicked. I veered at an angle to the left while crossing the next side road and walked between two cars, planning to cut him off by the outdoor tables at the corner restaurant. All of a sudden, I heard the words, “Por favor, salí!” roll off my tongue as rapidly and ferocious as my host mother does in her strong Argentine accent to our dog, Enzo when he tries to beg at the dinner table for food.

For whatever amazing reason, this disgusting animal left me alone too. I never slowed my pace, but I watched him immediately turn left down the road as I continued up Malabia one more block. After half a block I turned around to double-check that he hadn’t returned.

I’m sincerely shocked that my words did the trick. I’m hoping my quick banter made me appear more Argentine than he realized? I’ll never know the answer to that.

I don’t want this to appear too dramatic, because I wasn’t traumatized by the experience. But it definitely shook me. Hours later, I’m still a little shaken by what happened today. It made me fearful of walking back down those six blocks and to wait in the dark at the bus stop. This was the second time I had been followed down the streets of Palermo. And this time it was in broad daylight.

This is why I need feminism.

This is why feminism matters.

The discrimination, though small and trite in comparison to some women’s, that I have experienced in Argentina has truly opened my eyes to the way the majority of women live in this world. They live in fear. No one has told them that they deserve to hold up half the sky, that their voice is important and meaningful.

No woman should feel less worthy than what they deserve.

No woman should be afraid to walk down a street alone.

A Sprinkle of Machisimo at Oktoberfest

There were hundreds of them. Their stomachs were in a “we can’t stop/we won’t stop” phase of guzzling down liters upon liters of cervezas, from negra to rubia, their beer bellies always yearning for more. Feathered green hats or stiff brown caps atop their heads, some clad in German lederhosn while most stuck to their daily attire of jeans and a t-shirt…

Ladies and gentlemen, the men of Oktoberfest.

The day of festivities was their own drinking game, chuckling to their male counterparts and hooting at the females they found attractive that passed their circumference. It wasn’t until my group of girl friends and I spent the later evening hours at Oktoberfest, lacking a few guy friends for once, that we felt the true power of machisimo* in Argentina.

*There is no direct translation of machisimo to our English language, which I believe speaks volumes about the sheer difference of interactions between men and women in Latin America compared to other regions in the world. Machisimo is the attitude or behavior of men towards women that agrees with traditional ideas that men are strong and aggressive, and better yet, better than women. It’s a strong sense of masculine pride, exaggerated with an exhilarating sense of power. This cultural concept further separates the distinct gender roles between men and women, preventing equality to reach the surface of society.

Their pick-up lines were infamous and monotonous.

Chica, chicas.

Linda. Que linda, mi amor.

Hermoooosa.

And everyone’s favorite as it proved to us how obviously foreign we looked

Where are you from?

 

Seriously. It’s just about the only English phrase they can say, and they always managed to sneak it out of their lips before we walked far enough away to let it get caught up in the wind instead of our own ears.

Ignoring the piropos and hollering wasn’t always possible. Eventually the men would shove themselves in front of us in order to say hello or ask us where we were from. Often times as we made our way through the crowd, we would be grabbed by the arm or roughly pinched at the waist in order to grab our full attention. I constantly shook them off with as much force as I could muster and shot them a fiercely angry “Don’t you dare mess with me” look that hopefully they understood.

It didn’t matter that we weren’t super drunk, that we hadn’t even looked in their direction, that we weren’t speaking English. We were objects. We were toys to be played and taunted with at their own pleasurable enjoyment. Although it was an eye-opening experience, it wasn’t the most fun of our nights. Sure, we were able to mingle and practice our Spanish with some guys from Córdoba, but we constantly felt objectified and belittled by the majority of the men at Oktoberfest. The men feel as though they have a right to treat us in a discriminatory manner. It’s not fair and it’s certainly not okay – but what can we honestly do besides ignore them? Shifting the way society sees women is no easy task. The gender inequality that exists around the world stems from similar cultural norms, where the root cause is a dominant image of men and the submission of women. It’s unfortunate that this has occurred for centuries, but there’s not much we can do about that now.

What we CAN do is consider how to change society’s view for future generations of girls and women. This is the reason I am so passionate about feminism. It is a way to bring women up to the same level of equality and respect as men – NOT to “manhate”, belittle men, or make them less worthy of their potential as human beings. Empowering women, in my opinion, will change the world to a much better place. There are so many places in this world where these feminist movements are happening and I’m thrilled to be researching a topic so relevant, so important, and obviously close to my heart. Living within and experiencing machisimo is also vital to my perspective and idea of gender inequality. Yet, I’m only receiving a very small taste of what some women in more rural and impoverished areas experience daily in a much harsher context.

*I cannot finish this post on the Latin American culture of men without also acknowledging the well-known fact that I am a young, foreign girl. My experiences and interactions with Argentines will be perpetually different and distinct than those of local women. This is not to say that they don’t receive the same disrespect and discrimination on the streets as I do, but I would propose to say that the motives behind them are a little different.

 

IMG_1825

1394022_10202463431131200_1419319598_n

Getting our German culture fix.

IMG_1826

And then we saw the “Pope”…

IMG_1832

Cheers to yet another wonderfully memorable weekend.

1391861_10151741539843667_284051977_n

Jujuy: Llamas, Laughter and Lots of Carne.

Perhaps it was the continuous cold and rainy weather, with wind chills at night and fall-like mornings minus the beautiful vermillion and burnt orange leaves. Or maybe it was because I recognized that I hadn’t run, much less exercised, in my two months here and my natural endorphins were at an all-time low. No matter the reason, the week leading up to my trip to Jujuy was a rough one. I was consistently feeling down and I couldn’t figure out why I was so grumpy and sad. I beat myself up about it, wishing I wasn’t feeling homesick due to my vulnerable state and pushing myself to work harder than ever in my Spanish skills and my Lumen research. That extra pressure wasn’t exactly helping.

Our CIEE program planned two trips to Jujuy. We were split up into two groups (we are a population of 80ish in total)  in order to logistically and happily travel to Jujuy for a weekend. My trip could not have come at a better time. To give you a little background: Jujuy is a province of Argentina, located in the northwestern region bordering Chile and Bolivia. We visited three different pueblos while there: Tilcara where we resided each night, Humahuaca, and Purmamarca.

I could give you a play by play on the places we went, things we saw, and share some weird “you had to be there” moments. OR I can give you a synopsis of how amazing my weekend was – from the hilarious and enjoyable friends I shared it with to the overwhelming awe we were constantly in by spending our weekend in the mountains. It was incredible. There are truly no words for what I saw and the pictures below certainly do not do justice. This was the perfect antidote to my moody week. I was so giddy upon our arrival to be surrounded by gorgeous mountains and breathing fresh, fresh air that I couldn’t stop smiling or skipping around. And the happiness never ceased.

Las Cabañas (Where we stayed)

DSC04424

Jardin Botanico de Altura 

DSC04346

DSC04365

DSC04361

DSC04589

Las Salinas Grandes

DSC04566

1374740_10151702518953977_399860526_n-1

DSC04557

Rockin’ that Reina Status. Thanks boys. 

DSC04541

One highlight of the trip, however, (besides buying lots of llama sweaters and being stuffed to the brim with delicious meats by the Cabañas staff during meals) was my trek to the top of a hill where a large white cross stood. The words “Bienvenidos a Tilcara!” are written with white rocks below it on the mountain.

Spot out the blurry words and itty bitty cross? That’s where we went. 

DSC04428

DSC04454

Colleen, Danielle, Lily and I committed to the idea at the cabañas and refused to back down from our own challenge. We began trekking up through the town, onto the roads that took us slowly up the mountain, past small houses and a cementario. Thanks to Colleen’s confidence in asking for directions, three different locals kindly guided us on the best route to reach the top of the mountain. Bear in mind that although the air is fantastically cleaner and more fresh than that of Buenos Aires, the altitude is much higher in Jujuy. We were already dealing with this change during our first day, not to mention feeling the difficulty at its finest in our casual breathing as the hike became more strenuous on our bodies and our lungs.

DSC04458

As we reached the bottom (seen above), we realized that the only way we could reach the cross at the top was by climbing straight up the mountain. There didn’t appear to be any real pathway to travel. We simply climbed up around rocks, hoping they wouldn’t slip underneath us in the dirt, avoiding the spikier plants and pacing ourselves as the wind picked up as we moved closer and closer to our destination. The photo above doesn’t give justice to the steepness of the hill or the strong winds that continued to pick up every 20 seconds. But, yes. Of course we made it to the top. Who do you think we are?

The view was incredible, particularly as the sun began drifting down towards the horizon, beneath the clouds hanging over the mountains in the distance. It was so rewarding to celebrate at the top by staring out over the rest of the pueblo.This moment was one for the books, everyone.

So proud of our accomplishment. 

DSC04462

DSC04470

No words for this beautiful view. 

DSC04455

If beautiful nature like this doesn’t fill you to the brim with joy, I don’t know what else will.

Thanks Jujuy, for raising my spirits exactly where they’ve always belonged.