Americas, Venezuela, Human Rights, Opinion

Gender Roles in Latin America

“Be a good girl, bring me a beer,” her father said.

Gender Roles

It is not a secret how machista Latin America in general is. Women and men are always reminded of their place in society, as well as their rights and duties according to their gender roles. From a very young age, our parents teach us how to sit, walk, greet, eat and talk according to what society expects from us, depending on what we have between our legs. Time has passed, and improvements have been made, but there is still a long way to go.

Good girls in Venezuela

Good girls know how to sweep, clean, cook and take care of their siblings from a very young age, sometimes at 15, sometimes at 10, sometimes at 8. Good girls never talk back, they answer politely, listen and nod, follow directions, please their elders. They are taught never to take risks. Good girls find a good husband, settle and have plenty of kids, they may work, but they must take care of family, children and household chores.

Good boys in Venezuela

Good boys know how to run, hunt little birds, ride bikes, play soccer or baseball and protect their sisters from a very young age. Good boys are encouraged to question, ask, doubt, dare, talk and give orders. They are taught to be leaders. Good boys find a good wife, who knows how to cook and take care of a man, who can have plenty of kids and raise them properly. They must work and be the providers, they may or may not bond with their children, they must not stay at home to take care of them.

How Does One Learn Who to Trust?

These are some fundamental and well-known guidelines attributed to their gender roles in this country and probably in many others around the world. Some other guidelines are more subtle and undeniably learned through experience. I remember I was nine years old and got hurt playing with a boy in school; I did not tell my mum about that incident because I thought she was going to ground me. On another occasion, I was playing with a neighbor, slightly older than me, and he grabbed my hand and touched his penis with it. I retracted my hand, terrified, knowing that was wrong, but I did not tell my mum because I thought she was going to say it was my fault.

How does a 9-year-old girl learn not to trust her mother? Who teaches her that terrible lesson? Now I know it is not my mother’s fault. I had already learned to be ashamed of my body and everything related to it, how far is that from blaming a woman for wearing a skirt that is “provocative” and prompts men to harass her in the streets?

To fight these ghosts and monsters, we have built groups against them. It is not a new fight, it is not purely a Latin American or Venezuelan struggle, but it is certainly one of the topics that we need to talk about to change those gender roles, patterns and macho stereotypes in these countries.

Las Comadres Púrpuras

Las Comadres Púrpuras was born in June 2016 after a group of friends realized they had great ideas to share and decided to organize and create a group to transform their relationships with each other and their relationship with the world.

They created a space to share, empower and energize women and men against the overwhelming machismo we are all exposed to and suffer from. An early attempt to break free of gender roles without wiggle room.

These Comadres try to show and reflect about how gender roles are deeply rooted in our Venezuelan society and try to go against these oppressive schemes embedded in families, couples and most public institutions in the country (For instance, the Ministry of Women!)

Feminazis Everywhere!

There is, however, a new wave of anti-feminism that is gathering more and more women each day. It criticizes feminism as a movement against men, and it also says that there is no need of that for a variety of, sometimes contradictory, reasons. Some of these anti-feminist women may say that they are not feminists, that they don’t hate men because they are equal to them. They may also say they don’t need it because men have a fixed role as head of the family and society, or because men are born leaders. If you want to see it for yourself, google “I don’t need feminism,” the results are everywhere.

If we could only take one of them and drop her in 1945 to just let her sit there and see what happens.

Se hace camino al andar – The path is made by walking

There is a very famous poem by Antonio Machado that says the only way to make a path is by walking. It’s the slogan we have adopted when talking about feminism in Venezuela. There is still a long way to go, and our parents and neighbors are not going to take it easy; because changes are hard to achieve. But there are new generations that are going to follow the same path today’s women are walking. We count on them, their hunger for new horizons, their curiosity for broader social structures to be included in a more respectful and representative way and their strength to finally break free from the chains of gender roles.

About Isabel Matos

Isabel is a Venezuelan translator that struggles to find a voice and to prosper in today’s political turmoil and tension. She is also an undergraduate English teacher and is currently pursuing a Master’s in English as a Foreign Language. Translator, teacher and always student, she is interested in how language shapes reality and how women and men negotiate power through discourse.

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