Oh, gender

November 7, 2008

I´m in two minds whether to post this, because I wrote it when I was very angry, but my opinions haven´t changed. However, the content is a bit sensitive:

I´m writing this sitting at ´El Mirador´ (the viewpoint) at the Escuela de la Montana, which I will write about in my next post. I am studying here for a week. I´m really full from a lunch of rice, beans and tortillas (which I participated in cooking!) and the view is, in my imagination, suposed to inspire me to write marvellous things. At the moment, however, it´s distracting me with its view of banana trees, jungle, butterflies, houses and the occassional hummingbird. Not to mention the three inch hornet that decided to investigate my ear. Te subject of this post is not easy to write, because I feel uneasy thinking about it. It concerns the gender dynamics in Guatemala and some of my experiences as a blonde, white, tall, rich female traveller in a country of small people of colour where I stick out like a sore thumb. Since being here I have learnt that if I want to walk down the street peacefully I can´t wear my dress; that I am a target for harrassment and gender-based violence, including groping and rape. Before I write further, I should mention that nothing really bad has happened to me. I have been catcalled, propositioned and harrassed. Groped and followed without my knowledge, the latter experience being the most scary as I don´t know what the intentions were of the boy who followed me; whether they were to rape me or merely grope me (as he did). He may have been opportunistic. I hope that this remains the worst of my experiences while travelling. I also hope that I will fight if I need to.

Which brings me to my net point. For sometime now I have been wary of education aimed at women which tells them how to protect themselves against potential (presumably male) attackers they might encounter, say on the street. The emphasis that is placed on kicks, and screams, and pepper spray, does nothing to combat the root of the problem. The depth of misoyny – which I define as the lower valuation of women – and the consequent legitimation of violence towards us in ´our,´ (that is, broadly speaking Western) society and societies worldwide. The acceptability of catcallingis just one less violent form of disrespect for women which culminates inopen hatred, rape,mutilation and murder.

But, having been assaulted, and knowing that I will continue to be a target for specific reasons which travelling, I want to protect myself. My encounters with public violence here confirm the stereotypes that men are the aggressors and that rape is public. Ina way, I am angry to have felt the type of aggression that so many medias have warned me about, because I know it is only the tip of the iceberg. I do believe that misogyny is worldwide, that violence on the part of men towards women is endemic, but public rape in only one aspect of misogyny, and only one part of the sexual violence that people of all genders, sexualities and colours experience, for different reasons. The fact is that I am a target now because I am a foreign blonde female, because Western women are seen as more promiscuous, and that, owing to all of these reasons, I am one of the most visible females, that is, targets, around. I now want to carry mace, a weapon, something I would never consider, or agree with carrying in Canada or Britain. I want to smash my jam jar (which I was carrying at the time as a present for my Guatemalan family) against that stupid boy´s head. The fac that he was so normal just makes me want to sream. I believe that violence incites violence, but the desire to make my aggressors hurt too is sometimes overwhelming. I want to make them feel a portion of the pain the I experience, although that´s impossible, because the two have entirely different qualities. The sexual being, I believe, the most psychologically damaging. I will continue to take precautions, and I will be even more careful in the future. I will take taxis, will absolutely not walk alone outside at night, will travel in groups when I can, and may carry something in my hand (although not my knife, as the potential for harm is too great). And all of this makes me so angry. Rob me, take my money, but do not attack or rape me. The psychological harm would be too much, as it is for every survivor. It is much more that we should have to bear.

I realise that the misogyny I have felt is only a small part of what happens behind closed doors here in Guatemala. In a country with a history of such violence (a violence that is still tangible) racism and sexism on a scale more visible that in my countries there are so many women being raped, mutilated and killed, as well as queers and indigenous people. All of these prejudices exist in all countries but Guatemala is a dangerous country. In fact, my friend Kathryn has informed me since writing this post that a thousand indigenous women were brutally raped, mutilated and murdered over the past two years in the capital alone. These attacks seem to be gang initiation rites. Indigenous women are easy targets because who is going to miss them? Certainly no one with power. As my teacher was telling me, in the countryside women and children don´t walk alone (neither do us tourists) and the indigenous people here are fighting to be able to eat. As for the queers, those who can emigrate to the Unites States, others remain in the closet, are attacked and sometimes killed, and live in communities whose sense of self-worth is seriously diminished. Some must have happy lives, but internalized homophobia follows homophobia in all countries and here I am scared to some out to most (but not all) Guatemalans. At least those I don´t know and trust. The fact that (as my guidebook observed of Chile) it´s not illegal anymore just isn´t enough. I have been struck, while being here, by the difficulty of the lives of the majority of Guatemalans, in a country that is so stunningly beautiful rich and beautiful. Guatemala has a very varied climate and can farm fruit, cocoa, beans, maize and coffee, yet the majority of its citizens are categorised under the UN´s definitions as living in destitue poverty. The acceptability of gender-based violence on the part of men who have seen death, murder and genocide within their lifetimes, the systematic rape and murder of the women they know, astounds me. I cannot comprehend how they don´t see the connection. I will write about my experiences eating witha family in a rural area, as well as many positive other things, later, but I felt that the violence is a part of my time here, and needed to be written about.

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One Response to “Oh, gender”

  1. michelle said

    we will discuss this when you get home. i had a number of very similar (though also very different) experiences while traveling. it’s this unique kind of hard that i, at least, was totally unprepared for.

    be well, be brave, be you. and i’ll talk to you soon!

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