We took Emilio to see the Christmas lights the other night. When we stopped to buy dogfood, a young woman leaving the store blew a huge stream of cigarette smoke into Emilio’s face, who was sitting atop Luis’ shoulders. There wasn’t time to react because an older woman, who I shall name Marisol, grabbed Luis’ arm.
“Help me! Those people are bad, really bad,” she said and pointed to two men watching us from the other side of the road in a white van.
I’m not sure if they really were or if she just needed an opening line. She continued talking incoherently, all the time stroking Luis’ arm and head. She was not all there, it was obvious to see, and her affection for Luis made me giggle.
Afterwards Luis was clearly rattled by the encounter. When we returned home after our walk Marisol appeared again. This time she launched herself at Luis and grabbed his face, while telling him our handsome he was. I laughed and Luis appeared quite shocked.
But afterwards I thought about it more. Was it funny to me because Luis was a man and the lady was crazy? If the roles had been reversed I would have been terrified and I would have looked to Luis to help me. What makes it more acceptable for a man to be molested?
This brings up the topic of gender roles, something that is ever-present in the news these days. SERNAM (Chile’s governmental Service for Women) reports that half of all women have reported domestic violence, with around 70 women killed each year by their partners – and those are just the reported statistics. A google search brings up countless more articles regarding violence against women, but interestingly I could find nothing about violence towards men. Does that mean it doesn’t exist here?
That in itself is interesting. The problem with living in a society with rigid gender roles is that anything that breaks the mould is laughed off or ignored. I am tired of women always being seen as the victim. I am also tired of the stereotype that men have to be “macho”. Luis will never admit to being upset by an older woman inappropriately touching him, let alone admitting deeper emotions like fear. And as hard as it is for me to admit, I am also an example of judging by stereotype.
Now when I look back to that night I feel embarassed. I shouldn’t have thought it was funny. I shouldn’t have walked off thinking Luis “could handle it like a man.” But if I’d have said something Luis would have felt inmasculated. Marisol could have then lunged at me with a knife and I would have been completely helpless, forcing Luis to step in. This would then open that whole can of worms entitled “never hit a woman.” It’s like a circle, going round and round: damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
The New Zealand that I know battles these same issues, although its a bit more liberal in the cities. I come up against gender roles time and time again here in Santiago, however. I watch as my suegra does all the work in the home as well as working full-time. I watch as my sister-in-law fills up the glass of her husband. I have seen a plate of unaccepteable food being thrown against the wall by a guy. And it’s not just gender. Santiago is just swimming in rules. I am tired of living by endless societal norms that deem what is acceptable, but that have really nothing to do with being “chilean”. Luis and I are getting married in March and we don’t have any money to have a wedding. We will have a kiwi-style BYO barbeque that Luis is already stressing about but you know what? It’s time to make our own standards of what is right instead of just following the crowd.
And end of story.