Yes, She Can

Adjusting to Gender Stereotypes in Another Country

~ By Lucy

Feminism (noun): the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities

Although controversy continues to surround the topic of feminism and women’s rights in the United States, American women have made giant strides to overcome sexism and repression in many different aspects of life over the last century. There remains plenty of room for improvement, but occasionally visiting another country can remind us how blessed we are to have made such progress in our home country.

There are a few major challenges that a woman might face during her first experience living in a hugely patriarchal society for the first time in her life. Cultural differences are to be expected when traveling anywhere, and there always needs to remain a certain type of respect for those differences, regardless of how one feels about them. However, it is important to recognize that this might require a level of adjustment and finding ways to cope.

The first difference that I and some other female teachers in the area noticed upon arrival was the amount of unsolicited attention that a woman typically receives while walking down the street. This is common in Playa del Carmen, as well as in Villas del Sol, which is a much less touristy area. Catcalls and other attempts at getting a woman’s attention are abundant in these areas. We hardly bat an eye at the words “hola, mamacita” anymore.

The second was a mentality that permeates our schools even- that women are reliant creatures. I first realized how prevalent this notion was in my school when a student asked if I had a boyfriend or husband. When I answered no, she jumped to the conclusion that “eres soltera y triste.”  I was taken aback and had to correct her with, “no, soy soltera y feliz.” Women in our area often become mothers at a young age and my students are still adjusting to the fact that careers can also be important parts of women’s lives.

It was not easy to overcome shock at the way women are viewed here. It was uncomfortable at first, and one of the main methods I’ve discovered for coping is to get as involved in the community as possible. Becoming friends with people in the area and learning more about the culture has provided a platform for communicating and developing a better understanding of the way things are here. It would be cultural appropriation to assume any responsibility to try and change the ideals that are prevalent, so gaining a better understanding of the struggles that women experience here serves more as a paradigm shift and a new reason to be grateful for the amount of progress that has been made in the United States.