Disclaimer: Before reading, please understand the following. This article is in no way, shape, or form representative of gender roles in Latin culture. Neither is it intended to generalize or stereotype them. Instead, the purpose of my article is to provoke constructive dialogue about cultural differences through an entertaining anecdote as well as observations from my own personal experience. Enjoy!
While relaxing with some friends on a Friday night, a very interesting conversation arose in the mist of our chatter. Somehow, amongst the laughter and storytelling, we transitioned to the topic of men and women of Latin America.
That night I had made a new acquaintance, a young lady who was also an exchange student from the United States at a nearby university studying Spanish. At some point in the night, we became engaged in an exchange of basic information about ourselves and the trajectories of our futures after college. She explained to me that she was a very driven, strong-minded person who was aiming to have a fulfilling career. Oh, and as an extra bit of information, she told me that she was from the Dominican Republic. “Hmmm”, I thought to myself. “This could turn into a very interesting conversation.¨ Moreover, she told that while she was working to build a successful career path, she also looked forward to meeting someone special and eventually settling down.
As usual, my curiosity compelled me to ask the question of what Latin women preferred in their relationships. What she said next really piqued my interest. She told that while Latin women are becoming more independent and career-oriented, men were still expected to be the leaders in the relationship. Essentially, she enlightened me to the idea that women of Latin America enjoyed the semblance of control and independence, but secretly conceded to traditional gender roles. I would be lying if I said I wasn´t shock to hear this. Here was a woman ADMITTING to me that men were in charge (I think Beyoncé would beg to differ). That is when I was reminded that I was immersed in another world.
However, she added that this belief doesn´t give Latin men the green light to do whatever they please. She explained that although Latinas are devoted to making their men happy, there are still boundaries that have to be respected. In other words, an acknowledgement of male leadership doesn´t mean a concession to willful manipulation and deceit. In a passionate retort, it was made clear that respect must be mutual in order for the relationship to thrive, a point I think everyone agreed upon. The negotiation of power implies that there are certain expectations that are still tied to being a Latin man or woman, but those roles are neutralized by the love and honesty shared with one´s partner.
Still, before I had this conversation with my acquaintance from the Dominican Republic, I had already suspected that these roles were in place in Costa Rica. This hunch prompted me to do more research. I found that traditional roles still hold strong, especially for women. The bulk of the burden falls on their shoulders when it comes to balancing independence with familial responsibilities. The Costa Rican Travel Guide had this to say on the matter:
¨Apart from being wives and mothers, many of [Ticas] them have also taken the responsibilities originated by their jobs. Furthermore, many families still delegate all the homework to women, making their work load far more intense and exhausting” (Talking about great expectations!).
Adding to this burden is the fact some men still adhere to “La Sistema de Machistas”, or male chauvinism. Those who practice machismo believe that women are the weaker of the sexes, and that they are primarily objects of desire. For example, It isn´t uncommon for a women, American or Costa Rican, to walk down the streets of San José and hear cat calls from men trying to get her attention. Some women take this to offense, others simply laugh it off. Nevertheless, one should be cognizant of these differences and understand that while something like this might offend you, those who are part of the culture may interpreted it differently.
However, I must admit that the biggest shock for me was seeing how these roles played out at home with my host family. Living with them for the past two months has been, to say the least, interesting. On the one hand, my host mother is very involved in the life of her children. In fact, the second night after my arrival, she took me to a Boy and Girl Scout’s ceremony for her two her daughters. Moreover, each night her and the girls sit around at the table to discuss what occurred during the day or something from the news, something they all seem to enjoy very much. At the same time, she spends most of the day doing house chores. Cooking, cleaning and occasionally serving guest from the neighborhood are all a part of her daily schedule. It seems that her effort to juggle time with the children and other obligations sometimes pushes her literally to the point of dizziness from the stress and exhaustion. Nonetheless, she does it with a big smile on her face.
My host father, on the other hand, was barely home the first few weeks. His job required him to work long hours, not allowing him to return until late at night. In spite of this, he would still come home after an exhausting to help his wife clean the dishes or any other task she needed help with. Now, he is home a lot more often and continues to share the load with his wife. To me, the sense of teamwork is incredible. So while they do follow traditional roles, the symbiosis that exists between the two seems to work out perfectly.
At the end of the day, there are many aspects of the Latin culture (or any culture for that matter) that one might find peculiar. Rather its gender roles or other cultural customs, one must be prepared to face these things with an open-mind; the more willing you are to understand, the more you will get out of the experience. As for me, I look forward to shedding any ethnocentric viewpoints that I may have and learning that the world has many angles from which life can be viewed.
Beneath are some links if you would like to read more on the topic:
Written by Chris Johnson, Social Media Journalist