In my two and a half months in Ecuador, I have definitely experienced some differences and been in new circumstances. One difference is how I am treated here as a white, 20-year-old female.
It’s challenging to make comparisons between countries like Ecuador and the U.S. It’s not necessarily proper to do so either, since it’s like contrasting apples and oranges and you don’t take other influences and history into account. However, I’d like to share some of my feelings about the situations I’ve been in where I’ve felt a difference in how I’m treated as a woman in the U.S.
I’ve never felt more aware of my skin color. Since I was in the minority, it was humbling but difficult to be an “outsider.” I felt that I received a huge amount of stares when I would walk to and from classes or if I would go into a movie store simply because of my complexion. With that whiteness, sometimes I felt even more like a target for catcalls from men, an object that people would try to talk to, a flashing neon light that separated me from the other city dwellers.
In my group of 12 OU students that lived in Cuenca, there were nine girls. We’ve all experienced the shouts and harassment from men, especially on the weekends if we decided to go out on the town. Some days would be better than others: the whistles or looks would be less. Some days, my friends and I couldn’t stand the attention. We would just be angry and feel unsettled. But, through this attention that we would receive, we tried to remain calm and ignore it. Picking a fight, especially when you don’t speak the other person’s language perfectly, is an amateur and unsafe thing to do.
We would also take taxis home if it got too late in order to avoid dangerous parts of the city and to evade encounters with men. I felt trapped many times because I didn’t sense the safety I feel in my own town when I walk at night. Having to pay for taxis became old and annoying when I had to spend money instead of just being able to walk by myself.
I learned to ignore and refrained from speaking back because of the safety factor of living in a large city and also because of my lack of articulation skills when speaking in Spanish. I felt like I should say something to these men that would say lewd things to me because I’m used to standing up for myself and speaking out. But taking into account the different situation I was in, it was a smart decision not to draw more attention to myself and to just learn from it rather than yelling back or flashing a rude finger sign at a man. Discovering the art of ignoring was difficult, but safety and being an ambassador of the U.S. (as a traveler that represents the U.S. in a positive manner) were worth this challenge.
As an example, one night I went to a discoteca (dance club) with a group of friends, and I decided to wear a mini-skirt. Bad decision. Just walking down the street, so many people rolled down their car windows to shout something at me; some men literally stopped their cars to try to speak to me. It felt so extreme to me that I was getting noticed when all I was doing was walking, just trying to be a part of the crowd.
Machismo, or male chauvinism, is evident in Latin American countries, in the politics of the governments and in the day-to-day live of citizens. I can’t speak about how Ecuadorian women are treated from men of their own culture/ethnicity since my experience is a completely different circumstance. I don’t want to make inaccurate generalizations. However, there are an abundance of books and websites out there that can help guide any interested person on the journey of discovering more about women’s rights in Latin America.
However, I will say that Mother’s Day (El Día de la Madre) is a huge event, with stores and street vendors selling flowers, stuffed animals, cards and gifts to honor mothers and their contribution to the family. So, to me, this celebration of woman seems a bit inconsistent with the idea of machismo—that men are superior. The director for my study abroad program pointed out this incongruity to me and it’s been on my mind ever since Mother’s Day.
There’s no conclusion that I can offer about men in Ecuador or Latin America since I don’t live there and I have a separate experienced as a white female traveler. But, having been in this situation of unwanted attention and having had to fear walking home at night has been a learning ground for me to respect the rights I have in my own country. I want to educate myself and others about women’s rights abroad and give women reason to stand up for themselves and their safety.
Interesting Fact: In 1929, Ecuador was the first country in South America to give women the right to vote.