Let me first start by saying that there really is no “sexy” in Guatemala. That is the point of this chapter. Also, this chapter is mostly devoid of photos because it is an exploration of a sensitive subject and I do not want to influence people’s perception of “sexiness” based on visual representations that I have personally selected. There are a few photos I may use as examples of what is being discussed, however, what is considered as sexy is completely based on perspective and opinion. I’m not about to tell you what you should think is sexy, I am just going to explain how the general concept is pretty much out the window in Guatemala. (I hope all my “picture-readers” aren’t disappointed that I’m making them read the paragraphs this time!)
Also, as I have been writing about this topic, the paragraphs have just been pouring out from my fingers with seemingly no end in sight. It got to a point where I decided I better break this chapter into two parts; part two will post in just a couple days.
The idea for this chapter was born one evening in Guatemala during my Peace Corps service when Kathy, a fellow PCV and one of my best friends, and I were having one of our famously long phone conversations as we each prepared dinner and cleaned up afterwards in our respective homes in villages that were five hours apart from one another. We were trying to figure out what was sexy about Guatemala as it related to the “sexy” cultural things across the world stage, based on a rough classification system revolving around national pride, sensuality, and confidence. Between laughs and serious brainstorming, we came up with the following examples: the French language is sexy in France; in Italy, it is fashion; Argentina is sexy for its Argentine Tango; in Spain, it is the Flamenco, and in Mexico, salsa dancing is sexy. In Germany, the lederhosen for men and the dirndl for women could be considered sexy according to our terms, and we even stretched the concept to include Brazilian beaches and their golden-skinned “babes and hunks.”
We went all around the world throwing out examples of language, cuisine and eating habits, music, dancing, and attire that popped into mind and laughing at some of the ridiculous, nonsensical things that we came up with. But when we got to Guatemala, we reflected on the music–traditional marimba. Verdict? Not sexy. How about the traditional clothing in the indigenous villages? Maybe just a little tiny bit sexy, but not really, AND it would depend on which we were talking about as the traditional clothing changes with the region in Guatemala. Hmm. Maybe the dancing? We thought about the traditional two-step slow box dance that is part of the Maya culture and we burst into giggles–definitely NOT sexy.
Upon realizing that something was missing or that there existed some factor in the Guatemalan culture that prevented sexiness from having free roam, we were prompted to explore the WHY behind the absence of sexy. Based on the idea that a person’s sexuality is linked very closely with his or her identity, and according to our experience, research, and observations that the identity and role of a woman in Guatemalan society are dictated to her from an early age, the opportunities for a woman to confidently express herself and take ownership of her body are few and far between. In what I sometimes pessimistically refer to as a “blame the woman” society, most women wouldn’t dare to tread near the lines of sensuality for fear of what might happen to them–and those who have dared have likely faced unpleasant consequences.
The way I like to describe Guatemala’s “blame the woman” society is as follows: Men hold the power, make the decisions, and take the credit for most things while dumping the responsibility, blame, and consequences on the women. (Please keep in mind that this is a generalization and that not all men in Guatemala play into this system, but it is common.) A middle-aged Guatemalan woman I met–whose husband is a kind, successful, and down-to-earth Guatemalan doctor–who lives in Antigua, one of the most progressive towns in Guatemala (likely due to the high tourism traffic to the area) shared some of her experiences with me, explaining that in the world she grew up in and is still a part of, it works like this: If a child has a positive trait such as good looks or intelligence, he must have gotten those traits from his father; however, if a child is ugly, dumb, misbehaved, or the like, the child definitely takes after its mother. This 40-something-year-old woman went on to explain to me how she is afraid to walk through the streets of Antigua alone or with much skin showing (which is why she always carries a scarf) so as not to attract much male attention or put herself at risk of being harassed in any way.
Another prime example of this mindset is regarding the man and woman who started renting space in the same house where I was renting after Tayra and Ozman (my original roommates there) moved into their own home early on during my service. Everyone in town knew that Don Marco, the man, who was in his mid-forties, had a wife and three teenage children in Chimaltenango, a city about two hours away from San Andrés. When Don Marco and Katy (pronounced “KAH-tee”), the young woman who was half his age at 22 or 23, moved in together, the whole town would gossip about what a “whore” Katy was for being involved with a married man. One day, Katy opened up to me about their story and went on and on about how terrible Don Marco’s wife was and how she could never please Don Marco and that the collapse of their marriage was her fault anyway because she was involved with another man. I couldn’t care less about the finger-pointing, but what struck me here was that even the women blame the other women. Hello?!? Who is the common factor here? Don Marco, perhaps? Doesn’t he have any accountability in the situation?? Of course not. Why would he? He held a prominent position in town, working for the justice of the peace, so he revered himself as God-like and pretty much had the last say in everything; the majority of the community respected him and the power he held. I co-rented in that space with Don Marco and Katy for a year and a half, during which time I had the opportunity to study machismo on a daily basis, thanks to them.
Machismo is prominent throughout the Latino culture, and other relatable mindsets can be seen in different cultures across the world. According to an online definition, machismo is a term that originated in Spain and is defined as “a strong or exaggerated sense of manliness; an assumptive attitude that virility, courage, strength, and entitlement to dominate are attributes or concomitants of masculinity.” Some synonyms that pop up include male chauvinism and sexism. Virility is to a man as fertility is to a woman–related to the capability and power to procreate. To break down how virility plays a part in machismo, the interpretation is that “macho” men believe that biologically fathering a child is a demonstration of their masculinity; the more children they have, the more “manly” they believe they are. Think about that for a second. (This particular factor will come up again later in this chapter.)
When the Spanish arrived to Guatemala in 1524, they brought their customs and ideologies–such as Catholicism and said machismo–with them and began to integrate those with the traditions and beliefs stemming from the Maya civilization that already existed in the territory. The Maya already had their own male-dominated governing system so the Spanish influence only compounded the strength and consistency of female oppression in Guatemala.
While there is evidence dating back to to the years 700-400 BC of ancient civilizations in Meso-America (Mexico’s Yucatán region as well as modern-day Central America), it wasn’t until the first few centuries AD that the history of the early Maya began to be recorded. The Maya inhabited regions of what are now Mexico (as far north as the Yucatán region), Honduras, Guatemala, and even El Salvador. Although there is some evidence of one female leader implementing an important ceremony in the third or fourth century in the Tikal region of Guatemala, every other documented ruler was a man. Upon visiting the ancient Maya ruins of Copán in Honduras with Kathy shortly after finishing our Peace Corps service, we learned that there were only kings who ruled the land. King after king after king. The kings were married, of course, and often had up to 20 wives with sometimes up to five times that many concubines, but acknowledgement of any queens in the society is rare and essentially nonexistent.
The idea that a woman’s role in society is mainly to be a possession, a baby-maker, and a source of entertainment (translation: sex object) for men has been in play for centuries–and even millennia–and has become a deep-rooted behavior across the region. To set the stage for the rest of this chapter, this is what the women of Guatemala, as well as any woman who travels to the region, are up against as this belief system continues to be prevalent.
Motherhood is revered in Guatemala. Especially common in the rural parts of the country, the men work in the fields toward agricultural production and the women are generally homemakers, raising the children, cooking, and tending to chores inside the home. Women can also contribute to the household income in various ways that may include selling produce at the local market, tending cattle for dairy production which they will subsequently sell as milk or cheese to their neighbors, acting as the community baker, or making woven mats and other handicrafts to sell. No matter what odd jobs a woman may pick up around her community, it is understood that her obligations as a mother (and a wife) are expected to be her top priority. With a pre-destined identity that is linked so tightly to motherhood, many young girls and women are raised to believe that it is what they are supposed to do. In a society in which the women have been conditioned that the only time their voices matter is once they achieve that heralded state of motherhood, when it comes to their identities, it is almost as if they have no say in the matter. Most fall in line, especially when they haven’t had the freedom, encouragement, or means to explore what other opportunities might exist for them.
I’m not bashing on motherhood at all here. I have the utmost respect for it. I’m just saying that women have a lot more to contribute, and some women don’t even have the desire or the capability to have children anyway. So then what? Are they worthless in society? Absolutely not. Mother or not, all women have ideas, passions, and minds of their own that could lead to a greater sense of fulfillment in their lives as well as creating a positive impact on their communities if only they were allowed to embrace and express those things.
Speaking of opportunities, there exists a vicious cycle in these rural Guatemalan communities that makes it nearly impossible for women to have any options besides motherhood. The cycle goes something like this: a teenage girl gets pregnant so she usually drops out of school to take care of her child and most of the time get married to the baby’s daddy, who is very like also still a teenager, if not just a couple years older. Once the girl drops out, she usually becomes dependent on her husband or baby daddy for financial support, which also puts a large amount of pressure on the young man. In order to support his family, the man will seek work either locally or in another town. Infidelity is extremely common and even openly accepted throughout many parts of Guatemala. I have a few theories on how and why this is such a common behavior, one of which includes the likelihood that when unmarried teenagers end up getting pregnant together, it may have been due to curiosity and exploration combined with a lack of [sexual] education as opposed to them actually selecting each other as life partners forever when they are only teenagers; now both are “stuck” because they share a child and in some cases, feelings of resentment or being “trapped” can arise in either or both parties. My other theories are related to machismo/entitlement, as well as the fact that there is no one stopping adultery from happening. Even if a woman is aware that her husband is unfaithful, she usually doesn’t have the option to leave; because she dropped out of school, she likely wouldn’t qualify for a job in which she could support herself and her children, so she has to stay.
A thought related to divorce crossed my mind as I have been reflecting on this topic. We hear that divorce rates are rising rapidly, particularly in western/modern societies. People speculate that divorce is so common now because people no longer respect the sanctity of the sacrament of marriage, they rush into getting married, or they just “don’t attend church or put God first in their lives anymore.” I would argue that a large factor in divorce rates is that women actually have more economic opportunity and rights in society than they ever have before in the developed world. Women no longer have to depend solely on their spouses, and on the flip side, men do not feel so much pressure to care for the family because more and more women are working. So if a relationship is just “not working,” divorce will not destroy the other spouse’s or children’s opportunity at basic survival. Perhaps I’m going out on a limb here, but seeing the dysfunctional state of many marriages in Guatemala–with factors that would 100% lead to divorce in the States (for example, abuse, addiction, and adultery)–has convinced me that the lower divorce rates in Guatemala exist simply because women have no place else to go and they often end up sacrificing their pride, their passions, and their freedom for the sake of their children.
In the cases when a man is being unfaithful to his wife, nine times out of ten, she is very well aware of it, even if he hides it well. These women aren’t ignorant to the reality of these situations. However, they have developed their own coping mechanisms to salvage as much of their pride as they possibly can despite their powerlessness in the situation. One such coping mechanism a woman may use is rejoicing in the fact that she is “first woman” or the “first choice” (as opposed to the woman on the side) which means that she gets rights to the home, to the children, and to the man’s income. As long as she and the kids are being supported, she is content. These situations tend to breed an over-abundance of competition, jealousy, gossip, and blaming among women. In other cases involving infidelity, women are also willing participants, seeking an emotional and physical connection with another man as a way of reclaiming a sense of power and self-worth. Unfortunately, the prevalence of infidelity has led to it becoming an acceptable–and almost expected!–habit throughout Guatemalan society, consequently leading to undercurrents of mistrust and insecurity lurking close at hand. And I did not even venture into the realms of abuse and addiction…
Lack of education combined with infidelity results in many unplanned pregnancies and babies born out of wedlock; in the rural societies this combination can have a devastating ripple effect starting at the child, and moving outward to the parents, the families, and even the community as a whole. It all plays into the vicious cycle I mentioned before. There are so many elements in the web of it all that it is hard to explain it, but when you get down to the science of it, the process of natural selection demonstrates that overpopulation leads to a competition for limited natural resources such as food and water (i.e. more babies leads to greater financial stress because it costs money to provide the necessary resources for their survival). Nature’s way of managing population growth is through hunger, disease, war, and natural disasters–all of which can drastically reduce populations in a short period of time. Malnutrition and disease are rampant in poor countries and are the main reason that Peace Corps Volunteers are invited to such countries in the first place.
Unfortunately, when there are so many mouths to feed in a family, young boys and girls are often taken out of school in order to start working to contribute to the family’s income (usually boys) or help around the house (typically girls). The lack of access to education contributes to the cycle repeating itself. A child born to a married man and a woman who is not the man’s wife also suffers from lack of resources because the man’s “first woman” (a.k.a. his wife) keeps the family income within the household to feed her children; not only does a child born from an extramarital affair miss out on its father being present in his or her life, but he or she also likely gets shorted on financial resources and educational opportunities. Women also experience manifestations of the stress of having many children in various ways, including the extra workload around the house as well as the physical wear and tear on their bodies; women who have had 8, 11, or 13 children or more are practically guaranteed to have a prolapsed uterus–requiring a full hysterectomy–by the time they reach late middle-age. (I witnessed this health problem firsthand, multiple times during my service.) Men have their own sets of problems and seek outlets to cope with the stress as well.
There is really no clear-cut cause and effect here; instead it is an extensive web of poverty connecting with machismo connecting with lack of education connecting with deep-rooted gender roles connecting with economic disparity and racism connecting with overpopulation connecting with the psychology of the human condition and a struggle for power and resources which all play into that vicious cycle. There are so many elements that it is hard to explain or define. In my opinion, education is the key to change and giving as many people as possible access to more and more education is really the best solution. If people are equipped with knowledge and understanding, they are more likely to feel empowered to make important life decisions and contribute to their communities in a positive manner.
As health educators in rural Guatemalan communities, many of my fellow PCVs and I tackled some major health concerns within our towns and villages by educating and training locals (mainly women) under the “train the trainer” model so that these ladies could continue educating their communities after we PCVs had left. Among topics ranging from respiratory infections to nutrition to prevention of parasites to reproductive health, we taught interactive lessons that applied to these families’ everyday lives.
Some of the most eye-opening topics for us PCVs we’re those related to reproductive health and family planning. A favorite family planning health lesson activity was one where two “moms” are racing back and forth collecting beans from a bowl with a single spoon on one side of a room and “feeding” their children who are waiting on the other side of the room. Both moms have equal resources–same size spoon, same kind of beans, same amount of time; at the end of the race, it is clear that the two moms exerted the same amount of energy. The difference is that one mom has 3 children and the other mom has 7 children. When the “children” add up the beans in their hands, they fall into three categories depending on how many beans they have: healthy, undernourished, or malnourished (and therefore dead, unable to survive). The mom with three children always ends up with all healthy kids; on the other hand, the mom with seven usually has one or two healthy kids, a couple of hungry ones, and one or two who are so malnourished that they are considered “dead.” The women loved this activity and understood the point: it is better to use resources to raise fewer, but all healthy, children than it is to distribute those same resources among many children and end up with having to spend more money on the problems associated with malnourished kids–or suffer from the grief of losing a child.
Although the women had a firm grasp on the concept of family planning, introducing birth control methods was an entirely different animal. First of all, to bust a “myth” about Guatemala, while it is considered a Catholic nation, the majority of the rural population has religious beliefs that are a combination of non-Catholic Christianity mixed with traditional Maya practices, so the Catholic stance on pre-marital sex and birth control does not apply. (Catholicism is much more widespread among the ladino populations in the bigger cities in Guatemala.) Per the government, multiple forms of birth control methods (including birth control pills, shots, condoms, etc.) are available for free–did you get that? FREE!!–from the public health centers that exist in the centers of all of the municipalities across the nation. So not only were we spreading education about the importance of family planning, how the female body works, why women have menstruation, how pregnancy occurs (yes, birds and bees because very few women in rural Guatemala know more than the basics), and how the different methods work (including the Natural Family Planning method), we also made it clear that access to almost any kind of birth control method a family could want was available and free. So why, you may wonder, was family planning a major issue?
This is where the “virility” aspect of machismo comes back into play. Remember that impregnating a woman is a seen as a demonstration of manliness, therefore birth control is viewed as a threat to manhood. Some of my PCV friends shared their family planning health talk experiences with me, revealing that many of the women in their groups were afraid to use birth control because it would pose a risk to her safety if her husband found out. We encouraged that family planning should be something that a husband and wife sit down and work out together, but the women insisted that if a woman proposed using birth control of any form, her husband would assume that it is because she is being unfaithful to him. End of story. A man is proud of “what he can do” and “where he’s been” when he gets a woman pregnant. The good news is that slowly, as the education is spreading, more and more progressive men are open to the education and are starting to make changes as partners with their wives.
It was heartbreaking to witness the effects of machismo on the community in other ways beyond family planning. For example, in the tiny village of Pajquiej, an hour’s walk from where I lived in town, I was teaching a nutrition course and facilitating cooking classes with a small group of women. We held the class once a week in the village, each lady taking a turn at lending her kitchen and wood for each cooking class so the cost would be shared. After two or three classes, one woman, Doña Francisca, stopped showing up. When I asked the other ladies where she was, they reported that she was at home and that her husband, who was living and working illegally in the United States, had told her that he didn’t want her attending the classes anymore.
The especially sad part was that in the tiny village of Pajquiej, two children had been deemed “malnourished” by the health center nurses and one of those kids was Doña Francisca’s son. Both of her boys, actually, displayed signs of slow growth and brain development and everyone in the community could see it. So while we were holding classes five minutes away from her house, she was, in obedience to her husband, staying home with her two kids, “safe” from the influence of outsiders. It was amazing to me how much control this guy had and how both he and Doña Francisca were so prone to act on their fear: she probably feared that if she did not respect his wishes, he would cut off the financial support and stop sending her money he made in the States–on which she depended; he, on the other hand, maybe feared any change that could result in him losing control of his wife and kids. The situation was very conflicting to everyone involved, especially the other ladies in the group as they could see the benefits of the course and the education and wished that Doña Francisca could also have access to them, however, they understood the system of submission to one’s husband, even if his reactions did stem from a place of ignorance and fear.
Amidst a society where where the men generally have the last word and women are accustomed to being reprimanded by their husbands, it is almost as if the women do not even realize they have voices of their own. Especially common in the rural parts of the country, women cover their faces or mouths with their hands while they speak, embarrassed to speak up or have any attention drawn to themselves, or afraid to take ownership of an opinion of their own, or perhaps it is just out of shyness. Women in Guatemala do not often receive positive feedback when they speak up for themselves, and it has just become easier and safer all around for women to fall into place as part of a collective movement with what the other women are doing and be quiet in the presence of men.
In addition to not feeling like they have permission to speak up for themselves or be different in any way, women in Guatemala also have to deal with constant harassment directed toward them from men. A woman can barely walk down the street without being bothered or getting cat calls which means that when a woman leaves her home, there is an element of fear and anxiety that accompanies her everywhere as she must stay alert and look serious and focused in order to dissuade a male perpetrator from attempting to grope her or smacking his lips in her direction. For female travelers, the probability of harassment increases due to such factors as being light-skinned, foreign/exotic, and going anywhere by herself–and particularly without a man accompanying her. Foreign women are especially targeted because a) they stand out and b) they are more likely to be unprepared to deal with the harassment in the way that Guatemalan women have grown accustomed to.
Female PCVs hated that we had to deal with these gender barriers on a regular basis. Male PCVs had it so much easier than female PCVs in the sense that people in the community just listened to them when they spoke so they never really had to push their way and exercise the same persistence that we women had to in order to get some movement with our work; furthermore, the male PCVs did not usually realize the extent of harassment that the females had to cope with because they only knew about it through our stories, rarely from being a firsthand witness. When boys were around, Guatemalan men behaved.
I was originally placed in my site, San Andrés Sajcabajá, with a male partner. We initially worked together, but after a few months, we decided to split up the work in the communities and go about things separately. I experienced a phase where I was receiving random calls from anonymous men who not only realized that my site mate and I were not and had never been a couple, but also refused to confess how they got my phone number; with negative feedback from me, the calls only lasted for a couple weeks, but I was shocked by how quickly the men swarmed as soon as there was no other man in the picture. Although that stopped, working and living as a single woman in a small rural Guatemalan town continued to have its challenges.
I didn’t realize it right away, but I had a subconscious reaction to the unwanted attention around town. One day, a little over a year into my service, I stopped by the health center to check in with a couple of the health educators and make my rounds to say hello to everyone. By that point, I was working mainly out in the communities and with groups around town so I didn’t need to go to the health center every day anymore.
That particular day, when I walked over to greet the vaccination specialist, Rolando, he looked me up and down and told me to my face that I was getting fat and that I shouldn’t put on anymore weight. My first reaction was shock. Granted, I had gained 8 pounds (which is not that much, really) in my first year of being in Guatemala, but since when was it his place to tell me how I should look? He wasn’t my father, brother, husband, or boss. (Not saying that any one of them should tell me what to do either, but just pointing out that he had a practically nonexistent personal relationship with me.) I wanted to say, “Hey, maybe you should keep an eye on your growing beer belly, too,” but I didn’t. I also wondered if he told his wife, who, at the time, was pregnant with their third child, that she was overweight as well. Comparison is not the point here, though. He made me feel as if it were supposed to be my job to look good for him and “stay fit” so I could stay pleasing to him. In response, I narrowed my eyes and, while glaring at him, defiantly stated, “I like my curves.” And then I left the health center, headed straight for home, walked into my room, shut the door, and cried for fifteen minutes straight.
It was true, I had gained weight. And I had been wearing a lot of frumpy, non-form-fitting clothing. I didn’t realize it until later, but it was a defense mechanism: I gained weight in order to ward off attention thinking that if I could make myself less attractive in some way, men would leave me alone. I guess it had the opposite effect. Unfortunately for women in Guatemala, any defiance or act of standing up for herself often results in the withdrawal of support from the person she confronted. That is both unprofessional and unfair. After that incident with Rolando, I started avoiding the health center as much as possible. He wasn’t the only one in there who gave off that vibe. There were others who would look me–and every other woman–quite obviously fantasizing about God knows what… While I had the choice to not show up there anymore, other women there did not. That was their paid work, Monday through Friday. They had no escape. For the most part, the married women were left alone and respected, but any single woman who showed up anywhere often resulted in the men acting like it was a free for all or a meat market, as if the woman automatically had a “welcome” sign plastered across her forehead that she didn’t know was there.
Until I lived in Guatemala and experienced machismo at its finest, I had never really learned how to appreciate men. Growing up in a household with an on-again, off-again single mother, being the only girl on the boys sports teams for many years up until I was in my mid-teens, and attending an all-girls high school where we had to go ask a boy to be our date if we wanted to attend a homecoming dance at our school breeded an “I can do it myself, I don’t need a man” attitude into my personality. Living and integrating into a society where women’s rights do not come automatically and where there is a constant fight against so many different factors to keeping a woman down really changed my perspective, though.
I didn’t realize that I had been living in such an uptight state while I was in Guatemala until I noticed during a short period of time that I was able to let my guard down and relax a little. The factor to my temporary state of peace and comfort, believe it or not, was men. It started during a vacation I took to Belize with Kathy, her boyfriend (and PCV) Frank, and our friend (former PCV) Pedro. Kathy and Frank were a couple, and while Pedro and I were not a couple, we were often seen together so for an entire week, I was left alone. Not a single guy tried to make a pass at me or cat call me simply for the fact that there was another man in my presence. (It worked both ways, actually, as I “stood in” with Pedro when a prostitute was trying to pick him up on New Years Eve! This is what good friends are for.)
A day or two after we returned from Belize, my little brother, Jeffrey, came to visit me for eight days. At the time, I was 25 and he was 19, but standing at 6’3″ with a nice beard starting to grow, he looked a lot older. My brother also loves to work out so his strong physique and the fact that was was nearly a foot taller than many Guatemalans probably intimidated everyone from a mile out. We had a couple good laughs at how everyone in my town thought he was my husband or boyfriend, but I really loved the fact that I felt like I had my own personal bodyguard while he was there. Then, shortly after Jeffrey left, Kathy’s mom, Carol, and her boyfriend, Don, arrived for a visit and invited me to join them for a week-long trip out to the east coast. Again, in Don’s presence, unwanted male attention was practically nonexistent. But as soon as I left Kathy, Carol, and Don to go back to my site, I was alone again and it all started back up immediately.
First, it was the middle-aged taxi driver who had been driving the four of us around all week and had been cordial to all of us the entire time. He drove me from the resort to the bus station and as soon as I got in the car with him (it was my first time alone in the car), he started commenting on my legs and how he liked how they looked, tried to get my phone number, and drove ridiculously slowly all the way to the station. All I could think was to ask questions about his wife and kids in the hopes that it would remind him that he was married with a family already. I couldn’t wait to get out of the cab! Once I boarded the bus, I sat in the very front seat by myself; across the aisle, the first and second rows were occupied by a man by himself in each row–both of whom were immediately staring at me and looking me up and down. My defense in this situation was to mildly befriend the bus driver, who was, in my mind, an objective party whose work involved holding some responsibility For his passengers. That ended up not being the best idea either because as soon as we arrived in Antigua after driving all day, he escorted me off the bus to my ride asking for my phone number the entire time.
All of a sudden, I had to be “on guard” again. I had forgotten how exhausting it could be because I had such a nice break from it! The following day as I was walking down a street in Antigua, a random guy on the opposite side of the street made a disgusting hand gesture toward me with a nasty look on his face. That was my breaking point. I did literally break down in tears once I rounded a corner because I felt so violated–even though the guy hadn’t even touched me. I had been a part of grope attempts before in Guatemala, most of which I had been prepared for, and the three times men laid an uninvited hand on me as I was walking in the street, I physically reacted by pushing or shoving those guys back, to their surprise. The third guy, who actually got a good grab on my butt when I wasn’t paying attention, was extremely shocked when I started running after him in the street, pounding on his arms and back when I could reach, and screaming at him that “my butt is not there for him to grab”!
The sad thing is that women live with this harassment on a daily basis. Many women are too surprised when they get groped to do anything back to the guy, plus there is the fear factor of not knowing whether the guy might be carrying a weapon combined with the acknowledgement that men are generally physically stronger than women. As far as self-protection goes, a woman has to be careful how she reacts if she is not in a secure location because no one knows what a man might do if a woman “offends” him with outright rejection. This behavior is not reprimanded and so it continues to be widespread, especially among young men although older men have no shortage of cat calls in their vocabulary. On the flip side, females are not encouraged to fight back, but instead, to just “let it happen.” And that mindset is not limited to harassment and groping–it goes way beyond that. Domestic violence, sexual assault, rape. “Let it happen.” “Don’t fight back. It’ll just make things worse.” Maybe they don’t say these things outright, but actions speak louder than words. The public ministry building in Santa Cruz del Quiché, the capital of the department, doesn’t even have a private room for women who come to report a rape or physical abuse; it is all done in a public area. Translation??? “Girls, you don’t matter enough to have rights to your personal space.”
To be continued…