There are few times that I complain about living in Mexico. There are even fewer things that bother me about living here. Generally, I love everything about the country and the city. However, at times living in Mexico is like confronting gender roles as they were in the 1960s. Here it is normal to live your entire life with your parents until you get married. This dilemma is addressed in a body of work by Spanish/US/Mexican based (part of the year) artist Armando Miguelez. Miguélez created a series of t-shirts and stickers with the phrase estudio artes mientras me caso (I will study art until I get married). It was a funny and ironic way to address the phrase that he heard everywhere throughout his time at university in Puebla, Mexico. Here women go to University from high school, and work until they get married and have babies, after which you spend most of your life raising children, maintaining the home, and keeping the husband happy. The irony is that raising the children means overseeing the nanny; maintaining the home really entails managing the staff that come to do the dirty work like the maid who comes once a week to clean; and keeping the husband happy usually means turning a blind eye as he screws his secretary in one of the many hourly hotels hidden across the city.
While this is not the case for every one in every marriage, this is certainly the common societal trope.
Moving here initially in 2004, I was totally shocked by these roles and how Mexico seemed to have escaped the entire feminist revolution. Mexican based, Scottish artist Katri Walker plays on this idea of Machismo in her video State of the He/Art, speaking the lyrics of a 1980s British pop song So Macho with a perfectly still and unaffected face. Walker addressed the absurdity of Machismo in a post feminist-culture. Yet honestly, why should any type of women’s liberation happen? While the husband is screwing the secretary, the wife stays happy with her babies being disciplined by nannies in her beautiful home, comfortable car, and gorgeous possessions. After a certain point (mainly when the babies come) the career goes out the window, as do personal goals and a certain amount of dignity. Even living here now people are shocked when I tell them that at the ripe old age of 30 I am not married, pay my own bills, have no desire to have babies, and would much rather live in a comfortable two bedroom apartment alone than with a partner. People are even more shocked to find out that I take my own laundry to get washed, clean my own apartment, and have absolutely no desire to quit my career anytime soon.
Additionally, there is the issue of objectification. In the United States I am quite possibly the most average person to walk the streets. I am of average height, size, skin color, and hair color. I am neither overweight nor noticeably thin, and I literally never receive a second glance on the street, nor would I ever be the girl accused of stopping traffic.
All of that, however, is totally different in Mexico.
With the average height being less than five feet tall, I am literally a walking giant. I never worry about falling or losing my balance on the subway because I can reach above everyone’s head and grab the handrail comfortably. I have, however, suffered unfortunate head trauma from walking straight into low awnings or door frames. My features have been called exotic, and most mistake me for Argentine, Italian, or Greek because my dark hair is in total contrast to my green eyes. I am literally stopped on the street regularly by people wanting to know where I am from. Somehow I’ve become accustomed to all of this. I’ve even become accustomed to the whistles and under-the-breath comments such as ay preciosa or venga mi reina. I have even become accustomed to the backhanded compliments that I receive when I respond to those asking where I am from, that: ” Yes, I am from the United States, the state of Texas, and yes, I am, in fact, a gringa.”
What I have not become accustomed to, however, are the times when I am literally grabbed, or manhandled by a group of drunk Mexican men at 4pm sitting at the table next to me in a restaurant (seriously, that happened just a few days ago). I’ve not gotten used to the fact that many businessmen do not recognize my time as being just as important as theirs because they have an urgent email coming from London that they absolutely must wait for, leaving me in the lobby for 20 minutes as I review my presentation and proposal one last time.
Perhaps the most astonishing thing though is how it has affected me personally in ways that I have never really noticed or expected. I find that my body language is different. I lower the intonation of my voice so no one will hear a foreign accent in any language. I dress differently: I wear large sunglasses to hide my eyes, I pull my hair back into a discreet ponytail, I slouch to loose a few centimeters from my height. Very recently I even paid for a gym membership—something exorbitantly expensive here—just to avoid being stared at while running outside.
With all the aforementioned going through my mind the past week I just happened to be engaged in a totally random conversation with a male friend when the gender issue came up. For him it was an unfortunate issue of timing when in the middle of the conversation he said, with joking sincerity, “It’s just that women want to be like men and it’s so funny.” I literally had to pick my jaw up from the floor.
Wait…WHAT? Are we back in 1975? I couldn’t hide my shock or my offense at the statement.
So let’s deconstruct this: I live alone. I am successful at what I do. I have no desire to be married. I want to be treated like a normal human being rather than have my gender thrown in my face every time I walk down the street. I would rather be me than present a masquerade of layered clothing simply to avoid being taken advantage of. Interesting how all of the aforementioned qualities are defined in someone else’s eyes as reasons to renounce my gender.
Just to be clear: there is not a single day where I ever wish to be a man. I would prefer to be the objectified rather than the gender responsible for objectifying throughout history. I would much rather travel through my own personal emotional rollercoaster every month if it means I am capable of empathizing, recognizing, and accepting the consequences of my decisions. I would much rather be considerate, caring, and have the built in, biological capability to multitask.
Sorry dudes, I hate to break it to you in such a trite manner, but this is not about a sexual revolution or gender equality in the workplace. This is literally about being a human being without roles and without judgment.
DISCLAIMER: This does not at all represent 100% of the population, just a vast majority. I have a ton of wonderful male friends in Mexico who are appalled to hear how we are treated as women and I have the utmost respect for them.
also by Leslie Castro
- "RIP" by Graham Dolphin at Lora Reynolds Gallery - June 18th, 2013
- Chatting with Sally Glass of Dallas' semigloss. Magazine - May 15th, 2013
- Triple Treat @ Unit B, San Antonio - April 28th, 2013
- Last Resort: Kelly O'Connor at Women and Their Work - April 27th, 2013
- Through the Eyes of Texas: An Interview with Annette Carlozzi and Simone Wicha - April 26th, 2013