Over the weekend, my family had invited over a couple of Argentine family friends. We spoke about a wide range of topics and eventually discussed the message behind international women’s day. They made a really good first impression, to say the least!
The father, Federico, spoke about machismo and why it was an antiquated way of thinking that only exposed the insecurities of the men that didn’t allow their wives to hang out with friends at night or forced them children they didn’t necessarily want. I asked then if there had been any events or marches for women’s day and his eighteen-year-old daughter looked at me with saddened eyes. She told me the stories that had plagues the newsstands in the days following March 8th when “intolerant feminists” had attacked and shooed men that had tried to join the topless women’s rights rally. There was also coverage of the woman who, with the help of a handful of other pink ski mask wearing women, staged “the abortion of christ” outside of a catholic church. A woman dressed as the Virgin Mary standing over a stream of blood stole the attention away from the entire day’s activities, events, and messages.. Regardless of what the messages of these violent scenes may be, I think that it deters from other pressing feminist issues that more people can identify with. What can violence achieve in an argument for understanding and equality?
The acts of these small groups of people acting out on their own beliefs that do not necessarily mirror the values of many feminists (and male feminists) in argentina will always gain more media attention. Unfortunately this continues to perpetuate negative stigmas associated with feminism and gives an inaccurate image of the group of women that feminism tries to help.
In Taiwan, I lived with girls that had never heard of feminism in the way that I knew it. That’s not to say that they weren’t feminists but they had never asked themselves if their situation was equal to that of the men in their country. They were expected to be good so that one day a man would marry them. Over the months that I lived with the girls and because of our girls-night-in conversations (which I imagine they thought were very mischievous) I recognized a great deal US relationship culture while learning about theirs.
I was the California girl from the movies that had already had boyfriends (plural, they noted) and shamelessly kissed boys that were never my boyfriends at all. They were raised to understand, they explained, that they were to get married to someone that was stable to please their grandparents and families. Often, they asked about relationship culture in the US. Describing the culture was much harder to do than I expected simply because of the incongruences of what we believed to be true. They took days considering the strange things that emerged from my mouth like, “You don’t have to date someone with the intent to marry them” or “Dating, for many people, is a casual experience – not an obligation”. I hadn’t realized how privileged my perspective was until I saw the reactions from girls raised on the other side of the world from me.
I think that in the US it is generally accepted that an adult woman can date whomever she wants regardless of her family’s opinion. It is also assumed that a relationship may (and perhaps should) be developed initially based on mutual feelings of attraction. In Taiwan, a relationship is supposed to be a strategic step towards an established life that would please parents and grandparents.
“Because he is a man, he will not say his mother’s name”.
I spend an hour a day as a conversation partner with the American Language Institute.The majority of the students this semester come from Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the U.A.E and, aside from a few women, most are (very wealthy) young men. Through our conversations, I have learned a lot about what Ayman, Faisal, Naïf, and my other new friends hold to be deeply set beliefs concerning women, politics, and priorities.
From a western cultural context, some of the customs or traditional signs of respect described to me to be by these young men would seem like indications of blatant sexism. During one of our group conversations, I had asked Faisal for mother’s name and suddenly the entire group erupted in laughter. “Ana! Faisal will only say his father’s name!” I was shocked (discreetly and internally) that these boys would deny their mothers their identity but, after some explanation, I learned that traditionally, a mother’s name was not said aloud in public in order to safeguard her from name-calling or possible ridicule in the public eye. Specifically, men might not say their mothers name as it implies weakness. I could not get an elaboration on this point, however, the students did further explain to me that many of today’s young adults say their mother’s names aloud and, most importantly to me, are proud to do so.
In US and Latin American culture, someone’s name is a powerful and essential tool that establishes some identity. So I asked myself; is this change in the approach to a woman’s name altered because of natural liberalization over time or is it a western influence? Both? Regardless of their stance on the issue, the young men respect each other’s decisions about how they chose to honor their families. Learning about different cultural approaches to identity is vital to progressive feminist discourse.