Gender Relationships in Mexico: Is it Really Sexism?

This is a question that I’ve pondered many times over the years as I’m living in Mexico. It’s not something that I can make generalizations about, since generalizations are, by nature, inaccurate. I can say that the way men and women relate to each other in Mexico is totally different than in the U.S. and Canada.

I can’t make generalizations about Mexico, but I can try to put into words something about my own experiences, which are mine and it’s my prerogative to describe the way I wish. (That’s for all those starry-eyed-Mexico-defenders who hate it when anyone writes anything that can be perceived as critical of Mexico when we all know darn well that the U.S. isn’t perfect either.)

My Background Gender Experiences in the Pacific Northwest

Before I moved to Mexico I worked as a biological technician on wild-fish related projects. Most of the people I worked with were men. Some of my co-workers expected me to fail at backing a trailer, operating a boat, etc. They didn’t provide adequate instruction, due to this, and so I didn’t learn to do those things as well as I’d like to have. Yes, sexism existed for me. On the other hand, I’ve been remembering that some of my co-workers really knew how to walk the talk of working together equally (but fairly). Three men, particularly, gained a place in my heart forever because they were truly, honestly, open to me for who I was, with no sexual undertones.

My Perspective After 6 Years in Mexico

I’m loosing contact with men. I say hello to friend’s spouses, but that’s it. There is such a culture of respectfully avoiding someone else’s spouse in Mexico, that it would be rude to try to converse with someone else’s husband. At work, people expect me to do well, but I’m teaching. I have no desire to try to work in a male-dominated field such as engineering or biology as I did back home. I often feel like Mexican men take pleasure an any “evidence” they see of their “natural superiority.”

I’m really curious to know if men are generally paid more for the same work at our school. I wish I could analyze the payroll by gender, but I don’t have access to that information. As a woman teacher I am expected to enjoy teaching children and people seem surprised when I say I really can’t stand it. By the same token, I’ve seen a man be pushed out out teaching little children because the people hiring him couldn’t imagine it.

Our neighbors always display the someone-else’s-spouse-avoidance. My neighbor, who is 40 years older than me, won’t talk to me more than a couple of sentences if there isn’t a witness around. He will not come near my front door if my husband isn’t their. Women neighbors come to the gate, call my name, then ask for my husband if they need to talk to him. They don’t call him directly. Once, one did call him directly, but he told me later that she asked if I’m jealous and if I’d get mad. Aparently, she isn’t well-schooled in the trust-your-husband-to-be-a-responsible-person theory. My friends say “hi” to my husband and that’s it. I have one friend who does talk to my husband on the phone at length–she’s Italian.

It starts early, of course. For example, people joke to tiny children, asking them if they have a girlfriend or boyfriend yet (which, to me, implies that that’s the only relationship they could possibly have with someone of the opposite sex.)

So, lately I’ve been getting nostalgic about my old co-workers. [Let me warn you. When you move to another culture, you tend to get very nostalgic about lots of things.]

A Tribute to Three Good Men

I worked with these men on two different crews out of the same office. We developed a relationship of mutual trust and understanding that was a source of security for me (and which I have not experienced in Mexico, but have gotten close to with other men at other jobs in the U.S.).

I would have gone places with these guys that I would never go with any co-worker in Mexico. I would have gone on a flat-bottomed, underpowered electrofisher boat in an unfamiliar section of the Columbia River with fluctuating water levels after dark with these guys and not been scared–oh wait. We did that. I would have constructed heavy, clunky equipment and tried to anchor it in cold, flowing water with only a wrench and a mallet–oh wait. We did that. I would have spent hours alone in the woods or on H. N. Reservation with no road to walk out on–oh wait. We did that. I would eat out together ever day we were on the road and always ask what kind of lettuce was in the salad–oh yes, I did that. These guys were real saints. They never teased me about having to pee every 45 minutes, though I think one of them got his revenge by putting all the sampling equipment into a huge, double long cooler that was impossible for me to carry, or maybe he just couldn’t imagine not being as big as Paul Bunyan. One of them taught me to drive a 4-wheeler and sat behind me, putting along in first gear, for a couple of miles, and never cracked one girly joke. No one ever dissed my driving and they never retaliated when I told them there was too much testosterone around during the days we were filling, tying, loading, and stacking sand bags (I wasn’t a saint. They’d be the first ones to tell you that), though they may have reminded me not to sexually harass them.

Sanity Man*, Mr. Pontificate, and Go-go-go I think of you often. Sanity Man, I wish we could have worked in a team of two more often because I would have learned to operate a boat and back a trailer like a whiz if those other (alcoholics) hadn’t been around scoffing, hurrying, and judging me. Thanks for making me feel like a normal human being. Mr. Pontificate I learned a lot from you–about how to be a good biologist, and (other’s may be surprised) I’m a better wife, thanks to your sharing about being a good husband. I need a few more rides out to H. Creek now that I’m a parent because I’d love to know what you’ve got figured out about being a parent. Go-go-go I loved figuring out how we were going to get things done together. I really got to participate in creative, problem solving with you. Also, thanks for letting me take lunch breaks 😉 Some of my favorite field-blooper stories that I still tell my husband while on long road trips come from our adventures. Remember that “monster” we saw — but didn’t see — in the dense understory in that wetland on Willipa NWR?

Back to Reality in Mexico

The other day I was in the back seat of a taxi with my son. My husband and the taxi driver were making general conversation in the front seat. The taxi driver said something that I found interesting and I made a comment. I got no response. They just didn’t expect me to say anything. I’m sick of it. My husband tells me that he just didn’t hear me, but I say that just goes to show that there was no expectation that I would converse.

My husband has been arguing at length with a neighbor who has this whole theory that women can’t weld. He uses as evidence, the fact that you never see a woman welding (in Mexico, of course. Ironic he picked welding for his example, considering the widespread “Rosie the Riveter” posters up in the U.S.). My husband tells him that if someone would teach her, she could weld, but so far the logic of that one hasn’t won my neighbor over. Go-go-go would have gladly taught me to weld, though I chose not to because I didn’t want to be welding up fish traps for the next spawning season. Recently, I re-strung an outdoor chair with plastic when the seat got brittle and broke from so much sun exposure. My Mexican neighbors, men and women alike, expressed real surprise that I could do it. Sheesh.

On the other hand, in Mexico I’ve felt no pressure to carry extremely heavy things since moving to Mexico and I feel that I’m expected to be a woman–which I am. Sometimes in the U.S. women feel pressure to be like men.

So, this blog entry could be discounted as a thinly disguised therapy session for a woman who is nostalgic about her good old days, or it could be seen as an interesting insight into a huge topic that even anthropologists would be crazy to try to figure out. I hope you learned more about Mexico than you did about me.

*Their names have been changed to protect their identities.

Mr. Pontificate, I’m sure you’ll know who you are. If you read this, pass it on to Sanity Man and Go-go-go.

1 comment

  1. ShrillBlog.co.uk Nov 17

    Heyy this is interesting – we just had a submission from a girl living in Mexico about her experience of sexism there – perhaps have a look and see if it correlates with your experience: http://shrillblog.co.uk/2011/mexican-perspective-myth-%E2%80%9Cvirginal-mother-mary%E2%80%9D-2/

    All the best,

    Dominic
    Editor, Shrillblog

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