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Living in A “Machista” Culture – Things I am Learning   1 comment

Many people describe the part of this part of Latin America as a “machista” culture. I readily admit, understanding what this means, and how I fit in, is a work in progress. For example, I still have trouble with women cleaning public restrooms, while I am taking care of business. It was explained to me that cleaning toilets is women’s work. No self-respecting man would do it. My female friends say this is a “machismo” culture because men are un faithful, do not take care of them and spend too much time in the streets. The “machista” dynamic is also evidenced by the fact that men do not give up their seats to women on public buses. In fact they rush to sit down paying no attention to the women around them. One day, while riding the bus here in Barranquilla, my girlfriend hid her face while I chastised a father for encouraging his young son to sit in a seat reserved for disabled, elderly and/or women with babies while an elderly woman stood just three feet away. Ufff!!!

But one of the most glaring attacks to my consciousness is the significant number of women who are caring for children without economic or emotional support from the men responsible for their children’s birth. The father of my girlfriend’s child is a doctor. He gives her no money to care for their daughter. He never sees his daughter. He never calls his daughter. And by her account he has perhaps two other children who are suffering from the same level of abandonment. The tough thing for me to deal with is that this is more the norm than the exception.

What I am finding are lots of women looking for someone to either take care of, or do things for, them and their children. A few months ago I was introduced by a friend to a young lady who said had interest in me. Though I believed that this woman was too young for me, I thought that we could be friends. I had a lunch party, and invited them all, including her mother and son, to join me. We all had a nice time. Before leaving this young lady made it known that she wanted me to loan her the money to buy her a laptop computer. She assured me that I was special in her life and that repaying me would be a high priority for her. During my brief time here I also have been asked to: buy someone’s child shoes; pay for a mother’s medical visit; loan money; pay for someone’s hair appointment; buy medicine; buy food; and to pay tuition. I have also been robbed by a woman who, along with her son, I befriended.

One could say that these things have come to pass quite simply as a result of women trying to take advantage of a North American who has more than they do. But I think it goes way deeper than that. What complicates this simplistic view, at least for me, is that: women earn significantly less for doing the same jobs; most do not aggressively pursue economic support from the fathers of their children; they often have grown-up in households with strict rules about gender roles; because of internal conflicts, low job rates, and homosexuality, there are way less marriage eligible men available to them; and the views of the Catholic Church on relationships and contraception have a vice like gripe on the culture’s values and women’s behaviors. All of this perhaps would not be so bad if this combination of social, religious and political dynamics did not have significant numbers of women scuffling in all manners of ways to pay rent, keep the utilities on, pay for clothing, buy food and care for their children.

A number of years ago, Warren Buffet coined the phrase “the great ovarian lottery.” His belief was that his great fortune resulted from the random phenomenon of the time and place of his birth. Though I grew up poor in West Virginia, I have no memory of going without a meal, unless it was by my own choice. I am not sure how I would make it if I were born in the outskirts of Managua or in a pueblito outside of Pereria, female and poor. What would my life be like if I had grown up in a household where my father either abandoned me or paid too much attention to my well-developed body? What would my life be like if education was not a real option? What would be my chances for survival, happiness or wealth? I am blessed to have been born during the civil rights era in the United States of America – one of the wealthiest countries in the world – during a time where America’s guilt and the world’s view of our racist society collided to create opportunities for me to be educated and advance.

Because of the path I have traveled, I cannot simply say it is people, women, trying to take advantage. For me one of the vestiges of this “machista” culture, like the vestiges of a racist culture, is the day-to-day struggle that is the life of many women and children. Perhaps it would not be so bad if the dependence on men to take care of things was not being undermined by the men who only take of themselves. Certainly, this is not the story of all men here. There are great fathers. There are great husbands here also. However, they also are undermined by the men who have learned how, and are accustomed to, having their cake and eating it too.

My heart aches for those that worry about from where their next meal will come. My brain does not get how a person working ten hours a day making $6000 a year while caring for one to two children seeks to make it without any economic and emotional support from their ex-boyfriend or ex-spouse. Families are the safety net. People pitch-in to care for each other. Fortunately, in both Costa Rica and Colombia, banks and the government are making homes more available to more people. Unfortunately, neither country has a real system for educating and training the poor. And the growing economies in both countries still have not figured out ways to level the playing field for women and children. That is the sadness I feel here in this place. There are millions of children in poverty. For me one of the reasons is that the “machista” culture reinforces that it is the man’s right to not take care of his children. A right that is reinforced by women who have learned that taking care of children is their responsibility. And their responsibility alone!

Posted September 29, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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