Written by Natalia Knowlton of British Cherry. Reposted with permission.
It is a universal fact that feminism is the belief of equality between genders. Although women can relate to each other about the injustices they face in their daily lives, there are some injustices that not all women share. That has also become a universal fact; middle-class white feminists are not fighting for the same rights as Middle-Eastern feminists or African American Feminists. As I began studying feminism, I looked at it from very broad lens; how it affects women from all over the world. Sure I noticed that women had it quite differently depending on where they live, but I suppose I just saw how it affected women in "general" in North America. Whatever that meant. Then I started thinking about Hispanic Feminists. Being half Chilean and having lived there for half of my life, of course I had thought of the state of feminism in Chile, but I had missed out a big part. Hispanic women in general are very strong and independent women. They are feminists in so many levels, however, they do not use the F word to describe themselves, they probably don't even know what it actually means. You ask them what feminism is and they'll most likely say "Hairy women who hate men?” I'm not kidding, they will most likely say that. I started looking at my mother's family, all Chilean, and how feminism has occurred (without the F-word being spoken of course).
My maternal grandmother in Chile dropped out of school in grade five, never got an education, got married, and had five children. Obviously, her only "job" was to raise the children and clean the house while my grandfather brought home the bacon. My grandfather took advantage of his power and cheated on my grandmother multiple times, abused her physically and mentally, and never gave her the love and respect she deserved. She never left him because she had no education to get a decent job where she could feed five children. She was forced to stay with him until all of her children got married. Even when that happened, she still stayed with him. They finally got a divorce because my grandfather left her for another woman. My mother grew up watching this horrible domestic abuse and the horrible life my grandmother had because of her lack of power. My mother tells me that she became determined at a young age to get an education and be independent so she would never have to depend on a man the way her mother did. My mother was the only one, out of five children, to obtain a post-secondary education, travel outside of Chile, and work her ass off without the help of a man. She got married at age 21, to the love of her life who was Canadian (my dad), and moved to Canada with him. Then they had me (yay!). As soon as things weren't working in my parents' marriage, my mother filed for divorce. She moved back to Chile with me, as a single mother, and fought her way up to give me the best. She never had a boyfriend for ten years after that. She never saw men as a necessity, so to speak. She always said that if the right one came along, great, but she was not looking. She was always focused on her career and me. My mother taught me that it was crucial for me to be ambitious and to get a valuable education that could help me get ahead in life independently. There's no doubt that my mother has always been one of the greatest feminist role models for me.
Even though I first learned the true essence of feminism from my mother, she does not consider herself a feminist. Sure she'll say "I'm a feminist about some things, but not all. Men and women are different! I don't agree with feminists when it comes to that". That is her typical answer. And she only considers herself a feminist "about some things" thanks to my influence. Before that, she never even mentioned the word. So why is this? Why do we, especially Latinas, fear this word?
I think it's because of the strong sexism (el machismo) that still exists in Latin America, which is quite more substantial than in North America. Hispanic women have come a long way, but they only cared about legal equality between genders, not so much social equality. Most Hispanic mothers still raise their daughters thinking that they have to learn to clean and cook for their children and husband while being independent and having their job all at the same time. We're still taught to do things to be "desirable" to a man who might want to marry us. My mother taught me to get an education and be independent, but she also nags me about not knowing how to cook, since it is such a problem because apparently, I won't be able to feed my children (she expects four from me, yeah not happening). I even told her today "If I had been a boy, you wouldn't care if I didn't cook". She got mad at me for saying that but I made my point. And why is it that we have to learn to do things so we can "feed our children someday". Our society makes us think that the worst thing a man could do is kill someone, and the worst thing for a woman to do is to be a bad mother. As I was saying, my mother is still stuck on gender roles. She lives with her boyfriend now, and although he helps more than most Hispanic men around the house, I still think he doesn't do enough. It's always me or my mom. My mom never nags him about not cooking.
So...where do Latinas stand in feminism? I believe we are feminists at heart and we need to know the real meaning of that word. We need to know that we're more than we think we are. We're more valuable. We need to show men that we're equal and we're not their sexual objects (even though a lot of Hispanic women love to be whistled at on the streets). We need to know that it won't kill a man if he starts cooking or doing dishes. We need to stand up for who we are. We need to start embracing the label. We are feminists and we care about each other. We care about the advancement of women and society as a whole.
Summer of Feminista is a project where Latinas are sharing what feminism means to them. Positive. Negative. Academic statements. Personal stories. Learn more or how you can join the Summer of Feminista. This is a project of Viva la Feminista. Link and quote, but do not repost without written permission.