This time last year, The Miss Peru 2018 Beauty Pageant was the buzz on all social media platforms. All 23 contestants recited an alarming statistics on the rising violence against women in Peru, rather than stating their body measurements, as customary [4].

Amongst the tragedies exposed to the public, I wish to highlight three statistics that echoed in my mind while writing this blog post:

  • -Juana Acevedo, representing Lima, stated, “More than 70 percent of women in our country [Peru] are victims of street harassment.” [2]
  • -Bélgica Guerra, representing Chincha, stated, “65 percent of university women…are assaulted by their partners.”[2]
  • -Camila Canicoba, representing Lima, stated, “2,202 cases of femicide reported in the last nine years in my country [Peru].”[2]

In other words: Gender related harassment. Gender related assault. Gender related murder. Each form of violence increasing in its severity and occurrence against women. Stunned by the pageant’s act of positive rebellion, I began ruminating on these statistics and began to wonder: Why is this happening? Why haven’t we stopped it yet?

In search for answers to my ever-growing list of questions, I turned to healthy conversation with some of my Peruvian coworkers (both male and female), all of whom shared a similar disheartened explanation: “Peru is simply a patriarchal and machista society”.

For context, “patriarchy” takes the form of social organization in which power is held by men. While “machismo” can be defined by an exaggerated and toxic sense of masculinity, characterized by entitlement and dominance [3].

Initially, I was stunned and upset by my coworkers’ seemingly tolerant attitudes in the face of the patriarchy-machismo combo that keeps gender oppression alive in Peru; how could anyone be so disconnected with the injustice that could affect one’s mother, daughter, sister, professor, doctor etc.? I’m shy of completing 2 months of living in Ica and the normalization of women as subordinates to men is undeniably obvious to me now. I can’t help but feel a little defeated as I realize how large and how deeply rooted this injustice lies.

 

My supervisor Flor Salvatierra leading a recycling workshop to a 3rd grade classroom.

As mentioned in my volunteer blog profile, my time here in Peru grants me the opportunity to work with kids. To be fair, I wasn’t told that I’d be working with them until I got to Peru, and while the news made me nervous initially, they soon became the highlight of my every day. The students are the absolute sweetest human beings; greeting me with kisses on the cheek and tight hugs around the waist. They are always eager to go outside and work through the activities we’ve prepared for them. Many of the students have grown up on farms and are, therefore, savvy with the gardening equipment and quick to learn new planting/weeding/harvesting techniques. However, despite similar backgrounds and capabilities for their age, when we work in the orchards or play in their courtyards there’s an indistinguishable hum that goes like this:

  • -School boy, age 7: “You can’t give her a shovel, she’s a girl. She wouldn’t know what to do with it!”
  • -School boy, age 10: “She can’t push that wheelbarrow, its heavy! She’ll hurt herself!”
  • -School girl, age 6: “Valeria, you’re really good at soccer, how’d you learn how to run and play like a boy?
  • -School girl, age 8: “He tripped, and now he’s crying! What a girl!”
  • -School boy, age 7: “Valeria, why do you dress like a boy?” [Regarding my t-shirt, baseball cap and jogger pants]
  • -School girl, age 11: “I’m a girl, I can’t do it.”

I’m stumped, and rather disappointed by these remarks that reflect our negligence at raising the next generation of men and women. These kids are but the product of their environment, and their take on gender and the roles associated with them fall on us. They depict stereotypes that bind boys to prove their masculinity and be afraid of vulnerability, while simultaneously teaching our girls to limit themselves, for no reason other than their gender. I don’t believe these kids intended serious harm when expressing them, but microaggressions pile up, and I believe that they are the root cause to the gender disparity that leads up to the alarming statistics recited at the Miss Peru 2018 show.

I didn’t raise these kids myself, but considering I am a citizen of this world, I include myself in this shortcoming because, in one way or another, my choices have impacted their environment. It’s in the music that degrades women, the fashion that upholds the ideal standard of femininity and masculinity, the books and movies that cast women as the antagonists, and the media content that normalizes it all and fuels the gender divide all over the world.

Gender is not an easy conversation to have, but it is important and needs to be addressed to ensure the safety and equality of women and girls. To throw our hands up and accept this form of oppression as part of our “culture” is a self-destructive lie that hinders necessary change and action. At a TedxEuston, one of my favorite novelists and feminist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, said “Culture does not make people, people make culture” [1]. With that, I leave you with this comforting thought: Societal positions on gender are not set in stone, it’s not too late to assess our own internalized gender expectations and ensure they don’t get passed down to the next generation.

 

Mural of diverse and strong women found on the streets of Barranco, Lima.

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[1] Adichie , C. N. (2012). We should all be feminists. TEDxEuston. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_ngozi_adichie_we_should_all_be_feminists

[2] Bryant, K. (2017). Give gender –violence statistics instead of their body measurements. Vanity Fair. Retrieved from https://www.vanityfair.com/style/2017/11/miss-peru-my-measurements-are-protest-femicide-2017

[3] Falicov, C. J. (2010). Changing constructions of machismo for latino men in therapy: “The devil never sleeps”. Family Process, 49(3), 309-329. doi:10.1111/j.1545-5300.2010.01325.x

[4] Pérez-Rosario, V. (2018). On beauty and protest. Women’s Studies Quarterly, 46 (1), pp.279-285. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.proxy.lib.uwaterloo.ca/docview/2026328321?accountid=14906