It took me a lot of experiences to realize how much we need feminism (equal rights!) in the world, and how much being a “women” impacted me. I always thought that being a girl was just like having dark hair, it does not impact me in any way. I was so wrong. It impacted me while I was growing up, during my life choices, and now that I live abroad it continues to impact in every sense of it. Yet, it does not stop me to pursue what I want.
Sexism is everywhere. Sometimes we don’t even notice it. It is part of the society. And when you are living out of a suitcase, sometimes going to unconventional countries, you will encounter sexism in a higher frequency. Sometimes stronger, other times just enough to be annoying. Unfortunately, depending where you are street harassment becomes the norm, and feeling like you have to be constant vigilant of your surroundings becomes the routine. Further, you will need to deal with the normal sexism of friends and family who don’t understand how a lady is choosing such an unconventional path. How dare you to have a career and travel the world? The world is not really ready for us; this is sad but it is true!
The way that men and women are perceived in my field is different. While working in unconventional places, our challenges are also not the same. Just a few examples of how men and woman have it different when working around the world:
First, every time I go to a new country – to travel or live – I have to answer the question “isn’t it dangerous for you to go alone?” Oh riiiiight, send me a babysitter, or a husband to protect me from the harms of the world. After years of dealing with this, I usually don’t mention I am going alone anymore, I try to ‘hide’ that part… But then it comes the reality… it might actually be dangerous. I will most likely be harassed, have to deal with catcalls, have to deal with people staring at me in impolite (and aggressive) ways, and usually answer a lot of questions with no regards to my personal space. But will I stay at home because of these? No, of course I will not! But. Does man deal with this?…
I am currently living in Ecuador, about a year ago two young female tourists were killed while in a popular beach here. While talking about the crime with some locals, what I hear the most is: “they were partying a lot” “they were probably drunk” “they trust in the wrong guy.” Basically, they were saying that these two girls just got what they deserve by traveling alone and have some fun on the way. It makes my stomach flip!
Second, the most persistent question: “Aren’t you married? (or, in the paternalistic way- where is your husband?)” “Aren’t you afraid you will not have a family?” “How about kids, you don’t have much time left.” First this is not anyone’s business, this is my personal life and personal choices. Second, would you ask me these questions if I was a dude working abroad? No, because man are not supposed to care about family, while women are expected to prioritize family above everything else.
Third, when moving to unstable countries my fears are not the same as men. We are all at risk to experience issues when living in unstable countries. We might be kidnapped, robbed at gun point, killed or something. But women have to add the fear of being sexually abused and raped. Unfortunately, this fear is not only in unstable zones, but in our every day lives everywhere in the world – in some places this fear increases, in other places it decreases, but it is always there. When in a new country, a woman thinks twice before walking to the supermarket at 10pm at night. We learn from a young age to walk to the car with the car key in hand, so it can become a defense weapon; we learn to call someone when in the taxi ride, we learn to pretend we have a boyfriend, we learn to adapt and maybe, just maybe, we will feel and be safe. But still, we teach little boys to look at hot ladies, and point out when they are “easy because look the way she dresses.”
Last, at work! We always need to be extra efficient and productive, especially when working abroad in countries where woman are expected to not have a career, or in a predominantly man environment– you will have to prove yourself twice: you are a women and a foreigner. You will be constantly “mansplained” and look down. You will be constantly questioned, and doubted. Your clothes will be an issue. If you get close to one of your coworkers, immediately will start rumors that you are having an ‘affair,’ or jokes about “why not.” If you go to all happy hours they will say you are looking for something, if you don’t go to any “she is bossy, and does not have a life.” Long story short, there is no win. You will be the topic of the conversation no matter what, your work will be constantly scrutinized, and a tiny little mistake will be seen as the worst thing that has ever happened to the organization.
It is stressful, frustrating and upsetting. But we need to keep fighting. We need to keep exploring the world, getting jobs in sexist places and/or follow man predominant careers. If this is what you want, go for it! Don’t let fear, challenges or other people say you can’t.
Look for another woman in the room and help each other. Look for the kind man in the room – they do exist and they are awesome! And learn to tough it up and don’t really care about what they say. Do your job, go out sometimes, make jokes and than go home happy that you have a job and are succeeding in this complicated world. There is no better feeling!
“Sexism is all the big and little ways that society draws a box around women and says, “You stay in there.” Don’t complain because nice girls don’t do that. Don’t try to be something women shouldn’t be. Don’t wear that, don’t go there, don’t think that, don’t earn too much. It’s not right somehow, we can’t explain why, stop asking.”
– Hillary Clinton, What happened.