My Host Mother aka Superwoman
Last night as dinner came to an end and I stacked my plate and wiped my hands on my napkin, my host mom softly groaned and lamented that she now had to wash the dishes and clean the house. This complaint came understandably since at the end of dinner around ten in the evening, she had been awake and working for at least fourteen hours, and it wasn’t over yet. I thought machismo culture would consist of men not displaying their feelings and women claiming the role as head of the household. I never expected it would be so extreme.
Each morning when my alarm sounds at seven in the morning I drag myself out of bed, shower, get dressed, and walk into the kitchen to greet my host mom who promptly places my breakfast in front of me. She then resumes preparing her sister and my host sister’s breakfast, lunch for the house, and readying herself for work. She then goes to work for nearly eleven hours, comes home, cooks, cleans, and goes to bed only to do it all over again the next day. Meanwhile, her sister spends her day running a law firm, and her daughter running errands for the house, In contrast, her father spends his days watching television, reading in the garden, and waiting to be called to eat.
Within Latino culture, it is typical for children to live at home until they are in their late twenties. Study abroad agencies frequently warn students that studying in a Latino country will be similar to re-entering high school and living under their parent’s roofs. In my time living with my host family, I have watched my host sister receive training in cooking and cleaning so she can fill the role of the matriarch in her own home one day. When I first arrived, my host family assumed I couldn’t do anything since I was both nineteen and a male. At first, I was not allowed to clear my plate, wash my dishes, help cook, do my own laundry, or clean my own room. This came as quite a shock after having been fairly independent for two years. Over time, however, and with many failed attempts, I have been allowed to fulfill more and more duties. These days I can safely clear the table and maybe even wash a dish or two before my host mom or sister shoo me away from the kitchen. Unfortunately, this way of life is not exclusive to my own host-family. In the house of my fellow volunteers, the mothers spends their days cooking and the sons and husbands wait to be beckoned for meals.
The women here are not silently suffering, however, they see the unfairness in the system just as easily as I do. One day when I helped clear the table after lunch with my host sister and her grandfather, she thanked me repeatedly. She then asked her grandfather why he didn’t help clear the dishes. He simply responded that he did not have time. He didn’t have time despite the fact that he spends 95% of his day sitting on the sofa watching TV. But that’s none of my business. Equally, when I arrived home on the grandfather’s birthday, he was sitting around the table with two of his brother-in-laws while the women swarmed around the kitchen preparing the meal. I was quickly told to sit and given a whiskey on the rocks and began making pleasantries to the men sitting beside me. As the women continued to work I asked if I could help, at which point they loudly said of course and unabashedly noted how nice it was to have a man offer to help around the house.
When it comes down to it, my dislike of the system here will not change gender norms or make the life of my host mother any easier. Although, I am not here to radicalize the culture and force American beliefs into my host country, instead, I am simply here to experience and learn. Albeit, the more dishes I can wash, the better. In my current environment, I have found that while the wage gap, discrimination, and unfair opportunities surrounding gender norms in America are all valid, the complaints of microaggressions and other such minor issues seem like petty complaints in comparison to the disparity in gender equality here in Peru and other parts of the world.
That’s all for now, now that my inner feminist has had a chance to rant. I’m off to Puno for a festival this weekend, Cusco and Machu Picchu next week and then Chile directly after – the adventure continues.
Wish me luck,