2013 VOF Week 3
This is a difficult post to write. The assignment is to describe the barriers or challenges faced as a girl, and what springs to mind are the memories of the women in my life who succumbed to the patriarchal structures in my country. From my mother, my grandmother and other women in my life, like the nuns in grade school, all I can remember is that my points of reference were all these women who inadvertently formed part of the barriers that affected me, and them. I have tried to have frank conversations about this, but being a feminist in my country is looked down upon, even by people I have known for years.
My mother gave birth to my brother when I was ten years-old. Since she had been a teen mother, she wanted to impress upon me what a big responsibility a child was. At age 10 I was expected to take care of everything that an infant needed: feed, including for the 2 AM feedings, bathe, etc. As my brother grew, it became evident that my mother did not treat us the same. He had privileges that I did not have. To this day, we are treated differently. Culture is a difficult thing to change in just one generation.
When I was age 15, my grandmother decided that I did not need to go to school anymore. She said: "you know how to read and write, so I'll teach you how to cook and sew, and find you a husband in the military because they have a steady income". My grandmother wanted me to learn to sew because she was a seamstress, but the idea of marrying me off to some man in the military was her idea of finding someone who I would depend on. Talk about dis-empowerment! This was during the civil war in my country. Since I was taken out of school, I decided that I would join the military and earn my own "steady income". I showed up to an army garrison and asked about enlisting. The soldiers laughed at me. They said that all I was good for was for cooking and making tortillas. They flirted with me, and I left, furious and humiliated.
I joined a local medical brigade to become a medic, but this plan was foiled too when my mother sent for me. My grandmother told her I was "out of control" and would probably become a guerrilla fighter. It seemed that my biggest barrier was that no one cared what I wanted to do with my life. In retrospect, it may sound like typical teenage angst, but we were in the middle of a civil war, and I was fighting against what society had pre-destined for me: to become a teen wife, a cook, someone's dependent. I was fighting against being kept in a child-state for the rest of my life, in my mind I thought it was much like many Salvadorans were fighting for the right to own their destinies from the oligarchy and the military dictatorship that had ruled El Salvador for decades.
As the mother of two girls I am sensitive to my upbringing because I want to break the cycle. I'm sensitive to the barriers they face, albeit I am glad they do not face the same barriers I did, but they do have their own to face. I learned many things from the women in my life, both the rewarding and the not. I have learned to pick and choose what I will pass on to my girls, and the girls and young women I work with.
The one thing that my mother did teach me that has been my lifeline was that "education is the great leveler for women". She told me that with an education I would not need to depend on anyone, not a man, not her, no one. In spite of the barriers I faced as a girl, barriers that often felt insurmountable, through education I was able to overcome the majority of them.