In her introduction to a collection of essays titled ‘Bad Feminist’ Roxanne Gay poses her readers a question that has tourmented me on numerous levels for years, “How do we find the necessary language for talking about the inequalities and injustices women face both great and small?”
This quote resignated deeply with me the first time I read it during my fifth month living abroad in Cusco, Peru. Gay was not referring to a language barrier but rather rhetoric of expressing often debated and denied realities of women’s daily lives. I, however, could relate this to both my life in the United States and my current life in Peru where language barriers bring me daily sources of humor, misunderstandings and frustrations. I quickly aquired several favorite Spanish phrases to fire back at filthballs who, for some reason I will never understand, feel they are entitled to cat call, holler, and inform me, and countless other women, how “guapa” “bonita” “linda” we are. I enjoy telling these men that they are disrespectful, annoying, and to shut up. Usually I am told what a bad temper I have or am insulted back because how dare I defend myself when a complete stranger sexualizes and objectifies me in the street? Daring to challenege masculinity in it’s ugliest form. I am not a “well behaved woman” in any culture.
Street harassment is not what came to mind when I read Gay’s quote. My own personal life and adjustment to a strongly machismo culture did. I have fallen in love with salsa dancing since I arrived here in Cusco last September. The very basic rules of salsa go against every feminist bone in my body. There are very strongly assigned gender roles within the art of salsa. For god’s sake there are “lady moves”! Yet, I am addicited, and I have no intention of quitting. I love that feeling of femininity when I dance, I love being spun in circles, I love wearing heels, (yes heels!) and I love playing that role of the female dancer. Simultaneously, I am aware this is putting me in a very specific place with the male dominanted social scene of salsa.
I have been unwillingly groped my drunk men on the dance floors who use salsa as an excuse to get within arms length of a woman. I walk off the dance floor in this unfortunate circumstances but not before I am told to smile, asked if I am sad or being called a bitch. Believe it or not it is none of the above! I just dont allow strangers, or even dancers I am aquainted with, to molest me. Crazy I know. Worse than that is when I observe other women in the same situation who will not walk away for fear of being “rude”. Seriously, there is nothing ruder than grabbing a strangers ass.
So how do I effectively and constructively challenge such attrocities that are accepted in a tropical “boys will be boys” fashion. How do I explain these concepts to my friends, in Spanish, who try but can’t quite grasp, why I am more than occasionally on the verge of tears of rage about this behavior? Spanish is not the only language barrier that is present in this condundrum.