For a very long time, health studies, which went to extreme lengths to control a variety of well-nigh uncontrollable factors, basically punted the question of gender, assuming men and women are physically the same. Because that’s what we all think, obviously. It isn’t as if everyone north of the age of 3 recognizes, and revels in, the physical differences of men and women. Anyway, this oversight has had serious repercussions and if one is a woman should make one question any advice received that is based on a medical studies. I would love to report that medicine has gotten better about this sort of thing and, I suppose, they are “better” but they still aren’t great.
Anyhow, this all came to mind this morning because I realized I’ve essentially been conducting a survey of social norms in Santiago over the last few months. However, being a dude, this survey has been limited in gender diversity. Those who know me will not be surprised to learn that, left on my own in a foreign country where no one who is not dependent on my goodwill for a grade knows me, I have not been attaining high fashion perfection. By and large, no one in Santiago seems to care much what I wear. Residents of Santiago always wear far warmer clothing than I do – they’re positively bundled up recently as temperatures dip into the 40s – and, so, occasionally I get an odd look when I’m wearing a short sleeve shirt. But it’s just a quick glance. I’m far more often stared at for being very large, much taller and wider than the average, or even large, Chilean.
But now my wife is with me and I can diversify my little social study. This morning, we both headed out, she to run and me to pick up plastic containers to house the leftover lasagna and cake from having the students over last night.
Aside: I thought my Tuesday night dinners were popular and felt good when my students would tell me I was a good cook. I was shocked then at the euphoric celebration that was launched when I told them that Mary was cooking dinner. Gender bias can go both ways, apparently. Of course, in fairness, Mary is a much better cook than me. I’m taking the leftover cake to class with me today but I’ll be damned if they get the lasagna.
I went out as the man in black. Black sweatpants and black hoodie. Mary, because it’s in the high 40s, was wearing a jacket and shorts. She would remove the jacket before running while I went to the store and in search of coffee. So, to repeat, Mary is wearing shorts.
The looks she received were open, obvious and either leering or hostile depending on the gender of the observer. The men ogled her openly and maybe would have reacted had they noticed me but they did not. The women, especially the old women, looked at her with what Mary called “hate”. I think hate is a strong term but it was certainly very, very, very strong disapproval. And it wasn’t one or two people on the six blocks we walked together. It was every single person. Each person we passed looked her over and had a look on their face expressing strong emotion.
I have definitely noticed that women in Chile do not, as a rule, wear shorts. Again, this is hard to gauge as it has been fall for most of my time here and all Chileans, both the boy Chileans and girl Chileans, wear a lot of clothes if the temperature is below about 70 degrees F. But when it’s warm, or when I see Chilean women exercising they cover their legs. This modesty does not extend to the upper body, which is definitely a difference between Chile and the United States. I mean, I have seen things.
As you’d expect, being male in Chile insulates one from this sort of open judgement. I have no doubt a lot of the folks here that have observed me over the past few months have, like those who observe me in the United States, thought to themselves, “Why does he wear that?” but they’ve had the good sense to keep these views to themselves. It’s telling that they feel no need to hide their feelings about Mary, a woman. Of course, this isn’t unique to Chile but it fits nicely with what I hear from my students and what is generally admitted. Chile is a very patriarchal society. Fortunately, my wife is not the sort to let social pressure get to her. If she had a sewing kit I think she might take up her running shorts another inch or two. This would definitely not be good for the health of the old ladies in the neighborhood as they looked very agitated as she walked by. I’m not sure they could take much more.
As for the weather, it’s cool and cloudy. Each of the last two days we have planned to ride the cable car to San Cristobal but the peak is shrouded in fog so we have skipped it. Today was supposed to be nice but is again cloudy and foggy. Yesterday, we went to Vega Central and bought some produce and a sopapilla. Walked back through Plaza de Armas so Mary could see some of the city. Tomorrow calls for rain but Friday and Saturday are supposed to be sunny and warm. We’re keeping our fingers crossed and our shorts ready.