Thursday, July 1, 2010

still working on this one

I am reading Isabel Allende's memoir, My Invented Country. I could probably run through it in a day, but I'm reading it slowly, the way I used to save my Halloween and Easter candy for months, and for the same reasons of perceived scarcity and hoarding. It is highly quotable.
"We Chileans are enchanted by states of emergency. In Santiago the temperatures are worse than in Madrid; in summer we die of the heat and in winter of the cold, but no one has air conditioning or decent heating, because that would be tantamount to admitting that the climate isn't as good as they say it is." [p 48]
She has many choice words about Chilean gender roles. I'm enjoying her point of view, not only for the excellent prose, but as I try to understand what's behind some of my experience here.

"Some frivolous thinkers believe that Chile is a matriarchy, perhaps deceived by the strong personality of its women, who seem to carry the lead in society. They are free and well organized, they keep their maiden names when they marry, they compete head to head in the workforce and not only manage their families but very frequently support them. They are more interesting than most men, but that does not affect the reality: they live in an unyielding patriarchy....Chile is a macho country: there is so much testosterone floating in the air that it's a wonder the women don't grow beards.

"Chilean women are abettors of machismo: they bring up their daughters to serve and their sons to be served. While on the one hand they fight for their rights and work tirelessly, on the other, they wait on their husband and male children, assisted by their daughters, who from an early age are well instructed regarding their obligations. Modern girls are rebelling, of course, but the minute they fall in love they repeat the learned pattern, confusing love with service. It makes me sad to see splendid girls waiting on their boyfriends as if they were invalids. They not only serve the meal, they offer to cut the meat. It makes me unhappy because I was the same way." [pp 51-53]

Today, for example, I triggered a new height in Oscar's resistance to my eating lunch anywhere but the school.
"I'm done early, I'm going to go home and cook something for lunch."
"Just eat here!"
"I don't really want to wait, and I like cooking."
"Lunch is probably ready now. Hang on, I'll call them."
[he calls the kitchen, asks if lunch is ready, tells them I'm coming early]
"There, just go on down."
"No, I'll go cook something. I like cooking, and I haven't cooked in a long time."
"But there's no one at the house!"
"Yeah, I know. I'll make myself some food."
Eventually his three (female) minions chimed in with the suggestion that I didn't like what they were serving for lunch--it's true, the fish over rice is not my favorite--and Oscar did his "Bah, okay, okay, bye" thing and waved me off.

(I bought spinach and made scrambled eggs and it was awesome.)

Now, Oscar is reasonably progressive, as far as I can tell, and he's the best cook in the house and does almost of the cooking. However, there are definite gender roles in the house, which he vigorously participates in and enforces, and he is extremely emphatic about making sure Steve and I are taken care of. Today, though, makes me think that he's trying to make sure we're taken care of like Chilean men. It would explain the resistance and bemusement at the various independent things we do for ourselves.

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