After 17 months in Mexico, I have had to experience that being a woman in France is considerably different than being a woman in Mexico. Changing of country always confronters you to cultural differences, but I was not measuring how much gender differences could be so strong between my home country and my adoptive country. I propose you here an overview of what means being a woman in Mexico compare to being a woman in France.
First of all, and this is something that I noticed as soon as I arrived, the gallantry. In Mexico, women benefit from more gallantry from men. When I talk about gallantry, I mean a multitude of little attentions that men have for women. Here are some examples:
Men will always open the door to women (of the car and of any place in general).
Men will always respect the “ladies first” principle.
Men will always have the tendency to “attend” women. I mean here that they will always be careful that the woman who is with them won’t miss anything. In a party for instance, they will bring her drink and food. They will ask her if she needs anything. In restaurant, they will call the waiter for her. They will actually try to anticipate any of her desire. In one sentence, they will split hairs to be sure that the woman is feeling good.
Generally, men will pay. Hard to handle for a French, but it’s true. Men have been educated in this way: they generally must pay the bill at restaurant and they must pay anything in general (vacation and so on). And Mexican women consider on the other side that it’s totally normal. They expect that men will pay because they are used to and this how it has always worked.
Men will carry heavy stuff: luggage, supermarket bags and any other types of charges. They have been raised with the principle that women shouldn’t have to carry things.
In France, all this type of attentions would probably be perceived as an excess of gallantry. In a certain way, French women would may feel that, by benefiting of all those attentions, they are losing independence and autonomy. They are more used to an “equal” treatment and feminists would probably be strongly offended when actually it’s just attentions. Is a woman losing her independence because a man opened her the door? I am not quite sure. I agree that women must fight for gender equality but is gallantry a real problem?
I am personally sharing my life with a Mexican man and I am sensitive to all the nice attentions that he has for me. I don’t feel less free or lower than him because he takes care of me. However, I don’t consider normal that men (almost) always pay. In France, it’s common to alternate: one day one pays, another day the other pays, vacation costs are split…Unless one in the couple doesn’t have revenues (or enough revenues). So, on this point I disagree: why a man would always have to pay the bill?
A second aspect is the machismo that I also associate to conservatism. It may seem a cliché but it does exist in Mexico and stronger than in France. Here are some examples:
A woman must cook, raise kids, and take care of the house when the man has the financial responsibility (knowing that he is a “loser” if he doesn’t commit to that)
If the man has greater revenues he has a greater decision power
Even if a woman studies, it’s normal that she leaves her job when she gets married
Women belong to family: a woman shouldn’t leave parents’ house (even if she works) until getting married.
A woman must be one day a mother
A daughter has automatically more limitations than a son to go out, to drink and so on.
Those are examples and we cannot apply them to every Mexican families, but what I noticed is that they still strongly persist in Mexico. As a French woman who was living by herself for years, it has been (and it still is) a cultural choc to be spectator of that.
Third point: “let’s not mix”.
It is hard to believe, but it still remains in Mexico some places where women are not allowed. The main example is the “cantina”. “Cantinas” are historically bars frequented by males for drinking alcohol, eating botanas (appetizers) and playing table games. In reality, most of them are real restaurants. Their specificity: prohibiting the entrance to women, police, militaries and minors. For sure, this type of place is rarer nowadays but some are lasting across the time. As a European woman, this is something that shocks me because I consider than men and women are equal. I don’t accept the fact that some places are closed to women but I wouldn’t accept neither this case for a man. I try to understand that it’s culturally bound and that it’s a question of tradition, but deeply, I simply cannot handle it.
Fourth aspect: French women have the reputation to be “easy”.
I noticed that there’s this common idea that French women are more willing to have sexual relations without that many considerations. It says a lot about how women in Mexico are more “restricted”, by themselves but also because of their education. In Mexico, women don’t have their own house until getting married and it’s not admitted for them to invite a man to sleep at the family house. Even if they are of legal age and even if they have a boyfriend, the man cannot stay for a night. I definitely don’t like to hear that French women are “easy” but I understand it from a Mexican eye. Indeed, if we compare women in France with women in Mexico, the first ones are more independent and freer.
Fifth aspect: Mexican women are sexier.
It’s a paradoxical statement when we know that Mexico is more conservative regarding women. But it’s a fact: in Mexico, women dare to dress with shorter dresses and higher heels. I wouldn’t say that they are more “feminine” because what does concretely mean being feminine? But they dedicate more time to their make-up and their presentation in general. They spend hours getting their hair and their nails done before a party. A French woman will be better able to show her imperfections and will be in general simpler and more discrete. Ultimately French and Mexican women have a different conception of fashion. In Mexico clothes are pretty “standardized” for me who looks for more originality and disruptive combinations.
At last, I would like to mention the expressive power. As women are more independent in France they speak and speak loud! They have the tendency to be more direct and frontal with their interlocutors. I learnt that this is something tricky in Mexico where women, and actually men also, avoid confrontation. This is extremely bad perceived to be “too” honest and this is something hard for me because authenticity is my first value. In Mexico, we don’t say no even if we can’t, we smile even if we are mad. In Mexico, we give a face and sometimes you can have a bad surprise at the end because you realize that the person has not been honest with you. You call this hypocrisy when actually your Mexican interlocutor calls it politeness. Indeed, if he would have told you the truth it would have been rude from his point of view. You see, everything is a question of perspective.
Mexico is for sure changing. Women start to gain more autonomy and more independence but it is still slow. Some families are less conservative than others and it particularly depends on geographical areas. It also depends on the education level. In my case, I can say that the family of my better half is deeply modern, but their model is pretty pioneering in Mexico: they don’t reflect the general trend. There is still a huge inequality between salaries for men and women at a same educational background and same position. Things must to be done. Actions must be taken.
As far as I am concerned, I am a French woman in Mexico and I keep learning everyday about a culture which is not mine. I try to adapt me better and better. But deeply inside, I remain French, I speak loud, I go to the street without make-up and I fight for gender equality!