Jessica in Peru

Jessica is a junior majoring in human rights and health and society, and minoring in gender studies and Spanish, on the pre-med track. She is performing an Engaged Learning project on the construction of feminism and women’s movements in Lima, Peru. She is spending the spring semester in Lima volunteering and taking classes on Amazonian ethnography, gender construction in Lima and Peruvian social reality.

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Public Space as Male Space

Today I noticed that in Lima I don’t say hi to people as I walk down the street.

This is partly because I am embarrassed by my accent. The “r” in “buenas tardes” is something that I will probably go to the grave never having mastered.

I noticed that I never say hi to people as I walk down the street and wondered why. I later realized that it is because nearly all of the people that I pass are men. And I generally avoid men like the plague while I’m out walking. Honestly I don’t really care in what capacity they are existing along my path, whether they’re working or talking to friends or walking or simply standing outside, I have been catcalled and leered at one too many times to ever again interact with another male on the street (this applies to all countries).

Of course, women also exist on the sidewalks occupying public space, especially in busier areas, but in the area where I live on the smaller streets as I walk to my classes, nearly everyone I pass is male. Of the men that I pass, most are laborers – security guards, construction workers, men selling lottery tickets, or men hanging outside their workplace talking with other men. It’s not that women don’t inhabit public spaces, obviously we do  – otherwise I wouldn’t even be writing this. It’s that lower-level positions inhabited by women are relegated to the private sphere. Women take care of the cooking, the cleaning, the child minding. Our frail female dispositions couldn’t possibly handle being guards or construction workers (read: heavy sarcasm). In contrast, the work that men do is almost exclusively in the public realm: be it lower-level positions outside of the home as gardeners or construction workers, or high-level positions that contribute to the “formal” economy. Public space is constructed and dominated by men, for men.

What are the consequences of this? Women are harassed and leered at every time we try and do normal human things, like go on runs or walk to class. And in professional situations, we are forced to enter into a world that was not constructed by us and certainly was not constructed for us. We as women have to fight for the corner of public space that we occupy. It is exhausting. Thus, to save energy, to cut our losses, to make our families and husbands and boyfriends happy, we stay in the private sphere.

Now I know why I don’t say hi when I walk down the street.

This post originally appeared on the Brown Girl blog.

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