I’ve always been a non-conformist when it came to the traditional female role in Colombia. To be a woman in my country meant that I had to be obedient to the opposite sex, suppress my sexuality, and focus on looking perfect 24/7. Not to mention the fact that I shouldn’t be “wasting my time” on career goals, but rather be prepared for the day that I became a wife and mother.
Even if some people back home think that this role is “natural,” I think there’s a lot of pitfalls to it.
Since a very young age, I was taught that I should take special care of my appearance if I wanted the attention of men. One way or another, society taught me that I should fit a certain definition of “woman” physically, and if I wasn’t born that way, then I should work hard to achieve it.
For instance, when I was a child I used to love my curly hair, but when I reached adolescence, I started to notice that to fit in, I had to straighten my hair every week. Also, my life became all about dieting and trying to be thinner.
Since I had a slow metabolism and was chubby as a kid, I had to work extra hard to meet the crazy body image standards. Even today, all my friends talk about at dinner is who is looking thinner this year. Now I realize that by changing aspects of my physical appearance, I was trying to be someone I wasn’t simply to fit into the role society had given me.
Aside from having to look a certain way, the traditional female role has an even greater pitfall: having to suppress your opinions and your intellect. The myth about “men preferring them dumb” is actually part of Colombian reality (in fact, there’s a TV show devoted to it). There’s something about women being smart that threatens the status quo and goes against the obedient and quiet role women “should” play.
When it comes to playing dumb, I was always a terrible actress. I’ve always been the type who says scandalous things at the dinner table and who doesn’t mind pointing out the elephant in the room. At family gatherings, whenever I say something “too taboo” (like why corrupt politicians suck in Colombia) my mom looks at me from the corner of her eye and seems abashed, but inside, I know she’s proud that I’m able to speak the words that never came out of her mouth.
With time I learned to embrace the fact that I wasn’t going to conform to these expectations; I wear my hair curly and I’m not afraid to share my opinion (no matter how radical). I also found that a lot of us weren’t meant to fit into this traditional female role anyway. Take my mom for example: she’s a CEO who defied tradition by getting a divorce, or my grandmother, who was never a stay-at-home mom and became the main provider for her family. I don’t come from a line of dumb, obedient women, I come from a line of women who have defied society’s expectations. So then, how could I be a conformist?
The truth is that traditional gender roles in Colombia and Latin America as a whole, ignore the fact that sex is not indicative of gender. A woman shouldn’t have to “feminine” simply because society tells her to, she should instead be allowed to freely choose the role she wants to carry out instead of it being predetermined from the moment of birth. Not only is this way of thinking outdated, but it also limits our freedom to be who we truly are.