Of course, his activities caught up with him and he spent eight months in a South American prison where he told me "he talked to God every day." He was now on his third wife, a woman 21 years his senior, who he did not live with and who I could tell he respected. Still, he said he was "always looking." He had a bum knee and a smooth tongue and I cautiously liked his cavalier attitude towards danger and legality.
But, as with almost all the men I'm encountering here in Mexico City, he had a very conservative attitude towards women. He was aghast that I don't want to have children (most likely, still figuring this one out!) and told me that it was what I was made for, to pass along a part of myself to the next generation. He tried the "what if everyone thought like you" line on me, which has to be the most Swiss cheese argument known to man since this will never come to pass.
But at least Robert was straightforward in his prejudice. I'm endlessly receiving unsolicited advice and tutelage from almost every single gentleman I encounter here, which I am tolerating since I do need help in this new place. But here's the difference: I didn't ask for it. By giving advice without any prompt the assumption is automatically that I am in a deficient state. It's a subtle thing, but real. Think of someone who always tells you what to do, even if you'd rather figure it out on your own. Annoying, isn't it?
Most gentlemen are polite about this infringement. They tell me what to order, where to go, what to think about Mexican politics, how to avoid danger in this city. But a very few men use this tutelage as a sort of weapon to counter inferred lack of sexual interest.
I met a man this week in the lounge of the Quaker hotel. He interrupted Robert and I's conversation about get rich quick schemes and when Robert buggered off, Peter filled me in on his extensive travels. He hailed from Slovakia and had been traveling for years as a sort of ambassador for the country. He taught select Latin Americans Slovakian as part of a government funded cultural exchange program. He has visited every country in Central and South America, is fond of books on tape, can speak Slovak, French, English, Spanish.
Although his recommendations of where to go and what to see were welcome, I became uncomfortable by his inference that a person who looked like I did (what does that mean?) would have a very tough time in Central America. With a roll of his eyes, he told me that the area is "three times" more dangerous than Mexico City and then proceeded to tell me about a woman who was raped in Guatemala after she went drinking with several men. He then had the audacity to say, more or less, that she deserved what she got since she was drinking alone with men. As if any woman deserves violence, no matter the circumstances.
He also mentioned a woman he'd met in a Latin American city, it might have been Buenos Aires, who dragged him out to the market every day so that he could be her shield. He acted very put out by this situation and then proceeded to complain about Mexican women. He said that they were privileged, kept women who men always had to pay for. I explained to him that this "privilege" was in exchange for real power in this machismo society. If the men work and make all the money, of course their wives will need money. And even if you're not married, a woman might want to be paid for in exchange for being constantly harassed and objectified.
Although I began to feel afraid about my future travels, I also intuited that this was a man who had a grudge against women. He knew I was unavailable to him and so decided to put me in my place by scaring me with stories about male power. Isn't it enough that I have to live in such a guarded way now, but to try to frighten me with phantasms of danger? It's not only sad but it's an act of violence in itself.
Yesterday a white man at the taco counter near my house tried to help me with the menu. "I know Spanish, it's OK," I said. "I was just trying to help," he said, hurt. I ignored him. I make my own decisions, and I decide when I want assistance. As a woman, the answer is never automatically "yes."
*Names have been changed in this blog post.