Women Across Cultures: Understanding Women’s Lives, Roles, and Expectations Within Different Indigenous Communities

By: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Roles of Women

When people look at me, before I even say a word, and until I do, I believe they expect to encounter someone less than average. Typically, in dominantly white environments, because of my skin color there is the ever-so-slight amazement when I, an afro-Caribbean young woman, begin to speak sans urban accent. When people look at me, generally they expect me to be liberal, an activist, and a feminist- no doubt as a result of the intersectionality of my race, age, and gender. Typically, when I express that I’m still in school, people are shocked that I double major in 2 very challenging subjects. I can only then assume that they expected simplicity and mediocrity instead. In predominantly black environments, when I speak and voice my thoughts and concerns, people often have their assumptions and presumptions about the kind of life I’ve had and how I was raised. Based no doubt on what I look like and sound like, and the color of my skin, overarchingly the assumptions about my life have been so widespread.

When people look at me, they expect a young woman who is quiet, small, earthy, and a world traveler thanks to her military father. Projected to follow her father’s footsteps and protect this country, instead she strives to protect our planet. Someone who will force her hippy values onto you if talk of the environment is brought up. Doesn’t want to work a traditional 9-5 job, wants to break the mold. Once she gets married and has a family all of those “radical” life choices will turn into traditional roles for the family. While my earthy-ness is a part of who I am, it isn’t all of me.

When people look at me, they expect a woman who is following the desires of her parents. I left home to earn a degree after graduating from a small high school in south central Pennsylvania. Born and raised in the stereotypical small-town America, people see a young woman shaped by years of soccer practices and community block parties all mixed to form the perfect ‘girl next door’. People expect me to be daddy’s little girl since I am sandwiched between an older and a younger brother. At first look, you would assume that I am constantly striving to impress my parents and my brothers. Although it is always my hope to make my family proud, these assumptions do not encompass who I am.

When people look at me, they expect someone who hopes to get married, maybe someday soon. They expect me to be quiet and nonassertive. If they stopped making assumptions, they could discount me with, they might see the confident, independent person who shares what is on their mind. Unfortunately, they might have to struggle to see me past all the devices I have adapted to better fit the mold of the person others assume and expect me to be.

All of us carry expectations with us just by being alive. As human beings, and especially as women, we constantly find ourselves at the receiving end of judgement from those around us. Because of where we live, our age, our socio-economic statuses, and even our skin colors, we have been ascribed certain boundaries as to who we are and to what we have accomplished. Just as we typically differ from the presumptions of others in many ways, we can expect that the women of the Amazon have a whole life and way of being that is waiting to be discovered by those concerned to genuinely listen. We are those few. Traveling thousands of miles to hear, see, and understand who the women of the Amazon truly are, and setting aside all expectations we have of them as a people. It is imperative that we take this approach in encountering communities of women in the Amazon in order to see them, unadulteratedly, as they are, and not through our lenses which are tainted and influenced by our own expectations and life experiences.

In January of 2020, we will be journeying all the way to the Las Piedras to challenge our predispositions of women and the roles and expectations culture project onto them. We will be trying to immerse ourselves in the culture by hearing from researches and locals who live within the indigenous communities. We will be conducting additional research to discover the public opinion on our culture and on others as well as talking to women about how they view themselves. We are entering the jungle with curious, open minds, and a plethora of questions we hope to find the answers to. We will base our success on how accurately we are able to encapsulate and represent the culture comparison and communicate it to you, the reader! We will be divulging to you the expectations of education, familial roles, lifestyle, career goals, and unpaid labor.

Indigenous communities were almost invisible in statistics, only recently has census data been collected. The data tells us that Peruvian woman in agriculture have less of almost everything: fewer public services, fewer private services, fewer markets, fewer institutions and less information. And as if this were not enough disadvantage, they also are confronted with discrimination. Women may not even be recognized as community members with full rights, in community meetings the opinions of women usually are not considered, and men end up making the decisions. Statistically very young, girls under the age of 14 start working early. The data shows that women participate in mostly unpaid household and agricultural work. The census data reveals that woman receive less education than males and are expected to marry young. While interviewing these women and hearing their stories we will see if these statistics match up to what their actual livelihoods entail. In addition to our travels, we will dive into what being a woman in the United States by considering our own lives and the lives of the women we know. By living through our intimate experiences and our research, you will be able to see the similarities and difference arise and as you emerge, we hope you will bring new questions and expectations into your own culture. You may not expect to find how far (or not so far) we have come in the freedoms of women in the United States.

How do you think you match up to the expectations? Join the journey into the jungle.

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