It was supposed to be a simple light and fun article about how women in Europe and Latin America differ and in what aspects they are similar. About their looks and their personality. But while going through research I ended up reading about gender inequality, education levels, discrimination, life expectancy and I started to dig a little deeper to able to compare and contrast those two cultural regions. Why the differences we superficially perceive occur? Where does all the stereotyping come from? While we might agree, that stereotypes are not the accurate reflection of the truth, they are simplistic notions rooted in some kind of social phenomena that actually do differentiate one group from the other.
Recently I have been watching an excellent and extremely explicit show entitled Shameless. In my recent episodes a new minor character appeared, a Brazilian young woman, daughter of a drug lord, a wife of one of the main characters and a lover of one of the minor characters. Why am I brining her up? She got me thinking about female characters stereotyping culture that they come from.
So how we, women stereotyped? Many people from Europe, when asked what are Latin women like, will pretty surely give you a similar answer. And answers are based on some level of knowledge, but they are mostly based on simplified social codes and singular portraits the media or popular culture provide us with. The same goes to the Europeans described by Latin people. So let’s take a broader look on this phenomenon. How are those two distant groups of women usually stereotyped? According to the consulted sources it looks as follows:
A Latina is an attractive woman. Always dresses feminine and sexy, sometimes viewed as overdoing her style. Usually very religious and somewhat conservative, yet paradoxically flirtatious, and giving a lot of sexual innuendos. Seen as a victim of patriarchal sexist society who chooses to play by the rules and give the men what they want (or to let them think that) in order to get what she needs. Also portrayed as less often financially independent, less frequently living alone. As well prone to have more kids than average. Very often stays under strong influence of her family members in aspects of her living situation, education, work AND even relationships. Even little girls wearing heels (seen it myself in Santo Domingo mall and almost fainted from shock) and a considerably high percentage of minors and young adult women are known to be clients of cosmetic surgery in the Latin market.
The stereotypical “European”, or in general “Western” woman is portrayed in the media and in the popular culture in a considerably contrary way. The most importantly, she is portrayed as more independent and empowered. And it’s from there that all the other differences stem from. European women are presented as more reserved or “colder” (less flirtatious), also because they do not need to get attraction to get ahead, or they don’t want to (they are often shown as more rebellious). They are stereotyped as more sexually liberated, often less conservative and more able to individually make decisions for themselves. Shown as more career orientated/financially independent thus more practical and consequently less prone to forgive unfaithfulness. Seen as less eager to have more than average amount of kids and more often eager to stay childless. Are also more often seen as those paying less attention to image. Said to be more prone to vices like alcohol and cigarettes, but also more often seen as outspoken and demanding their rights.
And where does it all come from?
“The Gender Inequality Index (GII) is a new index for measurement of gender disparity that was introduced in the 2010 Human Development Report 20th anniversary edition by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). According to the UNDP, this index is a composite measure which captures the loss of achievement, within a country, due to gender inequality, and uses three dimensions to do so: reproductive health, empowerment, and labor market participation.” The ten highest ranked countries in terms of gender equality according to the Gender Inequality Index for 2008and 2011 are as follows: Sweden, Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland, Finland, Norway, Germany, Singapore, Iceland, France.
Also let’s not forget that “Female education is a factor that has a significant effect on human development. Human development is an academic discipline concerned with the social and economic progress in impoverished regions. In particular, researchers seek to determine what factors explain differences in rates of development. Female education is one of the major explanatory variables behind the rates of social and economic development,and has been shown to have a positive correlation with both. Socially, female education increases women’s’ status in society and reduces certain social ills. Economically, female education helps bring more women into the work force and boosts a country’s economic output. According to notable economist Lawrence Summers, investment in the education of girls may well be the highest-return investment available in the developing world.”
Among the countries with the highest Education Index prevail European countries. In the data from 2007, the only one Latin country at the head of the list was Cuba.
“Sex differences in education are a type of sex discrimination in the education system affecting both men and women during and after their educational experiences. At all levels women are achieving higher representation and success (global average). At the post-secondary level women are earning most of the degrees awarded.
BUT, worldwide men are more likely to be literate, with 100 men considered literate for every 88 women. In some countries the difference is even greater; for example, in Bangladesh only 62 women are literate for every 100 men.
In an OECD study of 43 developed countries, 15-year-old girls were ahead of boys in literacy skills and were more confident than boys about getting high-income jobs . In the United States, girls are significantly ahead of boys in writing ability at all levels of primary and secondary education.However, boys are slightly ahead of girls in mathematics ability.” Which by the example of Iceland may be explained by cultural conditioning (countries with the least gender inequality, like Iceland, proved to have no higher scores in science for boys than for girls).
And yet, another BUT, education is not everything.
According to an Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) study entitled “New Century, Old Disparities,” which compares surveys of representative households in 18 Latin American and Caribbean countries, despite recent gains, the wage gap between men and women in Latin America still prevails . In Latin American and the Caribbean region women are better educated but paid less. Women tend to end up in lower-paid occupations such as teaching, health care or the service sector. Latin men earn 17 percent more than Latin women. This wage gap has been decreasing in recent years, but at a pace that remains slow. In order to attain gender equality in the labor market, changing household roles and stereotypes is essential…
Some other data of interest…
Please check out: an organization focused on attracting more girls into science http://www.projectexploration.org/ . And here, a movement based on the unique potential of adolescent girls to end poverty for themselves and the world http://www.girleffect.org/ . For inspiration let me also share some visual data: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1e8xgF0JtVg , http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Vq2mfF8puE .
So, maybe if we consider all those factor, be it living in Europe or in Latin America or anywhere else in the world for that matter, the following Vogue campaign image will provoke a distaste instead of forming a disturbing inspiration source among parents for what their daughters should aspire to be…
All of you, but especially women and girls, please have a good and most importantly, empowered day.