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I recently was discussing with a friend in Copan the word culture and how we both thought it was often misused to make excuses for unacceptable treatment of women and children. Until she had brought it up, I didn’t realize that I myself had used it as an excuse in my writing and conversation. The word “machismo” could very easily be exchanged for the American idiom “boys will be boys,” both placing the unacceptable acts of men in the category of “culture.” When these words are used, somehow rape, domestic violence, and cheating become more acceptable because they are part of the “culture.”

I am frequently asked by friends and family, how can you live in Honduras where men treat women like they do? This question makes me upset when people ask it, and for some time, I did not understand why. I now see that the root of my irritation is that not so long ago America’s “culture” was one of female oppression, and the phrase “children should be seen and not heard” was used frequently to ignore the voices of the innocent.

It was strong people, that’s right, PEOPLE, not just women, who helped make the freedoms of women and children possible in the U.S. Americans seem to forget that this change only really happened in the last 100 years, and we lived in a similar world as women and children do here. While the unacceptable behaviours of men in Honduras are ignored on a regular basis, and that is termed machismo, I believe that way of thinking is changing, not just here, but in the world.

I see strong children and females all around me. I am reminded, that while many battles have been won, it is an on-going war to change the mindset of a world that has been primarily patriarchal, with women and children seen as possessions, not human beings of equal standing, for most of its history.

I look at the male children around me, and I ask myself where and how can they learn to be different than their fathers? How will they learn to be champions of women and children and call themselves feminists too? So often, I see men pushed to the side in the feminist movement, but they can be just as much a part of it and are necessary to it’s progress. They can show what true culture is.

By definition, culture is “the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.” True culture is when people come together with all their knowledge, wisdom, experience, and history to create a statement of who they are as a people and what they have achieved together. As a cultural statement of the world, I hope someday at the base of all our achievements will be equality and respect.

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If women see themselves as possessions of men, it is that much more impossible for men to think of women as anything else. Living in Honduras, where machismo is the norm, is much different than visiting such a country for vacation. I am trying to learn what to understand and accept in this culture and what to speak out against and stand up for regarding women’s rights. I realise that my idea of right or wrong will not always match that of others. Asking questions and listening gets me a lot farther than telling locals what women’s rights look like to me. Change has to come from a desire within each individual based on their own understanding of good and bad. It is the phrase “I am the woman of…” that is most difficult for me. Sometimes a woman is defined by this sentence. Her name is not important so much as what man she belongs to. More often than not the man a woman “belongs to” cheats and lies. If the woman is lucky, he works and helps care for the children. Violence towards women is most likely under-reported with the assaulting of a wife or girlfriend only being considered a crime since 1997. With lack of education, resources, and opportunities, there is very little to empower females to feel they can leave their situation when the alternative is being homeless and not feeding their children. Observing these women, hearing them, you can see that while they have adapted to their situation for survival and continue to be with men who treat them poorly, they find ways to show their dissatisfaction, to have a sense of control in the situation. They are strong in their silence, and it speaks. When I look at these women, I see it is not my job to change them so much as to understand them and show compassion. They want change, and they have the strength to make it happen. All Honduran women need are the tools to make the change they desire in their hearts. And it is in making that change themselves, that they will no longer find definition in the men they are with, but in their own individual strength and self-worth.

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