So my last blog post unintentionally hit a nerve with a few people – well, specifically a few male Dominican friends – who felt that I was unfairly generalizing all Dominican men. One friend wrote me:
“you offended me with that thing in your blog because you are saying all Dominicans. So, I suggest you to edit that article. Perhaps you saw a lot of things in your trip to Pedernales, so you can say people with a lack of family education; but not here, in all corners of the world. People can say that American people are idiots with their brains full of McDonald’s fat. But I am aware it’s not true. Labeling all domincans as a misogynous people is a lock of respect to a country that teat you as a human being and in a friendly way.”
I felt pretty badly when I saw this, and realized that he does have a good point. So to anyone else who felt it was inappropriate, I offer the same apology:
“I would like to apologize for offending you, and anyone else who felt hurt by this post. I do agree; clearly not all Dominican men are the same. In my time in the DR, I met many, many high quality people of both sexes. If you notice, I don’t say all, I say many. And many americans do eat lots of McDonalds and are idiots (I’m sure we can both name innumerable examples). You find all types of people everywhere. And one of the striking aspects of the DR is the openness and warmth of the people, which allows for interactions between strangers (mostly friendly, occasionally sexual), that could not as easily happen in north america’s ‘cold’ culture. Like the way random people on a bus will strike up a conversation and become instant friends. It was not my intention to offend, or really even be controversial, rather to simply poke fun at a striking difference in cultural norms. An aspect of my time in the DR which would be almost impossible to ignore. So again, I am very sorry for offending you, it was not my goal in the least, and I apologize for my thoughtlessness in doing so.”
We made-up, and everything is ok again.
From this experience I learned first the obvious be-careful-what-you-put-online-lesson and then, it made me think a lot more about generalizations. The inherent problem being that they clearly don’t apply to absolutely every member of the group you’re generalizing. However, as a good friend often says, “Stereotypes exist for a reason.”
It’s interesting that we only object to negative stereotypes. If I said Dominican women are beautiful (which they are!), I doubt anyone would be like, ‘no, no. I have this one really ugly, fat cousin. So don’t say that they’re all beautiful!’
(A side note, one amusing experience I had with stereotypes of American: A British student once asked me- completely serious- if I owned a gun. His line of thinking was something like, shes American, so of course she must, right? And when I responded with an incredulous ‘No!’, he followed up with a confident ‘but then, your father has one.’ I assured him, that no, he doesn’t either. I think that up until college – Houghton,in the deer hunting sticks of western New York State – I had known only one gun owner. But thinking about this made me curious, so I looked up gun ownership in the US and a 2005 Gallup poll found that 40% of Americans report owning at least one gun, so there must be a lot more of those crazy gun owners out there than I ever realized!)
So back to generalizations and Dominican men. While it was true that I met many Dominican men who were very good to me, respectful and treated me as an equal, I also met many who didn’t. I also came to realize that Dominican women, who receive the same type of attention and grow up in that culture, seemed to know so easily, naturally how to navigate all that male attention (sometimes even appreciating, welcoming the complements and the power it gives them). But for me, as a woman from a ‘western’ culture, I found it jarring at best.
My last post was an attempt to find the humor in what were at times uncomfortable situations. These situations go beyond ordinary cat calls in the streets. They ranged from the subtle and creepy (the man behind the counter at my local corner store slightly stroking my hand every time he gave me my change), to the overt and creepy (being followed for blocks by in men in luxury cars ‘kindly’ offering me rides).
Dealing with this sort of unsolicited attention was a struggle for most extranjeras (foreign women) and means for coping were as varied as the individuals. One outspoken Italian friend had no qualms in direct confrontation and was always ready with some sort of sharp comeback to undesired attention. She once told an overly flirtatious (married) cab driver that she was going to give him a big stick to take home to his wife so that the wife could beat him daily for being such a dog. Italians might deserve their generalization of being fiery.
An American friend adopted what could be called the ‘subtle middle finger.’ To acknowledge cat calls would only encourage more. But completely ignoring them felt like an affront to your dignity. So she would subtly, almost imperceptibly, shift the position of her fingers while holding her shopping bags to flick off the offender. They probably never noticed, but somehow it made one feel better.
Dressing frumpily or ugly did not seem to have any effect. I walked to work each day, about a 15 minute walk through a densely populated residential area. To amuse myself for a time, I would count the number of whistles, comments or unsolicited holas. The average was 12 a walk. Almost one a minute. Its not that I think men in other cultures don’t ever stare at women or objectify them, but the cultural norm forces them to be less obvious about it. And since I cant hear their thoughts, its less intrusive on my daily life.
It was easier when I could speak less Spanish. Because at least I couldn’t understand as undesired complements turned to insults of ‘stuck-up b–ch‘ hurled at my back for refusing to acknowledge the speaker.
So I do apologize for the generalizations. I love the Dominican people and was overall treated so incredibly well. But every culture has its things which are harder to accept (the US very much included!) And these were my lived experiences. Which is why I wrote the last post; to try to simply make light of, to find the humor in what was at times uncomfortable. Call it a coping mechanism if you will.