Mexico City, January 27, 2013
I’ve just come into the city from Tepoztlan, the small town in the mountains where I’ve spent the last few weeks. It’s 55 kilometres from here. To say it is a different sort of vibe would be a radical understatement…. I’m in the centre of Mexico City, just north of the Alameda Central, a gigantic, 500 year-old park, filled with trees and plants and criss-crossed by wide pathways. There are many fountains in it, and benches everywhere, and today, a Sunday, the place was packed. Couples were everywhere, their heads resting on each other, or strolling hand in hand; families were plentiful, eating tall stacks of fresh potato chips or just watching the world go by; groups of young women and men strolled around, and a few lone men sat and observed the traffic.
I walked through it, on my way to Bellas Artes, a beautiful performance hall / museum, filled with stunning murals, including one by Diego Rivera. On my walk, this is what I saw: there were no women on their own. There were no women in skirts, either, except a few old señoras—and me. No one else was wearing sandals, either, despite the fact that it was in the high 20s today. All of them were in closed shoes and long pants, some wearing jackets, some wearing boots. (It’s winter here, after all. I saw a poodle wearing a fleece coat.) Many people seemed to be looking at me.
Then I conducted an experiment: after I’d walked around in my skirt (a longish bamboo skirt, by the way, well past my knees), I came home and went back out to the market, in jeans and running shoes (oh, what a lovely combination). The stares I received were cut in half. I asked my host what the story was, and it was as I suspected: the women wear pants because they don’t want to be bothered by the men, who don’t respect the women. Or who can’t control their machismo when they see a little bit of ankle. I knew all of this, but in both Baja California, where I lived in ‘96, and in Tepoztlan, it was not nearly as obvious.
Apparently here they have separate cars on the Metro for men and women (who can have children with them), during rush hour, and there are pink, women-only, buses and taxis as well. I couldn’t help but think of the woman in Delhi who was recently gang-raped and later died, and wonder if this could have been prevented by such a system.
I did some research, and found out that this strategy has been implemented in other places around the world; Japan, Indonesia, Brazil, Israel, and even in Mumbai. In fact, the United Kingdom had trains like this until 1977, but they were shut down when equality laws came into being. Many places where this practice has been introduced have been criticized, with some people claiming that human rights are being compromised. (Oh, really? How about the right for women to be in public without being ogled, groped or otherwise abused? I know, it’s a multi-faceted, complicated issue. But if this kind of practice decreases assaults—even though it’s not addressing the cultural traditions, which would take decades—it’s a helpful Band-aid solution.)
In any case, I did not expect to feel as much like a foreigner as I do here, in one of the biggest cities in the world. I have dark hair; my skin is tanned; yet (perhaps) because of my wardrobe choices and my blue eyes, they can spot me so easily it’s like I’m glowing with radioactivity. I can only imagine what it might be like to be blonde. It could also have been my backpack, and the fact that I was walking rather quickly…. After spending nearly a month on old cobblestone roads made from volcanic rocks and climbing up and down steep hills, I enjoyed picking up the pace this afternoon.
Of course this was impossible in the markets, where I ended up walking in circles and dodging dogs, knife-jugglers, children, ice cream vendors, people carrying Baby Jesus dolls and really loud music coming from bad speakers. I did pick up the pace when I saw a cat with a rat in its mouth climb a tree and slip onto a rooftop, and when the stench from sewage running beneath the streets became gag-worthy. A block from where I’m staying, there seems to be a hole in the road… and a lot of garbage on the sidewalks.
Now after my two small excursions, I’m exhausted, but happily and safely tucked into a lovely Airbnb, where there are six of us travellers staying tonight. It’s relatively quiet, by Mexican standards, because it’s off the main street, and there is a terrace on the roof where I ate my takeout quesadillas and agua de Jamaica before retreating to my room. And no cats or rats to be seen.
Tomorrow, I plan on riding the metro to another part of town. Not sure if it’ll be on a women-only car or not, but if it is, I won’t mind a bit.
taken from the fifth floor of the Sears store across the street… a bit of Bellas Artes and the Alameda. Pardon the dirty window…