The Realities of Being a Woman: Living with an Omnipresent Fear 

Isabella Lagarto, Design Editor

Born as a Cuban-Honduran girl, I have learned to embrace femininity, but not in the way one would imagine. Living with a family that grips onto traditional, outdated gender roles in regard to how women should live has shown me how to explore and accept my identity as a Hispanic woman, on my own terms. Growing up, I felt trapped by the ideals that told me I had to submit myself to rigid standards in order to please men or dress a specific way to avoid the male gaze. It took rebelling against this personal restraint to recognize the beauty of my femininity despite the struggles I have faced as a woman. 

I will never forget the discomfort of someone telling me to change out of my shorts or to put on a bra because a male family member was coming over. I will never forget the unsettling and inappropriate comments I received from family friends about my developing body, and how the constant sexualization from a young age –– from both peers and people I looked up to –– bled into my future relationships and interactions with others. 

 At the time, I did not realize that these values instilled in me are reminiscent of machismo and its opposite: marianismo. In Hispanic culture, machismo is a gender norm defined as exaggerated masculinity –– typically encouraging domination and superiority over women, further legitimized by patriarchal societies. Contrarily, marianismo emphasizes obedience, submission to authoritative males, purity and self-denial. 

Today, we still see these values in the form of sexist jokes, cat-calling, sexual harassment, coercion, rape and even murder –– and some expect women to tolerate it. Still, all these acts are connected through objectification and the belief that these behaviors toward women are appropriate.

What initially seemed like odd comments and typical cultural rules that brought me discomfort manifested into what felt like an eternity of inner turmoil and confusion. Comments about my body at family reunions and from people I knew made me feel objectified and reduced to my body parts. Facing sexualization as a child stripped me of my innocence and degraded my self-worth, influencing my first romantic relationships and my relationships with men in general. I lost all sense of personal value, which led me to surround myself with people who manipulated me because of the indignity that crept up on me. This led to a skewed sense of safety, especially around the opposite sex. 

Being sexualized is unhealthy and holds negative impacts on young girls and women, as it reduces somebody to their bodily features or sex appeal. Sexualization at a young age can result in undermined confidence, ultimately leading to shame and emotional problems. This shame could affect sexual development and negative self-image, causing a disproportionate amount of mental health problems, with eating disorders, depression and anxiety being the most common among sexualized girls and women. 

The negative outcomes of experiencing sexualization at a young age, especially for girls raised under strict ideals of what it means to be a woman, result in a shattered sense of safety around men. 

Young women who internalize marianismo or traditional gender principles are more likely to experience exposure to abusive partners. These same beliefs make young women, especially Latinas, less likely to report sexual coercion or abuse. Sexual or physical violence affects over one-third of women globally, the leading forms of violence being intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence

Intimate partner violence is violence by an intimate male partner or a husband –– sexual, psychological or physical –– and the most widespread form of violence towards women. Non-partner sexual violence is perpetrated by anybody who is not a current or former male partner, such as a family member, stranger or friend. According to 2018 Violence Against Women Prevalence Estimates conducted by the World Health Organization, 641 million and up to 753 million married or partnered women from ages 15 or older have been subjected to intimate partner violence at least once. One in four partnered adolescent girls in the age range of 15 to 19 have already experienced intimate partner violence. 

With high rates of violence toward women and unrealistic expectations set on young girls throughout various cultures, it is only logical that women may be afraid of men. Today, a woman can never be too careful. It has become the “norm” to check one’s car before getting in to ensure that they have not been targeted by sex traffickers, to carry pepper spray or a pocket knife and to always remain alert of one’s surroundings. Women’s widespread fear of men has become ubiquitous, invading numerous aspects of a woman’s life. It is sorrowful that women live in a society where they are encouraged to accommodate men yet have to tread carefully in their presence, but it is better to be safe than sorry.