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Our yesteryear grandmothers’ strength, an inspiration for today.

I love reading old stories, where I can think deeply about the characters and the situations.  You can feel how living was by those times, and even without that purpose in mind, you find yourself analyzing the role of women in those years. Fortunately, remarkable women have slowly been recovered from the forgotten side of history. Women that contributed or fought for a voice, the right to vote, education and health.

“Buenos Aires in sight: 160 pictures and stories”[1] is not an exception to my preferences. This book, by Daniel Balmaceda, is a compilation of selected captured moments which were published by several antiques media from the old Buenos Aires city, Argentina.  

There is one picture that caught my attention: two high-society ladies going for a drive on a new sporty car Citroën. The journalist who presented the situation, surprised by such female audacity, invited us to think:

“How astonished our yestearyear grandmothers would be to see a female figure, all delicacy and sweetness, wielding the steering wheel to launch her machine to unusual speed overcoming obstacles in the middle of the race.” Caras y Caretas Magazine,1928. [2]

That rhetorical question made me think about my grandmothers and about their own grannies, which inspired me to write this blog.

My two grandmothers, contemporaries to the photo’s ladies, lived in different areas of the region of the Humid Pampas[3] from Argentina, where both families were dedicated to the farming and livestock activity.

One became a widow when she was only 20 years old and was mother to a 6 months-old baby-girl. Quiet and sweet, hardworking and dedicated, it was not the first time neither the last that she made a path for herself.

The other one, the youngest girl out of 10 siblings, a natural leader, gentle but not docile, lost her father when she was only 3-year-old. Unexpectedly, her mother had to move to the town, using all her network to rebuild a new life without the country labor income.

Both families, Spanish-criollos[4] descendants, lived in these latitudes for generations. Their stories are interlocked to the turbulent avatars that this land proposed. It must be kept in mind that this land was a Spanish colony and Buenos Aires was just a small village with a port, going through independence and civil wars, including the land colonization by battles and peace treatments with native people, until it finally became a booming country offering opportunities to the European immigrants.

Through all that, they worked the land, populated the country and followed the frontier [5] progression.

Back to the “Caras y Caretas” magazine’s note with the ladies in the car… the question resonated in my head: “How astonished our yestearyear grandmothers would be to see a female figure, all delicacy and sweetness, wielding the steering wheel to launch her machine to unusual speed overcoming obstacles in the middle of the race.” I couldn’t help but wonder what my grandmothers would have thought about it had they read it by 1928.

I imagine my hardworking grandmother would talk about how it would not surprise her grandmother: there are records of her in 1895, widowed with two little children, after crossing 700 km of the deserted Patagonia [6].

Additionally, my other grandmother, the fierce and gentle one, would think that it would not call her granny’s attention. She grew up listening stories about how her grandmother had lived with all her daughters in the frontier in the year 1875, and the risks that came with that. They were used to the savage malón[7] attacking their country-side properties and livestock. When this happened, they wore all their dresses one over the other and got on their horses, took the reins and escaped at unusual speeds in order to save their belongings, freedom and lives.

Yes, that was their life by that time.

My grandpas would have had a voice too, to tell us that their mothers dared to cross an ocean from Europe to America when the XIX century was ending, to begin a new life in an unknown world.

All those adventures of different families, where the women are also the protagonists, were happening until my parents met in a long trip train a Christmas eve 60 years ago. And here I am, reviewing the women role through their families.

When I was a child, the feminist movement had already had some wins. However, cartoons, movies, magazines and school books insisted on showing us a woman model all delicacy, weak, dependent, passive, dedicated to the home. Those stereotypes were odd to me and did not match with what I saw growing up: my mother, breastfeeding my youngest sister while graduating from a technical career.

What a contrast between my female ancestors and images that represented women at those times!

Despite becoming conscious about those biases due to the stereotypes that society tried to impose, we find ourselves sometimes doubting about women’s abilities.

In those occasions, our female ancestors can be an excellent source of inspiration: even though they lacked both physical strength and legal rights, they knew how to cope with all the adversities and carry on.

They represent all the anonymous women who with their audacity o resistance contributed peacefully and quietly to turn a vast end-of-the-world land into a nation.

 

[1] “Buenos Aires en la Mira, 160 historias y fotos”, by Daniel Balmaceda. Editorial Sudamericana, 2014

[2] “Caras y Caretas”,Argentine weekly magazine (1898-1939 Collection)//Semanario Argentino (1898-1939)

[3] Humid pampas: extensive fertile region that due to weather propitiates the cereal harvest and livestock. That area made Argentina to become one of the main food providers to the world by early XX century. // Pampa Húmeda: Extensa región de praderas propicia por su clima y terreno para la agricultura intensiva y cría de ganado. Convirtiéndola en una proveedora importante de alimentos al mundo.

[4] Criollos: European descendants born in America’s colonies used in the colonization era.// Criollos: denominación que recibían los descendientes de europeos en américa en la época de la colonia.

[5] Frontier: A fort line which stablished the territory dominated by European-Criollos people// Frontera: Línea movible que representaba el límite del territorio dominado por los criollos, protegida por fortines que luego fueron las bases de las actuales pueblos y ciudades.

[6] Patagonia: Enormous rough, cold and windy terrain, with a unique flora, fauna and landscapes, in the south of South-America that was the last region to be colonized.// Patagonia: Extensa área en el sur de Sudamérica, desierta fría y ventosa, con única flora, fauna y paisajes. Fue la última zona en ser colonizada.

[7] Malón, name given to the surprise raids of some savage native’s bands from 17th to 19th centuries., In the raids they burn houses, stole horses and cows, kill men, and take captive women and children, using spears, arrows and boleadoras, rustic arms made with rounded stones.// Malón: Táctica militar ofensiva empleada ocasionalmente por algunos pueblos indígenas del siglo 17 a 19 que consistía en el ataque rápido y sorpresivo de un grupo de guerrero a caballos con lanzas y boleadoras con el objetivo de saquear el ganado, quemar las casas, matar al criollo y capturar mujeres y niños.

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Me gustan las historias antiguas donde puedo apreciar a sus protagonistas, detenerme e interpretarlos. Es posible sentir como era vivir en aquellas épocas, y sin pretenderlo encontrarse analizando la situación de la mujer en ese entonces. Afortunadamente, lentamente se ha ido rescatando del olvido a remarcables mujeres. Mujeres que abogaron por una voz, un voto, educación y salud.

No escapa a mis gustos “Buenos Aires en la mira: 160 fotos e historias”[1] de Daniel Balmaceda, quien seleccionó momentos captados y publicados por diversos medios de época de Buenos Aires Argentina. Me detengo en una foto: dos señoritas de la alta sociedad de Buenos Aires están por manejar un automóvil Citroën último modelo de 1928. El periodista sorprendido ante tal osadía femenina se pregunta:

Con qué cara de asombro verían las abuelas de antaño una figura femenina, toda delicadeza y dulzura, empuñando valientemente el volante para lanzar su máquina a velocidades inauditas, y para salvar los obstáculos en plena carrera.” Caras y Caretas, 1928.[2]

Y esta pregunta retórica, al hacerme pensar en mis abuelas y en sus propias abuelas, es la que me inspira este blog.

Mis dos abuelas, contemporáneas a las señoritas de la foto, vivían en distintas zonas de la pampa húmeda [3] de Argentina, donde la principal actividad es agro ganadera.

Una quedó viuda a los 20 años con una beba de 6 meses. Callada, dulce, emprendedora, empeñosa sin descanso, no sería la primera vez ni la última que que emprendió el modo de ganarse la vida en la ciudad sin depender de un hombre.

La otra, hija menor de 10 hermanos, huérfana de padre a los 3 años, gentil, nada dócil, líder innata. Inesperadamente, su madre tuvo que recurrir a todas sus redes para reconstruir la vida en la ciudad, lejos del campo que era sostén de la familia.

Las familias de ambas llevaban generaciones de descendientes hispanos-criollos[4] en estas latitudes.  La historia de estas familias se entrelaza con los turbulentos avatares que esta tierra les proponía. Desde cuando Buenos Aires era solo una aldea con puerto del virreinato español, pasando por las guerras de independencia, civiles, incluyendo la colonización mediante batallas y tratados de paz con los nativos, hasta llegar a ser un país pujante lleno de oportunidades para los inmigrantes. Y así fueron, mediante sus trabajos rurales, poblando la nación a medida que la frontera [5] avanzaba civilizando nuevos territorios.

Vuelvo a la nota de Caras y Caretas de las señoritas manejando el auto en 1928, y la pregunta resuena en mi cabeza. “Con qué cara de asombro verían las abuelas de antaño una figura femenina, toda delicadeza y dulzura, empuñando valientemente el volante para lanzar su máquina a velocidades inauditas, y para salvar los obstáculos en plena carrera.”

No puedo evitar pensar que hubieran pensado mis abuelas de haberlo leído.

Imagino a mi empeñosa abuela diciendo que su abuela no tendría ninguna cara de asombro: que hay registros de ella en 1895 cerca de Chile, viuda con dos pequeños niños, después de haber atravesado 700 km de la desierta Patagonia[6].

Y la otra, la gentil, diría que su abuela no sentiría tampoco ningún asombro. Creció escuchando sus historias de vida en la frontera en 1875 y los riesgos que sufrían junto a sus hijas. Cuando venía el salvaje malón [7]  a arrasar con las propiedades de los criollos, se ponían todos sus vestidos uno encima del otro, se subían a los caballos, empuñaban las riendas y a inusitadas velocidades huían del peligro sorteando obstáculos para proteger así sus pertenencias, su vida y su libertad.

Si, así era la vida de ellas por entonces.

Mis abuelos también tendrían que opinar y ellos contarían de sus madres, quienes desde Italia y desde España, se animaron a cruzar un océano hacia América cuando el siglo XIX finalizaba, hacia un mundo desconocido para iniciar otra vida.

Todas estas aventuras de familias diversas, donde las mujeres no dejan de ser protagonistas, se fueron cruzando hasta converger en que mis padres se conocieran una Noche Buena y para siempre en un largo viaje de tren hace más de 60 años. Y acá estoy revisando la historia del rol de la mujer a través de ellas.  

Cuando era niña, el movimiento feminista ya había ganado sus batallas.  Sin embargo, películas, dibujos animados y hasta libros escolares, insistían en mostrar a la mujer como delicada, dócil, débil, pasiva, sumisa, dependiente.  Este estereotipo que me rebelaba tanto, no se condecía ni con mis preferencias ni con mi madre, a quien ví recibirse de una carrera técnica amamantando a mi hermana menor.

 ¡Que contraste entre mis ancestros femeninos y la imagen que se transmitía de la mujer en aquellas épocas!

A pesar de ser conscientes de estos sesgos por los estereotipos que la sociedad construyó e impuso, a veces aún dudamos de las habilidades femeninas.

En esas ocasiones nuestros ancestros femeninos pueden ser una excelente fuente de inspiración:  ellas, sin la fuerza física y sin derechos legales que las amparen, supieron seguir adelante y superar todas las adversidades.

Ellas representan a todas esas anónimas y valerosas mujeres que con su osadía o resistencia contribuyeron pacífica y silenciosamente a que un vasto territorio en el fin del mundo se convirtiera en una nación.

 

Posted by María del Rosario Valicente on: March 31, 2019 04:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Taking Conscience: Open Community Meeting Highlights.

A new community interested in Women Leadership has been opened this year in Buenos Aries, Argentina. After five meetings where men and women exchanged ideas, and with the purpose of closing the year sharing all the research done, an open community meeting was held.

The event baptized “Taking Conscience”, began with the participation of the audience through on-line surveys to allow them to identify any possible biases regarding gender roles and their expectations.

Representative touching stories about women throughout history were presented to understand the reason of the complexity of gender matters. Every story included a fight for equality of rights and opportunities during the last centuries, dealing with consequences such as being condemned to the guillotine.

We later remembered remarkable women in several disciplines and discussed what they had in common.

Women who made significant contributions to the information technology since 1843 were then brought up. This proved that the field is suitable to the female brain, and they highlighted the lack of visibility that women have had. 

What is going on nowadays? World-wide statistics show that access to top managerial positions for women as well as the gender and race wage gap have got a very long way to go. This happens in every country but in Argentina in particular. Project Management Institute, based on a survey made in 22 countries, counts only with 30% of women. Moreover, they are paid less than their male pairs. In the event a cute video was shown, in which a boy and a girl, through a game, realized the incomprehensible injustice of this reality.

Why is this still happening then? We talked about both internal and external barriers, stereotypes and myths that lead us to this complex situation, limiting us on our choices or conditioning our surroundings.

What can we do to change? How do we deconstruct these barriers? We shared some progress from several worldwide organizations that have set the goal to achieve an equal payment and distribution by 2030 for women, young men and people with disabilities. Iceland is a perfect example of how that goal can be reached.

Gender diversity programs that companies are implementing were mentioned, pointing the pros and cons of some measures. One of the members shared her experience in a corporation showing us the consequences of one of those programs and the benefits it had for every employee.

Counting on the Psychologist Elena Espil support, we shared few advices and tips that allow us to understand how mental models differs between women and men. This can help us improve our ability to communicate, taking advantage of the best qualities from everybody.

Inspiring messages and videos were presented in order to question ourselves about our own misconceptions and experiences.

Everyone is invited to join us next year to continue addressing these topics within the framework of PMI.

During a final toast we had the opportunity to exchange needs and establish connections with other organizations that pursue similar interests.

Personally, I believe the first step is recognizing our own biases. Only then we will be able to change this world into one with equality of opportunities.

We wish you a prosperous New Year in which we continue taking conscience!

Posted by María del Rosario Valicente on: December 28, 2018 08:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)
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