In this series Pablo (P), a Mexican in Australia and Ann (A), an Australian in Mexico, talk similarities and differences between their countries and cultures.
Part 1: Food and gender
A: I guess I’d be betraying my PhD in gender studies if I didn’t start by mentioning what I’ve observed around gender roles in Mexico. And of course, it’s something that comes up all the time when people in Australia ask me (a straight cis woman, a white-skinned foreigner) about life here: You got a Latin lover yet? Is it really macho there?
I do find male/female gender roles to be much more explicit and socially ‘enforced’ in Mexico than I am used to in Australia. Here, men open doors for me, assume they will pay if we go out, refuse to let me carry literally anything, make jokes about whether I am a good cook or keep a clean house. There’s really strong ideas about what a woman’s role is and what a man’s role is, and I feel I don’t fit into about maybe 80% of the woman’s role !! In this and in many other ways, I have the privilege of being a foreigner—my difference can be explained away by my strange culture of origin, haha.
P: For some reason gender roles made me think of stereotypes and the types of questions I get about Australians’ perception of Mexicans. Many of my friends or family members ask me how much do you hear about Mexico in Australia? When I first heard the question I tried to politely say nothing or not that much rather than talking about the most infamous ingredients of a Mexican stereotype… drugs, cartels, and violence. Today, when I’m asked this question I just respond we hear as much of Mexico here as you do of Australia over there.
I do agree those labels are more explicitly ingrained in Mexican culture, but I also observe a very clear definition of roles in Australia, especially for highly conservative white Australians who over-protect traditional ‘values’. Having dated Australian women I do sometimes use the open-the-door-for-you gesture, it has never backfired, I believe the foreigner shield makes that moment a cute one. Could it be what you expect in exchange for those kinds of gestures what makes it weird or uncomfortable? If I open the door for you, I expect you to be a good cook. Something I really appreciate is how Australian women can cook you breakfast not because it is part of their role, but because they want to. That feels satisfying to me because I feel I can easily cook breakfast too without strengthening or weakening any traditional stereotypes.
A: Yeah, I think the way I tend to understand men doing those sorts of ‘favours’ for women is that they are part of an idea men have of women in which women are supposed to reciprocate with housekeeping and sex! The old white elite who go hard on conservative values in Australia are probably protecting that explicitly sexist version of reciprocity, because it has served their kind of power and wealth. But of course there is more typically so much more going on between two people, including but not limited to cultural and personal ideas about how a man or a woman should be.
Food and cooking are so important in every way but specifically in this case, yes – I’ve experienced very strong expectations to cook for men and also in general to be ‘a good cook’, as part of being ‘a good woman’. I am a terrible cook so it’s something I’ve been very aware of, (especially because Mexican culture has so much incredible food that kind people will cook for me….!) I think on both sides of the world, most people would want the person who is doing something ‘for’ them – opening a door, cooking breakfast – to want to do it, and that reciprocity be equal and uncoerced. This feels at the heart of debates in both Mexico and Australia about gender roles.
Gender roles aside (while always implied!) – how have you found Australian culture/s around food and cooking to be different and/or not that different to Mexico’s?
P: Ok, before jumping into your food question, let me try to wrap up my ideas around the roles imposed by gender. It is very interesting to learn from your perception of what Mexican men tend to do and expect from their partners. I feel a little exposed and vulnerable but at the same time I feel I’m able to reshape the components of my culturally predefined role. I also feel I can adapt those components to a different culture where I can offer cute or romantic gestures that are new, different and complementary. Is that something we’re all looking for in a relationship? Cute complementary moments that surprise us — until coating every food with hot sauce stops being cute and becomes annoying. Is that something that happens to all of us in any relationship? It was cute until it wasn’t.
Not sure if I wrapped this one up or opened a new branch of our conversation!
Food. This is a hard one for me to capture in a paragraph. Let me start at the bottom line and this line is for you, my beloved tacos. During my first couple of years in Australia I thought I wasn’t going to survive without you. And it wasn’t only without your magnificent adaptability to ingredients, flavours and colours, it was also about the experience of eating you. It was learning I wouldn’t be able to have you for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner. It was finishing a last beer at a pub and not being able to have you before going home. It was going to Woolies for the first time and excitedly smiling at the glowing Mexican Food section to then dissapointedly sigh at the sight of a hard taco kit. It was not being able to catch up with a friend or go on a date and grab you in my hands. It was missing the stubborn smell of maiz (corn), salsa and lime stock on my fingers after eating you.
Sorry, I digressed. It was hard, I admit. Tacos, I had to move on. And it was less hard to do so when I realised food in Australia is so varied and rich in so many ways. It is the materialisation of multiculturalism. I love how you can have top quality Afghan food one day and Ethiopian the next. One of my favourite food experiences here is the Schnitzel; chicken, beef or kangaroo with chippies on the side at a pub while having a schooner, a pot, or a pint. Italian, Greek, and Middle Eastern restaurants that respond to migration waves are an absolute pleasure to enjoy! I also believe Australians are very good at growing their own produce and make the most out of their gardens 🙂 How has the food experience been for you in Mexico?
A: Oh my god, I think I just involuntarily shed a tear at the thought of not being able to get tacos on the way home from the pub. I am definitely presently engaged in this love affair. Tacos, and all the other variations of corn-based products (pambazos! gorditas! huaraches!) are such a joy and such a beautiful way of sharing food and life with other people. There’s a reason why Mexican food and cooking is so famous worldwide – it’s not only the incredible mix of flavours and textures, it’s the communal, public nature of cooking and eating; the way food expresses and underscores belonging.
I’ve definitely had some awkward moments with food culture here. I’m vegetarian, and sometimes that doesn’t really translate (okay querida, how about some tinga de pollo? Sorry señora, chicken is still meat….). I still sometimes feel self-conscious and unsure of what to say or do in response to big, sincere shows of hospitality. And yeah, I’m not super domestic or a great cook, so it comes back to… gender…. sometimes!
Have we come full circle on this one? Haha! What should we tackle next – how about the same/different experiences of economic crisis between the two countries? Let us know what you think in the comments below!
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