Strong Hands, Strong Women

“Your hands are so soft. You don’t wash dishes, do you?” the tough women at Las Telares asked me and laughed. It’s a fair question even just based on appearance. I am a small, blonde foreigner in a nice dress to give class in later and I clearly don’t work too much with my hands. They are strong, dusty women with strong hands from working every day. “Do you know how to cook?” my host grandmother asked me, placing a ready-made meal in front of me as my ten-year-old host sister makes her own. I make a mean grilled cheese among other things, but again, it’s a fair question. Even though I can cook, I do not frequently need to, and I definitely did not in elementary school.

Sometimes I feel a shot of indignation when faced when these kinds of questions. I think to myself, I’m a powerful woman like you, but just in a different way. There’s more than one way to be a strong woman. My power is in my intelligence and education, in my traveling experience, in my personal projection and image, etc. It finally hit me that these sources of my identity and power are entirely derived from my privilege. I have the distinct privilege of not having to work all day with my hands to support my family and I had the distinct privilege to not have had to learn how to sustain myself from a young age. It is only in the absence of these weights that I am free to do things like be a university student full time, and study abroad.

I want to fit in here in León. When I’m working and sweating next to other women, I want to feel somewhat equal to them. When I meet the eyes of another girl on the bus as a group of men harasses us both, I want to communicate with me eyes that we are the same. But the truth is that we’re not. Because I get to go home after two months. I get to stop working after a few hours, and I get to call my family in the United States on Skype that night and tell them about the exciting experience of weaving because I do not live it every day. I get to get off the bus and think about home when I feel targeted. Even if I were to more fully integrate into this community for a lengthier stay, the fact would remain that my entire personhood is embedded in proof of my privilege. I can never undo the reality that I created my sense of self and it was carefully protected under privileged conditions. So in the end, I can’t blend in and disguise my privilege, but I can do the most and best work I can in order to show my gratitude for and consciousness of it. I can laugh at myself for being kind of useless when others do and accept that truth. And I can definitely continue to marvel at the strong, amazing women that surround me and continue to learn from them every day.

Kara Fitzgerald ’15