Mujer - the literal translation is woman, but the cultural translation is much more complex. Just when I thought that I was beginning to understand the concept of being a woman, I come to Mexico where the implications of being a woman are much different.

Although Mexico has seen many advancements for women from assignments of political positions to more laws against domestic violence, there still exists evidence of the culture of machismo. One of the most shocking beliefs for me is the double standard that exists for infidelity. I have spoken with Mexicans of all ages, sexes, and education levels and the overwhelming opinion about infidelity is that it is okay for men to have affairs, but that if a woman does it she is clearly looked down upon. Although women are very frustrated by this standard, most have succumbed to the notion that this is just the way it is.

There is, however, another side to machismo that is not quite so ugly; the acts of being a gentleman. In the U.S. the women's rights movement has achieved such heights of equality that many times men are hypersensitive about making an effort to help or treat someone like a lady for fear of the women's response. In Mexico, from the poorest to the richest areas, a woman is a lady and should therefore be treated like one. Because I am not used to these customs, sometimes I have awkward moments when a male friend wants to pull out a chair or open a door for me and I am not expecting it. Another custom which is new for me is that when walking through the city, a woman walks on the inside and the man walks streetside. I am assuming it is some form of protection and chivalry too, but it still feels strange for me.

The observations I have commented on are some of the things that have been most prevalent in my experiences. Of course, like any other country, there is a great variety in the notions of woman. I have seen women in rural areas who must ask permission of their husband to go out. I have also seen the university, which is full of young, career driven women who place their education above marriage and childrearing. Throughout this year I hope to continue to learn, share, and expand my concept of being a woman in a new cultural environment.

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