During my time in Costa Rica I had the privilege to take a gender and sustainability class. As a biology major, I have not had the opportunity to explore the topic of gender, let alone its impact on the environment. Feminism is not a new word to me, but the meaning behind the word has never been clear. Feminism on a basic level is defined by google as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of equality of the sexes.” This I understood, but the concept becomes more complex as each person redefines it on a personal level.

Ironically enough, my feminist views had only been defined after having spent a semester in Costa Rica’s machismo culture [Dictionary.com defines this culture as one that praises an exaggerated sense of manliness, power and the right to dominate]. That culture, where frequent cat calls occur on the streets and women experience restricted independence along with constant negative attention, only fueled my sense of #GRLPWR.

During class and on International Women’s day we explored topics such as: women’s rights, the gender pay gap, gender roles, women in politics, the feminism of poverty, women and the environment, women and violence and so much more. The one topic that caught my attention the most was women and violence.

Domestic violence and femicide, two topics that are rarely talked about outside of women’s gender and sexuality studies classrooms, are still prevalent issues in Latin America and across the globe. In a group project, for my class in San Jose, I studied the case of Maria Trinidad Matus, a 25-year-old Mexican singer who was a victim of femicide in 2018. She was attacked on a beach in Costa Rica for being a woman and the public immediately resorted to victim blaming. Traveling alone in Costa Rica made Maria a target, so what does that say about me? I came to Costa Rica alone, just like Maria, and just because I am a woman, this increases my likelihood of being placed in harm’s way. This story did not stop me from traveling all over Costa Rica on the weekends or going out in San Jose during the week, but it did make me more cautious. What I learned in class adjusted my mindset outside of the classroom too.

IMG_6544My friends and I had two major rules during our stay in Costa Rica. First, never go anywhere alone! The buddy system is always key, especially in a foreign country. Second, Uber everywhere in the city! Walking past sunset was a big no no in San Jose. With that being said, I never felt unsafe in Costa Rica, but I was not naive to what was going on around me. Even walking to the gym, men would stick their heads out the window of their cars, reverse to watch me walk by and even shout at me. One day, my friend and I fell asleep on the beach in Uvita and woke up to a man taking pictures of us. Boys would form circles around my friends and I while we danced at night clubs. The stories never end and every woman has similar stories of her own.

This is not something women should have to get used to, but they do..

Instead of allowing this type of environment to force me to retreat into my safety shell, I learned to be comfortable in my own skin. My girls and I had to stick together and watch each other’s backs. We refused to give in to our fears and stay in the shadows to avoid attention. We set out to live freely and explore Costa Rica and that is exactly what we did.

My mindset did not start out this way, no matter how hard I tried. Just having a male in

 our group made me feel safer. I hated giving in to that societal view of power. Eventually, I learned not to look at men and women through society’s eyes. My #girlgang 

was full of inspirational women that showed me how strong I am. I stopped comparing myself to other women, keeping my mouth shut in fear of rejection and ma

king myself small for the benefit of others. The confidence I gained from feeling the power of feminism in Costa Rica will be something I carry with pride for the rest of my life. All people deserve to feel empowered and supported, what empowers you?

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