Argentina is one of the world’s best travel destinations, famous for its steak, tango, scenery and its people.
Yet, for the single female traveller, Argentina’s culture can be a novelty experience in both positive and negative ways. Though it is led by a female president, and though it has a history of female empowerment with figures like Evita Peron, Argentina has surprisingly retained a very strong sense of patriarchy.
Argentina’s culture is steeped in machismo, and you’ll notice it instantly.
The attention you receive while traveling solo through Argentina can at times be overwhelming. Kelly recently wrote about her experiences with overcoming sexual assault in Argentina, and while not all attention is bad, it certainly is all the time.
There are some pleasant effects of machismo: the gentlemen are true gentlemen; polite men are far more chivalrous, opening doors, escorting women from place to place, and addressing you politely. There is a certain protectiveness that, while it can be a little condescending at times, is also very sweet.
Yet, the flipside to this is that when the gentlemen aren’t gentlemen, they really aren’t gentlemen.
As a woman traveller, you’ll have to get used to forceful and relentless advances from potential suitors. Here are some of our best tips for surviving machismo in Argentina:
Don’t Get Angry
When a group of men are hollerin’ at you while you’re sweating bullets in 90 percent humidity after dropping a cup of coffee on yourself as people shove past you quickly–it’s sometimes hard not to lose it. Breathe! Getting angry only makes you more amusing for others to watch. Stay calm, keep your head down, and keep moving.
The hardest part about machismo in Argentina is feeling like, as a woman in this country, you have no voice. You may feel you aren’t heard when you voice a complaint, or, get frustrated when male companions won’t allow you to order from the menu. This is a different country and sometimes things feel a little backwards–go with it!
Watch Your Alcohol Intake
Feel free to indulge in one or two drinks, but no so much that you get sloppy drunk and lose control of a situation. It’s not ever a good idea to get wasted abroad, but in Argentina, it’s also not really acceptable behavior for women. It’s easy to forget but although the drinks are cheaper and your dollar stretches further, your alcohol tolerance stays resolutely the same. Stay away from their famous fernet and coca-cola. A cultural experience it may be, but it is also deceptively powerful.
Be Comfortable with “No”
If you’re traveling through Argentina soon, get used to saying “no” firmly and often.
This is a country where you have to have a firm grasp on the cultural cues and gender relations. It is easier to get yourself into an uncomfortable situation if you aren’t careful, and you have to be very, very clear about your lack of interest. Don’t flirt out of politeness. Don’t respond ‘to be nice’. Don’t assume every compliment is genuine and everyone has your best interest at heart. This is a cynical approach, and some men are genuinely just very helpful, but it is better to be safe than sorry.
Don’t Get Down on Your Appearance
Argentine women are thinner, wear more makeup, have longer hair and more plastic bodies than you ever will. This is a country where the national health insurance pays for one free plastic surgery operation per year. Don’t get down on the way you look!
It will be everywhere: you’ll turn on the television, and you’ll be lucky to see one unaltered woman appear, much less a woman over size 4. Clothing in Argentina is notoriously undersized, a symptom of the culture’s body-image problem – going shopping with an Argentine friend in my first two weeks, I was shocked to find I’d gained three sizes.
When she saw me staring in horror at a particularly offensive pair of jeans, she said, “Oh, don’t worry. It is Argentina. If you are healthy anywhere else, you are obese here.” Many travellers feel a certain level of discomfort in the sudden pressure to up the ante when it comes to their appearance (not to mention traumatized after shopping). But don’t let that get you down!
Bring your own clothes with you to Argentina – they are overpriced in Buenos Aires in any case. It’ll save you the uncomfortable situation of asking shop assistants for larger and larger sizes. Keep in mind that many of the ultra-thin women in Argentina are missing out on the wonder of their country’s famous red wine and steak (then add a heaping teaspoonful of butter on top of your plate for good measure.) You;ll never be happier to unbutton your jeans after a meal than you will be in Argentina.
Be Confident and Cautious, Not Paranoid
As an ardent fan of the Argentina, I’m reluctant to say it, but it is occasionally uncomfortable to be a foreign woman here, if you come unprepared to handle the gender dynamics.
You will get catcalled. You will turn heads. You may at time have to be rude, but all of these things are part of the experience of traveling alone here, and it’s not one you want to miss!
This is not, however, to discourage you from visiting the country. It easily ranks among the most dynamic, varied, friendly and beautiful countries in the world, not to mention your dollar goes far. But travel with an open mind, a sense of humour and a ready, “Thanks, but no thanks,”. That can be the most valuable currency for any women in Argentina.
Don’t forget! If you’re heading to Argentina be sure to pick up our Argentina guidebook for women for help in navigating this beautiful country!
Have you been to Argentina? What was the experience like?