Lessons from Vóvó: Gender Roles & The Rules of Engagement

At 87, she has experienced a life that many of us dream of.  From Brasil to Brooklyn, she has loved, cried, laughed, fought, worked, nurtured, sacrificed, danced, and walked a mile in her shoes, just to be here today with a wealth of knowledge and wisdom, ready to share it with those of us just starting this journey that we call life.  Many people call her “mommy”—even those that she did not raise. I call her grandma, or in Portuguese,  “vóvó”   —Mahogs

Here is the second installment of “Lessons from Vóvó”, a series of jewels dropped by one of our treasured elders.  The last time she schooled us on love and money and this time, it’s all about gender roles and the rules of engagement.

Vóvó on roles of men and women Women today are more independent. When I met my husband, he said, ‘When I finish school, you don’t have to work.’  I’ll take care of you.  Back then, men wanted to take care of their women. The woman I used to work for had a high school education and married a man who was an ambassador at the UN.

Back then, men told their mothers, ‘I want a new woman.’  The mothers would ask, ‘Would she make a good mother… can she make a good wife and take care of the house?’  Now, the mothers want to know, ‘What does she do to help you?’  And now you see more men who don’t work and let their women work.  I think that’s terrible.  A man has to be a man.  Both can work together.

Now for women who stay at home and complain about housework—they have a washing machine, vacuum cleaner, dishwasher. They have it easy. Then their man comes home from working hard and they open a can of packaged food for them to eat? That’s terrible.

Mahogs: What about when both work?

Vóvó: The house is always a woman’s responsibility. A man doesn’t care. But it looks bad for a woman. If someone comes to your house… bathroom stinks, bed not made, clothes all over the place. It reflects badly on the woman.

Mahogs: Okay, I get it. No argument there.  Now, we have a lot of single women reading the site who may one day want to get married. It has been a hot topic between two of our columnists lately, Hitched Chick and Single Girl.  Any words for women who want to make it to the alter one day, but keep running into the wrong guys?

Vóvó: Always put what you want first. There’s going to be a point when things don’t happen the way you want.  I dated a man. He proposed and asked me to wait up to six years. Nothing happened. Then I started to realize I had to look out for myself.

He took me to nice places he knew I liked: Pão de Açúcar, Corcovado… but he didn’t give me what I wanted. I had the opportunity to go the US and I did not tell him that I was leaving because I knew if I told him he would convince me to stay. So I left. He called two weeks after to ask for me and couldn’t believe that I had left. Later I sent him an invitation to my wedding, years later.

In Brasil on your 16th birthday people gave you things to add to your house because they figured by 20, 21, you’d be married. I knew a girl who waited until 30 something and had all of this stuff—dating one guy and he messed around after 15 years and he married someone else.

Mahogs: That certainly happens. What about for those who get engaged. How long is too long for an engagement before it just becomes pointless?

Vóvó: Sometimes when men put a ring on your finger, they still do what they want, but since the women are wearing the ring, they are tied to the men, while he runs around.

Mahogs: Do you think the engagement ring is pointless?

Vóvó: Don’t put it on your finger unless you’re ready. Otherwise they’ll hold the ring against you. ‘You have my ring…you can’t do XYZ…’ While they run around and do whatever.  My sister was engaged twice and didn’t marry either.  With the second one she gets a knock at the door, a woman said her daughter was pregnant by him. He had to be married to her or go to jail for five years because she was under aged (under 21) by Brazilian law.

Mahogs: Drama!

Vóvó: Yes, honey. You have to be careful.

Catch more from me and my grandmother in the next installment of “Lessons from Vóvó”. See the last one here: “Love & Money.


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