An open letter to those “good” Uruguayan guys, from a goddamn Gringa who lived in Uruguay for 8 years.
Dear Good Guy,
I love you… But what the fuck is happening with you?
Before I begin, let’s just clear the slate. I am writing from a country up in flames (In the state of California, up in literal flames). We are politically inept, without the collective ability to deal with a virus that Uruguay have almost totally eradicated and we are in the middle of a civil rights movement like we haven’t seen since the ‘60s. Maybe you’ll think that I’m in no place to criticize. I understand the place I’m writing from and for that reason I always call myself a “goddamn Gringa” Nevertheless, hear me out.
In this letter I’m going to speak to you with total sincerity and honesty. Some of you won’t be ready for what I’m going to say, and if that’s you, fine. Seriously, I wish you all the best and I hope that perhaps at another moment in time you’ll be ready to put your defensiveness to the side and listen. If you start to feel angry, sad, or defensive, then leave this letter alone and come back. I’ll be here. If you’re ready, let us continue.
Let’s get this straight. I’m an upper middle class white woman. It’s gotta be pretty obvious from a Uruguayan perspective how much racism black people and people of color deal with in the United States. And I, as a white person –even with all my good intentions, even though I’m a “good guy”, even though “I have black friends” — I’m part of the problem and I contribute to systemic racism. Obviously, when we talk about the issue of racism we’re also touching on general racism that exists here in the US for immigrants, latinos, indigineous people, and anyone who isn’t white passing. And if I don’t want to be part of that racist system, I have to work at it. It isn’t enough for me to be just a “good guy.” I have to be an ally. I have to be actively anti-racist in order to help dismantle the system that traumatizes and kills my brothers and sisters. The first thing I have to do is listen and believe what people of color are saying. Who am I to question the humanity of another? Question another’s experience?
Who are you to do that, good guy?
Who are you to question your sisters who are screaming from a place of deep seated pain? Dear good guy, I’m going to tell you this like your older sister, the one who drinks a little too much and will make you a turkey sandwich at midnight. I’m saying this from a place of love. It’s time for you to sit down, shut the fuck up, and listen.
I know why you don’t want to believe that this happens in your society. Because you’re scared. Because if it’s true that women are suffering this much, it must mean that YOUR reality –that the world as YOU know it — isn’t real. There must be another world, a world much darker that you don’t even want to imagine, because if what we are saying is real, the pain must be unbearable.
Welcome to the Upside Down. The monsters from “Stranger Things” live here. Stranger Machismo. And those monsters pass from the dark world to our world on a regular basis. Some are scarier than others, some are more dangerous than others, but all of them suffer from the same illness: toxic masculinity which fuels the fire of machismo. You know the monsters. They are your friends from work, your brothers, your friends with the “crazy ex.” And sometimes… It’s you. But you already knew that, and that, my good guy friend, is what scares you the most.
But, like I said at the beginning of this letter… I love you. Seriously I do. Because I see your humanity even though more than once you have failed to recognize mine. I also know that for men to treat women this way they must be suffering. I wouldn’t say that a man in this world has it easy. Far from it. I think that this society is difficult and the pressures to “be a real man” are many: Don’t be a faggot, always be looking to fuck, don’t show anything but joy or anger, be strong, provide, succeed, do not fail, be in control. You’re in a cage. You’ve been abused. I see you. But you must understand that your cage is crushing us. Sometimes, it kills us. I have to understand you because my very existence depends on it.
The times I’ve tried to explain this to you I did it with a joke and a smile because when I tried to tell you with the same violence that I experienced you refused to hear it. You got so angry that sometimes my truth put me in danger.
My dude, I tried to tell you. Like in my first job at Oriental Films when I was 23 and I was called into a meeting and was informed I needed to “smile more” and “be nicer.” Nobody in that meeting asked me what was going on, why I was acting like a robot, or what was wrong. Maybe I was so upset because I was with a guy who called me a slut when he got drunk, or shook me violently by the shoulders when I told him I wanted to bring a suitcase instead of a hiking backpack on a trip, or raped me one night and yelled at me to stop crying so the neighbors wouldn’t hear. Nobody asked me what was wrong. I didn’t ask myself either. They just told me to smile more and be nicer. And so I did.
But I smiled so much and was so nice that when I was 24 on another film shoot I was told that all the men thought I was hitting on them. I was also told not to wear shorts to set even though it was 90 degrees and we were shooting outside. I was too nice I guess. Every interaction with a new man became fraught with worry that I might be giving “the wrong idea.” I couldn’t win, man. So, I learned how to smile with just the right amount of teeth, and if I wore shorts I wore an extra large shirt to cover up those pesky curves that insinuated what a slut I was.
And with that tense smile I bit my tongue to avoid thinking about the pain I felt in my soul and my mouth began to fill with my own blood. There was a kind of violent revolution inside me. I had to find a new way to present myself to the world. Because, you see, I wanted to look cute. But I also wanted to avoid the possibility of a rando rubbing his dick up against me on the bus – like what happened when I was 21. I wanted to wearsomething that was ME! But not something that screamed, “Please come up to me at eight o’clock at night on the street and whisper in my ear ‘I bet you take it hard’”, which happened when I was 25. I wanted to wear something flowy and light for that summer heat, but I didn’t want to attract two young men during the middle of the day who attacked me and put their hands in the most intimate of places where they weren’t invited – like what happened when I was 26.
Where were you good guy? You and all your friends who “aren’t like that” couldn’t help me. I was having a really bad time and I needed you.
I couldn’t begin to tell you how embarrassed I was that time an old editor at Channel 4 asked me in front of all my colleagues if I was pregnant when I was feeling unwell. I talked to him the following day, super low key, really nice, and said please don’t do that. “You never know what a woman is going through and that topic is private. She could be pregnant and not want to lose her job, or maybe she can’t get pregnant, or maybe she just had an abortion, or any number of other things.” Dude, he called me a “Feminazi” and I never asked to come back and edit at Channel 4 again.
The reason I was feeling bad that day turned out to be an incurable disease and I didn’t know about it. I went to the doctors many times and they told me the pain was all in my mind, maybe I needed therapy. For seven years I was told my pain was normal “female troubles” and I was just very sensitive. A doctor at the Associación Española (Associated Spanish Hospital) laughed in my face when I couldn’t pronounce the word “ovarian cysts” in Spanish correctly. He said there was no way I had cysts and that even if I did, I couldn’t feel my own ovaries. However, he was happy to do a physical examination. The accompanying nurse was on the other side of the room (not watching), and he put his fingers inside just a hair too long, and in such a way that was not… Was that a lecherous look I just saw? His eyes got big and his eyebrows went up like he was horny. Is this really happening? Do I feel like I want to scream and cry at the same time? Is this real or am I imagining it?
I didn’t know. Because after living so long in a world that said to me, “You’re exaggerating”, “Maybe you’re just taking it the wrong way”, “Don’t over react”, “If it was that bad why didn’t you say anything”… I started to doubt myself. I doubted my own experience, my own internal voice that was saying “Something is very wrong here.” I started to doubt reality itself. I would wave my hand in front of me and the air would move like water ripples in a pool, the fibers of truth dissipating in front of me. I stood there smiling, teeth affixed in a perfect smile, the blood seeping out was the perfect shade of lipstick red.
Gaslighting. This is the perfect word for what happened to me. And like so many perfect phrases, this one is in English and has no Spanish translation. It’s a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented to a person which makes them doubt their own memory, their own perception, their own sanity. It can be between an abuser and a victim,but it can also be between an entire society and a portion of the population. It comes from a play that’s called “Gas Light” where a man convinces his wife that she’s crazy.
When someone suffers something truly traumatic and then experiences gaslighting, that’s when some real shit goes down. After I returned to the US at 28, I was diagnosed with Endometriosis, I needed two surgeries to save my ovaries and possibly my life. I had trauma from 7 years of living through hellish pain accompanied by the gaslighting I got from doctors who told me I was imagining it. Can you even fathom what it’s like to not trust the sensations of your own body? You go crazy.
Now, I’m all the way on another continent, and I don’t make my living in a tiny ass town like Montevideo, so I have nothing to lose. After years of intensive therapy, I can finally say this to you like I always wanted to: This is all way more fucked than it seems. It was all very traumatic for me and you need to take a hard look at the machismo and sexism that women deal with every day in Uruguay.
And you, friend… I tried to tell you what was happening to me and you gaslit me too. How many times did you say it was my imagination? Or that I was making a lot of nothing? Or that surely, surely, I was just working up this “man hate” ranting to my friends? This doesn’t happen to all women! It can’t be that bad! Feminazi! UGLY! ANGRY! LESBIAN!
That’s why I always opened my standup in Uruguay with the joke: I’m a feminist, I’m hot, horny, and a cocksucker. I had to break apart that stupid name “Feminazi” and use the objectification of my sexuality as a weapon against you. My ex-boyfriend hated that joke. Especially when there were men in the audience hollering, “Yes, Gringa, YES!” The smiling clown. The perfect image of that sad smiling clown. My ex understood “the struggle” but like you friend, he didn’t want to fight it with me. Even in my own home, I was alone.
And yeah, maybe my personal experience is especially fucked. Maybe I’ve had a particularly hard time. But I talk to other women. I know a woman who was hit in the face by her boyfriend and stayed silent to protect his reputation. I know a woman whose boyfriend left her after she got pregnant. I know a woman who was raped at a college party. Every one of my female friends has a story. But you know… It’s not that he’s a bad guy… It was just something that happened. He was having a bad day. He’s just having a hard time right now…
When I was suffering, you rejected me. You left me alone in the dark so you wouldn’t have to bear witness to my angst.So you could evade responsibility in all of this.
Friend, you left me bleeding, crying, hurt, and scared. And the worst is that you told me that it wasn’t happening. You saw me out in the yard in the pouring rain, trembling, sick, and from the porch you said you were getting wet too.
You preferred to be on the opposing side, “Men also have a hard time”, “We go through violence too.” What violence? Whose violence? You’re scared of women? When you’re alone at night and you cross a woman, you think we’re the ones who will attack you?
Something is going on with you guys, and you need to look inside yourselves and figure it out. You need to reinvent what it means to be a man, rediscover those values of masculinity that truly serve you. Because the toxic parts are the loudest and they are destroying you and in their wake they are destroying us as well. Not to mention the suffering of gay men and women and our trans brothers and sisters. I think when you choose to stand firm and defend yourself by negating our reality it cheapens life for you. It’s not worth much. It’s a life “on sale” made of plastic when you could have one made of beautiful porcelain. Yeah, it might get a bit fucked up and cracked. It’s more fragile. But at least it’s real. And you’re pissed because all of this implicates you. If you stand with us you’ll be forced to buy real life. You’ll be forced to fight with your friends, your father, the guy at the office, and your very own identity.
I get it. I’m a white woman in a racist country. Would you believe I have family members who are going to vote for Trump? Again? I have young friends, college educated friends, who defend the government when ICE snatches a hard-working Guatemalan man from his home of 15 years where he lives with his wife and three kids.
I have to think about what the fuck I have to do with that. What inner trash do I need to take out? How am I supporting this system? I can’t deny the times I have said to friends of color, “Maybe they didn’t mean it like that…”, “Yeah, there’s racist people but it’s not everywhere”, “Maybe if they had listened to the police…”
So we don’t have another choice, good guy. We have to do something and it has to start with us. It’s going to hurt. It’s going to be difficult. But we will be better people. Maybe we’ll go to heaven.
Hah. Just kidding.
Put on your pants. Shut your mouth. Listen. Read Bell Hooks, Feminism is for Everyone. Seriously, buy it, read it. Don’t make me do this emotional labor again. I’m tired. Tell me you’re sorry: for not believing me, for not saying anything when you heard what you heard, when you saw what you saw, when you did what you did. Talk to your male friends about this. Go to therapy. GO. TO. THERAPY. Help me make my dreams come true. Ask me if I need a hug. Let’s go into this dark house, get these ghosts out of here, let’s tear it down and build a new house. We have no use for this one.
Dude, seriously, I love you and I want you to be happy and fulfilled. But it’s your turn to think about me: just as much as I had to think and organize my thoughts, my actions, my emotions, and my wardrobe around your anger, your jealousy, your violence.
Take my hand and march in the streets. My freedom is your freedom.
With all my love,
Heather Shapiro is from the United States. She’s a comedic actress, writer, and director who lived in Uruguay from 2010 to 2018. Currently she lives in Los Angeles, CA.
Photo: Fernanda Montoro