| Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 2016

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Gender Issues

You may not be considered an ethnic, or religious majority in your home country, but by traveling to your host country you become, in a sense, a minority. As an international athlete, you are, in a sense, a novelty–someone new and different who stands out from the locals. In some cases, your outward appearance can also make you stand out, especially if the country's population is very homogeneous. Sometimes the locals' curiosity, interest, ignorance or misunderstanding of you can be unpleasant.

The following are important gender issues of which you should be aware:

  1. Standards of conduct for men and women in the host country
  2. Avoiding unwanted attention
  3. The importance of your style of dress
  4. Your behavior relative to the locals

Many countries still differentiate strongly between the rights and responsibilities granted to the different sexes. In some countries women's "liberation" may be equated with "promiscuity" and so the native men are likely to view simply friendly behavior as flirtation and act accordingly.

Smiling and extended eye contact are frequently misconstrued and flattering outfits are taken as an open invitation. The most sensible approach to protecting yourself from unwanted advances is to model your own behavior after that of the local women. Always err on the conservative side of dress and conversation.

Take care in your wanderings in a foreign city to travel in a group whenever possible. Act confidently and decisively even if you get lost. You will be less of a target than an uncertain or panicky tourist. Be cautious when you ask for advice or directions; since this marks you as vulnerable. Try to approach people who are unlikely to take advantage of you, like women with small children. In all cases, make people aware of your travel plans and when you will return.

Women Abroad

Acceptable treatment of women in your host country may be very different from the kind of treatment acceptable in your home country. Also, the way women interact with men in your home country may not be as socially acceptable in other countries. What's considered being friendly in your country can be considered flirting or a sexual invitation in other countries. Even reacting (positively or negatively) to unwanted attention can serve to egg-on the other person. Personal space and boundaries may also be different in other countries, so make sure to clearly establish behavior that shows you're not interested.

In television and movies, the media tends to portray North American and European women as promiscuous. Simply smiling or saying hello to the opposite sex may be all that is needed to confirm this unflattering stereotype in their minds. To avoid trouble and unwanted attention, ask local women and your administrators about appropriate behavior and dress for women. Although it is important to learn to adapt to a foreign culture, that doesn't mean you should have to compromise your own sense of security and dignity.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Are there types of clothing that are considered inappropriate in your host country that would usually not be considered inappropriate at home?
  2. What kinds of unwritten rules about gender roles exist in your host country? (e.g., How is direct eye contact or a smile from a woman usually taken by men?)
  3. What kinds of acts are considered flirtation in your host country that you would usually not consider flirtation at home?
  4. What obvious differences exist between the way you typically act on a night out, riding public transportation, walking through the city, in encounters with local men, etc. and the way the native women act?

Taken from – Understand Gender as Part of Cultural Adaptation


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