I have probably also been worn out by the constant attention to trying to behave in a culturally acceptable manner, which instead of being calm and self-possessed about I have decided to handle with the maximum amount of anxiety possible. I know this is counterproductive but I do it anyway. But enough complaining.
First an update on the situation I wrote about last time. I am now living in a small town outside of Puyo and I have noticed that the harassment here is much less. People here often greet each other as they pass, and if I am walking in town with my landlady we will undoubtedly run into several people she knows along the way and stop to talk for at least a minute. If I am out alone I still sometimes get stares or whistles, but I'm going to attribute at least part of that to my foreignness rather than my gender, and the rest doesn't feel nearly as aggressive as it did in Quito. So overall it has become much less of a concern, and I'm not slipping into the paranoid antisocial spiral that I feared at first.
However I still have a few questions about how to build a working cultural framework for concepts like sexism. What I mean to say is, in the United States I have no problem feeling indignant about all sorts of things that happen within my culture and which I think should change, manifestations of sexism, racism, homophobia and the like. And in a lot of ways our collective culture has changed in a positive direction, even though there are plenty of things to be concerned about. But when I'm in another culture, I'm not sure I have the right to judge anything. I'll go for racism and marginalization of indigenous communities within the larger context of Ecuador, but that's about it. Mostly I want to be an effective ethnographer and participant observer, so I want to be in a descriptive mode for the time being rather than an evaluative one. But somewhere along the way, that breaks down.
On one hand, I'm concerned that I will compare the two cultures and judge my own to be superior. This would be anthropological blasphemy, wouldn't it? At first I think of course I don't think my culture is better, if I consider the culture of the US to be mine, because there are a lot of things about it that I reject. But then I realize, the US is not "my" cultural region if I reject so much of it, and besides it's too heterogeneous to count as just one region. My actual cultural alignment is in large part to a very small sector of the population, actually several different groups including linguists, NPR, and academia as a whole (obviously some overlap). And the strongest cultural attachment I have is to questions of Right and Wrong. Luckily I don't have too strong an attachment to the Right and Wrong ways of eating, drinking or riding on a bus, so I can adapt to new ways of doing those things mostly without judgment. (Although I will admit to slight apprehension on the drinking clean water front--it's my weakling American body, can't handle the same types of microbes as strong Ecuadoreans can.) Even in the realm of religion I feel I have a very strong opinion that the Right way to handle things is to pretty much always respect other people's beliefs and when possible to try to understand why their spiritual beliefs are valid and valuable to their lives. So that seems to balance things out-- I explicitly don't have an opinion about whether or not other people's religions are right or wrong for them, I just trust that they are right for the most part.
Interestingly though, I'm finding there are still lots of things* that I have a moral attachment to or judgment on, and I don't know quite what to do about it. *(See previous list including racism and sexism, those are big ones.)
Okay pardon the rambling since I'm composing this without much editing, but I suppose I do know what to do about it. First, observe my judgments without necessarily trying to prevent them. Second, allow this question to remain unsolved in my mind without being an anthropological "sin." That's how it's done, right? Apologies for the lengthy and quite possibly confusing blog post. If I stop to edit any more this will never be published.