Guatemala City, Guatemala – It’s an early 4:30 am wake up call on Monday for Brazilian-born Barbara Stacishin. After her demanding marathon training, she’s back in her kitchen whipping up her own recipe of green juice with cucumber, spinach, celery, green apple and kale.
Stacishin presents a casual demeanour dressed in designer jeans and t-shirt, a sharp contrast to her meticulously styled apartment worthy of decor magazines. Her steps are inaudible as her petite lithe frame glides from the refrigerator door to the sink in Salvatorre Ferragamo metallic flats. She’ll upload pictures of her outfit shortly thereafter.
The 27-year-old is an unlikely star in the impoverished and largely indigenous Central American country whose day-to-day life blogging about high-end fashion, charity bake sales, and being a model housewife in one of the capital’s most exclusive neighbourhood’s has skyrocketed her notoriety among Guatemalan elite circles – despite being in English. Riding on the blog’s success, Stacishin is featured on TV and has become the face for Guerlain beauty products nationally. Enthusiasts say at 60,000 visits the site is the first of its kind and is transforming luxury advertising and to resemble fashion capitals like London and New York.
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But detractors believe the fascination with Stacishin’s whimsical blog in a country struggling with high crime and vast gaps between rich and poor underscores both the escapist fantasies of many in Guatemala and a lifestyle tale of a small few. After all, most Guatemalans make less than $300 dollars a month and the nation is facing an epidemic of violence against women.
“She’s sending a message about what it means to be a woman that is particularly harmful in this country right now,” explains Serena Cosgrove, a sociologist and assistant professor at Seattle University who recently visited Guatemala to study the impact of gender-based violence.
From Boston to blogging
Stacishin de Marsicovetere, who uses the traditional Latin article in front of her husband’s last name, says her blog was born out of a personal desire to share her new life with her then fiancée in their move from Boston to Guatemala City.
“I had never seen myself as a housewife. I am the worst cook,” says Stacishin. But her marriage to a wealthy Guatemalan businessman whose family works in the pharmaceutical industry gave her the idea to talk about settling in to a new country and her transition into a new life of abundant comfort.
“I started writing because I had nothing to do,” she says of the blog launched in 2011.
The site struck a chord with other fans like Stefanie B de Echeverria, a 28-year-old housewife that studied marketing and design and has been reading the blog every day for almost two years.
“Barbara is really charismatic. It’s as if one of our close friends was talking to us about the latest thing that’s happened in her life,” she says.
But with a Gini index of 53.7, Guatemala is one of the most unequal countries in the world and Stacishin’s audience is reduced to a sliver of the population that are educated and speak English. In the rest of the country illiteracy is 31.1 percent in women 15 years of age and older and reaches 59 percent among indigenous women who make up the overwhelming majority of the population.
Stacishin maintains that becoming a housewife was challenging for her, hence why she donned the “wannabe” as part of her title. “It’s very common here to be a housewife in certain social group. For me, it was definitely something that I had to work at.”
Guatemala remains firmly conservative in social matters nearly two decades after signing the peace accords. A civil war ravaged the country from 1960-1996 leaving 200,000 people dead and over 45,000 disappeared, most of the victims were indigenous Mayan, according to the United Nations.
The Central American country amended the civil code in 1998 and abolished the clause that allowed husbands to bar their wives from working if they could provide for them.
The code also permitted women to work only if it did not interfere with taking care of their children.
For a majority of Stacishin’s readers, being a successful housewife is something that continues to be profoundly valued in Guatemala.
“We even have a saying for women who marry well off and are not expected to work. It’s called ‘the departed club’ because the woman has moved on to a better life,” explains Marisa Robles another one of Stacishin’s avid readers.
But Stacishin has also tapped into a golden and difficult to access niche of Guatemalan consumer society.
According to Google metrics of TheHousewifeWannabe.com, over 80 percent of the blog’s readers are women between the ages of 24-35 with significant buying power despite the fact that roughly half of the nation’s 14 million people live in poverty.
Soon, national brands took notice. “We think she has the ability to show her followers how to apply world fashion trends”, explains gemologist Alessandra Robles of Alessa Designs jewelry.
The idealisation of this lifestyle could be a response to the hostile climate for women in Guatemala
She also attracted Guerlain Cosmetics, a part of luxury goods conglomerate Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton who followed the blog for over a year before approaching Stacishin.
Vivian Sagastume, brand manager for the European house in Guatemala, says the promotion of certain cosmetics on the blog have doubled sales. “Every day we have more people walking in to our store to ask for the products like the Cils d’Enfer mascara that exceeded projections.”
But as global gender gap index indicates, it seems as if this coveted sliver of Guatemalan women were reduced exclusively to consumer buying power. The Central American country ranks 112 place for gender equality of a total of 135 countries.
And political representation is also low. Women hold only 19 of the 158 seats in Guatemala’s national Congress.
Claudia Armas, an independent marketer explains in a country like Guatemala such a curated blog is successful precisely because “it juxtaposes a woman seen as a non-traditional housewife but that carries out that role making it seem chic in contrast to the working woman”.
Experts believe the idealisation of the housewife role comes at a crisis point for women in Guatemala, where approximately 700 women are murdered a year.
Femicide was not acknowledged as a crime until recently. Guatemalan congress first passed legislation in April 2008 officially recognising all forms of violence against women as punishable crime.
“The idealization of this lifestyle could be a response to the hostile climate for women in Guatemala,” says Stephanie Coontz, director of research at the Council on Contemporary Families at the University of Miami. “Unfortunately, this fantasy of an individual escape from a social problem and indulgence is given to them as a substitute for justice.”
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Justo Solorzano, resident coordinator of UNICEF in Guatemala, recently told Al Jazeera that resolving the violence against women epidemic and requires the creation of “preventative policies that protect women and educate society to not tolerate such violence”.
Cosgrove says a blog about housewives reifies “a lifestyle that excludes 92 percent of the population when right now, Guatemala needs every woman including Stacishin at the table”.
And while it seems it’s an invitation the controversial blogger is not shying away from by proclaiming she too is a feminist, Coontz warns that Stacishin might be dismissed as irrelevant.
“For far too long they have celebrated their connection to the richest and least socially responsible. It is not surprising that their solidarity is questioned,” she says.