The Other Side of Machismo

 If you are not Hispanic or are not enthralled with the Latino culture you may think that the concept of Machismo is an American stereotype of the quintessential Latino man.  There are many misconceptions regarding Latinos; but the concept of Machismo is definitely not mistaken- it is real!  There are, however, many different ways to describe Machismo.  To many Latinos it is simply the belief that a real man needs to strive to be the most manly he can possibly be.  The word machismo comes from the word “macho” or male; and it is often defined as exaggerated manliness.  In Latin America it is common for “the man of the house” to be portrayed as the master of his domain.  Latinas do not disagree; because in the traditional Latino family the man is supposed to be in charge.  A Latina wife wants her husband to be also seen by others in the community as manly.  As a result, most Latinas that I interview say that their husband is the head of their household.  Further probing often paints a different picture; but the pretension is always to uphold the male’s position of dominance.

There is a fine line between Machismo and male chauvinism.  One thing is to pretend that the man is always in charge; while a very different situation is to actually have a man dominating a woman.  In my interviews with Hispanics I have witnessed many instances of Machismo crossing over to the realm of chauvinism; but those cases exists across all cultures.  The Machismo that I feel is unique to the Latino community is the cultural acceptance of the pretension by both males and females that the man is actually in charge.  This charade goes on in the U.S. Hispanic community despite the fact that Latinas in this country have managed to move away from the cultural tendencies of Marianismo(1).  Why then do we continue to ensure that machismo stays alive by exaggerating the male manliness in the Hispanic behavior?

I have a theory.  We rely on Machismo because we (Latino men) are too emotional.  Being emotional is not considered a particularly manly characteristic.  The fact that Hispanic men are emotional is no secret; it has been very well documented and is often portrayed in the media as a typical Latino male point of difference from non-Hispanic men.  In fact, just yesterday I was watching the movie Spy Kids with my daughter and was reminded of how far Hollywood has gone in substantiating the fact that Latino men cry.   At the climatic conclusion of the movie, the father character (played by Antonio Banderas) meets his long lost brother- a rough macho man played by Danny Trejo.  In the exchange Danny’s character sheds a tear, at which point the brother comments in a comical fashion “Latinos!”  I laughed at that when I saw the movie for the first time in the theater, and I laughed again yesterday.  How true!

I remember my father telling me as a child not to cry because “men do not cry.”  Men may not cry in other cultures; but Latino men have trouble separating themselves from those darn Latino emotions.  My father was not one to preach about not crying, because he would get emotional with something as mundane as watching a parade!  But he countered his emotional nature with a good dose of Machismo; and I think we all do to an extend.  This is especially the case here in the U.S. where many men are not as emotional by nature and would perceive an emotional tear as male weakness or even sissyness.   So, what do we do?  We step up the Machismo a couple of notches!

There is another trick that we use to counter the portrayal of being sissy.  Being emotional is a quality more often associated with females; which is why emotional men can be seen as being effeminate.  The best way to battle that position and show our manliness is to demonstrate that we are better at getting the attention of the girls.  A womanizer is not a sissy; and Giacomo Casanova himself was known to win the women’s affection by using his emotional nature.  So, if our Machismo is not convincing enough we can always fall back on positioning ourselves as the Latin Lovers!

  1. Traditional Latina roles dictate that females are supposed to live as a martyr in order to satisfy the needs of their family.  This cultural trait is also traced to the Hispanic religious background that is heavily rooted in Catholicism.  Some have referred to this tendency of self-sacrifice as Marianismo (after the Virgin Mary).   Marianismo is considered the female counterpart to Machismo.  (Stevens, Evelyn P. “Marianismo: The Other Face of Machismo in Latin America,” Wilmington: Jaguar books on Latin America ; no. 7, 1994)

8 comments on “The Other Side of Machismo

  1. You wrote:

    A womanizer is not a sissy; and Giacomo Casanova himself was known to win the women’s affection by using his emotional nature. So, if our Machismo is not convincing enough we can always fall back on positioning ourselves as the Latin Lovers!

    So this is okay for a man to be a “womanizer” to prove he is a manly man? Twisted sense of what a true man is to those of us who are not hispanic I guess. I’m raising my sons to be the best men they can be by simply being themselves and staying true to who they are, and if they have to cry or get emotional so be it, its all good, but why should a man have to “balance” that out by being a womanizer? Womanizer’s are the first ones to cheat on their spouses, and always get bored with a good woman, and usually have tremendous egos to boot, so why it that okay?

  2. Ricardo A. López on said:

    Karen, I agree with you, I do not think it is okay to do all of those things. And I am also raising my sons to be true to their emotions; free from the shackles of Machismo. I did not mean to justify womanizing behavior; I was merely conveying a societal observation. Thanks for the clarification!

  3. Andrés on said:

    My wife is from a Central American nation where Machismo is rampant. I think most gringos have no idea what the implications and results of true Machismo really are. I now see it as a system of total control of females through intimidation and fear. The gallant and honor-driven side of it is very superficial. You make a good point – Machismo is part of a disfunctional co-dependence with Marianism; the selfless suffering feminine perpetually enduring the tyranny of the irresponsible macho. This pattern has serious repercussions and creates misery at the national level.

  4. Dianna Virata on said:

    “Traditional Latina roles dictate that females are supposed to live as a martyr in order to satisfy the needs of their family. This cultural trait is also traced to the Hispanic religious background that is heavily rooted in Catholicism. Some have referred to this tendency of self-sacrifice as Marianismo (after the Virgin Mary). Marianismo is considered the female counterpart to Machismo.”

    So is this the reason why my female in laws who are a mix of Mexican and El Salvadorian, are all housewives? To serve their families? They expect the same of myself marrying their son, but that’s not going to happen. I put getting married first, establishing a career, and then maybe children along the line in that order. My life ambitions go beyond “having children”.

    Is it self-sacrifice or a waste of life? With no career or anything else to fall back upon the mothers spend the rest of their lives doing after their children have grown? Grand children I understand, but to be a “nanny” all your life. I suppose that doesn’t require much intelligence.

    Your explanation of Marianismo, makes it very clear. This is idolized in Spanish cultures, a justification for women to just get pregnant and not work.

  5. caitisix on said:

    I’m a western woman, married to a Latin american man for nearly twenty years.

    I have grown to hate him, because of his machismo. He presents himself as an egalitarian, he sees himself as an egalitarian.

    He is physically unable to enunciate the words which describe his view of the world – that women are housewives, and men are the masters. Perhaps because there is a part of him which is truly egalitarian, and which recognises that his behaviour does not match his ideals. So, that part of him will not allow his mouth to speak the truth about his behaviour.

    I have lost the best years of my life pandering to this machismo, to ensure that our family life is peaceful. If you asked him, he would say that we are happy, that our marriage works well, and that we are equals.

    He doesn’t have a clue.

  6. Ms. Kye Paradise on said:

    I really appreciated this. Thank you for sharing. I am a high school teacher where we are 60% hispanic and I’d never heard of “marianismo” until I came acress it while doing research for a grad course. Your explanation of “machismo” is the best I could find, and much more realistic than the myriad of generalized perspectives I found.

  7. This article lacks understanding that Mexico, similar to the United States, is built up of people from all walks of life. Not all individuals in Mexico share the same taste in music(Banda and whathaveyou) or ideals. My family being of Nazas, Durango was never anything like this, and my parents were born into working class families in the 60s. It is generalized statements like these that spread and maintain negative stereotypes.

  8. I first read of machismo and its relation to hispanic/latino culture in an anthropology class. From that same perspective, I found your writing informative and humorous. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I am not completely surprised at the re-interpretation by others. Putting our words or thoughts in someone else’s mouth seems to be a trait we all share regardless of ethnicity or cultural backgrounds proving once again we are all more alike than we’d like to think.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

HTML tags are not allowed.