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!
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)