I sit at my grandma’s kitchen table –– as I do every Sunday –– and the routine is always the same. It’s usually me, my brother, my dad and my grandpa just sitting and talking, waiting for our food to come. My sister, however, is typically given the task of fetching our drinks, silverware and any other item necessary for our traditional Mexican meal. As we sit and wait, my grandma is scurrying around the kitchen trying to handle flipping tortillas, making guacamole, cooking the carne and setting the entire table. While these experiences are not unique to my family, they demonstrate the roles defined by machismo.
Machismo is defined as “a strong or exaggerated sense of manliness; an assumptive attitude that virility, courage, strength, and entitlement to dominate are attributed or concomitants of masculinity.” Derived from the Spanish word macho, this term too refers to the ideal societal role men are expected to play in their communities. Though machismo is another word synonymous with sexism and misogyny, it is also a strong and commonly-held belief in Hispanic communities that men are genuinely superior to women for the benefit of the family, work and society as a whole. This “role” assumes that the man is always seated at the head of the table, both figuratively and literally, to act as a protector of the family and to demonstrate dominance. On a societal level, the role of the macho functions as a collective group of dominating men in all spheres of life –– from the employment force to ruling political and economic institutions. Being macho is often framed as a good thing; in having a man as the head of the household, the power dynamic supposedly secures the safety of women and children from harm or danger. But who is actually safe?
Machismo is often perpetuated through the way Hispanic men raise their children. In Hispanic cultures, there is really only one right way to be a man. You have to be a hard worker, knowledgeable in “manly” things –– from soccer and football to cars and tools. You have to use your skills to provide for your wife and kids. You can never ask for help. You have to be strong. You have to be a womanizer. You have to conform to notions and expectations of heteronormativity. And you, of course, have to follow the sexist gender norms that continue long-standing machismo within your family. Growing up as a kid and now an individual who does not identify as “macho” came with years of insecurity and wishing I was like others –– the more masculine men in my family and Hispanic communities. I remember watching my cousins play soccer, video games and enjoy learning about cars while I was more interested in reading about the world’s tallest skyscrapers and staying inside. It is no surprise that falling short of these expectations resulted in years of ridicule, shame and embarrassment from my male family members and other “macho” men in Hispanic communities. Whenever I compared myself to other Hispanic men who appeared to be more masculine than me, I always felt alienated and constantly feared further rejection from my family. Not only does this way of upbringing affect the mental health of Hispanic adolescents, it has also been associated with increased domestic and sexual violence. When social dynamics like machismo incite distress and violence, rather than protection and stability, they must be dismantled.
Machismo has forced hundreds of generations of women to endure destructive masculinity. Domestically, many Hispanic women are assigned to the role of being the family’s homemaker before they are even born. A “macho” man would be shamed by his peers if he were to assume stereotypically female gender roles such as childcare, cooking and cleaning. These perceptions force millions of women with desires for careers outside of the home to be confined to a role that they do not necessarily desire, being told that this is the only place that they can provide value. Though women can aspire to be homemakers, they deserve the liberty to make this choice, free from cultural expectations. At such a young age, many Hispanic women are taught where they fall in the machismo ideology through learning the importance of household chores and domestic labor that only they must partake in. In my home, my sister and mother would wash the dishes and clean the house. Meanwhile me, my dad and my brother were assigned to landscaping and taking the garbage out. These early manifestations are implemented so that young girls are aware of their “purpose” within society and the family, thus silencing women and forcing them to forego many of their aspirations. Marianismo is the term that reflects these early teachings. Similar to machismo, marianismo refers to the ideal role women play at home and in a machismo society. Rooted in Christianity, marianismo is a direct consequence of the Hispanic patriarchal society and describes a woman as one who should be pure, pious and self-sacrificing –– attributes that best benefit the family and husband over herself. Due to the harmful presence men have had on Hispanic women for hundreds of years, it has upheld the social construct of marianismo, which further maintains machismo.
This harmful and saddening practice has contributed to the consistent femicide endemic occurring in Latin America, where reports find that 10% to 50% of women living in this region report being physically assaulted by their male partner. As living conditions for Hispanic women continue to revolve around the machismo world, these women are suffering disproportionate mental health effects. Hispanic women are twice as likely to develop depression compared to Hispanic men. The importance in bringing awareness to and taking concrete steps to address the toxic masculinity existing in Hispanic communities is essential in improving the lives of Hispanic women and creating better environments for economic, educational, social and interpersonal opportunity.
As domestic environments for Hispanic women worsen, countries like Mexico have exacerbated these problems by implementing policy that slashed the budget of the Federal Women’s Institute, an agency aimed at gender equity and equal opportunity between men and women, by 75%. In fact, Latin America is the region with the highest rates of gender inequality in the world. With the persistence of machismo in domestic and political environments, inequality will continue to remain a problem affecting Hispanic communities. For example, in Latin America, even though there have been increases in women entering the workforce, the gender gap continues to exist as they are still expected to fulfill their homemaking roles in some capacity. The years of machismo have had detrimental effects on women in the workforce, and the eradication of this ideology is essential in providing chances of economic, political and social mobility.
As we celebrate Women ‘s History Month, it is important for Hispanic men to appreciate the women in their lives. I have personal experiences with Hispanic men within my own family who radiate love and appreciation for all women in their lives. To be loving should not be praised as it is, but instead viewed as the bare minimum. But by being a bystander to dangerous attitudes and actions pursued by Hispanic men, instead of actively working to dismantle traditions of machismo, you are still complicit in these harms and contributing to this culture of sexism. I am calling on my community to bring awareness to a problem existing within our families and around us that needs to be addressed and eliminated. To do this, I am encouraging all of us who benefit structurally from the patriarchy to have conversations with the men around us to confront our oppressive actions and begin to end machismo plaguing our Hispanic communities. Speak up when you see machismo in your household or community, and engage in important dialogue that educates and helps us reform the sexism in our community. To further your efforts, volunteer and donate to organizations dedicated to supporting Hispanic women who have escaped domestic violence such as the National Latino Network, Congreso and the Washtenaw County SafeHouse Center. Little things such as offering to take on some roles around the house that the women around you are doing are also small but important steps in combating machismo. Sin nuestros abuelitas, mamás, tías, hermanas y otras mujeres quien ha impactado nuestras vidas, no estaríamos los hombres que estamos hoy. Recuérdalo.
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