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Machismo (/məˈzm, mɑː-, -ˈɪ-/; Spanish: [maˈtʃizmo] (from Spanish "macho", male[1]); Portuguese: [mɐˈʃiʒmu]) is the sense of being macho or manly, the concept associated with "a strong sense of masculine pride...[with] the supreme valuation of characteristics culturally associated with the masculine and a denigration of characteristics associated with the feminine."[2] It is associated with "a man’s responsibility to provide for, protect, and defend his family." [3]

The word macho has a long history in Spain, and in contemporary Spanish, it means the ideal societal role men must have in a given society (but most particularly, Iberian language-speaking ones). Macho in Spanish is a strictly masculine term, derived from the Latin mascŭlus meaning male (today hombre or varón, c.f. Portuguese homem and now-obsolete for humans varão; macho and varão, in their most common sense, are used for males of non-human animal species). Machos in Iberian-descended cultures are supposed to have bravery, courage and strength as well as wisdom and leadership, and ser macho (literally, "to be male") is something all [gender normative] boys are supposed to aspire to.

During the women's liberation movement of the 1960s and 70s, the term began to be used by Latin American feminists to describe male aggression and violence. The term was used by Latina feminists and scholars to criticize the patriarchal structure of gendered relations in Latino communities. Their goal was to describe a particular Latin American brand of patriarchy.[4][5]

The English word "machismo" derives from the identical Spanish and Portuguese word. Spanish and Portuguese machismo refers to the assumption that masculinity is superior to femininity, a concept similar to R. W Connell's hegemonic masculinity,[6] Presently in the sense that supposed feminine traits among males (or traits historically viewed as non-feminine among females, see marianismo) are to be deemed undesirable, socially reprovable or deviations. Gender roles make an important part of human identity as we conduct our identities through our historical and current social actions.[7] Machismo's attitudes and behaviours may be frowned upon or encouraged at various degrees in various societies or subcultures – albeit it is frequently associated with more patriarchial undertones, primarily in present views on the past.[4]

Contemporary dominant view on the meaning of the term[edit]

Currently the dominant discourse surrounds the negative aspects of machismo, which are similar to the Western culture concept of hypermasculinity[6][full citation needed] and are seen as threats to females in Latin America and Iberian societies: accordingly[8] machismo is among the supposed threats to LGBT people, and is connected to homophobia, so awareness of both as correlated social problems is a central part of local social movements' discourses.

As an attitude, machismo, in the English sense, ranges from a personal sense of virility to a more extreme male chauvinism.[citation needed] Characteristics include domineering, fierceness, bravado, etc., in ways that are showily and histrionically tough.[citation needed]

The trait may be seen as the product of runaway evolution, as Frits Staal notes, "[t]he peacock's tail, the enlarged claw of the male fiddler crab and the machismo of members of the human species are all exaggerated features that may cause injury to individuals that display them but attract females." [9][dead link]

Portrait of Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire.

In popular culture[edit]

In the play A View from the Bridge by Arthur Miller, one of the main characters Eddie is a classic type who displays machismo.[10] He wants to be the best of the men around him and when beaten, becomes very agitated and increasingly irrational.


"Caballerismo" or "Caballerosidad", is a Latin American understanding of manliness that focuses more on honour and chivalry.[11] The literal translation is horseman (see below) but the figurative translation is gentleman. Latin American scholars have noted that positive descriptors of machismo resemble the characteristics associated with the concept of caballerismo.[4] Understandings of machismo in Latin American cultures are not all negative; they also involve the characteristics of honour, responsibility, perseverance and courage, related to both individual and group interaction.[4][12] Studies show Latin American men understand masculinity to involve considerable childcare responsibilities, politeness, respect for women's autonomy, and non-violent attitudes and behaviors.[13] In this way, machismo comes to mean both positive and negative understanding of Latin American male identity within the immigrant context. Therefore, machismo, like all social constructions of identity, should be understood as having multiple layers[4][14]

The word caballerismo originates from Spanish word for horse and horseman – caballo and caballero. Caballerismo refers to a chivalric masculine code of behavior. (Note that the English term that also stems from the original Latin root caballus.) Like the English chivalric code, caballerismo developed out of a medieval sociohistorical class system in which people of wealth and status owned horses for transportation and other forms of horsepower whereas the unwealthy did not. Thus, caballero referred to a land-owning colonial Spanish gentleman of high station who was master of estates and/or ranches.[4]

Criticism and controversy[edit]

Controversy surrounding colonial connotations[edit]

There is controversy surrounding the concept of Machismo is originally from Spanish and Portuguese descent. The use of Spanish and Portuguese produces historical colonial connotations through its promotion of Spanish and Portuguese masculine social construction, when the term should be used to describe specific Latin American historical masculinities.[15][16] However, the word machismo does resemble words in Spanish and Portuguese language which is the cause why it is often associated with Spain and Portugal. In addition, by identifying machismo as a form of Europeanness, it offers legitimacy to the concept of a wicked formed of the same Western hypermasculinity known to Protestant Reforme-derived cultures and subjugates Latin America's understanding of itself and its cultural history and peculiarities.[15]

For example, the use of caballerismo to mean only the positive characteristics of machismo contains colonial connotations regarding the historical colonial power relations. This is because the origin of the word caballerismo to intend for a wealthy Spaniard landlord during the colonial era, exalts[17] European culture in comparison to the so-called Latin American machismo (animalesque, irrational, violent, backward).[4] It cannot be avoided in Portuguese as cavalheirismo, the word for the more acceptable parts of machismo, is itself a loanword from Spanish presenting a palatalization process that Portuguese did not experience (the Portuguese word for a horseman is cavaleiro, and for horsemanship it has cavalaria).

Consequences of a one-sided negative depiction[edit]

Researchers are concerned regarding the unbalanced representation of machismo within Latin American cultures; and are now focused on creating a balanced representation.[4] They have repeatedly pointed out the positive characteristics consistent with machismo, or caballerismo: nurturance, protection of the family and its honor, dignity, wisdom, hard work, responsibility, spirituality, and emotional connectedness.[14] Latin American scholars propose there are really two different constructs within machismo, one positive construct and one negative construct. The negative construct of machismo is based on the traditional Western concept of hypermasculinity, and is predominant within mainstream discourse, without an acknowledgement towards its resemblance towards hypermasculinty. Caballerismo's characteristics are exalted, while machismo's characteristics are seen as predominately negative.[4][14]

The other side of machismo, the positive side (caballerismo), refers to a connection to family and chivalry. However, the focus on the negative aspects and avoidance of positive aspects of machismo coincides with the concept of marginalization and powerlessness[18] of Hispanic and Latino, and more broadly Romance-speaking European culture-derived, narratives. This is because the focus on the negative and avoidance of the positive creates a power dynamic that legitimizes mainstream American hegemonic masculinity as the correct masculinity and subjugates machismo as a degenerated "non-white" form of abuse against women and backwardness. As a result, it creates a sense of powerlessness within Latino male in their expression of their masculinity.[6][19]

Academics have noted that there are consequences of only having a negative definition for Hispanic and Latino masculinity in popular literature. Researchers have suggested that, according to the Eurocentric (and to a certain degree anti-Catholic and/or Nordicist) views dominant in mainstream white American culture, Latin American manifestations of machismo represent "all that is wrong in a man".[20] Latino Academics have used this argument to explain why Latino male youth struggle in academic institutions and have high rates of criminality.[21] These are the same discourses that argue that Latino masculinity (machismo) is defined by violence, recklessness, and misogyny. Accordingly they link these expressions as contributing to a lack of interest in academics as well as behavioral struggles in schools for Latino males youth. However, this focus does not reveal the other social forces that drive Hispanic and Latino youth to struggle academically instead of participating in criminal behavior,[citation needed] or the fact that those cultural myths of the strong Latino male character, famed for its self-assertiveness and dominance, are often perpetuated by Latin Americans and their cultural descendants themselves.

Negative depiction of machismo in popular literature[edit]

Throughout popular literature, the term has continued to be associated with the negative characteristics. For example, sexism, misogyny, chauvinism and hypermasculinity and hegemonic masculinity,[22][23][24] Scholars[25] characterize macho men as violent, rude, womanizing, and prone to alcoholism. Authors from a variety disciplines that typified macho men as domineering through intimidation, seducing and controlling women and children through violence and intimidation.[22]

For example, in American literature, an example of machismo comes from Tennessee Williams' character Stanley Kowalski, the egotistical brother-in-law in A Streetcar Named Desire (play). In the play (and in the motion picture), Stanley epitomizes the tough guy stereotype alpha male (hypermasculine) socially and physically dominating and imposing his will upon his wife and her sister, Blanche Dubois. Bound up with Stanley's aggressive and occasionally misogynist views is a strong sense of pride and honor which leads to his hatred of Blanche. In the play A View from the Bridge by Arthur Miller, one of the main characters Eddie is a classic type who displays machismo. He wants to be the best of the men around him and when beaten, becomes very agitated and increasingly irrational. It is important to note the negative stereotypes depicted in American literature that is not representatives of the different layers of Machismo.

Some societies and academics place traditional gender roles – social norm for certain communities, followed by others by admiration or convention – as the most important component of machismo.

Indigenous influence on Mexican culture[edit]

In Nahuatl culture, the term macho (having nothing to do with the derivation from the Latin mascŭlus), means, translated into Spanish, ejemplar; in English, an example, "one who is worthy of imitation". The Nahuatl dictionary also states that the word macho means "enlightened one", or "one who had been made to learn".

Therefore the pre-Columbian use of the word macho had to do with wisdom and leadership that was worthy of imitation, while gender was not involved. When the Spanish came, their use of the word macho was strictly masculine. Therefore, after the Spanish invasion a new word, idea and concept was born: that a macho was a masculine leader, who was enlightened and worthy of imitation. It was always a positive term. Therefore, in Mexico, the use of the word macho may provoke confusion if it is not used precisely or in context.[26]


Generational Cycle[edit]

Many women identify that these pressures are perpetuated through the way we choose to raise our children and establish social constructs based on gender throughout a child’s development.[27] This is complemented by the distant father-son relationship in which intimacy and affection are typically avoided. These aspects set up the environment through which the Machismo ideology perpetuates.[27] It creates a sense of inferiority in boys to reach this unattainable level of masculinity, which in turn is often compensated by aggressive actions and an apathetic front to those around them, ultimately reaching boys of future generations to continue the cycle.[27]

Negative implications[edit]


One aspect of Machismo is its influence in a man’s behavior to prove his strength.[27][full citation needed] Violent encounters can stem from the desire to protect his family and friends. However, through jealousy, competitiveness, and pride, violent encounters are also often pursued to demonstrate his strength to others. A man’s insecurities can be fueled by a number of pressures such as those pressures from the societal mold of needing to “be a man”, to the familial pressure of their well-being resting solely on him, to even those pressures created internally in order to prove his self-worth.[27][full citation needed] An example of this would be the hypocrisy between the need to protect the sanctity of his sisters, daughters, wife, and mother from other men while also looking to feed his machismo by sleeping with other women.[27][full citation needed]

Domestic/sexual violence[edit]

In many cases, a man’s position of superiority over a female partner can lead him to gain control over different aspects of her life.[28] Since women are viewed as subservient to men in many cultures, men often have power to decide whether his wife can work, study, socialize, participate in the community, or even leave the house. With little opportunity for attaining an income, minimal means to get an education, and the few people they have as a support system, many women become dependent on their husbands financially and emotionally.[28] This leaves many women particularly vulnerable to domestic violence both because it is justified through this belief that men are superior and thus are free to express that superiority and because women cannot leave such an abusive relationship since they rely on their husbands to live.[28]

Sexually-transmitted infections[edit]

One implication of the Machismo concept is the pressure for a man to be sexually experienced.[28] Male infidelity is of common practice in many cultures, as men are not as expected to hold nearly the same level of chastity as women are. Meanwhile girls are oftentimes brought up to tolerate an unfaithful partner, since it is a part of the machismo culture.[28] As such, this puts populations at risk for transmitting STIs as men seek out multiple sexual partners with little interference from their wives or from society. The risk is further heightened by the lack of condom use by men who are both miseducated about the effectiveness of a condom’s protection against STIs and the belief that this wouldn’t happen to them.[28] This mentality also deters men from getting themselves tested to know if they are HIV-positive, which leads them to even spread STIs without even knowing it.[28]

Sexuality and sexual orientation[edit]

For men in many Latin American countries, their perceived level of masculinity determines the amount of respect they receive in society.[29] Because homosexual men are associated with feminine attributes, they are perceived with lower level of masculinity, and as a result, they receive less respect than heterosexual men in society. This, in turn, can limit their “ability to achieve upward social mobility, to be taken seriously, or to hold positions of power.”[29] Also, because homosexuality is seen as taboo or even sinful in Christian faiths, homosexual men tend to lack a support system, leaving many unable express their true sexuality. To deal with such oppression, they must make the choice either to conform to heteronormativity and repress their homosexual identity, to assimilate towards masculine ideals and practices while maintaining their homosexual identity in private, or to openly express their homosexuality and suffer ostracization from society.[29] This creates a hierarchy of homosexuality corresponding to how much “respect, power, and social standing” a homosexual man can expect to receive. The more a man acts in accordance with the stereotypical heterosexual hegemonic masculinity, the higher on the social hierarchy they are.[29]

On the lower end of the hierarchy are the locas or maricones.[29] These men are those that are deemed as effeminate because of they do not live by the social construct of hegemonic masculinity and also publicize their homosexuality. As such, they receive little respect both in society in general and among the LGBT community. Many homosexual men resist being associated with the “loca” stereotype by either demonstrating overt masculinity or by ridiculing and distancing themselves from other “loca” men.[29] A common Puerto Rican saying demonstrates this resistance: “mejor un drogadicto que un pato” (better a drug addict than a faggot).[29]

Because of the negative connotations that come with identifying as homosexual, the definition homosexuality has become ambiguous. By genderizing sexual practices, only men who are sexually penetrated during sex, locas are considered homosexual while men who are the sexual penetrators during sex can maintain their heterosexual identity.[29] Also, in many Latin American countries, the media portrayal of homosexual men often play into the stereotype of an effeminate, flamboyant male role. As a result, the idea of a masculine homosexual man remains almost unheard of and privatized by the community and by society, which allows this stereotype of homosexual men as locas to persist.[29]

Positive implications[edit]


Machismo can also pressure men to defend the well-being of his loved ones, his community, and his country.[30] It allows him to perform altruistic acts in order to provide protection to others. In the past, and even in many current societies where people rely on subsistence agriculture and economy to survive, machismo helped provide men with the courage to drive off potential threats to protect his land and his crop.[31] Today, this leads to the substantial gender gap in the makeup of military and armed forces around the world, even considering growing female representation in the military today.[30] Beyond the realm of the armed forces, however, the machismo ideology can also drive men to work towards service because he is in a “superior” position, which enables him to demonstrate his success by offering his own strengths to help others. Their dependence on him can validate his ego and help maintain this difference in power.[30]

Female respect and responsibility[edit]

In the traditional household, the man is expected to work and provide for his family while his wife stays home to care for the children.[32] As such, fathers are seen as a distant authority figure to his children while mothers assume the majority of responsibility in this domestic realm and thus gain agency and the ultimate respect of her children.[32] With this female empowerment, decisions in the household can take on a more egalitarian approach, where mothers can have equal, if not greater say, in the household. Meanwhile, the machismo mentality in men as a provider and protector of the family can inspire him to persevere through challenges introduced by work.[32]

“Within each of our memories there Is the Image of a father who worked long hours, suffered to keep his family alive, united, and who struggled to maintain his dignity. Such a man had little time for concern over his "masculinity." Certainly he did not have ten children because of his machismo, but because he was a human being, poor, and without "access" to birth control.”[33]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Machismo. Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved 23 December 2013.
  2. ^ Machismo. The Merriam-Webster's Concise Encyclopedia. Retrieved 23 December 2013.
  3. ^ Morales, Edward. S. Gender roles among Latino gay and bisexual men: Implications for family and couple relationships. In, J. Laird & R. J. Green (Eds.), Lesbians and gays in couples and families: A handbook for therapists. pp. 272-297. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 1996. Retrieved 23 December 2013.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Opazo, R. M (2008). Latino Youth and Machismo: Working Towards a More Complex Understanding of Marginalized Masculinities. Retrieved From Ryerson University Digital Commons Thesis Dissertation Paper 108.
  5. ^ Ramirez, R, translated by Rosa Casper (1999). What Means to be a Man: Reflections on Puerto Rican Masculinity. Rutgers University Press: New Brunswick, NJ.
  6. ^ a b c Connell, R. W. (1995). Masculinities. Los Angeles, California, United States: University of California Press
  7. ^ Brown, Leslie Allison, and Susan Strega. Research as resistance: Critical, Indigenous and anti-oppressive approaches. Canadian Scholars Press, 2005.
  8. ^ The Roots of Homophobia – Inside the Minds of People Who Hate Gays | Assault on Gay America | FRONTLINE | PBS
  9. ^ Staal, Noam Chomsky Between the Human and Natural Sciences, Janus Head (2001)
  10. ^ Investigate and critically reflect on the ways in which viewers react to same-sex romantic screen kisses. University of Aberyswyth
  11. ^ Me lanky, Bernadette (2012). Intervention Research: Designing, Conducting, Analyzing, and Funding. Springer Publishing Co. p. 68. ISBN 0826109578. 
  12. ^ Torres, J. B (1998). Masculinity and Gender Roles Among Puerto Rican Men; Machismo on the U.S Mainland. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. 68 (1). 16–26.
  13. ^ Gutmann, Matthew (1996). The Meanings of Macho: Being a Man in Mexico City. Berkeley and London: University of California Press.
  14. ^ a b c Arciniega, M. G, Anderson, T. C, Tovar-Blank, Z. Tracey, T. (2008). Toward a Fuller Conception of Machismo: Development of Machismo and Callerismo Scale. Journal of Counselling Psychology. 55(1). 19–33.
  15. ^ a b Mignolo, W. D. (2011). Local histories/global designs: Coloniality, subaltern knowledges, and border thinking. Princeton University Press.
  16. ^ Alcof, L. M. (2005). Latino Vs Hispanic: The Politics of Ethnic Names. Philosophy & Social Criticism. 31(4). 395–407.
  17. ^ Thobani, S. (2007). Introduction: Of exaltation. In Exalted subjects. Studies in the making of race and nation in Canada, pp. 2–29; 257–266. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
  18. ^ Young, I. M. (2000). Five faces of oppression. In M. Adams, Readings for Diversity and Social Justice, pp. 35–49. New York : Routledge.
  19. ^ Mignolo, Walter D. Local histories/global designs: Coloniality, subaltern knowledges, and border thinking. Princeton University Press, 2011.
  20. ^ Adams, Carlos (2006). Machismo and Geographies of Hope. PhD dissertation. Program in American Studies, Washington State University
  21. ^ Caravantes, E. (2006). Clipping Their Own Wings: The Incompatibility Between Latino Culture and American Education. Hamilton Books
  22. ^ a b Anders, G. (1993). Machismo: Dead or alive? Hispanic, 3, 14–20.
  23. ^ Ingoldsby, B. (1991). The Latin American Family: Familism vs. Machismo. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 1, 57–64.
  24. ^ Mosher, D., & Tompkins, S. (1988). Scripting the macho man: Hypermas- culine socialization and enculturation. Journal of Sex Research, 25, 60–84.
  25. ^ mhof, D. (1979). Macho: Sit on it. Miami, FL: 3L Graphics.
  26. ^ Rémi, Siméon. Diccionario de la lengua náhuatl o mexicana. Siglo XXI Editores, S.A. de C.V., 2004. pp. 246, 258 ISBN 968-23-0573-X. Macho: distinguished, illustrious, ... as a passive voice of Mati: uel macho ó nouian macho, evident, well known, notorious; qualli ipam macho, he is good, well behaved.
  27. ^ a b c d e f Ingoldsby, Bron (1991). "The Latin American Family: Familism vs. Machismo". Journal of Comparative Family Studies 1: 57–62. Retrieved 14 March 2014. 
  28. ^ a b c d e f g Cianelli, Rosina; Lilian Ferrer and Beverly McElmurry (2008). "HIV Prevention and Low-Income Chilean Women: Machismo, Marianismo and HIV Misconceptions". Culture, Health & Sexuality 3: 297–306. Retrieved 14 March 2014. 
  29. ^ a b c d e f g h i Asencio, Marysol (2011). html ""Locas," Respect, and Masculinity". Gender and Society 3: 335–354. Retrieved 28 March 2014. 
  30. ^ a b c Paredes, Americo (1979). "The United States, Mexico, and "Machismo"". RSA Journ 1: 17–37. Retrieved 14 March 2014. 
  31. ^ Ryder, Richard (1993). "Violence and machismo". RSA Journal 5443: 706–717. Retrieved 14 March 2014. 
  32. ^ a b c Mirande, Alredo (1979). "A Reinterpretation of Male Dominance in the Chicano Family". The Family Coordinator 4: 473–479. Retrieved 14 March 2014. 
  33. ^ Riddell, Sosa (1974). "Chicanos and el movimiento". Aztlan: Chicano Journal of the Social Sciences and the Arts 5: 155–165. Retrieved 14 March 2014.