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Machismo (/, , /; Spanish: [maˈtʃismo] (from Spanish and Portuguese "macho", male); Portuguese: [mɐˈʃizmu]) is the sense of being 'manly' and self-reliant, the concept associated with "a strong sense of masculine pride ... [with] the supreme valuation of characteristics culturally associated with the masculine and by implication some say, a denigration of characteristics associated with the feminine." It is associated with "a man’s responsibility to provide for, protect, and defend his family." In revisionist American political usage, William Safire says it refers to the "condescension of the swaggering male; the trappings of manliness used to dominate women and keep them 'in their place.'"
The word macho has a long history in both Spain and Portugal as well as in Spanish and Portuguese languages. It was originally associated with the ideal societal role men were expected to play in their communities, most particularly, Iberian language-speaking societies and countries. Macho in Portuguese and 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 expected to possess and display bravery, courage and strength as well as wisdom and leadership, and ser macho (literally, "to be a macho") was an aspiration for all boys.
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.
The English word "machismo" derives from the identical Spanish and Portuguese word. Portuguese and Spanish machismo refers to the assumption that masculinity is superior to femininity, a concept similar to R. W Connell's hegemonic masculinity, 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. 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.
- 1 Contemporary dominant view on the meaning of the term
- 2 Caballerismo
- 3 Criticism and controversy
- 4 Influences
- 5 Indigenous influence on Mexican culture
- 6 Implications
- 7 See also
- 8 References
Contemporary dominant view on the meaning of the term
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."
In popular culture
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.
"Caballerismo" or "caballerosidad" in Spanish, or cavalheirismo in Portuguese, is a Latin American understanding of manliness that focuses more on honour and chivalry. The literal translation is knightliness (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. 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. Studies show Latin American men understand masculinity to involve considerable childcare responsibilities, politeness, respect for women's autonomy, and non-violent attitudes and behaviors. 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.
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 also stems from the Latin root caballus, through the French chevalier.) Like the English chivalric code, caballerismo developed out of a medieval socio-historical class system in which people of wealth and status owned horses for transportation and other forms of horsepower whereas the lower classes did not. It was also associated with the class of knights in the feudal system. In Spanish, caballero referred to a land-owning colonial gentleman of high station who was master of estates and/or ranches.
Criticism and controversy
Controversy surrounding colonial connotations
There is controversy surrounding the concept of Machismo, which is not exclusive to Mexican culture, but originally came 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. 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.
For example, the use of caballerismo, Cavalheirismo, 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 European culture in comparison to the so-called Latin American machismo (animalesque, irrational, violent, backward). 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
Researchers are concerned regarding the unbalanced representation of machismo within Latin American cultures; and are now focused on creating a balanced representation. 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. 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 predominantly negative.
The other side of machismo, the positive side (caballerismo, cavalheirismo), 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 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 males in their expression of their masculinity.
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 American culture, Latin American manifestations of machismo represent "all that is wrong in a man". Latino academics have used this argument to explain why Latino male youth struggle in academic institutions and have high rates of criminality. 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 behavioural struggles in schools for Latino male 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 behaviour, 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 depictions of machismo in popular literature
Throughout popular literature, the term has continued to be associated with the negative characteristics. For example, sexism, misogyny, chauvinism and hypermasculinity and hegemonic masculinity. Scholars 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.
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. 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. The negative stereotypes depicted in American literature are not representative of all the different layers of Machismo.
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Machismo has been influenced and supported by many different factors. The Catholic religion plays a vital role to many within the Spanish community. For this reason the male dominated world that is often referenced in the Bible is seen among the people. Examples can be found throughout the Bible showing how women should be submissive to their husbands: “Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire [shall be] to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Genesis 3:16). The ideologies that the man is stronger, the moneymaker, and the protector all back up the mindset that wives must listen to their husbands.
Masculinity in context: Chile
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The revolution of copper mining sets the tone of traditional masculinity. The industrious labor performed by the working class male is accredited by status amongst peers and ability to provide for the family. Men who work in the mines are often away from their families’ the majority of the time so they engage in homosociality. The homosocial leisure activities that the workers engage in consist of gambling, soccer, and alcohol. Women’s presence in social settings is not prominent, so men’s dominance and inevitable homosocial interactions create kinship and brotherhood. Exploitation of masculinity through the context of miners is prominent and embodied by Chilean males.
Because Chile is a traditionally Roman Catholic dominated society, comfort with androgyny is becoming more accepted and identifiable. More of the modern elite women take on forms of masculinity in their education attainments and careers.
Indigenous influence on Mexican culture
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.
Many women identify that machismo is perpetuated through the pressure to raise children a certain way and instill social constructions of gender throughout a child’s development. 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 ideology perpetuates itself. It creates a sense of inferiority that drives boys to reach an unattainable level of masculinity, a pursuit often validated by the aggressive and apathetic behavior they observe in the men around them and ultimately leading them to continue the cycle.
“Machismo as a cultural factor is substantially associated with crime, violence, and lawlessness independently of the structural control variables,” (26-27). One key aspect of Machismo’s association to violence is its influence in a man’s behavior towards proving his strength (57). While strength and fortitude are recognized as key components to the stereotype of machismo, demonstrations of violence and aggressive actions have become almost expected of men and have been justified as desirable products of being tough and macho. It can be implied that “if you are violent, you are strong and thus more of a man than those who back down or do not fight,”
Violent encounters can stem from the desire to protect his family, friends, and particularly his female relatives that are vulnerable to the machismo actions of other men, (59). 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. These range from societal pressures to “be a man” to internal pressures of overcoming an inferiority complex, (59). This can translate into actions that devalue feminine characteristics and overemphasize the characteristics of strength and superiority attributed to masculinity, (59).
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. 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. 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. But some say in truth that's not Machismo, because in certain places, Machists people and organizations are against violence as a method of demonstrating Machismo.
The power difference in the relationship between a man and a woman not only creates the social norm of machismo, but by consequence also creates the social concept of marianismo. This brings to focus the idea that women are inferior and are thus dependent on their husbands. As a result, they not only rely on their husbands for financial support, but in the social realm are put at the same level as “children under age 12, mentally ill persons, and spendthrifts,” (265). By way of tradition, not only are women given limited opportunities in what they are able to do and to be, but they are also viewed as people that cannot even take care of themselves. Getting married provides a woman with security under her husband’s success, but also entails a lifelong commitment towards serving her husband and her children.
While social pressures and expectations play huge roles in the perpetuation of the marianismo construct, this ideology is also taught to girls as they grow up. They learn the importance of performing domestic labor and household chores, such as cooking and cleaning, because this will be the role they will play in their future families. They are taught that these must be done well so that they can adequately serve their families and avoid punishment and discipline by their authoritative husbands.
One implication of the Machismo concept is the pressure for a man to be sexually experienced. 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. 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. 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.
Sexuality and sexual orientation
For men in many Latin American countries, their perceived level of masculinity determines the amount of respect they receive in society. 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.” 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. 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.
On the lower end of the hierarchy are the locas or maricones. These men are those that are deemed as effeminate because 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. A common Puerto Rican saying demonstrates this resistance: “mejor un drogadicto que un pato” (better a drug addict than a faggot).
Because of the negative connotations that come with identifying as homosexual, the definition of 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. 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.
Machismo can also pressure men to defend the well-being of his loved ones, his community, and his country. 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. 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. 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.
Another approach to machismo is that of the “caballerismo” ideology, that because a man is the head of the household, he is responsible for the well-being of the members of his family. This describes the call for a man to be chivalrous, nurturing, and protective of his loved ones. It translates to the belief that a true man would never act violent towards his wife or children, but would instead ensure that no harm come to them. Machismo, seen through this approach, inspires men to create “harmonious interpersonal relationships through respect for self and others.” This allows fathers to maintain positive, intimate relationships with his children and share a more egalitarian relationship with his wife.
Female respect and responsibility
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. 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. With this female empowerment, decisions in the household can take on a more egalitarian approach, where mothers can have equal 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.
“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.”
“Machismo ideology may be viewed as beneficial to women in that it encourages their husbands to provide for and protect them and their children. Further, by subordinating their needs to those of their family, women earn a lifetime of support from their husbands and children and in this way gain some control in the family,” (90). Because fathers are typically more invested in paid labor, mothers typically spend more time with the children and thus gain credibility in important decisions such as a child’s schooling or a child’s health care. Nevertheless, in these machist households the fathers will have the last word whenever they choose to, as they are the breadwinners, and all the family ultimately depends on them for survival. In case of a separation or divorce, it is typically the mothers who suffer the most, since they did not invest their time in their career, and will probably still have to provide and care for the children.
Men and work
In many cultures in the world, there is a long-standing tradition that the man is the head of the household and is responsible for providing for the family. In some cases, this may mean he is the only parent working in paid-work while in other conditions this may mean both parents are working but the man is expected to be the primary income contributor. In either case, part of the masculine identity and his self-respect is defined by his ability to provide for his family. If he is unable to do so, or if he brings home less money than that of his wife, his position as head of the family is challenged. In some cultures, this may mean ultimate shame for him if he cannot fulfill this role: “that being unable to find work meant that ‘there is no recognition even to [his] humanity] . . . Those who do not work are like dead people’,” (212). Beyond providing economic support for his family, a man engaging in paid-work is seen as honorable because he is sacrificing time and energy that he could be spending with his family. These are costs that cannot be repaid and thus are an priceless investment on his part towards the well-being of his family unit.
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- Alpha (ethology)
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- Girly girl
- Lost Boys: Why Our Sons Turn Violent and How We Can Save Them (book)
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