Machismo

macho man

Machismo [mah-cheez-moh] is a negative descriptor of, for example, sexism, misogyny, chauvinism and hypermasculinity and hegemonic masculinity.

Scholars characterize such macho men as violent, rude, womanizing, and prone to alcoholism; domineering through intimidation, seducing and controlling women and children through violence and intimidation. However, 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.

During the mid 20th century, the term ‘machismo’ began to be criticized by Americans and ridiculed in literature, television and film. The stereotypical Latino immigrant was described as an oversexed, overly aggressive, ‘macho’ loser. During the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and 70s, the term began to be used by feminists to describe male aggression and violence. It was also 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 word. R. W Connell’s Hegemonic masculinity, is similar in the sense that supposed feminine traits among males (or traits historically viewed as non-feminine among females, i.e. ‘marianismo’) are to be deemed undesirable, socially reprovable or deviations. Machismo attitudes and behaviors may be frowned upon or encouraged at various degrees in societies or subcultures, albeit it is associated with more misogynistic undertones, primarily in present views on the past.

Women can be said to be ‘machistas,’ women who support the macho culture, mainly as a pejorative term used by other women who see themselves as more liberated or by pro-feminist men. In the culture of machismo, as well as in Western culture’s hypermasculinity, the idealized womankind is that submissive, conservative, ‘pure’ and family-centered, the opposite of many, if not all, the characteristics of the macho gender role.

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 characterized by 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.

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. Gender was not involved. When the Spanish came their use of the word macho was strictly masculine. Therefore, post 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. The American English speaking culture has turned machismo into a negative thing exemplifying misunderstanding and contempt for Mexican culture. Therefore, in Mexico, the use of the word ‘machi’ may provoke confusion if it is not used precisely or in context.

A comparison is drawn between ‘Machismo’ and the more positive ‘Caballerismo’ or ‘Caballerosidad,’ originally meaning a wealthy landowner. Views of machismo in Latin American cultures are not all negative; they also involve the characteristics of honor, 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. Despite the fact that ‘Caballerismo’ is used to signify only the positive characteristics of Machismo, it carries connotations of historical colonial power relations. Similarly, while an etymology of the word suggests a Spanish and Portuguese masculine social construction, ‘machismo’ is primarily used to describe Latin Americans.

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