I know, I know. The picture above is full of generalities, biases and it is an unfair comparison between Latin American men and American men. But I just could not help myself!!
Latin American Machismo is not the same as American Male Chauvinism although they have some similarities.
In Spanish and Portuguese, the meaning of the word macho was associated with the ideal societal role men were expected to play in society. These included to some degrees the quixotic notion of “caballerismo” or chivalry and knighthood. During the 1960s and 70s, Latin American feminists began to refer to the word machismo as a way to describe male aggression and violence. The term was also meant as a criticism of what feminists and scholars saw as Latin American male patriarchy.
However, the terms macho and machismo continue to evolve. In some Latin American countries and some Hispanic communities in the U.S. they have come to refer to the idea and pursuit of manliness and self-reliance, as well as masculine pride, combined with a dimension of sexual appeal. While it is true that the concept of machismo refers to the assumption that masculinity is superior to femininity, however in modern day Latin America the underlying specifics about this terminology seem to have been blurring in the last few decades.
In very general terms today’s Latin American males are overt with their masculinity. They wear their testosterone on their sleeves. Romance is a contact sport. They typically don’t want to keep women down as much as they want to have sex with them. They don’t care if a woman rises to the highest echelons of the political establishment; they just want them to be sensual. No matter how smart, how accomplished, how powerful a woman is, the typical Latin American macho man wants to be able to fantasize that if given the opportunity, he would be able to woo and seduce her.
Obviously, here in the U.S. if these behaviors and attitudes were to be carried to extremes, they would be considered deplorable sexual harassment. However, these attitudes are different from the U.S. version of male chauvinism which has more to do with men’s fears of women taking away their jobs as they ascend to positions of corporate and political power.
Take for instance the incidence of women rising to the position of president of a country. In the Latin American and Caribbean region there has been eleven women presidents going back to 1974 when Isabel Peron became head of Argentina, following the death of her husband Juan Peron. Since then, Argentina chose another woman to the position of president when Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner was elected in 2007. Compare this to the U.S., which for the first time in history there is a woman running for president in one of the two major parties.
Another notable example is Nicaragua, long considered one of the bastions of machismo, elected Violeta Chamorro to president in 1990. In addition, in this Central American country, there have been other women holding positions of prominence which here in the U.S. would be reserved exclusively to men. Some of these women are: Elizabeth Rodriguez Obando, the current head of the police academy. Aminta Elena Granera Sacasa, Director General of the National Police of Nicaragua. Ms. Granera Sacasa’s position would be equivalent in rank and political power to the Director of the FBI. Dora Maria Tellez, who during the Sandinista uprising against the government of Anastasio Somoza rose to the number two spot in the Sandinista military. Ms. Tellez fought in the jungles of Nicaragua alongside other male combatants, something American women are so far not allowed to do in the U.S. military.
Today Nicaragua’s main congressional chambers are populated by 30% women, compared to 19% in the U.S.
Other past and present women presidents in Latin America and the Caribbean are: Lidia Gueiler Tejada of Bolivia, Rosalía Arteaga Serrano of Ecuador, Mireya Moscoso of Panama, Michelle Bachelet of Chile, Ertha Pascal-Trouillot of Haiti, Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica, and Dilma Rousseff of Brazil.
Another area where Latin American women have been empowered is in their extraordinary participation in the various guerrilla movements that attempted to overthrow the majority of the governments in the region. To learn more about this, please read about “Women Guerrilla Fighters of Cuba, Mexico, Nicaragua, Colombia and El Salvador”. The most interesting fact that you will read in this article is that 40% of the guerrilla combatants have been women. Women proved themselves to be fierce fighters and were fully accepted by their male counterparts as integral and vital to their insurgent efforts.
Additionally, once peace treaties between the insurgent forces and the various governments were signed, members of these guerrilla forces were often integrated into society. Many of these fighters found positions in the private and public sectors. Women guerrilla fighters were able to make the transition from unpaid domestic workers to being gainfully employed. This elevation in social status would never have happened had they not been empowered through their participation in the war effort which legitimized and validated their capabilities as something other than cooks and house cleaners.
Compare all the above facts with male chauvinism (or a male chauvinist) as it is the case here in the U.S., which has a totally different connotation and implication from machismo. The word “chauvinism” goes back to Nicolas Chauvin a French soldier badly wounded in the Napoleonic wars who became a posterchild for extreme patriotism, nationalism and blind devotion to the Bonapartist cause. Since then the word chauvinism has crossed over from its original use to denote a fanatical devotion and undue partiality to any group or cause to which one belongs. In the case of the U.S., it refers to devotion and partiality to men as a group and male dominance as a cause.
Today it is a term directly related to the post World War ll era when men were returning home after fighting the war expecting for their jobs to be waiting for them, only to find that women had stepped into their previous positions. As men reintegrated back into society and the workforce, they returned to their previously predominantly held positions of power. Women instead were relegated to lower statuses working as secretaries, typists and answering telephone calls. Subsequently, due to certain socially acceptable norms, women were not able to challenge the status quo.
Today in the United States after years of advancements in women’s rights, these feelings and fears of women displacing men in the workforce, military, and political front have to a great extend remained.
Making matters worse, American males are more passive aggressive than their Latin American male counterparts. The aggressiveness exhibited by American males toward women is often times hidden only to come out when women are being considered for positions of power in the private or public sector.
Prominent women, have long endured sexist remarks. Comments on wardrobes, personality, risk of pregnancy leave, even menstrual cycles have been fair game in the barrage of abuse coming from those that seek to foil these women’s political or private sector careers. These sexist attacks and sexist media coverage are powerful tools specially used to hurt women in politics. In fact, politics continues to be fertile grounds for misogyny.
One example of this was Geraldine Ferraro who ran for V.P. in 1984 along with presidential candidate Walter Mondale, against incumbents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. An accomplished business woman, lawyer, journalist, author, congress woman, and United States Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Geraldine Ferraro was attacked by the media which posed questions clearly insinuating that she was not tough enough to hold the position of V.P. and if the need occurred take over as president in case of an emergency.
The series of questions she faced probing her competence and toughness were similar to the ones faced by other prominent female political figure but not by their male counterparts. Even well-known broadcast journalist Ted Koppel weight in on questions about her nuclear strategy which took an alarmist tone. During a Meet the Press section he asked her, “Do you think that in any way the Soviets might be tempted to try to take advantage of you simply because you are a woman?
As other capable women have joined the political fray, sexist attacks have become more the norm than the exception. The examples are plentiful. From Siobhan “Sam” Bennett run for mayor of Allentown, PA who was asked at a town hall meeting to provide her measurements “since all the men in the room were dying to ask”, to Michigan State Representative Kristy Pagan who says she faces sexism every day on the house floor as her voice is drowned out by the male majority who oftentimes refuse to allow her to air her opinions.
Today, Hillary Clinton, the first woman to be nominated for president of the U.S. from one of the two major parties is also facing a barrage of attacks, innuendos, and sexist remarks. These attacks go back to at least the time when Bill Clinton was president and she, as first lady began to advocate for universal health care and women’s rights.
While this post is not meant to promote Hillary Clinton’s candidacy to the presidency, it is meant to point to the differences between the attitudes of the Latin American macho culture and American chauvinistic males. It seems that at first glance, Latin American males are more accepting of powerful, intelligent, enterprising women than their U.S. male counterparts.