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Machismo in Mexico: Downfall Due to Women’s Progression?

Written By Admin on Wednesday, January 16, 2013 | 9:41 AM




Mexico is a country that has long been in a struggle to find a concrete national identity.   This struggle transcends the boundary of gender identities as well.   This is the precise issue in which Matthew C. Gutmann addresses in his book The Meanings of Macho: Being a Man in Mexico City.   In his book, Gutmann dispels the macho generalization that has been applied to all Mexican men, as a result of their struggle for an identity.   The thesis of his book is that the terms macho and machismo, no longer exist, if they ever actually did, and the generalizations that accompany those terms and are subsequently applied to all Mexican and other Latino men are off-based.   Due to the dependence of the identities of macho Mexican men to their relationships with women, those same women have an advantageous position of the power to tear down the stereotypes.   Although these Mexican women play a central role in the changing of gender roles and the ideas of machismo, the manifestations of these stereotypes are often upheld by racist and ethnical tendencies, both within Mexico and abroad.
In trying to dispel the generalizations of machismo that have been placed upon all Mexican men, Gutmann places the emphasis of his argument on the range of differing definitions of what it means to be a man throughout Mexico, and even from man to man.   He supports this argument through his diverse findings from his time and studies
in Colonia Santa Domingo, a self-built working class neighborhood of Mexico City.   He also focuses on the role of women as catalysts behind the changes in not only what it means to be a man in Mexico, and specifically in Colonia Santa Domingo, but also gender identities.  
The relationship between women and machismo in Mexico is very complex and one of interdependency.   This relationship can also be linked to the struggle for men to establish a national identity for themselves.   Connected in the sense that the way in which a “macho’s machismo” has been commonly defined is through “his relationship to female bodies.”   There have even been parallels drawn between the Spanish conquest of the indigenous people of Mexico and the conquest of Mexican women by Mexican men.   The men found this sexual and power conquest necessary in order to establish themselves as Mexican men—as Paz feels they have denied their true heritage and are in search for one they can create.   Part of this so-called conquest required that women be completely passive   to the wills of men or chingones.   The dependence of the macho identity on women creates an extremely advantageous position for the women.   It allots them an enormous power to change things.   Because as Gutmann expresses it, “if women who play an integral role in the construction of masculinities are changing, so too are their men.”   Not only could this
opportunity for women to change things, improve things for themselves, but it also can lead to the decline of the negative usage of the Mexican macho, making it a concept that only exists in old movies and literature.   This power to change and possibly eliminate the usage of the macho Mexican stereotype can be expressed through the changes that have resulted from women’s roles in leadership, their move to the workplace outside the home, and their demands for intellectual independence.
Throughout the post-conquest history of Mexico, the role of women has primarily been that of taking care of the domestic responsibilities and child-rearing.   This leaving the role of the men as the providers and protectors of the family.   Providers in the sense that they are the ones who are working outside of the household, part of the more formal work force in any various number of occupations.   This role breakdown created a very conducive environment in which the macho ethos could perpetuate itself.   As one of Gutmann’s subjects put it, “It’s a situation which is still widespread in Mexican society: the man has to be waited on, has to have his wash done…because he is the one who works and brings home the money.   This makes men act like machos.”   Although things are not entirely changed, there has been in recent years a trend of more women leaving the home for the workplace.   In 1970, only seventeen out of every
one-hundred Mexican women over twelve years old were working outside the home, but twenty-five years later, in 1995, that number had more than doubled to thirty-five out of every one-hundred.   This demographic shift has resulted in several changes in the way gender identities and roles play out in Mexico; many of which Gutmann has observed and recorded in his book.   First of all, it can serve to pressure a reevaluation among families of how the domestic chores are delegated.   Where typically, the woman would do the majority of the work in the household while the man worked outside the home, with both working outside the home, the responsibilities inside the home would need to be shared as well.   This is to maintain equilibrium.   Women in this situation make it known to their husbands that it is no longer an acceptable excuse that he is the sole provider for the house and should not have to complete household chores.   But, as Gutmann points out through a family he observes, even after sharing the domestic responsibilities for a period of time, if a family goes back to being provided for solely by the man, the domestic work is no longer shared at all.   This implies that the Mexican men are not abstaining from housework to fulfill their macho role, but rather as a result of a lack of necessity.   The man does not expect the woman to accompany him to his workplace in order to assist, so neither,
to a reasonable extent, should the woman expect the man to pervade her workplace in assistance.   As Gutmann puts it, “the gendered division of labor is less a manifestation of subordination than of difference, where difference does not necessarily involve inequality: her husband works outside the home, and she works in it.”
Another way in which women have utilized their position to assist in the demise of the machismo attitude is through the active leadership roles they often take on.   For instance, the role in which the women of Santo Domingo played as the daytime defenders and builders while their husbands were out working.   They have also played major roles in new social movements (NMSs) in Santo Domingo.   The instance of these women playing these roles in Santo Domingo, and the way in which Gutmann presents the environment there to be free from the stereotypical Mexican machos, illustrates the effectiveness of women changing.   While every situation and every town is different in regards to this, Gutmann owes much of the credit of dispelling the machismo myth to the active women of Colonia Santo Domingo, and other women like them all across Mexico.
Much the same as there is no universal representative of the idea of a Mexican macho, there too is no one universal outcome of women changing.   While the above mentioned changes have promoted positive changes both for women and for men under
the pressures of living out machismo, some changes have negative results.   If women are willing to be submissive, and acknowledge machismo, they are doing nothing but perpetuating the characteristics of its already blurry existence.   The one exception to this is domestic violence.   While for many of the other characteristics mentioned concerning machismo, the active females could gradually change for the positive, as they progressed, domestic violence goes up.   As Paz puts it, one word sums up macho, that word being power.   Along with the growth of women’s independence comes an increase in their power and control over certain things.   They no longer need to rely solely on a man—consequently removing a majority of that man’s leverage upon her.   The dependence of a man’s identity upon his relationship with the females in his life has just been threatened, and his way of reclaiming the upper hand is through the use of violence against his wife.   This is neither to say that Mexcian women (or any women for that matter) should abandon forward progression nor that they have no other option as a result of that progression.   As Gutmann points out, women in Santo Domingo have begun to issue their men ultimatums.   As one woman issued to her husband, “[e]ither you attend the group (CAVI) and change, or we will get divorced and I will take the children.”
Another instance in which women are pivotal as
to the identity of macho men is through the way in which they raise their sons.   Here they either have the option of further debunking the idea of machismo, or they can perpetuate it.   One way in which they could help to eliminate the stereotype of machismo, is the chores in which their sons perform.   But on the other hand, the common act of mothers joking with their sons about how many “novias (girlfriends) they are going to have”   can perpetuate implicitly the characteristic of machismo of sexual promiscuity or conquering of females by males.   Although it most surely does not begin in a sexual sense, and is a joke, it instills the notion that the boys are supposed to get a lot of girls, at a time in their lives in which their minds are highly impressionable.   Essentially, women have a lot of control on how their men are perceived.   Once their men are no longer under the cultural and social pressure to uphold the idea of machismo, they can allow themselves to live however they feel necessary with the women in their lives.
Another issue addressed in Gutmann’s work is his argument that you cannot apply the macho stereotype to all Mexican men.   In other words, a universal application of the idea of machismo is an unreality.   He argues, through his observations from Santo Domingo, that every place is different in terms of how men act, and what is commonly accepted or though of as being a man.   While
this can be partially contributed to the differing lifestyles or cultures, a majority of it comes back to issues of ethnicity or race.   It has been an all too common trend throughout history for groups to deal with the differences they have with other groups by applying racist or ethnic stereotypes.   In most cases, it is an attempt to mask their own shortcomings or insecurities.   The examples of this over the course of history are prevalent and prominent.   The situation is no different from the way Americans apply the stereotype of machismo to not only Mexican men, but to all “Mexican American, Latin American men” , in order to mask their own gender inequalities.   As long as the neighbor to the Americans looks worse than the Americans do, the social pressure is off.   A large part of this implicit racism is upheld in the way these men are portrayed in popular culture movies and shows.   As much as Mexican men initially took on these hyper-masculine roles in order to establish themselves an identity, Americans created and sustained these denigrating generalizations.
For instance, the association of alcohol with macho Mexican men could just as easily be applied to men in the United States.   Alcoholism is a problem in America, just as it is in Mexico.   The deciding difference when it comes to stereotypes is the way in which the fight against alcoholism in America has been more institutionalized
and publicly resisted.   Another mask that allows the Americans to justify the racist application of these stereotypes to Mexican men is the association that is made between the Mexicans’ poor economic situation and alcohol.   Americans are able to step back and look at the economy and assume that its success must imply that there is no significant alcohol problem.   Another thing that Gutmann implies is that the problem with alcohol is mostly one that most Mexican men go through in their youth and rarely return to.   While most Americans will take this as even more evidence toward the condescending stereotypes they apply to Mexican men, they must first step back and examine their ‘best and brightest.’   The similarities between the case of the Mexican men and the average American college student in terms of drinking are vast.   The example from Gutmann’s book that comes to mind is when he describes the story of the young men drinking into the early hours of the morning.   He says they were making a ruckus and urinating in the streets, and drinking heavily.   Not to be frivolous, but anyone who has spent much time around a typical American college campus can acknowledge that similar if not worse things occur there.   And just as the older woman in his book tolerated this event, so too is similar behavior tolerated on most American college campuses.
Another example of how this racism is applied in the
United States is through the film Farmingville.   This film illustrates the growing racial tensions that were dividing the Long Island, New York community of Farmingville.   The tensions come as a result of the relatively recent influx of Mexican day laborers that have entered the town.   The racism is relevant through the concerns voiced by a few mothers who say they are afraid to let their daughters walk to the corner store, for fear of a Mexican man making sexual advances on them .   This undoubtedly arises from the almost innate stereotypes most Americans hold on Mexican men concerning their sexual promiscuity.   This idea is one that has perpetuated itself from the very core of the idea of machismo.   Until the realization is met that no one blanket statement covers all Mexican men, just as no one statement adequately covers all American men, these same racist tensions will endure.
The application of stereotypes based on race or ethnicity is not limited to countries outside of Mexico.   Within Mexico itself, and even within certain cities of Mexico, there is not one all-inclusive definition of machismo.   “A man riding a horse along a path, his wife walking alongside him trying to keep up”   is the description a city man gave of the typical rural Mexican man in Gutmann’s work.   This and other statements made throughout the book suggest that those in cities thought they were better than the men from
the rural towns (campos), and felt it alright to apply stereotypes on them.   What is peculiar about this situation is through doing this they are upholding the very stereotypes that are applied to them by the next group of outsiders.   This illustrates that even within a group that is collectively influenced by racism from the outside is subject to internal racist or ethnical ideas and stereotypes.   As long as there is one group that holds itself above that of another, they will use racism and ethnicity as a weapon to hold their superior position.   Whether it be on a micro level such as within the Mexicans themselves, or that of entire nations pitted against one another.   The ideas of machismo are a microcosm of the unjust way the world works—on the basis of power.   Those with power obviously desire to retain it, and become threatened when those beneath them begin to rise.   The men held down the women on one level (the case of machismo), that entire nation is looked down upon by another, and so on.   So the issue of machismo in Mexico is more than that of gender identities, but rather a representation of the manifestation of inequalities through unjust practices.   The submissive Mexican woman is to the macho Mexican man what Mexico is to the United States of America.   Just as the macho Mexican man uses violence to oppress the woman, so too does America use invasions when unsatisfactory actions are
performed by Mexico.   In terms of the sexual conquests of the macho Mexican man, its parallel is the many times the United States has economically taken advantage of Mexico.   And just as the key to the end of the macho Mexican man is the woman who stops tolerating him , the key to the end of racist stereotypes is the end of their toleration.   Although a stretch, the parallels between the two representing the inequalities on a small scale and on a large scale are very clear.
Due to the way in which Mexican men initially based their identity on their relationships with women, those very women have the control to initiate the changes necessary for their benefit along with their nation as a whole.   Through the women eliminating the mostly negative association of machismo with the men of their country, they can help to build a better national identity for Mexico and a more gender equal lifestyle.   Although the influence of women as catalysts to change is significant, it is not enough to overcome the larger themes of the often racist or stereotypical techniques of retaining power in the world today.   As long as issues are being observed from a perspective that is culturally different from that of their own, there will be stereotypes or condescending outlooks.   Most explain things that are different to them as being not normal, or inferior to the way in which the same is done in their respective culture.

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