- Politics and Social Issues
Machismo Obsessed the Mexican Male.
The cult of Machismo has been used by Hollywood to good effect.
Machismo was imposed by the Spanish
This strange cult of masculinity once being confined by labelling, if not in fact, to the world of the Latin - and particularly, Mexican, male, has spread to be found in common usage in Europe and the USA in modern times.
Macho behaviour in Mexico is generally disliked by most people, who are not actually being macho (or, slang, "macha") for the female, at the time. (really “marianismo” little used). But there is no doubt this usually unfortunate behaviour has played a part in Mexican life from the days of the Conquistadores (Conquerors - Cortez, et al.).
If you asked a Mexican male exactly what being macho meant to him, he might say manly. He might also say acting in a brave and implacable manner when faced with any challenge to the said masculinity.
The easy going, credulous and spiritual Indians of Mexico did, indeed, have the original form of machismo thrust upon them by the invading Spanish, themselves inheriting the characteristics from the Moors who settled in Spain in the eighth century. It was based more on male superiority and courage tempered with romantic chivalry, as can be found in much of Spanish and Moorish literature, (and is seen to the present day in Moslem treatment of women and perhaps in their suicide bombers).
Machismo took on a harder edge in Mexico and fuelled much of the Conqueror’s aggression and cruelty towards the indigenous Aztecs and other Indian nations - and, indeed, all round the world. This Catholic fervour and material lust which spurred-on the Spanish became a scourge which put a nation to the sword, causing the loss of life of hundreds of thousand innocent Aztecs and others. It has never been forgotten in Mexico; the Spanish are at best tolerated and generally disliked. Although the Spanish were responsible for much that was positive in Mexico, not least their language, which united the population to a great extent. Also, much foodstuff, music and dance, splendid colonial architecture, huge agrarian haciendas and, along with the French, the system of law.
The Spanish introduced Mexico to international trade; their religious leaders built schools and churches, and much, much more. Yet you will not find one statue of the man first responsible for all this: conqueror, Hernan Cortez, anywhere in the Republic. The inhumanity foisted upon the ancient Mexican peoples outweighs any good, in their minds.
If the Spanish planted the seeds of the cult, machismo, they also certainly augmented its worse features by their behaviour towards the conquered race. They adopted a policy of breeding with the Indians to produce a huge, non-Indian population which they treated with hostility and contempt, usually disowning them and treating them as servants. Even the Indian lover of Cortez, Malinche, treated romantically in some histories, was thrown aside after her use as an interpreter lessened. Violence and rape was common, often towards lawful spouses of the Indians themselves. Any resistance by the woman’s husband would result in his being severely punished or assassinated. To the Spanish, the non-Catholic population held about the same status as their dogs; sometimes less!
Spain ruled Mexico for 300 years and as time went by, the mixed-blood people became a large part of the population and began creating an identity for themselves. Unfortunately, as often happens when the conquered regain some control, they imitated their overlords, the Spaniards. This especially applied to Spanish born in Mexico, who seemed to have inherited all the violence and idiocy of machismo, but lost all its graces of serenity, valour and chivalry. (Perhaps the purest form of machismo can be seen in the bullring practiced by the best matadors).
This became the time of the “machos,” as perhaps best portrayed in Hollywood movies. They sought power and therefore identity by any means. The main characteristics of this new breed of macho was envy, jealousy, vindictiveness, brutality and to solve problems with murderous intent. A man seen as being kind, unselfish and gentle was seen (and so described) as a coward, a “maricon,” (homosexual) or - magic always playing a great part in Mexican affairs - bewitched! They were pathologically jealous of their women; repaying any perceived slight with a beating or worse. (This is still seen to this day, even divorced husbands controlling all their wife does and who she sees).
Much of this was engendered by the Spanish conquerors taking and using their women any time they felt like it, a huge resentment building up which was embedded in the psyche and the genes of all future mestizo generations.
The late Mexican author, Octavio Paz, described machismo as a “defensive rather than aggressive posture.” Having proscribed courses of action - or reaction - it tends to make the macho (writes Paz) “invulnerable to their enemies and able to withstand any form of adversity.” As a code of action and response, it excuses the individual’s culpability for anything that may happen to his offender, or rival - and the macho’s violent response was so excused, many times, by society at large; trial judges and juries, themselves perhaps macho as well.
(As an aside to this article, my own observation of machismo(a) as seem by women is that they say they dislike it and may rail against the macho threatening them or one of their own husbands, etc. But, privately, any man not exhibiting the bravery and steadfastness said to be a big part of the macho’s behaviour, will be viewed with contempt by the women in the future. Although they respond vigorously to any machismo directed towards themselves - at least in modern times - becoming hysterical and “macha” in return. Also, there is at least as much infidelity amongst women as men in Mexico today, but women are still very careful to cover their tracks).
The tradition of machismo in Mexico has also allowed the male to dominate his mate and children. By the same token, the man is allowed - and expected to - be sexually unfaithful, even maintaining another family if he can afford it - the “casa chica” “little house” or a “segunda frente” “second front.” He may also consort with his secretary, prostitutes or even his wife’s friends without condemnation by most of the male community. The legal wife will usually turn a blind eye to this behaviour. Appreciating on which side her bread was buttered, she might say of her rival. “Que me importa. ella es unicamente una puta.” “What do I care, she is only a prostitute.”
Much of the above freebooting behaviour has eased in the last 20 years or so as Mexican men had to worry more about making a living; their actions were seen everywhere with TV and the Internet, and their wives became less merely “amas de casa” (housewives) and had their own careers. Commerce, the great leveller of individualism, had reared its ugly head.
Machismo these days is usually contained, except where booze is involved. Refusing a drink in a bar in Mexico can invite much pressure by a macho who won’t take no for an answer. Unless you can handle aggressive confrontations, best to say you are taking antibiotics which will give the macho an excuse to not win the contest in the eyes of his “cuates” mates, who will be slyly checking the courage of the ‘Greengo. Or don’t go to low-class bars or pulquerias in the first place, and if you do, don‘t take your women. (resorts are usually OK).
It is considered a feminine characteristic in Mexico to “care” about what your woman does; where she is or even bring her into the discussion. This is the way the Mexican macho “controls” his partner. He must - above all - never show jealousy. Women are used to this in Mexico and don’t appreciate overbearing mates, so - here more than anywhere - give her some space to allow your relationship to flourish and to keep your male friends. American men - in particular - are seen as wussies by Mexican males, and the women as bossy and degenerate. (That’s their viewpoint, not mine!). Cultured and wealthy people, of course, at least on the surface, do not envoke machismo to solve their problems.
Tough, as ever, to cram a complicated subject like machismo into a small hub article. I hope I have covered some of the points gleaned in living for 20 years in this wonderful country.
Machos tend to debase women on one hand and glorify them on the other.
Mexican law favours men in that a man can divorce an adulterous wife, but a woman may divorce him only if the act took place in the family home.
Wife-beating is illegal in Mexico, but still commonly practised and largely unreported. (Widely practised in ancient Spain).
Some say Mexican men suffer from, or greatly fear, latent homosexuality as an influence of the Catholic church.
Certain Indian cultures intimate that to fail to beat one’s wife in this life ensures her being punished in the next!
Machismo is not only alive and well down south, it is rife in the northern Mexican/Americans, the Chicanos.
Many experienced travellers say Mexican border cops are the most “macho” of the lot, using this characteristic to extort money from Americans as well as their own people and raping local women (especially in Juarez).
Macho men often become maudlin and sentimental when drinking (hence the many Ranchero songs depicting the men as being used and put upon by unfaithful women!).
When studying the Mexican “upper classes,” it seems machismo is more characteristic of the type practised in Spain and seen as beneficial to the family and business, etc.