Friday, 11 March 2011


There is a particular phenomenon here in Latin America. Well, in all honesty, it exists across the globe, but it is pronounced and acknowledged here to such an extent that it has been given it's very own name: Machismo. Easy to work out what that means.

In a recent class I was giving I was trying to explain how this word could be translated into English. It's a fascinating concept in that there is no single word in English that describes all that it encompasses. It's a delightful cocktail of sexism, chauvinism and misogyny with a little vim and chutzpah thrown in for effect.

Machismo is a curious thing. It connotes the subordination and subjugation of women, but in so many a subtle way that it is often misunderstood. Machismo can be seen in the obvious objectification of women's bodies in the media: for instance after 23:00 there is sure to be a semi-naked woman on every TV channel you tune into. Objectification is readily available at any number of the most popular chain caf├ęs you walk into, where the waitress uniform is a skintight mini-dress and they only employ women under 30.

However Machismo also takes more subtler forms. One thing that surprised me as my Spanish improved and I was able to comprehend the language more, was the romantic nature of the lyrics of most popular music. Where English artists specialize in making music about women's undercarriage or how big and manly they are, the Spanish-Language equivalents are often a celebration of beauty and a promise of love and romance. Odd, considering Latin America's reputation for Machismo and female objectification.

But this seemingly celebratory view of women can be just as damaging and oppressive. As Simone de Beauvoir argued in the case of women in France, if a woman is seen as whimsical, she cannot be trusted to make decisions. If a woman is emotional, she does not know how to be rational. Such assumptions provide the premise upon which women are seen as beautiful and lovely objects and nothing more, and consequently excluded from the highest paying jobs, the political sphere and, on many occasions, simply being taken seriously.

So although the idea of a "Latin Lover" is a warm and inviting one, with his easy words and ability to send shivers down your spine; these very talents at charming and swoon-inducing are often a double-edged sword. 

1 comment:

  1. The place for a good woman should be: "Barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen", I believe this is how it is defined in Macho culture and language!!