American philosopher Eric Hoffer said, “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” In the case of feminism, its integrity lasted until about the end of the second wave.
Since then, it’s hurt women and men, and led to ambiguity surrounding the movement — is it about helping women achieve equality or about women becoming more advantaged than men? In the United States, it’s worth pondering if feminism has overstayed its welcome. However, there’s a case to be made for feminism in Latin American countries — and just not the third and/or current wave.
What Is Machismo?
Machismo is, literally, the Spanish word for “masculinity.” However, it has come to be colloquially known as the idea that women are inferior to men in one or several ways. This set of negative ideals is prevalent in Latin America and in Latino culture, and there’s evidence to support this.
Latin America Has a Problem with Machismo
The rate of femicide in Latin America is astounding. According to the UN, the total number of murders against women (on the basis of gender) across 19 Latin American countries was 3,801 in 2018, with Brazil and Mexico having the highest numbers. Even more alarming are some of the cases of violence against women in Latin America. In 2011, Brazil was the leading country for the number of acid attacks against women. The repercussions of this sort of attack are nothing short of dehumanizing, as the victim suffers intense burns and permanent maiming.
In 2011, Brazil was the leading country for the number of acid attacks against women.
Aside from alarming statistics reporting violence against women, such violence seems to have been normalized in the culture. According to charitable organization Oxfam, four in 10 men reportedly know a friend who hits his female partner, and in the Dominican Republic, three out of 10 young people state that their male friends hit their female partner.
The statistics are alarming and should inspire change. It should never be okay to justify abuse towards the demographic representing half the global population. However, the approach to fixing the negative effects machismo culture can bring about is questionable.
Is Masculinity — the Simplest Definition of Machismo — To Blame?
Machismo has come to be defined as the negative set of ideals that come with believing women are inherently inferior to men. But if we go back to the word’s basic definition, it simply refers to masculinity.
Erik Morales cites American scholar Gloria Anzaldúa in his dissertation on Machismo. Anzaldúa claims, “There are three types of machismo: familiar, false, and modern. Her familiar notion of machismo was exhibited by her father. It meant ‘being strong enough to support my mother and us, yet being able to show love.’ Anzaldúa contrasted this to false machismo, an ‘adaptation’ to poverty and oppression, causing men to ‘put down women and even to brutalize them.’ She described the third machismo, modern, only as an ‘Anglo invention’ suggesting it was the mainstream notion that differed from the other two.”
Redefining machismo as the embodiment of a strong father figure in a family or community could help remove a lot of problems.
Anzaldúa’s breakdown is worth analyzing further. Machismo, or masculinity, should not be synonymous with abuse against women or femicide. Men or women should not be seen as better or worse than the other. Neither would exist, or could continue to exist, without the other. So rather than insisting that machismo as male supremacy over women is the true definition, why not call it a “false machismo”? Redefining machismo as the embodiment of a strong father figure in a family or community, as Anzaldúa describes, could help remove a lot of problems with the current false machismo we see embodied today.
According to child psychiatrist Dr. Kyle Pruett, “a father's influence has many factors on a child's life.” Benefits include, but are not limited to doing better in school, being less likely to become a criminal, and being less likely to reinforce gender stereotypes (an example is if a child is nurtured by their father as well as their mother, they will see both genders as being able to be nurturing).
Current Attempts at Fixing Machismo — and Why It Won’t Work
In Brazil, a survey was shared among men (the results at the end of the survey should be taken with a grain of salt, since the survey wasn’t region-locked, didn’t require a login, and otherwise allowed me, a Mexican-American woman in the U.S. to take it) to determine how machista they are. It was found that 70% of Colombians are “moderately machista.”
One current approach to address machismo in Brazil is to have men take the survey, and if they score above a certain threshold, tell them they’re eligible for a scholarship to “unlearn” their machismo with the EU organization that created the survey.
A Brazilian program offers men a scholarship to “unlearn” their machismo.
While at face value this seems like a good option, it should scare you to see the term “unlearn.” Especially when the questions from the survey are translated. The very first question reads, “If one of your male friends tells you they have to stay in to take care of their children or younger siblings, would you mock them and say ‘oof, stuck on babysitting duty?’” And the second reads, “Have you ever described a woman as ‘not very feminine’?” The first question is ambiguous because it’s easy to see taking care of your younger siblings as ‘babysitting duty’ since you’re not their father, and the second question targets whether or not you can observe something and be able to categorize it and determine if it falls under a common descriptor (i.e. ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’).
How are the answers to these sorts of questions — and teaching men the “correct” answers — supposed to address the massive problems across Latin America where women are brutalized or murdered? A man can learn modern feminist ideas, but no amount of learning modern feminist talking points or ideas will lead to those men coming around to seeing the error in their ways, if they truly believe that women are inferior to men. The existence of male feminists who warrant wariness from women can attest to this not being a good approach to solving this problem.
Other approaches to solving the problem of false machismo include having men talk about their feelings in order to better talk about and process negative feelings, such as anger and frustration, rather than taking out the anger in violent or abusive ways. This approach seems most productive, especially because this approach is being applied in the context of support groups, by and for men. However, it’s worth looking into the reference material being put out by psychological associations that aim to provide a guide for embarking on this approach. An example is the APA Guidelines for Psychological Practice With Boys And Men; it incorporates definitions such as “Gender Bias,” “Privilege,” and “Oppression” — again, terms touted around in the current wave of feminism.
Science has shown that a strong family unit with a father present leads to better-adjusted children.
It’s important to ask here, has the current wave of feminism helped in the U.S., and if so, could the approaches we’ve taken help women elsewhere? The most recent wave has resulted in an increased division between men and women: with the rise of movements such as MGTOW (“Men Going Their Own Way,” separating themselves from women and feminist society), the #MeToo movement devolving into strained work relationships between men and women, and the decline of marriage rates.
Latin America is facing a very real problem with femicide and brutal violence against women. Is the solution to this, making sure that men don’t categorize some women as “not conventionally feminine”?
We need to reframe masculinity. Praise the “true machismo” embodied in a man who protects, serves, and loves his family, and denounce other behaviors that claim to be macho, and fall short of that true definition. After all, science has shown that a strong family unit with a father present leads to better-adjusted children, who are less likely to buy into and perpetuate negative gender stereotypes.
The solution to the current abuses against women isn’t a simple one, and it can’t be resolved overnight. But in order to solve the problem for future generations, we can’t resort to demonizing men or masculinity. Although some men commit violent and abhorrent acts, you can’t correct the behavior of one demographic, or a subset of that demographic, by hating or demonizing them. A good first step would be to move the current, colloquial machismo to the category of a “false definition” and encourage actions that embody the true definition.