Teaching Culture: Machismo (part 1)

Source: Words of the World http://shelf3d.com/

Source: Words of the World http://shelf3d.com/

As I have mentioned before, addressing cultural beliefs is imperative in Spanish for healthcare professionals courses. To quote the motivational speaker Tony Robins:

“Beliefs have the power to create and the power to destroy. Human beings have the awesome ability to take any experience of their lives and create a meaning that disempowers them or one that can literally save their lives.”

In these next couple of posts, I am going to briefly look at two intertwined beliefs that have a substantial impact on health and wellness: machismo and marianismo. I will start with the one that is more familiar to many of us, machismo. This week I will glance at the stereotypes and history of machismo, then next week I will look specifically at what machismo is, how it impacts health, and a few good references on the topic.  I plan to discuss how to introduce machismo to students after I have presented marianismo, since (in my opinion!) they should be taught in a similar manner.

Though we have all heard of the term, it is important not to fall into stereotypes when we teach this concept but rather root ourselves in reality. Many of us from the United States think of the song Macho Men or the wrestler “Macho Man” Randy Savage. Some consider a “macho man” to be the quintessential man. Others think of guys who try to be tough or men who do not cry or men who are sexually virile (uncontrollable sexual appetite that can be expressed through the “conquest” of various women or extramarital affairs) or men who beat their wives. This last one is the most well known idea related to machismo: abuse. This typical “macho” abuse refers to the man abusing or dominating the woman, forcing his control in ways that are harmful emotionally and physically. Though it is true that machismo often does lead to abuse and extramarital affairs, we will fall short if we limit our view to this not-always-present aspect. On one hand, these ideas do transmit some truths about machismo, however, on the other, when we limit our view to them, we tend to undervalue the Latino male and we miss the complete cultural picture, which does include some positive aspects.

In order to have a more complete idea of machismo, let´s take a look at its history, taking care to avoid confusing machismo and chauvinism – at times similar but far from equivalent terms. While some will go as far back to ancient Rome to trace the roots of machismo, I believe it is only necessary to go as far as the Spanish conquest of Latin America. Machismo, like any other cultural phenomena, changes depending on context. It is not the same to talk about machismo in Asia as in Africa or in Latin America. The meeting of the Spanish culture and indigenous American cultures through the context of conquest conditioned part of the macho identity in this region. Norma Fuller in her article “Repensando el Machismo Latinoamericano” in Masculinities and Social Change (2012) gives a good overview of this history and its effect on the development of modern machismo in the Americas and I base the following history in her work.

She cites various others including Octavio Paz when she refers to the aggressive, domineering, violent nature around the idea of “macho” and goes on to quote this author to affirm this assertion regarding the origins Mexican machismo in “la violenta, sarcástica humillación de la Madre y en la menos violenta afirmación del Padre… El mexicano es producto de un acto de violencia en el que la madre traiciona a su pueblo y el padre desprecia a su descendencia” (120). That forceful contact between cultures then gave rise to a social strata where it was allowed and expected that the Spanish men had their proper Spanish wives but also could maintain sexual relations with lower social levels (indigenous women, slaves, and mestizas). This idea remained even after the Mexican Independence in the19th century by simply adjusting to take into consideration the new “elite” and new “low” classes. However, interestingly enough, the term machismo had yet to come about during this time period except as a vulgar term. It was not until the early part of the 20th century that it was used to build a national identity, primarily by referring back to popular heroes and “guerreros” from previous eras. However, Fuller cites that due to tensions between the United States and Mexico, the United States took the term in more of a literal, diminutive sense to be someone less civilized, over-sexualized and violent. Sound familiar? Many of the stereotypes come from this view from the United States.

Next week, we will look at the negative aspects of machismo with the purpose of understanding how to prepare medical professionals for the ugly side of machismo.  We will also look at how to equip medical professionals to use the positive aspects of machismo as a gateway to helping their Latino patients better care for their health and that of their family.


Delgado, Melvin (2006): Social Work with Latinos: A Cultural Assets Paradigm. Oxford University Press: New York.

Fuller, Norma (2012): Repensando el machismo latinoamericano. Masculinities and Social Change, 1(2), 114-133. Recovered from del  http://dx.doi.org/10.4471/MCS.201 2.08

Gutmann, Matthew C. (1998): El Machismo. Recuperado el 12 de abril 2013 del http://www.redmasculinidades.com/sites/default/files/archivos/biblioteca/00101.pdf

Ortiz, Fernando A., Kenneth G. Davis (2009). “Machismo”. M. A. De La Torre (Ed.), Hispanic American Religious Cultures, pp. 339-341 . Santa Barbara, CA.

Sobralske, Mary (2006): Machismo sustains health and illness beliefs of Mexican American men. Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners 18: 348-350. Recovered from http://www.ncfh.org/pdfs/2k12/9380.pdf.


About abennink

Spanish and English instructor, medical interpreter and health educator. My passion around healthcare, equality, languages and education motivates me to continually seek to develop my skills in each area while also designing ways to use each one to improve the others.
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2 Responses to Teaching Culture: Machismo (part 1)

  1. Pingback: Teaching Culture: Machismo (part 2) | Ayuda, doctor

  2. Pingback: Presenting machismo and marianismo in the classroom. A brief overview | Ayuda, doctor

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