Teaching Culture: Machismo (part 2)

Setting aside the stereotypes, what is machismo? As I mentioned before, machismo has slightly different characteristics depending on the country where it is found. For that reason, since people of Mexican origin represent the largest portion of the Latino population in the United States (63%), I will focus on Mexican machismo in this post.

After Mexico’s Independence, the term machismo took on a positive and unifying meaning in response to the search for national identity and the question of what it mean to be a Mexican man. It became a symbol of the Mexican warrior who fights and cares for his family. It is a term that is supposed to embody characteristics such as honor, respect, dignity, trust, loyalty, politeness and family-centeredness. It described a man of his word who is responsible and friendly, expected to act in an honorable, dignifying way, a way that earned him respect and trust. There was the idea that he should smooth over disagreements rather than entering into confrontation. It included strong family values – being sure to care for and protect not only his immediate family but also his extended one. In order to be such a provider, a hard-working spirit was required. Is that not a wonderful (though equally unattainable and stressful) image of what the character of a man should be? It is what the men were expected to strive for under machismo. It´s an image that we see reflected in certain movie characters such as in the The Mask of Zorro or, to give an example of a non-Latino character, The Patriot.

However, it is also true that there are serious negative and harmful aspects to machismo. Some trace the roots of these traits to the twisting of the true intent of machismo, changing its definition to be synonymous with chauvinism and violence. Others define them as innate to the essence and origins of machismo. Since my intent is to present a general description of modern machismo, I will not comment any further on that debate. Suffice it to say that the negative attributes exist and are not only harmful to those around the male figure but also the man himself.

Unfortunately, we tend to be most familiar with these negative aspects, which include an “exaggerated manliness”, paternalism, violence, abuse, control, alcoholism, vengeance, hypersexuality and risk-taking behavior. One clear result of this is a clear gender role differentiation, the idea that “the woman´s place is in the home and the man´s out of it” and that “the man is the decision maker”. The woman´s role becomes suppressed and minimalized to daily, household tasks and decisions. Another result is the need for the man to exhibit his “manliness” to further differentiate himself from what is feminine and define himself as man. In order to do so and to be accepted by society, a man feels that he must demonstrate his strength through feats and risk-taking; his sexual appetite often through “conquering” various women or having affairs; and his control over his family as head of the house, often through violence. There is an expressed need to show that the woman does not control him in order to avoid being see as a mandil. Fighting and drinking are also ways to express his manhood.

These characteristics (control, suppression, sexuality and violence) may remind you of the beginnings of machismo, as mentioned in the previous post. Before the term was used to cultivate a national masculine identity, there was a history of the male being the “conquerer” who, as conquerers did, raped the native women or took them as lovers who they would later abandon. The women, submissive and accepting of their fate, then raised the children alone, children who then grew to spite their fathers. However, due to the class system, they were forced to respect and obey this hated father figure. Juarez Becerra (2012) notes that from this history come certain traits still seen today:

“De esta condición nació la supremacía del hombre en la estructura familiar mexicana y la imagen del padre ausente (que por cierto pulula en la literatura mexicana), ambas son consecuencias que se han perpetuado hasta nuestros días”.

Today we still confront high rates of alcoholism and risk-taking and controlling behavior among Latino males in clinic. However, we also find woman who, accepting of this culture, are submissive to this behavior and even look the other way in terms of their spouses’ affairs (something I will touch on when I discuss Marianismo). So, how can understanding this cultural aspect help us better understand and care for our Latino patients? I will discuss this very question next week.

Side note: Please keep in mind that, as with any cultural value, not all Latinos hold to machismo and it would be a gross overgeneralization to treat them all as such. These orientations are intended to help teachers better equip medical professionals for when they do encounter patients who hold these beliefs.


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

Juárez Becerra, María José (2012): «El machismo en México» [en línea], Retos Internacionals, Tecnológico de Monterrey, <http://retosinternacionales.campusqueretaro.net/2012/06/10/el-machismo-en-mexico/> [Consultado 25/06/2013]

López, Ricardo (2009): The other side of machismo [en línea], Latino Opinion, <http://www.latinoopinion.com/2009/04/the-other-side-of-machismo/#comments> [Consultado 11/07/2013]

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

Paz, Octavio (2010). El laberinto de la soledad. Postdata; Vuelta al laberinto de la soledad. D.F. México: Fondo de cultura económica.


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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