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Mexico - Machismo

Hispanic culture is traditionally associated with distinct gender roles for men and women, known as "machismo" and "marianismo," which dictate certain behavioral expectations for members of that community. In addition, there is a strong emphasis on family and community ("familismo") that interacts with the couple's expectations and decision-making while reinforcing the importance of cultural and societal norms.

The Mexican mestizo culture places a high value on "manliness." A salient feature of the society is a sharp delimitation between the roles played by males and females. In general, men are expected to be dominant and independent and females to be submissive and dependent. The distinct boundary between male and female roles in Mexico appears to be due in part to a culturally defined hypermasculine ideal referred to as machismo. In the machista perspective, a man's greatest offense against the norm is to not act like a man.

But machismo is as much about power relationships among men as it is about establishing the dominance of men over women. It is not exclusively or primarily a means of structuring power relations between men and women. It is a means of structuring power among men. Like drinking, gambling, risk taking, asserting one's opinions, and fighting, the conquest of women is a feat performed with two audiences in mind: first, other men, to whom one must constantly prove one's masculinity and virility; and second, oneself, to whom one must also show all signs of masculinity.

Machismo, then, is a matter of constantly asserting one's masculinity by way of practices that show the self to be "active," not "passive"...yesterday's victories count for little tomorrow. One of those practices is an ongoing game of verbal sparring and one-upmanship, a constant attempt to force masculine rivals into the feminine role, in a never-ending quest to avoid adopting the role themselves. Each of the speakers tries to humiliate his adversary with verbal traps and ingenious linguistic combinations, and the loser is the person who cannot think of a comeback, who has to swallow his opponent's jibes. These jibes are full of aggressive sexual allusions; the loser is possessed, is violated, by the winner, and the spectators laugh and sneer at him.

A biological model of machismo asserts that males everywhere tend to be more aggressive than females, a sex difference which appears to have a genetic base. A modern theory of sociobiology offers another explanation for macho behavior. According to this theory, much of animal, and perhaps human, behavior is influenced by the drive for one's genes to reproduce themselves. A generally accepted psychological theory views machismo as an expression of an inferiority complex. Most research on machismo is restricted to the lower classes. Research from Mexico, Puerto Rico, England, and the United States suggests that lower class males suffer from job insecurity and compensate for their feelings of inferiority by exaggerating their masculinity and by subordinating women. Other studies point to distant father-son relationships as one factor leading to feelings of inferiority and to the development of machismo. Women may support machismo by being submissive, dependent, and passive.

Hegemonic masculinity may be considered a public health problem in that it promotes aggressive behavior, violence towards men and women, and self-injury. "Being a man" within such a pattern implies stress, tension and anxiety to prove one's own masculinity. For men, the cultural emphasis on machismo can translate into a positive outcome where the man serves as provider and sacrifices for the family or a negative one that emphasizes dominance and control. The positive side of this gender expectation is that it encourages men to work hard to provide for and protect their family.

The primary role emphasized for women in Hispanic tradition is that of mother instead of wife. The cultural construct of "familismo" is defined as an emphasis on family relationships and a strong value placed on childbearing as an integral part of family life and the feminine gender role. This leads women to define themselves through their family and children instead of independently or as part of a couple. The role of martyr is also idealized, with women expected to be submissive and sacrifice themselves for their families.

Beginning in the 1970s and over the next two decades, dramatic changes occurred in the role of women in the Mexican economy. In 1990 women represented 31 percent of the economically active population, double the percentage recorded twenty years earlier. The demographics of women in the workforce also changed during this period. In 1980 the typical female worker was under twenty-five years of age. Her participation in the workforce was usually transitional and would end following marriage or childbirth. After the 1970s, however, an emerging feminist movement made it more acceptable for educated Mexican women to pursue careers. In addition, the economic crisis of the 1980s required many married women to return to the job market to help supplement their husbands' income. About 70 percent of women workers in the mid-1990s were employed in the tertiary sector of the economy, usually at wages below those of men.

The growing presence of women in the workforce contributed to some changes in social attitudes, despite the prevalence of other more traditional attitudes. The UNAM 1995 national opinion survey, for example, found a growing acceptance that men and women should share in family responsibilities. Approximately half of all respondents agreed that husbands and wives should jointly handle child-care duties and perform housekeeping chores. However, such views were strongly related to income and educational level. Low income and minimally educated respondents regarded household tasks as women's work. Members of working-class households held traditional norms and values regarding the roles of men and women. In addition, these women were often subjected to control, domination, and violence by men.

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