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Machismo – A Cultural Incompatibility I Can’t Accept

by on June 9, 2012

in Latin America, Peru

Selling Bread With Other Volunteers

Selling Bread With Other Volunteers

While volunteering for Rayo de Sol in Arequipa, Peru, I was reminded of how much I dislike the macho culture in Latin America.

Machismo can be defined as “exaggerated masculine pride.”

I haven’t said much about machismo despite having been in Latin America for nine months. Only in this article from El Salvador, and this post bidding farewell to Mexico. But it’s omnipresent and is very much at odds with my view of the world, empowerment, and how things should be.

While walking around Arequipa with my fellow volunteers, all from France, selling bread to benefit the children of Alto Cayma, we encountered numerous situations I’d consider completely inappropriate.

Hearing men whistle or cat call as the girls walked by was common.

And I hated it.

It’s just the attitude. He’s essentially saying “You look hot,” but for what? Does he think she’ll throw herself at him then? It is disrespectful and really doesn’t make much sense.

One day we walked into a shopping center and there were two men. In general, when women wanted to buy bread, they usually approached me. When men wanted to buy bread, they usually approached my female colleague. Fine.

But in this case, a guy bought a croissant or some other pastry. She then asked the other guy if he’d like something and replied by saying “No, I just want to look.” And he didn’t mean look at the bread and pastries. It was clear he meant that he wanted look at her. These guys were old enough to be her dad, so it was doubly disgusting.

It’s not like they were flirting. They knew they had no chance. They just got some strange satisfaction in being disrespectful.

An Example Of Machismo - This Image On The Outside Of A Public Bus In Ecuador

An Example Of Machismo - This Image On The Outside Of A Public Bus In Ecuador

I asked her how she felt about what happened afterward. She didn’t seem phased by it. She said it happens all the time so she’s just kind of become use to such bad behavior.

I guess that’s a survival technique because getting upset about such frequent bad behavior doesn’t serve any purpose. But still. It’s wrong and it shouldn’t happen at all.

I’m not sure what the solution is. How do you change a whole culture?

Again, just like seeing the photo shoot in Lima, maybe I read too much into things. Maybe I see victims where they don’t exist sometimes. But I think the case here is pretty cut and dry. Women shouldn’t have to put up with such bad behavior.

Sadly, I know I’ll encounter this throughout my trip. Though there is a convenient Spanish word used to describe this attitude, one that we use in English, machismo/macho is definitely not limited to Latin America.

About Adam Pervez

In mid-2011 I left my cushy corporate job and took the plunge into a life incorporating my passions of traveling, writing, volunteering, learning, educating, and telling stories. I study what happiness means to others, offer what I can from my engineering/MBA background as a volunteer, and try to leave each place better than how I found it. Read more.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather June 9, 2012 at 7:31 am

This happens all the time in the U.S., too! It is unrelenting in some places. The problem stems from many places, including how boys and girls are socialized from a young age, how much power women have/are perceived to have in society, and how the media portrays “acceptable” standards of interacting with people of the opposite sex.

These men are so boxed in with their belief systems about prescribed behaviors that they can’t even treat women like equals. Feel sorry for them that they will never be able to stop acting in a role for the rest of their lives!

Anyway, don’t think for a minute that American raunch culture doesn’t influence people in other countries. I’m surprised this is the first time you’ve noticed such blatant sexism. I hope to hear some stories about gender-positive experience in an upcoming blog!

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Adam Pervez June 9, 2012 at 9:33 am

Hi Heather,

Thanks for the comment! I definitely noticed it in other places – I lived in the Middle East for 2.5 years, for example. But I guess it came to a boiling point in Latin America when girls I was friends with and cared about were subjected to this senselessness.

For sure the raunchy U.S. TV shows don’t help, but I’m sure this culture existed before TVs. Maybe it exacerbates it, and lends an approving nod in some ways, but I think it was already there.

But yes, it’s sad. As a result, however, I have seen many extremely strong women there. Just a shame that they had to grow a shield to adapt and thrive in their environment.

This might be positive: http://www.happinessplunge.com/2011/11/learning-about-gender-equality-and-teaching-about-the-promised-land/

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JCov June 11, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Once again you’ve struck a chord! I totally agree with you and I appreciate hearing this from a male perspective. Though I live on the hot humid coast of Ecuador I always have on pants (normally jeans) and dress as unattractive as possible most days just to be able to walk down the street in peace. It is something that has weighed into the decision of whether I will live here for ever. At this time it’s just a little too much for me. Is it everywhere in the world? Absolutely, however in the U.S. I don’t feel like if I put on a pair of shorts I am going to get relentless hisses and whistles like I ,without a doubt, get here. I also feel sorry for the men, because it shows a lack of evolution and when you see a woman only as an object you miss out on so much. As we talk about a lot here in open forums with men and women; women play an active part in “machismo” too by perpetuating certain customs. I feel like people all over the world are waking up, but it is definitely hard to be woman used to certain liberties and then live a country where you are seen very much as inferior and simply an object (not by ALL of course, but by many).

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Adam Pervez June 11, 2012 at 12:44 pm

Word. Agree 100% and I feel for you. Machismo bothered me, but I didn’t have to deal with it the way a girl would have had to as a traveler, or has to as a resident in Latin America. Just an extra mental tax on top of mental tax of worrying about one’s security. And yes, the men do lose out on so much with this attitude…

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Jeff June 12, 2012 at 4:05 am

I have been wondering lately how much of this – at least on the streets – is group behavior vs. individual. Thinking back to my time in Latin America I seem to recall the majority of incidents as involving more than one guy. Maybe it is “showing off” for each other. But, then again, I would welcome a woman’s perspective. It could just be my limited powers of observation and that the problem exists just as much when guys are solo on the street.

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Adam Pervez June 12, 2012 at 10:38 am

I think group behavior makes it worse, but it definitely exists individually. At a basic level, did you never see a guy scan a woman with 180-degree head movement as she walked down the street? I saw it hourly, cat calls optional. This may be more objectification instead of machismo, but that Venn diagram is overlapped quite a bit.

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Jeff June 12, 2012 at 1:40 pm

Yes, I have seen that – though I’ve seen it everywhere in the world not just Latin America. I guess I was thinking more of the verbal aspect of the objectification but you are certainly correct. In the spirit of “all things are a bit better with humor” someone should compile a list of catcalls used. I offer up this gem from Guatemala (San Pedro): “Oye, muñeca, quieres un novio temporal?”

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Adam Pervez June 12, 2012 at 2:04 pm

Yep, maybe it’s unfair that Spanish has a word for this bad behavior. They are, perhaps, put more under the microscope.

Funny from Guatemala! I heard “Mamacita, quieres una visita?” in Ecuador…

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Thais June 17, 2012 at 11:55 pm

I found out recently that this behaviour of men towards womyn is defined as Street Harrasment, which in Spanish speaking countries will be “acoso callejero”. I haven’t heard this definition being used in these countries, but maybe it should be used more frequently, I want to believe that men wouldn’t want to be defined as harrasors…
I’ve found that it doesn’t matter much what I’m wearing, or how untidy I look, and sometimes ignoring doesn’t work to avoid the escalation of comments. So I’ve decided to reply to the comments, even though some of my female companions can feel frightened when I do this, since people recommend we shouldn’t respond.
If they say I’m beautiful I say: I do not need their input, but since they are bold enough to say their opinion about my looks, I say mine which is that they’re ugly.
Anyway, this is just an obvious part of the machismo phenomenon in many countries in Latinamerica, the Caribbean, even in the US. Machismo is a whole lot more, and it is created by both men and womyn.

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Adam Pervez June 18, 2012 at 9:40 am

Hi Thais,

Great insight! And que cajones that you confront your callejeros! But yes, machismo happens to some extent everywhere and it’s truly unfortunate..

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Thais June 18, 2012 at 10:53 am

I think machismo can actually have a series of sub topics… Like your poverty series… I might start defining some, from a womyn’s point of view. It was excellent reading this!

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Adam Pervez June 18, 2012 at 11:02 am

Glad it inspired you a bit :)

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Owen Lipsett February 19, 2013 at 8:15 am

Great post Adam! :-)

A further disturbing example are “piropos” which are essentially catcalls and which some Argentine chauvinists claim are part of their cultural identity. I remember seeing TV ads when I was in Argentina for services that let you subscribe to a service that would text you the best ones daily!

Also Happy Women’s Day to anyone reading this!

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Owen Lipsett February 19, 2013 at 8:16 am

Great post Adam! :-)

A further disturbing example are “piropos” which are essentially catcalls and which some Argentine chauvinists claim are part of their cultural identity. I remember seeing TV ads when I was in Argentina for services that let you subscribe to a service that would text you the best ones daily!

Also Happy Women’s Day to anyone reading this!

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Darko April 6, 2013 at 5:42 am

I think machismo is not that bad, men and women are sexual and may show that to eachother. Of course there will be differences in approach, due to hormonal difference between men and women. In north european countries the male identity is non existant. Men don’t feel like men no more there, the difference is faded away and many men don’t know how to handle that. You have to admit, sex is the most purest instinct from humankind, and men have always been hunters. In North Europe, there is a tendence in the other way, women want the real man back, a little bit macho, they’re tired of the nice, perfect stephson-type. So in my opinion, there is some truth in what you’re writing but try to see it also in another perspective. I know a lot of girls here in Europe who like a real macho man…

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Adam Pervez April 6, 2013 at 5:49 am

Thanks for your comment! Sex is an instinct, yes. I’m not sure how pure it is, but presumably the instinct of self-preservation is more central to the human experience – the need for food, water, shelter, etc. Though many don’t lack these needs anymore in some parts of the world, so sex is the only one left to satisfy.

I question if you confuse the concept of gender equality with men not being macho. The genders can be equal without men being pigs. Many girls in Europe may want a macho man, but many more probably don’t, and those that do probably wouldn’t like all the baggage that machismo entails.

But what do we know. We’re both guys! :)

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ed February 15, 2014 at 7:48 pm

The reality is America different from foreigners. If I had to say just the most concise, Latino civic culture prevents a whistle becomes harassment, or bear arms to become a sniper in a bell tower, or grouping in the skinheads. It is true that individualism has its advantages, but you can walk the streets with more Latino freedom in their country without being attacked by neo-Nazis and other gems, as there that discipline. So the issue is not actual whistle in Peru, well-dressed women go out and get their “Oscars” shaped whistle, a woman will not convict because the whistle, and many marriages matching whistles.

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Adam Pervez February 16, 2014 at 8:49 pm

Thanks for your comment. Just wish I understood what you were trying to say.

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