Having an unusually high or exaggerated sense of masculinity. The belief in the right to dominate and control, including, but not limited to, control over women.
This term has been used in many different and contradictory ways. Some individuals might disagree with the above definition of the term machismo, but the word itself has been a central concept when discussing the roles, status, rights and responsibilities of men and women primarily in Latin America. I remember the first time I told a Latino friend that I was a feminist. He stared at me with a confused glance and ask Que es eso? In his mind the basic principle of gender equality seemed preposterous; women were meant to be mother’s and caregivers.
During my time in Chile I used to joke with other female friends about the “caveman” mentality that many Chilean men had adopted. Me man, me take what me want as he drags the woman kicking and screaming into this cave by her hair. SOME Latino men can be aggressive. Period. Female travelers must either to adapt or they should skip Latin America, although that would be an incredible shame.
Latin American countries are very different from one another but as someone who has lived in Panama and Chile while also traveling to Rio and Buenos Aires, I can say that my experience with machismo has been quite similar. In fact, my time in Panama made me desensitized to cat calls as I would hear whistles on a daily basis when walking down the streets with the occasional oye mami thrown into the mix. Some men have even attempted to grope me and were extremely amused when I spun around angrily. These men often revel in their ability to make gringa’s annoyed.
However, machismo becomes increasingly more dangerous once the sun goes down and alcohol is added to the mix. The men I met at the clubs in Buenos Aires and Santiago did not like to hear the word no uttered to them; in fact, many of them would interpret it as a not now, but try harder. The polite no thank you I adopted from my time spent in clubs in Ottawa and Toronto had to be changed into an aggressive and borderline crazy expression when men crossed the line. And they did. Men would grapple at my arms, grab my face and try to kiss me and touch my butt in an attempt to “win me over.” If I showed any expression of discontent at their advances, I was often seen as crazy. LOCA GRINGA ESTUPIDA!
And then after almost being punched by a local in Panama, I decided to review my gringa ways. Below is my personal gringa guide to dealing with machismo:
- Don’t poke the bear! Many girl’s might tell you that Latino men will never hit a woman, that is not true. Machista men must protect their manliness and they do not tolerate being undermined or belittled by a woman. They can react in two ways; laugh it off while calling you filthy names or put you in your place with a hearty slap or punch. Either way, it is not a pleasant experience. The second problem is that if you are assaulted by someone, most of the time police will not be able to help you.
- Always dress appropriately. If you are uncomfortable with the cat calls and unwarranted creepy attention than dress down. Avoid tight fitting clothes, short shorts or anything too revealing. Think classy with just a touch of sexy.
- Be EXTREMELY weary of your surroundings and never get black out drunk. An acquaintance of mine went to a club with her brother who ditched her after finding a girl. She ended up getting so drunk that she almost was abducted by three strange men outside the club. Thankfully a friend intervened, but that situation could have turned ugly very quickly. Men (whether Latino or gringo) prey on drunk girls in the club because their actions will probably have no repercussions. In the end, it is easy for them to disappear, so they cross numerous lines to get what they want. Never leave a club with someone you just met. At the same time do not rely on friends or family to carry you home after a hard-night of partying. Your friends and siblings are also on vacation and certainly do not want to take care of your drunk arse. Smarten up and stay in control.
- Be wary of freebies. A friend of mine recently told me a story about her time in Nicaragua where a gringo boy offered to walk her back to the hostel because he himself was bored of the club. His “good intentions” were a cover to get her to sleep with him and when she refused his advances, he complained… a lot. It actually reminded me of a time in Canada when I met a boy at a bar who offered to walk me home and spent the whole night trying to guilt me into sleeping with him. As a result this rule can apply to gringos and Latinos. Don’t trust men you’ve just met; they may have ulterior motives. It really is a 50/50 chance: yes they might just be really nice guys, but at the same time they might not be. Their motives are also easier to decipher when you are sober as your judgement skills will probably start to falter after each drink. In the end, take that extra two second to assess the situation and try to make an informed decision.
- Don’t be polite. In Buenos Aires my cute-as-a-button friend tried to fend off men by smiling a naive smile while saying no. This was interpreted as a yes by three different males who then, without even a word, grabbed her face and started to make out with her. No means no; say it like you mean it and don’t take crap from anyone. They might swear at you and call you crazy but at least they will leave you alone.
In the end, not all Latino men are machista and those that are macho are extremely easy to spot. Remember to keep your guard up and assess the situation before befriending or trusting anyone you meet. Also remember that even if you take all the precautions sometimes stuff happens. When living in Panama I was still cat called when I walked down the street with greasy hair and sweatpants. Sexy or frumpy, I was still being harassed. Sometimes, your best efforts are not good enough and that’s ok. NONETHELESS, I often would recommend that gringos remember that different rules apply in different countries; sometimes it’s better to adapt than to face the consequences.