9 Things You Should Know About Machismo Culture
- Coming to South America, I knew that machismo culture would be something I’d experience; the term ‘machismo’, after all, has roots in the languages most spoken throughout the continent. Despite the fact that the structures of both my familiar cultures are hierarchical and male-dominated (as is unfortunately still the case in most cultures around the world), I knew that, in Brazil, my ideas of masculinity would be tried and tested like never before.
And by golly, I was right.
- Machismo culture begins at home, in the calm post-lunch period on a Saturday afternoon. On weekends I enjoy typical Bahian fare — fish moquecas, rice, beans and the occasional salad — prepared by my mother, who spends around two hours preparing each meal, alone. But this tendency for solitude may be one of personal preference. I’m sure what isn’t, however, is what happens after we eat: I’ve noticed that the men in the household gravitate towards the couch, where they remain for the next hour or so. It is always, always, the women who bring half-filled or empty plates and bowls to the kitchen to be washed, and always, always a woman who washes the dishes and cleans the kitchen.
- But it isn’t just lunch. All meals pan out the same way, as do chores and general upkeep like ironing, clothes washing and sweeping. In other households that I’ve visited, I’ve watched women having to clean up after men whose actions are heavy with the assumption that someone will do the work for them.
- In a machismo culture, the role of ‘father’ takes on a completely different set of rules and responsibilities. Those with homestay fathers are the minority in our group. Granted, some homestay fathers have passed away, but others — such as my own — are just never around. One of the homestay fathers only decided to come home after his daughter had already grown up. I’ve only interacted with my homestay father three or four times since arriving in Salvador, in the rare instances when he shows up for lunch or, on Christmas Eve, for dinner. He’s still on good terms with the family, which I find quite odd: in other places like Korea, Hong Kong or the United States, a father who comes in and out so sporadically would receive more skepticism than acceptance, more questions than none at all. Yet here, who would be on the losing end if the elusive father figure was not accepted back into the household? It doesn’t take a genius to figure it out.
- As I’ve already claimed on this blog, the gym is a great place for sociological study. If there’s a place to see machismo culture in action, it’s at the gym, where — I hear, as I’ve never seen it myself — it’s not uncommon to see personal trainers holding or touching women trainees in ways that clearly overstep the boundaries of what is acceptable. Besides, male entitlement is one of the reasons why I decided to escape the ‘bro crowd’ and work out at 6 in the morning — a lot of the men in the gym (read: not ALL of them, as I hate to generalize) take up a lot of space, volume-wise, presence-wise, equipment use-wise, in a way that’s just not common amongst the women.
- Back in Hong Kong, cat calling — what I see as the verbal expression of male entitlement over female physicality — was something I hardly ever experienced. I’m sure it does happen there, but it wasn’t something that I witnessed left, right, and centre everywhere I went. Here in Brazil, however, things are different — I get cat called every single day.
Of course, it happens more frequently in some places than others, but I still consistently hear discomforting comments nonetheless. It gets especially bad in crowded areas like Avenida Sete in Lapa, where strangers have walked by muttering ‘linda chinesa’ under their breath, or full out yelled ‘linda japa!’ in my face. Lingering eyes are also a source of endless discomfort. What makes me most upset, however, is hearing these comments in my own neighbourhood, Candeal, and sometimes on the street where I live. How can I walk around confidently in certain areas if I can anticipate my recoiling from unwelcome comments? Thankfully cat calling in Candeal is the exception, but this makes it even more disheartening when a friendly ‘bom dia’ or ‘boa tarde’ is responded to in a less-than-savoury fashion.
(Oh gosh, I could write an entire post on cat calling… it elicits so many different reactions in me every time it happens, and, however unpleasant and demeaning cat calls are, I’ve learnt a lot from them.)
- At our ‘open’ capoeira rodas, the limelight is consumed — a good 95% of the time — by male capoeiristas. I guess the fact that there are a total of five females in the class (in relation to a double digit number of males) plays a part in this phenomenon, but it’s still disheartening to note that all the professors, instructors, contra mestres and mestres are, without exception, male. It’s also disheartening to see that the place with the largest female presence is the couch reserved for spectators, where bored-looking wives and girlfriends sit for two hours watching their male partners ginga and kick.
- Despite all the pits of machismo culture, however, there’s one upside that always gives me hope: living within a machismo culture has emphasized how kick-ass and amazing women are. How brilliant, talented, fantastic and goddamn inspirational they can be. I’m talking about the women of Candeal, our homestay mothers, our work mentors (all but one of them are women), and our program directors (both are female). Most of our homestay mothers single-handedly run their household alongside full-time jobs; two of our mothers run large community associations for the welfare of the neighbourhood’s inhabitants. My mother keeps the house in tip-top shape whilst cooking fantastic meals, running a clothing store, taking the dog for a walk three times a day and contributing a great deal of time to her church. My work mentor works incredibly hard to grow the movement she founded month by month, year by year. All of the women I’ve had the pleasure to form relationships with have taught me incredible lessons in warmth, humility and strength, qualities which often go unnoticed and unappreciated in their communities.
How blessed I am, to have witnessed their insane potential — and consequently realized mine.
- Coming to South America, I knew that machismo culture would be something I’d experience; and what I can say after four months of being in Brazil is that it’s very, very real. But just because it’s real doesn’t mean we should just shrug our shoulders and accept it as it is. It’s a tough ceiling to break, but there are ways in which we women can make it a little bit more breakable — and for that reason I’ll work harder in capoeira, work out without vergonha (embarrassment or shame) alongside the bros, not give in to demeaning cat calls, and express myself and my femininity in the way that makes me feel greatest.