Machismo for Dummies (Myself Included)

Viñeta de Forges

Thanks to how impressively woke our program is, the word “machismo” is thrown around countless times a day, whether in class, while chatting with friends, or walking down the street. I knew what it meant the first time I heard it, though my time in Spain has added an abundance of context to a seemingly simple word. For those reading who aren’t Spanish speakers, it isn’t exactly easy to offer an English synonym for machismo. This has continued to mess with me throughout my time here– why don’t we have a word for machismo in my mother language?
Merriam Webster defines machismo as 1: “A strong sense of masculine pride: an exaggerated masculinity,” and 2: “An exaggerated or exhilarating sense of power or strength.” The dictionary got something right, it’s certainly a gendered word, but I’d say it’s a lot more than pride or strength. Machismo borders on violence, making popular the terms “machismo violence” and “violencia de género.” Related English words include sexism, patriarchy, and misogyny, but those don’t quite sum up all that machismo does. Spain has always felt like a noticeably patriarchal country to me, old fashioned in many ways, while also contrastingly modern in a lot of ways that the U.S. is not. While machismo runs freely throughout the streets of Madrid, many Spaniards are more than willing to talk about it. When I go to the UAM weekly, the walkways are lined with posters of protest, and it’s more than common to see advertisements for feminist events, anti gender violence campaigns, etc. This is impressive! I’ve been reflecting a lot on how Americans are less eager to dive into discussions like these, and while we may have the occasional feminist trending hashtag, is the average American really well educated on topics of gender justice? I talk about machismo almost as much as I see it, and that’s progress.
Many of my female friends have complained to me about the dreaded question they receive from male strangers: “Tienes novio?/Do you have a boyfriend?” I somehow made it to this week without being asked this intrusive question, but when it happened, it surely didn’t help that I was asked by an elderly male stranger. I almost laughed at 1) the audacity, 2) the assumption of heteronormativity, and 3) the sheer interest of this man, shaking it off by answering, “nope!” This was a crappy experience, to say the least, as he continued to talk about academia and professors until I finally interrupted to say “y profesorAs???” He talked down to me, made multiple sexist comments, and asked intrusive questions with zero hesitation. This is a small, relatable example of machismo, but it only gets worse. I’ve had to endure microaggressions like these, which are easy to shake off but continue to eat away at me, almost on a daily basis. I was most surprised when a man came to speak in one of my classes, and even as a left leaning, political artist, his continuous tendency to speak over my female professor and fellow female students stunned me.
It isn’t that these men always have bad intentions, but more so that they’ve been socialized in a society that’s totally male dominant, whether it’s leaving the chores to the woman (Spanish men reference their wives as their “mujer,” literally meaning “my woman…) or working long days and acting as the breadwinner, or simply ruling the streets as women are catcalled left and right. These moments of machismo have certainly weighed on me and my peers, but I do give credit to the mass of Spanish activists actively fighting the strong as ever Spanish patriarchy, as well as my female professors who empower me daily. !MachisNO!

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