Tag Archives: patriarchy

Machismo by any other name smells just as bad

27 Apr

“They totally admitted that machismo is wrong, but that basically it’s convenient for them, so they couldn’t be bothered to change it.” I reported back to Lili, swaggering back into the house a little too triumphantly. In the moment, it felt important. I felt special for being “let in” to the boys’ club. It seemed like their grand admission in front of the enemy (aka me, a woman) was bound to redraw the lines of the battle ground, if nothing else. Plus, they’d given me some of the tequila they’d been drinking out in the air conditioned car, which might have added to my social optimism.

Drinking and diaper changing are equal opportunity sports in our house ; )

Drinking and diaper changing are equal opportunity sports in our house ; )

Don't tell this papa that taking care of the baby is women's work!<Don’t tell this papa that taking care of the baby is women’s work>

Yet the next day, nothing had changed. The other men in the area continued to be allergic to the stove, not even approaching it to serve themselves the food prepared by someone else. They continued to be appalled at the thought of touching a dish- “I’d rather cut my ear off than wash dishes,” one of Conan’s cousins shared with us once (a Van Gogh fanatic? Perhaps, but the sentiment is similar among most men around here). Women continued with all of the clothes washing, many of them washing by hand. Many women continued to ask permission to go anywhere or do anything, and many men continued to keep them under lock and key. Women still got hit by their partners, and many still thought they deserved it. In other words, I was forced to face the fact that absolutely nada had been changed by their admission that machismo is wrong.

Now don’t be confounded by this term machismo, dear reader. Before you act like you don’t have it in your country, in some form or another, to some extent or another, pause and observe for a moment. It’s not unique to Mexico; it’s not some latino thing. It’s the same old patriarchy, the same old outrageous and yet accepted idea that men are magically better than women, that what we act like and do and hope for is determined by what’s between our legs.

I hadn’t run out to the car to talk about machismo, though. I’d run out because we’d been talking in the kitchen, Conan and two friends and I, and then they said they were leaving. Instead of leaving, however, the goodbye with Conan became prolonged, and the next thing I knew I noticed they were sitting in the car sipping on tequila. Without me. I ran out, Lucia on my hip and all, and jumped into the car. “Sorry I’m late to the meeting! I’m ready for business!” I told them, giggling and boisterous, ready to forgive them for not inviting me.

And the next thing I knew we were talking about women drinking in the US, and other such cultural differences, and then Esteban was telling me, “Look, I know machismo is wrong, but that’s how it’s always been here, and that’s how it’s gotta be.”

“Just because it’s always been like that doesn’t mean that’s how it has to be,” I argued.

“Sure it does. I mean, that’s how we’re born. That’s how we’re raised. That’s how my dad taught me. He told me, ‘look, you’re gonna provide for your family, and your wife’s gonna take care of the home, the food, the kids, the ironing, the washing, all of that.’ And I have to say, with my first wife I loved the way she took care of me like that.” From his description of it, and the age he and his wife were when they got together, still teenagers, it made me think of kids playing house.

“Right, but you can decide to change.” I challenged him.

“Nooo,” Simon*, younger and less travelled, piped in, “you can’t change how society is.”

“You can’t change all of society, but that doesn’t mean that you, personally, can’t change. You can change how you act. How you treat your partner. How you raise your children. You totally have the power to change yourself and your family. And as more and more people do that, society changes.” I continued, ever the social activist.

“No, not here,” Simon insisted. “If you tried to act like that, the woman would walk all over you, and everyone would just make fun of you.”

“So everyone makes fun of me and Conan?” I asked, glancing at Conan in the seat next to me, who was patiently letting me do all the talking, and seemed, as usual, completely unperturbed about what anybody was saying about him and his gender roles.

“No, you’re from there. It’s different.” ‘Finally, being an outsider pays off,’ I thought.

“Hey, is it true,” Simon started, “that there,” and “there- allá” always means in the U.S.- el norte– “there, women go out drinking and the men stay home?”

‘Aha!’ I thought to myself, smelling the fear in the car- that fear of screw or be screwed. The fear from whence all violence comes, according to my humble suspicions. ‘If I’m not the boss of her, she’ll be the boss of me.’ Same old same old. Alas.

“Well, no.” I responded, smiling gingerly. “Women have much more liberty- if they’re childless, anyway- to go out where they want, when they want. Including going out drinking with their friends. And maybe they go out drinking with their partner. And sometimes women go out with friends and men stay home, and sometimes men go out with friends and women stay home. And some women don’t drink at all, and some men don’t drink. But it’s not like women are there keeping their boyfriends locked up in the house.” ‘Not like some men treat women here,’ I thought but didn’t mention. “The idea is equality, being side by side, not someone being above someone else.”

“No,” he told me. “Someone’s gotta be on top.” ‘Suspicions confirmed,’ I thought, and avoided sighing again.

“Listen, Julia” Esteban started again. He lived in the U.S. for several years, so he had the smiling, knowing grin like he knows exactly where I’m coming from, what I’m thinking. “It’s different for you because you’re from there. But people here are not going to accept that. If a woman acts like that here, no one will accept her. Yes, it’s different when you have a woman who’s been educated, who’s been outside of her town. Then it’s a little bit different. When she’s contributing money, too, and you ask her to make you some food, suddenly she’s like, ‘ah, you do it.’ You gotta adapt a little bit for women who’ve been educated, been outside of their little towns. But you can’t let ‘em tell you what to do, either. Like the other night, my girlfriend she says, ‘oh I wanna go out dancing at this place,’ and I was like, ‘hell, no.’ I didn’t let her go. But I go wherever I want and she better not say anything to me.”

“Really, Esteban?” I sighed, raising my eyebrows at him. “So,” I said, with a smile on my face, “basically you guys are telling me that you recognize that it doesn’t have to be this way, and that machismo isn’t right, but you don’t want to change it because it’s beneficial to you. Right?”

“Well, yeah. And because that’s the way it’s got to be. That’s the culture here.” And round and round we went until we finally changed the subject.

I had tried to tell Simon, who hasn’t lived in the US, that there it’s not some matriarchal world of female domination. I explained that we also have domestic violence, that women still earn less money than men, that women are still usually more responsible for childcare and housework, etc. etc. That we could’ve been having practically the same conversation with a lot of people in the U.S. But here, of course, the details are different. Like when I tried to explain to my best friend in the states that one of my girlfriends here was not going to be allowed to go out with us. “What do you mean, ‘they won’t give her permission’?!?!” She questioned me.

“Ummm, I mean, her husband’s gonna say she can’t go,” I said, awkwardly, racking my brain to see if there was a better way to translate “no le dan permiso.” It definitely sounded worse in translation.

“What? Are you serious?” She continued, shocked and outraged.

“Welcome to Oaxaca,” I told her.

In the U.S., I think the same thing happens, but nowadays we mostly call it abuse when someone is controlling like that. I am grateful that much of the violence that is acceptable here is at least less accepted and more likely to be prosecuted in the U.S. For example, I hear some people from here who have lived in the U.S. say things like, “Yeah, allá, you can’t even hit your wife or the law’s all over you!** You can’t even hit your kids to teach them right!” Not to say that everyone here hits their wife and children, by any means, but it is more socially accepted in general. Most people in the U.S. wouldn’t feel comfortable making that statement in front of just anyone. I’m not sure how much rates of domestic violence have dropped since we started enforcing (somewhat) laws against it***, but I do think that changing the culture around violence and sexism correlates with how people behave, to an extent. (And no, correlation is not causation.)

I think that culture and behaviors change due to many factors, and at the end of the day, this conversation about sexism was significant. It was not particularly significant because they said out loud, to me and to each other, that patriarchy is wrong. I suspect that lots of men and women (here, and everywhere) already know that. Maybe we all know already, on some level, but feel too helpless or scared or lazy or comfortable to change.

I think what was significant is that Esteban said “education makes a big difference.” Higher levels of formal education for women mean more opportunities to earn money and not depend on men, for one. That is one of the biggest differences that I think keeps many women stuck in relationships where they don’t feel they can demand more for themselves. Especially here where it is so normal for women to drop out of school and get married before they finish high school, or sometimes even before they finish middle school. But as Esteban said, if a woman has studied and has a career, when both partners are working and she might even make more money than you, it’s hard to justify why she should do all of the housework. I also think that it’s probably not a coincidence that a lot of the men I know here who have equality-based attitudes and behaviors with their partners have often had higher levels of education themselves, whether or not their partners have.

The other thing that Esteban mentioned that I find significant is that women challenge the status quo “once they’ve been outside of their small towns.” When we have the chance to see that there are other possibilities for life, if we’ve seen with our own eyes that it doesn’t have to be this way, then we can expect or even demand that things be different. And there are women doing this, here, and there, and everywhere! If that weren’t the case, I wouldn’t be here, because I wouldn’t be with Conan if he believed in patriarchy. And who knows what he would believe if he hadn’t travelled, if he hadn’t studied, and if he didn’t grow up with a mama who looked around and decided she wouldn’t continue to accept the way things were. Paulina, his mom, found ways to make it on her own, to demand more for herself, and to educate both of her sons to be feminists. And more and more women can and will and are doing the same. Slowly but surely.

So it’s all just a matter of time until someday, somebody’s kids, somebody’s grandkids will be asking, ‘So people really used to think that men were better than women? You mean some men didn’t even know how to change diapers? And it was rare for women to have jobs as things like doctors and scientists? That’s crazy, Papa!’

Until then, let’s keep educating ourselves, taking ourselves out of our little or big towns, out of our comfort zones. Let’s keep educating our kids; let’s teach them to question everything, and to demand respect and give respect in each measures. Let’s keep challenging ourselves and our loved ones, until equality is the norm and everything else is unacceptable.

Until then, pass the tequila! I’ll still be busting into your boys’ club!


*names changed to protect privacy
**domestic violence can be prosecuted but the law is rarely enforced
** Hmm I’ll have to investigate this soon! Unless any of you lovely friends of mine working in this field have this info already? I am really interested in these kinds of correlations, which, of course, don’t prove any kind of causation, but are interesting nonetheless.