On Saturday, the hashtag #ProFeministMenShould launched productive exchanges about men and feminism in the United States. Meanwhile, some Latin American feminists and activists remain cynical about recognizing men as feminists, or pro-feminist. On Spanish Twitter, hashtags such as #machoprogre and #machismohipster have been trending since January. I wanted to use this article to talk about my own experiences with machismo, why some feminists in Latin America are still cynical about feminist men, and what can pro-feminist men learn about this.
Mapping Machismo’s Effects in Latin America
I was a child in Argentina when legendary boxer Carlos Monzón was found guilty of murdering his lover Alicia Muñiz. Monzón had grown up in poverty and was a violent man loved by the media and general public. Women from previous relationships had publicly left him because of his temper, yet the media never focused on these issues. Instead, the cultural discourse proudly portrayed Monzón as macho; a leading sports figure of his generation; a masculine man who got angry and violent, but just couldn’t help being that way. After he was found guilty of killing Muñiz, Monzón declared, “Me and my bad temper are the ones really responsible. Yes, my bad temper.”
I still remember wondering why the media ignored Muñiz’s tragic death, instead focusing on Monzón’s greatness as a boxer. I was not surprised, sadly.
In March of 2013, BBC World released a map reflecting the numbers of femicides of different countries in Latin America. The word “femicide” is not even registered in the Spanish dictionary, but it refers to the killing of women, a problem so grave that in 2012, the Commission of Inter-American Women (CIM) declared it a pandemic.
This violence against women results, in part, from the cultural ideology of machismo. Rashida Manjoo, spokesperson for United Nations, affirmed that the alarming rates of murders of women and girls in the “black triangle” of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, are emblematic of a culture of hatred against women and failure of judicial systems to protect them. “Why do men use violence against women? Because they can,” Manjoo said.
On March 6, Yakiri Rubio was released from prison two days before International Woman’s day. A 20-year-old Mexico City resident, Rubio spent three months in jail after fighting her attack and killing her rapist in self-defense. Charged with manslaughter, her bail was $44,000, which was collected thanks to outcries on social media over the rape case.
That’s what being a woman in Latin America looks like.
These are some of the many reasons why, although we need feminism and pro-feminist men more than ever, we also need to look at what happens when men who don’t question their own privilege call themselves feminists to appear progressive. Just as I was glad to see that men need feminism too, I was also glad to notice the hashtag #MachoProgre trending on Twitter thanks to Spanish speakers in Latin America. The hashtag calls out machismo’s appropriation of progressive, feminist, and women’s rights discourses.
Within the hashtag, women, and even some men, shared examples of what a #MachoProgre sounds like:
“I respect gay people, as long as they don’t mess with me.”
“What feminists haven’t understood is that…”
“Why talk about femicides when, statistically, more men are murdered?”
“Cat-calling is my freedom of expression.”
In Latin America countries are vastly different, yet all share one cultural ideology that hinders gender equality: patriarchy in the form of machismo. This culture of masculine pride is embedded in media and pop-culture stereotypes of masculinity; and it sustains gender oppression and violence against women, women of color, and LGBTQ groups.
And, yes, Latin American countries have made headlines for being among the most LGBTQ friendly in the world; Argentina became the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage in 2010. Mexico City passed a law in 2009 that gave gay and lesbian couples the right to marry and to adopt children. Other countries, like Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil, have recognized domestic partnerships for same-sex couples. But liberal laws remain at clash with the patriarchal environment. Feminists have made it a priority to call out machismo, as a way to ease these contradictions. But they remain cautious when it comes to having male feminists as allies.
Machismo Takes Different Forms
#MachoProgre was created by journalist and Latin Muslim feminist Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente, who told me it all started when a man told her she wasn’t a “real” feminist.
“It made me think of the countless times I had encountered this sort of libertarian machismo from people who claim they respect and support women’s movements. Yet, these people are supportive insofar nobody questions their own privilege and lets them define feminism for us” Rivera de la Fuente said. “I remember how once, a group of men who called themselves ‘pro-Syrian women’s rights’ activists called me an ‘oxymoron.’ They were unable to understand my Muslim feminism calling me ‘submissive,’ yet they defended women’s rights.”
The journalist says it was her goal to call out this all-too-common double standard through #MachoProgre and within hours, many were sharing their experiences. These double-standards have also been labeled “feminismo hipster” by Mexican philosopher and transfeminst Sayak Valencia, and “mutant patriarchy” by Luisa, feminist activist from Mexico, referring to patriarchy’s ability to resist its deconstruction.
“Besides the common macho, these men mutated their practices and are now inviting themselves into our struggle as ‘feminists’ or ‘progressive men’ who believe in various libertarian utopias – questioning capitalism, being environmentalists, intellectuals, etc. – but not in the struggle against patriarchy,” Luisa said. “When they do use the feminist flag, they end up reproducing their machista ideas and practices without even questioning their privileges.”
Some Latinas have rejected the idea that men can identify as feminists. Mexican feminist blogger “Frieda Frida Freddy” wrote:
“The sole fact that one is a man in this hetero-patriarchal, capitalist world is already a privilege and a symbol of power, even though men might argue they reject that privilege, it is de facto there. When someone says, ‘I am a man and feminist’ immediately [there are] adjectives such as ‘good’ man, ‘great’ man, ‘respectful’… On the other hand, a woman says, ‘I am a feminist’ and the majority of times, she is seen as a simple bitter woman who is against men; a ‘marimacha loca.’”
Growing up in my city of Buenos Aires, cat-calling was a normalized experience. I heard countless sexist comments from men on a daily basis, just by walking to school or waiting for the bus. My way to cope with it was to go out, always defensive, and sometimes dressing up specifically to cover up any body part that could get objectified by men on the streets. For example, I never wore anything “too tight” and made sure my t-shirts were a size bigger than I was. I also witnessed how some of my friends internalized the cat-calling as a coping mechanism, to the point where they just took it as a compliment, or had no other choice but to feel “flattered” when someone objectified them in public.
Effy Beth, Argentine performance artist and trans woman highlighted how both men and women align to machismo. On her Facebook page, she shares her fears of being attacked when walking down the street:
“I am walking down the streets of an auto repair area in the middle of summer. Afraid somebody will say something to me, I already pass the worst part and see a group of men in the corner. I hold my breath and pass through them, afraid to be attacked. I come out of the situation relieved; I have passed unnoticed. Turning around the corner, two 18-year-old girls walk past me, one of them laughs and with hatred calls me ‘puto.’ I arrive home.”
Anti-Patriarchal Men, A Possibility?
The men who want to align with feminism, also face social prejudices for going against machismo. Yonnier Angulo, a Gender Studies student living in Cuba, said in an interview with Jesus E. Muñoz from Cuba Ahora that men who assume feminist postures are seen with suspicion by other men:
“They get catalogued as wimpy, gay, or simply snobby and crazy,” Angulo said. “It is not easy to take a position defending women’s rights without receiving an offensive comment or stare by another man.”
In Argentina, hundreds of men meet in different parts of the country, are calling themselves Anti-Patriarchal Men (Varones AntiPatriarcales). They don’t call themselves “feminists”, but they conduct “check your male privilege” and “check your homophobia” workshops.
Speaking as a collective, the Anti-Patriarchal men explained in an e-mail that they are aware that as “masculine subjects”, they are in “advantaged positions” with respect to women and LGBTQ groups:
“We are aware that Latin American men use machismo as the force of patriarchy, but we also gain awareness about how masculinity oppresses us and fills us with stigmas,” the group told me. “We are expected to act like ‘machos’ all the time, not to feel pain, stay rational, repress emotions, and deny that domesticity is a space that also belongs to us.”
Such organizations could present a more realistic agenda to promote gender equality, without it being another mutant form of patriarchy or progressive machismo. Until machismo is resisted both by men who question it and the women who call it out, however, Latin America’s culture will remain in urgent need of change. And until then, male feminism remains a contested term.
Thanks to the amazing Tina Vazquez for editing this piece and for all the people who shared their perspectives in Spanish with me.
I was not able to find credits for the feminist Frida Image, so if anyone knows whom it belongs to please e-mail me.
[Carolina Drake is a NYC-based writer and journalist from Argentina interested in intersectional feminisms and Latin America. She also writes for Latino Rebels and blogs. You can follow her on Twitter. All interviews and references were conducted in Spanish and have been translated to English.]