MACHISMO AND THE BROKEN MAN
As a Dominican woman, I have had my fair share of brushes with machismo. From the catcalls by much older men in Washington Heights, to little instances at the dinner table at home where my dad won’t sit down unless the entire table is perfectly prepared. I was always aware of the impact machismo had on women, but not until recently did I become aware of the possible risks it has for men. In a recent article in The New Yorker, acclaimed Dominican author Junot Díaz wrote a piece entitled The Silence: The Legacy of Childhood Trauma on his experience with sexual trauma as a young boy. While he does not delve into the details of his trauma, he does offer analysis to his reaction to the trauma. He labels machismo as one of the major faults in his reaction to his assault. According told him, machismo told him that men do not get raped, confront their trauma or show any signs of weakness. He felt as though he had to uphold his image of a man and assert his manliness in every form. This is textbook machismo.
Machismo is defined as a strong sense of masculine pride, or exaggerated exertion of masculinity or male-like qualities (Machismo and the Dominican Republic). A Latino man is characterized as strong, independent, unwavering, and with a high libido. It is essential for boys growing in this culture to fit into this mold. Machismo has become a survival tactic driven by the fear of accidentally falling into the category of “gay” which is kryptonite to the “macho” man. What interested me the most about Díaz’s account was how vulnerable his mask of machismo actually made him feel. It brought to light a mental health aspect to this cultural phenomenon that I didn't realize existed. In an effort to uncover information, I made the effects of on mental health due to machismo in the Dominican Republic the topic for a research paper in my Spanish class. I specifically wanted to research what mental health risks machismo culture poses on the Latino population. For instance, Díaz himself admitted to becoming violent and mistreating women. He was describing falling into traditional aspects of machismopertaining to dominance, sexism, and emotional restrictiveness. These restrictive qualities of idealized masculinity are associated with anxiety, and in particular with cynical hostility, which is characterized by interpersonal hostility and cynical mistrust of others (Nunez et al, 2015).
I was pleasantly surprised to find a fair amount of empirical work on machismo but there was little that concentrated specifically on the Dominican rather than broadly hispanic population. It has become apparent the gender construction and dynamics in the Dominican Republic produces a gendered system where sexualized structures and processes perpetuate ideas about male superiority and female inferiority (Rodriguez, 2010). This gendered system, however, is not new but just goes to show ubiquitous machismo is cross-culturally. Pointedly, in a cross-sectional cohort study Hispanic of Central American, Dominican, South American, and other Hispanic backgrounds revealed that traditional male gender roles components of machismo predicted higher levels of negative cognitions and emotions (Nunez et al, 2015). These negative cognitive-emotional factors are associated adverse health outcomes such as depression, anxiety and cardiometabolic complications (Nunez et al, 2015). The consequences of machismo are only just beginning to be fully explored, there is evidence of the risks all around me.
My older brother and I had notably different childhoods in the beginning. My brother was living with my mom in the US while my dad was still in the Dominican Republic finishing his medical degree. My dad was absent to him for six years and during that time he was sexually assaulted the Super’s son in our apartment building. My brother didn’t say anything about this until two years ago. He explained that he sexual assault couldn’t actually could happen and that he wasn’t sure if it was all a dream. He didn’t know if he could even talk about but he could never shake the memory. The strange thing is that it occured right before my dad arrived from DR. My father, growing up in a machista culture, brought that hardness and macho attitude with him. In turn, my brother followed in my father’s footsteps and learned to bury his feelings. He clung to the example of manhood my father exuded from the minute he was permanently back in his life. My brother’s repression and turmoil manifested itself the way machismo dictates it should, with aggression and quiet anguish, until one day he finally broke. One can only carry a burden for so long and lash out so much until they are forced to confront their demons.
Machismo is a mask a man was told he needed to wear in order to fit into society. It perpetuates the false ideal that men do not and should not have to deal with emotion or trauma. When those emotions go on buried and stifled, they are manifested as an ugly form of rage and self-hatred. Have you ever seen the battle between Spiderman and Venom? Machismo feels a lot like Venom and Spiderman ends up losing, quite a lot.
Machismo and the Dominican Republic. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://dr1.com/articles/machismo.shtml
Rodriguez, Jenny. (2010). The construction of gender identities in public sector organisations in Latin America: A view of the Dominican Republic. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal. 29. 53-77. 10.1108/02610151011019219.
Fragoso, J. M., & Kashubeck, S. (2000). Machismo, gender role conflict, and mental health in Mexican American men. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 1(2), 87-97. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/1524-922.214.171.124