‘Machismo’: What is it?

I’m torn as to whether this topic is more sad or humorous. It concerns the issue of ‘Machismo’. At least that’s what it’s called in Latin cultures and many parts of North America. Loosely defined it is the label used to describe that standard by which many men rate their own masculinity. Their virility, strength, ability to stand up against difficulty and maintain their stance as true “men among men”.

There is just one major problem with all this.. the definition most men use in determining their level of ‘machismo’ is totally out of whack with reality or good conscience. Before we go into detail I want to make clear I am not speaking of just the Hispanic culture, but all cultures. This ‘machismo’ may have it’s own terminology particular to each race.. but its misunderstanding is present in all cultures.

The first misconception regarding this ‘machismo’ trait would be that, in order to be considered ‘macho’ (possessing machismo), one must supposedly be able to stand one’s ground.. no matter what. Even if wrong, he holds his ground. Even if it hurts those in his family, he holds his ground. Even if the doctor says he’ll die if he doesn’t quit drinking tequila, saki, or whiskey with the rest of the guys after work.. he holds his ground. Even if his wife pleads with him to stop seeing other women because it is tearing apart their marriage.. he stubbornly holds his ground. Why? Because this sort of macho man charts his own course. He doesn’t need anyone’s help and no one tells him what to do. Changing his mind or habits is a sign of weakness and he is anything but weak because.. he is macho.

With this sort of man there is also a complete misappropriation of what it means to be the ‘head’ of the household, which we will go into later. To the ‘macho’ man, being the ‘Man’ of the house means only one thing.. he gets his way. In the macho man’s mind all things revolve around him and his desires. All else that goes on is not only secondary, but only there for the purpose of making him comfortable in his selfishness.

The other misconception has to do with the macho man’s virility. Because he considers himself a great lover (in his own mind, anyway), he sees it as something of a favor to all women that he share this supposed talent with all women he takes fancy to. It is tied in with his supposed ability to dominate and conquer new ground, staking his claim so to speak. If in the process he happens to impregnate several women he will take all available pride in feeling he has left yet another mark upon this world, a legacy in his own estimation. Caring or providing for these children is not his concern for he has already done his part and must now move on to conquer new territory, leaving the unfortunate woman and child to fend for themselves financially and emotionally. The man who does not properly understand masculinity thinks ‘manly’ men can have many women abroad and it is the woman’s place to stay home (faithfully, of course) tending to the house and kids with dinner ready for him if or when he decides to come home.

Intertwined within all this is a mental state of either denial or flat out ignorance to the true definition of what it means to be masculine. The constant abuse of force, intimidation or authority is no more than a thin disguise for the self-centered insecurity that twists within. Those who hold to this type of misapplied, ill-conceived notion of ‘machismo’ usually turn out to be no more than little boys in men’s bodies who never really understood what it meant to apply masculinity the way it was designed.

Finally, emerging from this selfish stance comes the macho man’s perspective on money. His money from his job is his own, all the more so if the ‘woman’ has her own job with which to pay for the running of the home budget. In his mind it is enough that he pay half the mortgage and his gas money. By his reasoning, if the wife is preparing the food, she should pay for it as well. Same for laundry, kid’s clothes, medical and any other expense that infringes on his personal supply of cash for his own pleasures. Trust, sharing or providing are not words natural to his vocabulary and he will do so only under duress and sounding a loud horn as though he’d done some great humanitarian act. That failing he will expect to be reimbursed at some later time, with interest if possible.

All this leads us to turn towards the question, “What is proper masculinity?”. What is this machismo, this macho stance in it’s correct form? To begin we have to start with a principle that the ignorant man has yet to learn; It is the responsibility of the strong to assist and nurture the weak.

If a man can honestly look at his talents and consider himself strong, virtuous or intelligent then he is led to one conclusion.. he is to use these strengths to assist others in need of his abilities. They may be his wife, his children, his parents, his friends, coworkers, neighbors or even complete strangers. The strong bearing the infirmities of the weak, this is the anchoring point from which true men do not stray far.

There was an interview years ago with Ricardo Montalban, the actor. At some time during the discussion he was asked (being the symbol of the early, Latin leading men of Hollywood),

How would you describe a great lover?”  To this he replied,

A great lover is not a man who continually goes from woman to woman, for any dog in the street can do that. No, a great lover is a man who can captivate and nurture the love of one woman her entire life.’

As mentioned in previous articles, this is the difference between lust and love. Lust seeks the fulfillment of it’s own desires, using others to accomplish this. Whereas love seeks to give and nurture the needs of others even at one’s own expense.

A man who considers himself strong will not only assume the role of authority in his marriage, but will do so with full knowledge that this is a position of responsibility and service to his family.. not an opportunity to rule as a self-declared, abusive dictator. His role as leader is not to hold all others under his thumb. Rather his role is to identify the needs of those under his charge and do all that is necessary to meet those needs as best he can. If his family needs food, shelter and clothing.. he works to earn the money to provide these. If they need his compassion, direction, or discipline.. he allots his time to these tasks. If his children need his knowledge to do homework or make an important decision, he provide guidance for them. If his wife needs attention or reassurance he tends to her patiently and kindly. He does not rule ‘over’, but rather serves towards meeting the needs of his family.

All this boils down to another principle that too many people do not yet know about leadership. Being a leader is not about taking power from others or even being in power over others.. it is about meeting the needs of those you lead so they improve under your leadership. The goal is not to make those under your charge dependent on you for decisions in all things. The goal is to bind the weak foot and then exercise it to regain it’s strength. The objective is to identify where those under your charge are in need of growth and give them the inspiration, knowledge and encouragement to reach their own maturity in those areas.

This is why I often look at supposed ‘macho’ men and can’t help but laugh to myself. For they spend so much effort and energy maintaining their fragile image of strength that they are oblivious to how they themselves show how weak they really are. Rather than being secure in knowing they truly act and think like men, they show constant fear of losing their ‘manhood’ at the most ridiculous of things. The ignorant ‘macho’ man will impregnate his wife twelve times over with no thought or concern as to how she will cope with so many kids, let alone provide for them. When approached with the idea of getting a vasectomy or even using a condom they recoil in disbelief that you would suggest such a catastrophic blow to their manliness. Certainly, in their mind, being a man has everything to do with his ability to produce more children and nothing at all to do with being responsible or compassionate for others.

The same goes for issues such as doing housework, cooking, laundry or helping children with their schoolwork. In his own tiny mind such activities would truly strip him of his ability to be ‘manly’ and perhaps his scrotum might regress permanently into his abdomen should he persist in such acts of servitude. Usually what you will find beneath the thin veneer of posturing and bold statements from these men is merely an insecure and selfish person who cannot feel strong or secure about himself unless he is belittling and disabling those around him.

A friend of mine once told me, ‘You can know volumes about a man by the way he treats his wife.’   By this he wasn’t just implying whether a man was courteous or other outward characteristics. What he meant was that when a woman spends years with a man, that man has either invested himself into helping her grow to her potential or he has spent his time belittling and disabling her so as to make himself feel strong and in control.

It is incredible the number of women I have personally known who did not begin to truly grow and live until the supposed ‘macho’ man in their life was out of their life. Until then they had nothing but discouragement from their man concerning learning new things, taking risks, running a business, going to school, getting a better job, being more social.. anything that would elevate her from where she was, her ‘macho’ man was dead set against it. Unfortunately this sort of man preys on women who are either young or insecure themselves for his interests lie in finding someone he can control and always have beneath him.

A truly masculine man, however, is secure in his own abilities and shares them freely to enrich his wife. He sees to it that she is every bit as competent as he in running the home finances, educational opportunities, personal growth, etc. A secure man not only takes joy in seeing that his wife grows and benefits from living with him, but he also is glad that others recognize her talents and abilities as her own. He does not treat her like a child that must be taught how to act in public. Instead he acts as an encouragement to her dreams and ambitions. He is proud to say that she is a good wife, a smart woman, an attentive Mother and valued counselor with whom he seeks out advice. If there be any success to his own life he readily acknowledges that he did not do it alone, but with the support and advice of his mate in life.

As to authority, he rules with both a sense of direction and compassion. When he makes a decision he understands that he assumes upon himself the responsibility for that decision. If it turns out to be a faulty decision, he takes the blame for it and goes about setting it right. He does not look how he can pass the blame to someone or something else. To a secure man, asking for assistance from his wife is anything but a sign of weakness.. it is a sign of wisdom. He knows that of all the advice he might seek from others, no one else will view it with the same amount of vested interest as his life partner who holds equal investment in the results of that decision.

To different degrees in different areas you will easily find men who are living under the misunderstood concept of what is meant by ‘macho’. These are they who with their mouth proclaim how great and important their strength is, but with their actions show just how weak and fragile their manhood really is. They lack the strength to invest all their love in one woman. They lack the strength to support all their children. They lack the good sense to change a course of action that is destructive to all that is good in their life.

Solomon once wrote (paraphrased);  ‘The man who can control himself is stronger than he who can capture a large city.’   Very few of us men are called upon to take control of large cities in battle. But every day each man is called upon to take control of his own desires, set them aside so that he may contribute to the lives of those around him instead. Not all men have the strength to do that and many men fail at various points of their life. But a truly masculine man can see that goal and set his eyes on it to take it one day at a time.

Though he may fall down repeatedly, a prey to his own selfishness, he gets up yet again, dusts himself off and marches on. Rather than let himself be ruled over by it, he instead takes it into captivity daily and invests his strengths, whatever they may be, into the lives of those around him. This is how a man leaves behind a legacy. This is how a man makes his mark upon this world. Not by conquering and lording over his family and friends. But rather by investing into their lives with his love, his time, his compassion, his friendship, his intelligence, his money, his patience, his very sweat.. so as to show by example that strength possesses its value in its ability and willingness to assist others.

Author: Reekay

Henry Velez is a writer, traveler and vlogger currently living in the Philippines. He has written extensively on social issues, relationships and travel.

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