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Machismo or Chauvinism: How Do They Compare


Scull has lived in different countries and taught International Business Relations and Strategies at a Panamanian and Chinese Universities.


What Is Machismo?

Interestingly, we often use the terms machismo and male chauvinism as equivalent. However, there are some distinctive differences between the two which we will try to explore in this post.

Originally, in Spanish and Portuguese, the meaning of the word macho was associated with the ideal societal role men were expected to play. These included to some degrees the quixotic notion of “caballerismo” or chivalry and knighthood.

During the 1960s and 70s, Latin American feminists added the Spanish suffix “ismo” (“ism” in English) to the word macho in order to create “machismo”, which they used to describe male dominance, aggression, and violence. The term was also meant as a criticism of what feminists and scholars saw as Latin American male patriarchy. In its most basic meaning, machismo was used to denote male power and female subservience.

However, the terms macho and machismo have taken on different meanings in certain Latin American countries, as well as within certain Spanish speaking communities in the U.S.A. The fact is that both words do not represent a constant meaning among Spanish speakers.

From an overall popular culture perspective, the word macho and its derivative machismo encompass certain cultural, historical, psycho-social and interpersonal traits that denote a host of extreme masculine traits, such as:

  • Exaggerated masculine body posture and attitude.
  • Willingness to challenge disagreements and settle differences.
  • Violence can and does often come before diplomacy.
  • A view that women are loving and men conquering.
  • Treatment of female mates as objects for display.
  • Exhibition of overconfidence, boasting, and bravado.
  • Possession of sexual prowess and assertiveness.
  • Protection of honor, despite risks coupled with a willingness to face danger.

However, in some Latin countries and Hispanic U.S. communities, there is a greater emphasis on the idea and pursuit of manliness and self-reliance, masculine pride and sexual appeal. Undoubtedly, Latin males have the tendency to wear their testosterone on their sleeves and consider romance to be a contact sport.

Presidents: Cristina Fernández de Kirchner,  Laura Chinchilla, and Dilma Rousseff

Presidents: Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Laura Chinchilla, and Dilma Rousseff

Does Machismo Culture Attempt to Suppress Women's Career Paths?

It is intriguing, however, that a Latin macho is not so much interested in keeping women from advancing in business or politics as much as exhibiting a sense of patriarchy and the idea of sexual dominance. They don’t care if a woman rises to the highest echelons of the political establishment; they just want them to be sensual. No matter how smart, how accomplished, how powerful a woman is, the typical Latin American macho wants to be able to fantasize that, if given the opportunity, he would be able to woo and seduce her.

Obviously, here in the U.S., if these behaviors and attitudes were to be carried to extremes, they would be considered deplorable sexual harassment. However, these attitudes are different from the U.S. version of male chauvinism, which has more to do with men’s fears of women taking away their jobs as they ascend to positions of corporate and political power.

Take for instance the incidence of women rising to the position of president of a country. In the Latin American and Caribbean region, there have been 11 women presidents, going back to 1974, when Isabel Peron became head of Argentina following the death of her husband Juan Peron. Since then, Argentina chose another woman to the position of president when Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner was elected in 2007. Compare this to the U.S., where a woman ran for president in one of the two major parties for the first time in 2016.

Another notable example is Nicaragua, long considered one of the bastions of machismo. It elected Violeta Chamorro to be president in 1990. In addition, in this Central American country, there have been other women holding positions of prominence which here in the U.S. would be reserved exclusively to men. Some of these Nicaraguan women are:

  • Elizabeth Rodriguez Obando, the current head of the police academy
  • Aminta Elena Granera Sacasa, Director General of the National Police of Nicaragua, whose position would be equivalent in rank and political power to the Director of the FBI.
  • Dora Maria Tellez, who during the Sandinista uprising against the government of Anastasio Somoza rose to the number two spot in the Sandinista military.
  • Ms. Tellez fought in the jungles of Nicaragua alongside other male combatants, something American women were restricted from doing until 2014.

Today, Nicaragua’s main congressional chambers are populated 30% by women, compared to 19% in the U.S.

The list of past and present women presidents in Latin America is quite extensive. It includes:

  • Isabel “Isabelita” Perón of Argentina
  • Lidia Gueiler Tejada of Bolivia
  • Rosalía Arteaga Serrano of Ecuador
  • Mireya Moscoso of Panama
  • Michelle Bachelet of Chile
  • Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica
  • Dilma Rousseff of Brazil
  • Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina

Another area where Latin American women have been empowered is in their extraordinary participation in the various guerrilla movements that attempted to overthrow the majority of the governments in the region. Interestingly, 40% of the guerrilla combatants in these insurgent forces have been women. Proving themselves to be fierce fighters they were fully accepted by their male counterparts as integral and vital to their insurgent efforts.

Additionally, once peace treaties between the insurgent forces and the various governments were signed, members of these guerrilla forces were often integrated into society. Many of these fighters found positions in the private and public sectors.

Women guerrilla fighters were able to make the transition from unpaid domestic workers to be gainfully employed. This elevation in social status would never have happened had they not been empowered through their participation in the war effort which legitimized and validated their capabilities as something other than cooks and house cleaners.

The Male Chauvinist Culture

Compare all the above facts with male chauvinism (or a male chauvinist) as it is the case here in the U.S., which has a totally different connotation and implication from machismo. The word “chauvinism” goes back to Nicolas Chauvin a French soldier badly wounded in the Napoleonic Wars who became a posterchild for extreme patriotism, nationalism and blind devotion to the Bonapartist cause.

Since then the word chauvinism has crossed over from its original use to denote a fanatical devotion and undue partiality to any group or cause to which one belongs. In the case of the U.S., it refers to devotion and partiality to men as a group and male dominance as a cause.

Today it is a term directly related to the post World War ll era when men were returning home after fighting the war expecting for their jobs to be waiting for them, only to find that women had stepped into their previous positions. As men reintegrated into society and the workforce, they returned to their previously predominantly held positions of power.

Women instead were relegated to lower statuses working as secretaries, typists and answering telephone calls. Subsequently, due to certain socially acceptable norms, women were not able to challenge the status quo.

Today in the United States after years of advancements in women’s rights, these feelings and fears of women displacing men in the workforce, military, and political front have to a great extend remained.

Making matters worse, American males are more passive aggressive than their Latin American male counterparts. The aggressiveness exhibited by American males toward women is often times hidden only to come out when women are being considered for positions of power in the private or public sector.

Prominent women have long endured sexist remarks. Comments on wardrobes, personality, risk of pregnancy leave, even menstrual cycles have been fair game in the barrage of abuse coming from those that seek to foil these women’s political or private-sector careers. These sexist attacks and sexist media coverage are powerful tools specially used to hurt women in politics. In fact, politics continues to be fertile grounds for misogyny.

One example of this was Geraldine Ferraro who ran for V.P. in 1984 along with presidential candidate Walter Mondale, against incumbents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. An accomplished businesswoman, lawyer, journalist, author, congresswoman, and United States Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Geraldine Ferraro was attacked by the media which posed questions clearly insinuating that she was not tough enough to hold the position of V.P. and if the need occurred takes over as president in case of an emergency.

The series of questions she faced probing her competence and toughness were similar to the ones faced by other prominent female political figures but not by their male counterparts. Even well-known broadcast journalist Ted Koppel weighed in on questions about her nuclear strategy which took an alarmist tone. During a Meet the Press section he asked her, “Do you think that in any way the Soviets might be tempted to try to take advantage of you simply because you are a woman?

As other capable women have joined the political fray, sexist attacks have become more the norm than the exception. The examples are plentiful. From Siobhan “Sam” Bennett running for mayor of Allentown, PA, who was asked at a town hall meeting to provide her measurements “since all the men in the room were dying to ask,” to Michigan State Representative Kristy Pagan who says she faces sexism every day on the house floor as her voice is drowned out by the male majority who oftentimes refuse to allow her to air her opinions.

In more recent history, Hillary Clinton, the first woman to be nominated for president of the U.S. from one of the two major parties, has also faced a barrage of attacks, innuendos and sexist remarks. These attacks go back to at least the time when Bill Clinton was president and as First Lady she began to advocate for universal health care and women’s rights.

It is without a doubt that the differences between the Latin American macho culture and American chauvinistic males are substantial. It seems at first glance, Latin American males are more accepting of powerful, intelligent, enterprising women than their U.S. male counterparts.

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This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.