Good with fists: myths and truth about Mexican machos

Sexy alpha male, a little uncouth, but always ready to defend his beloved – such is the macho in the eyes of a European woman. Where this image is part of the national culture, the attitude towards it is twofold…

The main square in San Cristobal de las Casas is filled with people. Monica, a Mexican friend, and I make our way with our suitcases through a motley crowd, which mixes cheerful Indian “vyshyvankas”, mariachi stripes sparkling with copper plaques and long lenses of American tourists' cameras. Suddenly, a donkey with luggage blocks the road.

A frightened, or maybe just a tired animal starts kicking, snorting and backing away in our direction, corn spills out of a bag tied to it on the suitcases.

Good with fists: myths and truth about Mexican machos

The owner, an Indian boy, is clearly lost, and we are frightened: there is nowhere to jump back in the crowd. We are already remembering all the swearing Russian and Spanish words, when suddenly a broad-shouldered, confident-looking man emerges from somewhere.

Deftly, literally with a couple of movements, he spurs the donkey on, quickly helps the unfortunate guy throw the cobs back into the bag and flashes us a white-toothed smile – the path is clear. “Here he is, a real macho,” I exhale. “Shh,” Monica hisses back. “Suddenly hears? Might be offended.” Against the backdrop of the colorful facades of the city, another folk festival roars.

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Smother women with kisses

Mariachis are playing in a restaurant near the hotel – they are celebrating someone's engagement. “Ma-a-talas”, & nbsp; – a colorful Mexican with a dashing mustache, like Pancho Villa, sings a cheerful song by Alejandro Fernandez, the Mexican pop star. “Con una sobredosis de ternu-u-ra”, – picks up the second one.

“Kill them with an overdose of tenderness, suffocate them with kisses and caresses”, – he deduces, striking the strings of the guitarron with feeling – a traditional bass guitar, the huge size of which leaves no doubt about the seriousness of the performer's intentions. “They are about us women,” Monica winks with a laugh. “They want to make us happy with all their might. Machismo, and nothing more!”

The image of a young hero with stereotypical masculinity, conquering and subjugating the fair sex from a running start, is indeed extremely popular in popular culture. Mexicans love the Libro Vaquero comics magazine, whose weekly circulation in the mid-1980s exceeded one million.

The heroes of its pages are brave guys who storm impregnable “fortresses” with rounded ” facades.” Their life motto is eloquently expressed by old Mexican sayings: Las mujeres son como las escopetas: deben permanecer cargadas y en un rincón (“Women are like guns: they must remain loaded and in the corner”), Calladita te ves más bonita (“When you are silent, you look more beautiful”).

Good with fists: myths and truth about Mexican machos

Kindly with fists: Myths and truths about Mexican machos

Kindness with fists: myths and truth about Mexican machos

Kindly with fists: Myths and truths about Mexican machos

Kindness with fists: myths and truth about Mexican machos

Almost all soap opera characters and the heroes of the Mexican Revolution romanticized in fiction and cinema are tailored to macho patterns; not a single star of pop music, cinema or sports can do without this image. Alejandro Fernandez, of course, is not alone: ​​he is echoed, for example, by the famous Norteño performer Chui Lizarraga in the song Hay Que Pegarle a la Mujer: “From time to time a woman needs to be beaten … Not with legs, but with the power of love” .

Another popular singer, Luis Miguel, at his concerts seems to try to literally illustrate these metaphorical appeals, every now and then with a sweeping gesture heaps armfuls of roses right on the heads of the fans sitting in the front rows. In general, the list of Mexican macho icons, singing, dancing and hypnotizing the weaker sex from under wide sombreros and long mustaches, is endless.

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Small house, big ego

Almost any Mexican will argue that such folklore are harmless jokes, the fruits of natural male amorousness. But modern ladies often do not agree with this, and the word “macho”, which is still attractive to foreign women, in recent years in Mexico (and in other countries of Latin America) has begun to be perceived ambiguously: with the smell of bad conservatism and even masculinity.

< p>Moreover, the term “machismo” derived from it acquired a clearly negative connotation and gave rise to an even less flattering common noun – machiste. And if in the literary and romantic context “macho” can still mean a brave gentleman, then “machista”  is a real curse.

This is what convinced adherents of patriarchy are called with all the consequences: from a dismissive attitude towards a woman to complete over her control and violence. At the same time, it is unlikely that any Mexican will seriously call himself a macho, and, of course, no one will ever admit that he is macho.

Kindly with fists: myths and truth about Mexican machos

Monica works as a lawyer in court. She grew up in the north of Mexico, in the state of Sonora, in a prosperous middle-class family: her father had his own legal business, her mother taught piano. Of the children, in addition to Monica, they also have a daughter and two sons, everyone has a higher education and a good job, everyone is happy and regularly get together.

None of the children knew a lack of parental love, but it is surprising that, for example, the father paid for the university education of his sons, and Monica and her sister had to work hard to get into the free department. Even during a difficult period for the family budget, the brothers, who were fond of baseball, had expensive equipment and training, and the daughters spent time reading books or watching TV.

“Even the best intentions, such as paternal care, can mutate into machismo. I studied very well, but my father repeated more than once that education is not the main thing for a girl; it's much more important to get married and have kids,” remembers Monica.

Good with fists: myths and truth about Mexican machos

Her mother constantly reminded her daughters that they should take care of their reputation, think about their actions in relations with young people. The brothers could change brides like gloves, come home long after midnight – this was not forbidden. “Such double standards of upbringing in adulthood develop into casa grande and casa chica, as we say in Mexico, “big house” and “small house”,  – continues Monica. – In the first macho lives with his wife and children, in the second – with his mistress.

Often, the inhabitants of two houses are unaware of the existence of each other, because their happy ignorance is regularly fueled by beautiful, sometimes even slightly crazy gestures: macho and macho.

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The conquista and the rubber ball

The Spanish origins in the phenomenon of machismo are obvious: the very word macho has a long history in the language of the conquistadors. In the feudal Pyrenean kingdoms, it indicated the ideal social role of a man who provided, protected and protected his own family.

It can be said that the beginning of machismo was laid by the chivalric era, with its code of honor, called caballerosidad, from the Spanish caballero  – “horseman”. In the Middle Ages, a man who owned horses and land obviously had a great social advantage and, of course, was considered a desirable groom.

Two centuries later, the colonizing horseman, having moved from Spain to Mexico, only increased his status. At the same time, the distance from a gallant knight to a rude oppressor was, under certain circumstances, quite short: in almost every second colonial city of Mexico one can hear an old legend about a noble young doña who fell victim to contradictions between an indisputable tyrant-father and a daring but windy cavalier.< /p>

“Machismo developed as a result of the imposition of the Spanish feudal Catholic tradition on the pre-Columbian culture, which strictly regulated everything related to the human body, feelings and relations between the two sexes,” says Jorge Reynoso Polens, a culturologist, teacher at the National School of Painting, Sculpture and Engraving in Mexico City . – The Spanish conquest, unlike, for example, the Anglo-Saxon, encouraged mixed marriages, but in such marriages violence was not uncommon. The cruelty that accompanied sexual relations gave rise to machismo … “

The culture of masculine dominance was also not alien to the Indian civilizations of pre-Columbian Mexico. I am convinced of this the next evening at the Daniel Cebadua Theater in the unusual play “Red Palenque”, which is played by a troupe of Mayan actors in their own language.

The story of the life of the pre-Columbian city of Lakam-Ha, or Palenque: once almost destroyed by the insidious woman Cavil Smoky Mirror, dressed in a man's dress. Civilization was saved by fearless men dressed as leopards and crocodiles. True, today only ruins remained of it anyway, where our path lay the next day.

Good with fists: myths and truth about Mexican machos

Palenque is the archaeological area closest to San Cristobal, one of the most visited in Mexico. The ruins of the ancient city, which was the capital of the Mayan state of Baakul in the 3rd-8th centuries, have preserved quite tangible evidence of the courageous cult of the Mesoamerican Indians – a pok-ta-pok ball game field.

This sport appeared one and a half thousand years before our era, and almost all the ancient Indian peoples in the territory of modern Mexico were engaged in it. Similar structures can be seen in Paso de la Amada, Chichen Itza, Kobe, Teotihuacan, Monte Alban, Uxmal. A four-kilogram rubber ball was beaten with the hips or elbows, which, according to chroniclers, often led to serious injuries. And at the end of the game, the captain of one of the teams was sacrificed; scientists are still arguing: the winner or the vanquished?

The only thing that remains certain is that the game was clearly not for the weak. Researchers even believe that sometimes such team fights replaced a real war: with their help, various clans and neighboring states resolved territorial and other disputes. While the ancient machos were pampering their pride or deciding state destinies, the fair sex was weaving, cooking, raising children and caring for the home altar. What do the images that have survived to this day say.


Octavio Paz. Labyrinth of Solitude

Chapter II. Mexican Masks (1950)

Good with fists: myths and truth about Mexican machos

“Macho” is a hermetic being, locked in itself, able to protect both themselves and what is entrusted to it. Masculinity is measured by invulnerability to enemy weapons or influences from the outside world. Fortitude is the highest of our military and political virtues. Our story is full of phrases and episodes that demonstrate our heroes' indifference to pain or danger. Since we childhood we are trained to accept defeat with dignity, and such a concept is not without greatness…

… The mystery should envelop a woman. But a woman should not just hide, but look at the world with a certain smiling impassivity. In an erotic fight, she must be “decent”, in the face of adversity – “suffering”. In any case, her answer is not instinctive and not personal, it is dictated by the general pattern of behavior. And in this model, as in the case of “macho”, defensive and passive aspects stand out, from modesty and “decency” to humility and equanimity…

…We understand love as struggle and conquest. This is not so much an attempt to penetrate reality through the body as an act of violence.

Injuries and overcomings

In Quintana Roo, the most touristy state in the Mayan land, there are still Indian villages left, the way of life in which seems to have changed little since pre-Columbian times.

< p>On the way to Cancun, with the help of my friend Alexandra, the owner of a local travel company, we look into one of the houses where an ordinary Mayan family lives. Swarthy brown-eyed children run in the yard, immersed in the selva, women in the kitchen cook tamales – the Mexican analogue of dumplings, which are molded from corn dough with meat or fish filling, wrapped in a banana leaf and boiled.

Alexandra, who came to Mexico from Russia twenty years ago, claims that there are practically no machos left in Cancun. Over the long years of working in tourism, she cannot remember a single case when a gender factor somehow influenced relations with business partners. “It seems that the last machos in these parts are the policemen,” says Alexandra. /p>

According to her, on the Caribbean coast there are many women who are independent and powerful, holding their husbands under their thumbs. So local men are even afraid to open the car door in front of the lady once again.

Fisted Kindness: Myths and Truths About Mexican Machos

The three of us are sitting with Alexandra and Monica in a small restaurant in the center of Cancun, away from the resort hotel zone. At the next table there are two men and a woman. They all ordered at the same time, but the men have been sipping beer for ten minutes, and the woman has just been served a cocktail.

Monica winks slyly. Alexandra assumes that the waiter is not local and came from the north of Mexico, where this is the order of the day. I'm trying to argue: maybe the cocktail just takes longer to mix? But my companions talk about micromachismo.

The term was proposed in 2013 by the Spanish social psychologist Luis Bonino Mendez. Micromachismo is understood as behavior that is far from gender aggression, but capable of becoming a breeding ground for it. If the line between machos and machos was only along the line of assault, everything would be too simple.

Alexandra recalls a recent conversation with a colleague who complained about her northerner husband: every time, when planning their joint trip, he consults not with his wife, a travel journalist, but with a friend who is not directly related to tourism. Apparently, he trusts more, although this same friend jokingly reproaches him for hidden machismo.

Kindness with fists: myths and truth about Mexican machos

Noise comes from the TV on the wall behind us, the stomping of horses, the snapping of a whip. “Charros,” Alexandra comments without looking. “Mexican cowboys” are pure macho. True, this culture came to the Caribbean south from the northern and central states.

We turn to the screen and see women who are galloping. In Mexico, a charros woman is called escaramuza, translated from Spanish & nbsp; – “shootout”. The ladies adopted the traditional macho craft during the Mexican Revolution, and since then they have even held competitions among themselves.

Mexico has not bypassed the modern global trend for the struggle of women for their rights: the feminist movement is gaining momentum in big cities . In addition, with the advent of the Internet, the influence of soap operas and other “old” masculine-oriented culture on the younger generation has noticeably diminished. Machos do not cry yet, but they already go to psychologists.

“Machismo is often bravado, behind which serious psychological problems are hiding,” says Gina, a practicing psychologist from Baja California. In fact, deep down they are not confident in themselves, they have difficulty expressing feelings. Often this is due to the fact that the father had little participation in their upbringing. In my consultations, I help men realize the problem, restore the missing links of trust in the world around them.

Who knows, perhaps in the near future we will see a fundamentally new type of macho & nbsp; – gentle, caring, opening before women not only auto doors, but also university doors. And not trying to dominate. Or maybe the macho image we are used to will remain only in Mexican folklore. But then who will stop the presumptuous donkey?


Material published in Vokrug Sveta magazine No. 3, March 2020, partially updated in October 2022

Maria Zhelikhovskaya

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