Perhaps you’ve heard of the term “machismo,” the dictionary definition is “strong or aggressive masculine pride.” It’s often used in Spanish class to describe Latin American culture. It’s usually mentioned along with a comment about how women’s rights in Latin America leave something to be desired.
Nine months in Paraguay and I’ve had the opportunity to experience both these popular Latin American studies topics first hand. But this post isn’t about the catcalls and hanks I get when I walk down the street—after talking to other female volunteers, especially blonds, it seems I’ve been mostly spared on that front.
This post is about the female, teenage students who performed a spectacular skit about decision-making and social pressure in my class and were greeted by an appalling response from their male classmates. And, this is about how those female students thought that response was normal and almost a compliment.
The plot of the skit was this: Boyfriend asks girlfriend to have sex. Girlfriend asks friends for advice and they say, “go for it” because there are no repercussions and he might leave you if you don’t. Little sister overhears the conversation and tells mom. Mom confronts girlfriend, and we learn that girlfriend hasn’t even told her mother she’s dating. Girlfriend sneaks out and has sex. She gets pregnant and when her mom finds out she gets kicked out of the house.
A team of students wrote the skit. When it was time for them to perform the skit they went and changed into their “soccer game best“: Nice sundresses, wedges, tights, tight jeans, and moderately revealing tops. In the school where I teach the students wear uniforms.
As soon as the girls changed and came back into the classroom their male classmates greeted them with catcalls and a litany of comments about how they looked. The girls smiled and posed. Throughout the skit this male commentary didn’t stop. It was as though the two actors playing the girlfriend and boyfriend were actually having sex in the classroom.
Often machismo is a little subtler and I have to think to notice it, but sometimes it is acute. Culture can’t be changed in one-fell-swoop, but I wish those young women didn’t have to live their lives that way.