mi marido es muy especial
Department of Geography
is a very special man."
Castañeda has found that, spoken by a Mexican woman,
this statement often means exactly the opposite.
In these cases the husband's behavior, far from
being special or unique, is typical in its machismo.
He expects nothing less than unwavering attention,
service, and subordination from the women close
to him. "Sometimes I wonder," mused Castañeda, "if
all of my female patients are married to the same
become one of those sticky topics of "cultural
difference" that enter into international dialogues
on many levels, especially with increasing integration
of the economies of the United States and Mexico.
The image of machismo as national "character" nourishes
stereotypes of Mexican men and women internally,
as well as north of the border.
Mexican psychotherapist and author of El machismo
invisible (2002) and Comprendre l'homosexualité (1999), machismo is
a form of male domination usually justified by
supposedly inherent biological roles for females
and males, and executed culturally by the creation
and maintenance of separate masculine and feminine "areas." For
many people in Mexico and the United States, this
definition of machismo is nothing new. What is
new, according to Castañeda, is that machismo has "gone
underground" in Mexico; in cities and among the
middle and upper classes that form the focus of
her studies, it is no longer fashionable. But it
remains ever present in practice.
In her talk
at the Townsend Center for the Humanities on September
19th, Castañeda outlined a hidden discrimination
-- embedded in language, double standards, and
double binds -- that exerts a negative force on
public life and modern democracy. Drawing on her
observations as a therapist, interviews, and personal
experience, she concluded that the problem is that
women are adopting new roles, but men are not.
For a society in transition, Castañeda said, el
machismo is the "testing ground where we will
see if indeed Mexico is changing, how deeply it
is changing, and how quickly it is changing."
Castañeda see the footprints of el machismo
invisible? Everywhere from cars and cell phones
to workplaces, household conversations (or non-conversations)
and friendships. In her experience, wives rarely
drive because they say their husbands only criticize
their driving. Husbands now use cell phones to
keep constant tabs on the activities of their wives. "Stoic" men
punish women with silence in the home, burdening
the wife with the emotional work of the relationship.
Men and women rarely, if ever, form friendships
with the opposite sex because of rigid expectations
for social relationships.
of these phenomena have a familiar ring to North
Americans. Castañeda wants to stress, however,
the ways in which machista behavior, deeply
entrenched in Mexican society, is incompatible
with democracy and capitalism. It is the language
of power, a system that promotes authoritarian
patterns of communication and hierarchy.
a country where men are attended by women from
the moment they are born to the moment of their
death -- pampered and spoiled by wives, mothers,
daughters, and sisters . . . young girls are always
told, atiende tu hermano -- 'attend to your
brother' -- but young boys are told, cuida a
tu hermana -- 'watch over your sister,'" remarked
Castañeda."We are being governed by men who have
never gone to a PTA meeting, never been to the
supermarket, and don't know how to deal with real
life because they're above it all. I am convinced
that we will not succeed in carrying forth a democratic
transition if these kinds of men are running the
also noted that because this authoritarian language
pervades Mexican society, women, too, could become machista when
in positions of relative power. Responding to a
question from the audience, she elaborated on how
these strict gender roles might be confused by
male immigration to the North. Mexican men in the
United States are often required to perform duties
such as cleaning and dishwashing that are reserved
for women in Mexican society, while the women remaining
in Mexico take on new responsibilities at home.
If women are
actively taking on new roles, why aren't men changing?
Castañeda points to domestic service as a "bulwark" of machismo;
while middle-class Mexican women file into new
jobs outside of the home, maids keep men accustomed
to being served at all hours of the day. Nannies
also contribute to "deep cultural inertias," according
this view, by smothering young boys in particular
with near-constant physical attention.
domestic service is just another example of culture
lagging behind the Mexican projects of industrialization,
modernization, and the attempt to fashion a more
representative government. "Machismo is
not on its way out because we say so. It's on its
way out because it's incompatible with modern life,
incompatible with democracy."
she explains, calls for open debate and joint decision-making,
but the Mexican husband accepts little discussion
from his own wife. Efficient capitalism and entrepreneurship,
in Castañeda's view, demand versatile and industrious
people; but thanks to a rigid gender-based division
of labor, "what it all boils down to is that we
have half human beings on either side of the fence."
that, even with social transformations accelerated
by economic development, change will be slow and
difficult because of the entrenchment of these
behavior patterns in daily life. The best way to
effect change, Castañeda's central project, is
to make visible el machismo invisible.