El vs. Ella: A Discussion on Machismo and Gender

In recent years the United States has felt a cultural shift in gender roles, especially among young adults.  But for those coming from minority cultures where male superiority is the norm, they often find themselves questioning what shapes their culture. Does male superiority make their culture?

As part of Phiota week, to kick off fall recruitment, the Nu chapter of the Phi Iota Alpha Hispanic fraternity held a discussion, “El vs. Ella” on Sept. 26, about gender roles in Latin American culture at the Howard Thurman Center. This discussion’s members were 14 minority individuals, six women and eight men. All were members of the BU community. Seated in a circle, the quiet atmosphere of the Howard Thurman Center and the small size of the group made the discussion feel intimate. The setting allowed for everyone to be involved and have their voice heard.

In simplest terms, the Spanish term “machismo” means strong or aggressive masculine pride. However when taken into account for daily lives, especially in minority cultures, the meaning of machismo can be blurred and uncertain.  The group came to a consensus that in many of their respective cultures, the idea of male superiority is what defines masculinity. Men were expected to be the breadwinners and the caretakers.

Even among those who grew up in households without an adult male figure, there was still an expectation for the eldest male to take on that role. “Women in the family elevate the son, make him head of the household, even at a very young age,” said Nick Claudio (CAS ’19), member of Phi Iota Alpha.  Women in these households were responsible for teaching young men what it meant to be a man. Sometimes these female relatives enforced the notions of hyper masculinity.

Of course, “machismo” creates expectations for women. “Everything that a man isn’t, a woman needs to be,” said Ashley Deokran (Questrom ’18). Members of the group found themselves sharing the experience of older female family members being expected to take care of the men in the family. One member of the group recalled an instance where her parent outright told her, “you have to take care of your brother, you’re a woman.”

Male members of the group nodded in agreement when asked if they felt lack of emotion was equivalent to being a man. For many of them, a lack of feelings was an easier way to get by than admitting how they felt for fear of being ridiculed by their male peers.

When asked by Phi Iota Alpha member, Cesar Gouivea (Northeastern ’16), if they felt “machismo” was essential to culture, everyone agreed that it was not necessary but acknowledged the fact that the idea of hyper masculinity was ingrained in their cultures. They looked to modern American gender roles and how they influenced their own perception of culture. Many felt that there was a greater balance of gender in the US, and that helped change their ideas of what it means to be a man. In this group, it seemed that there was an attempt to understand and balance minority cultural norms with those of the majority culture.  “Culture is what culture is to you. Maybe it is not masculinity, maybe it is to you,” said Jovany Vazquez (CAS ’18).

This discussion was hosted as a way to increase awareness of the problem of hyper masculinity in Latin culture. “It’s good to talk about it and act on it,” Gouveia said.

Feature photo via Wikimedia Commons


About Yadira Flores

Yadira Flores (CAS '19) is an English major and the Editor-in-Chief of the Quad. Skills include: An inability to cook, loving socks, and forcing friendship onto others. Contact her at yflores@buquad.com

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