Urban Machismo and the Female Perspective


By Camille Morgan

Machisimo_web“Machismo” is a sense of strong and aggressive masculine pride. Having family in Argentina, I’ve spent a lot of time in the country, and have had many opportunities to see this exact phenomenon in action. Men who have “machismo” exhibit alpha male characteristics and this concept dictates many aspects of Latin culture, particularly male sexual culture.

In Latin America, it is often the man who has the right to satisfy his desires in the way he chooses, and it is the man who controls the relationship. We’ve seen the notion of “machismo” explored in the works of Frida Kahlo, Isabel Allende, and now by yours truly, though my perspective has been carefully shaped and culminated not by extensive study, but instead by the simple act of walking down the streets of Buenos Aires thousands of times.
I still don’t feel comfortable going alone from place to place in Buenos Aires, even though I have walked many of these streets all throughout my adolescence. Forget the imminent threat of getting your purse stolen (also a somewhat regular occurance), its the truck full of men slowly driving by your side, whistling and calling you grotesque names that is the real problem.

A girl walking down the streets of Buenos Aires is just going to get yelled at. It’s something that’s expected, and sometimes hoped for. My friend Martina, a native of the city, once said to me, “If I don’t get said something at least every two blocks, I contemplate going home and changing. Or showering or something.” That’s how normal these displays of machismo are.

Avoiding these catcalls requires a variety of tactics and some meticulous preparation. “Don’t wear a short skirt” is the first rule of thumb. Not that it makes much of a difference. I’ve seen girls in chunky turtlenecks and maxi-skirts get cat-called. The only females seemingly exempt from the vicious and often grotesquely hilarious cat-calling are the 80-plus year-old women adorned with floral canes, and the wives of orthodox rabbis who wander the avenues of this enchantingly odd, disappointing, and yet wonderfully lively city. Most of the cat-call perpetrators are missing teeth and overweight, and often choose to yell at 14-year-old schoolgirls in uniform.

Even if accompanied by a parent, one still experiences cat-calling in this city. It’s typical for a girl walking with her mother to have a man from across the street yell at his future “mother-in-law,” proclaiming some type of love for the daughter he just happened to see across the way.

Of course, there are also the instances in which the man cat-calls the mother instead of the daughter, which brings an odd kind of guilty disappointment, one (I’m sorry to say) I’ve experienced a few times.
The women of Buenos Aires are raised to ignore their male counterparts, and make it from point A to point B with the least amount of eye contact. Every time they stop at street corners their expression remains one of extreme concentration. They don’t look around, they don’t smile at the cute baby in the ladybug stroller next to them, because they simply can’t.

“These men detect vulnerability,” Martina told me about the worst offenders. “So I just ignore them and hope that shuts them up.”

It doesn’t seem to though. Every time I go to Buenos Aires, I experience this machismo both first and second hand. I myself have felt the urge to strangle the construction worker calling my little 14-year-old sister vulgar names.

My friends have told me that they get bothered by the constant cat-calling, but nothing dangerous ever follows these verbal displays of machismo. It’s truly captivating, however, when you take a step back, observe the concrete jungle and its twisted avenues, and realize that every single young girl – brunette, blonde, tall or short, old or young – is ferociously pacing the streets with a focused, unwavering gaze. Girls from Buenos Aires become numb to it all, and simply ignore all men who call out to them. They keep their heads held high and their gazes completely fixed ahead. The product of all this urban machismo is a new breed of girls. Beautiful but not in any way gentle or naive.