Machismo and how the Family is Molded into Form: Analysis of Gender Roles

Machismo and how the Family is Molded into Form: Analysis of Gender Roles


“Machismo may appear to be a ubiquitous phenomenon among Mexican-American males but that is too simplistic to be useful and in reality far from being accurate” (Villereal, 2005).

This article seeks to understand the word machismo, and from this small (pilot) qualitative study, I do not intend to generalize these findings to the entire Mexican population. I hold a neutral view on the concept of machismo, and I approached this project without personal bias, and did it totally to understand machismo, not to fix it.

This study was conducted as part of a project option in qualitative methods class, and it is limited in scope because of its sample size. However, while these participants were answering the questions by themselves, they were giving what I call a “universal definition of machismo”, which allows for some broad generalizations that I elaborate on.

The participants in this study were all contacted by myself and are members of a Latino community that I am familiar with. This study uses peer reviewed articles, face-to-face interviews, and prior formal and informal experience with the Mexican culture.  The main instrument for this study was a questionnaire consisting of 15 items that yielded rich textual information on the definition of Machismo and how one defines his/her role in the family.  I administered questions orally and introduced a follow-up question when it was necessary. A literature review of peer-reviewed journal articles was conducted which offered a similar definition of machismo. I also attempt to explore the relatively new and understudied concept of marianismo, the belief that the woman’s spiritual calling requires servitude to her spouse as is mandatory for an obedient woman. “Marianismo is the cult of female spiritual superiority which teaches that women are spiritually stronger than men” (Stevens 1973).  This paper is unique to its own with the data being interpreted from immigrants from Mexico that endured the migration up north and have had to adapt to an ever-changing society.

The participants in this study are from central Mexico and are now homeowners in a small Minnesota town of approximately 5,000 in population. Another key feature of this study is the ability to obtain factual information on the impact that the United States has on the emigrant Mexican. In this study I found that machismo becomes weaker as the male ages, and that the United States has a dampening effect on machismo when the macho man becomes a resident in America. This paper gives an understanding to how machismo and marianismo coincide with each other and shape family roles.

Defining Machismo

To understand the definition of machismo, according to one of my participants, one must understand that in Mexico, being born a male is of high prestige and valued more than if one was born female. Women are raised that one day they will marry a man and he will be in charge the family, and the family must obey him. Machismo is the cultural attitude that is commonly adapted by the males in Mexican society, and is transmitted from an older role model to a young male that is ascribing to it; there can be positive and negative definitions. It is also very important to note that machismo can be positive in the form of taking care of the family, showing valor amongst peers, working hard for money to support the family, and taking pride in the raising of children (Villereal, 2005). Negative machismo includes aspects of violence to women and other males, alcoholism, and other sexual partners besides one’s wife. Machismo is a belief system that either boys are socialized into or young men adopt when they come of age. There is no one definition of machismo and rightfully so, because machismo is a cultural phenomenon and all parties define their culture uniquely.

Machismo is a group of attitudes that allows the male to overly assert his presence on women, but also around other men (as in the case of excessive alcohol abuse). All males in this study emphasized how important it was for the pubic to see that they were men of honor and respect, which often was gained through fights with their peers. The machismo male is one that is respected by all most everyone that he comes into contact with. This male is keenly aware of his reputation among his peers, and finds satisfaction when his name is mentioned in the context of defeating another male in a fight, or being talked about as having many sexual partners.

The machismo male in his home country of Mexico is born to be the head of the household, and this is reaffirmed through his daily experiences in his surroundings. Mothers raise their sons to be men, and that man must be strong and be able to handle his family as would any responsible family man. Violence is not taught to the son from the mother; however, the child may learn it from witnessing his mother or close relative being a victim of domestic violence. This violence can have an effect on the child, making it more acceptable for him to display the same acts of violence and aggression to his spouse that he viewed as a child.   As one respondent noted:

When I got with my wife I thought [of her] like the animals that I have owned: she had to obey me. From there I saw how my uncle would treat his wife, and I thought that his wife was [doing] something wrong, that she wasn’t supposed to [do], and that she was to obey him. So when I got married, I said to myself that I wouldn’t let my wife be like my uncle’s wife. –Male respondent

As illustrated in this example, men are working in the fields most of their lives, and as this man puts it, working with animals was just like working with his wife. As noted by one researcher’s subject, “Over there [in Mexico] one has command over them, and scolds them and all that. But not here; if she feels that things don’t suit her, she gets out and leaves.” (Pena, 1991).  These two examples of men’s views about women are not shared by them only, but shared by many Mexican males. The consumption of alcohol may determine what degree of machismo one male assumes amongst other men. However, this award amongst males is one that seems to be of negative consequence, but it is highly admired in the machismo male and is a title that is sought out. As one scholar puts it, “The negative aspects of machismo can result in heavy drinking and the pursuit of high-risk activities, leading to domestic violence and HIV/AIDS” (Galanti, 2003).

Another point must be made that not all Mexican males include heavy alcohol drinking and the ability to hold down liquor as part of machismo. While in this study it was 100%, all 3 females and 3 males, I must add that of the 100 so Mexican males that I am acquitted with, they all include drinking heavily as part of their definition of machismo:

Machismo means that you can drink, that you can party all night and maintain. The one that is up the longest is usually the toughest guy and those that pass out early, are weak. – Male respondent

The male that adheres to drinking heavy, as machismo requires, will usually have a high degree of violence and physical assertiveness over most all relations, except the mother and the sisters. This is not only limited to drinking machismo males, but it is almost unanimous that these men will beat their wives, while showing untainted love for their mothers and sisters. The interviews and review of literature suggest that machismo males are very kind and patient to their mothers and sisters, a paradox in direct opposition to how they treat their wives. The wife must abide by the machismo male’s rules, and she should hold her tongue in times of disagreement with her husband.

The wife of a machismo male might not have directly witnessed her husband’s aggression prior to marriage, but there are many clues if the woman was looking to explore how her future husband’s attitude would be. Yet, the male participants in this study often spoke with a remorseful tone when addressing their personal violence towards their spouses. As one respondent noted:

I would often beat my wife after I would drink a lot. It is not like I would just want to wake up and beat her, but were I am from, the woman respects the man and if she does not cook and keep the house clean, I would have to get in her ass, literally.  Male respondent

Physical violence is not always the only means. It is well documented in other research reports that machismo males will try to induce sexual violence on their wives: “In terms of its sexual implications, machismo emphasizes viewing women as sex objects” (Baker, 1997). Machismo sexuality encourages many sexual partners, and for the machismo male, this is often careless sexual relations. However, female sexuality is highly forbidden before marriage, and even after the death of a husband, the woman is often not accepted (by family) if she remarries. The female is expected to tend to all the household domestic work, like cooking, cleaning, childrearing, and catering to her husband. As one sociologist puts it, “The macho male is not expected to become involved in child rearing, considered to be a woman’s task” (Deyoung, 1994).

Of the participants interviewed for this study, all males and females concluded that the woman is responsible for the children, and the women reflected the machismo value in this aspect. It was also found that when the most difficult discipline has to take place, it is the male who is in charge of this episode. All the participants that I interviewed demonstrated to me that they were some how or another influenced by a machismo male, whether it was a father, a relative male, or a companion. Here, another point needs to be made; from my study and the literature review, I found that the Mexican males born prior to 1960 were more likely to express machismo values, which was the case for a majority of the males. Other researchers have found similar results: “In general, Latino men have been socialized to perceive themselves as dominant over women, with rights and privileges that can be asserted legitimately by force” (Torres, 1998).


The women in my study unanimously say that they have made it through the toughest times with their spouse because of their religious faith. As one female respondent puts it:

When I was young and early with my husband, we would attend church and I would say I was always religious… later in life when my husband became more abusive and morally degrading, I looked for an all higher Faith. Not another religion or God, but a God that would see what I was going through and give me reason for why this is happening to me and my family. The reason that I stirred up, was it was part of my responsibility to stay with my family, and go through everything because it was my duty, and that my reward would be later and of great value.” –female respondent

In 1973, Evelyn P. Stevens, coined the word, marianismo, which has its roots from the Roman Catholic Church and the word marianism. I must point out what author Evelyn P. Stevens writes in her article on the Woman’s Liberation Movement: “The fully developed syndrome [of Marianismo] occurs only in Latin America.” This quote was reinforced by my qualitative study, which yielded similar results.

In Mexico, the man is allowed to act out his attitudes with no interference from the outside world, and primarily no interference from the Judicial System. In America, there are different social institutions that look for abuse and try to eliminate it. While I did not fully grasp Stevens’ reason for why the syndrome fully occurs in Latin America, I found that the amount of violence in the family is heighten if the woman does not seek police help after an assault has taken place. Moreover, the violence was at a lower risk with older males and when police interventions occurred. The police interventions did not have to be first hand experiences, as was the case with two families in this study. One male respondent, who is old and in poor health, says he now has more honor and respect for his wife because she can physically do more than he can. Another male saw how the police and social workers intervened in his relative’s lives, and decided to honor his wife by not beating her.

A qualitative study was done for the health field that used focus groups and interviews to collect data from college aged kids, and some findings in this study were similar to my own. From the data in my study, the women spoke on how they would have to influence their husbands to get things that they needed.  Galanti (2003) found a similar pattern in her research: “The Mexican female students said their grandmothers, who spent most of all their lives in Mexico, told them the husband was the boss and that it was the wife’s duty to obey him. Their mothers, most of whom were born in Mexico but moved to the United States, taught them it was important to let their husbands think they were the boss but that they could manipulate them to get what they wanted” (Galanti, 2003). This is an example of what the United States does to gender roles in the homes of people that have migrated from Mexico.

The women in my study proclaimed that since they have moved to the United States, they have slowly equaled the playing field by bringing home money and by have rights just like the man. Marianismo was apparent to my self during this moment in the interview. Women would speak highly of themselves, as one female respondent noted:

In the US I don’t need a man, the man needs me. Here I can get just as much

money as him if not more. Basically anything he can do I can do, but I need him

for children, though, that is about all I need a man for in the US. Now in Mexico

the woman is unable to make as much as the man so over there men are more


To say that Mexicans are the only people that experience male assertiveness is totally ludicrous and highly foolish.  To find this throughout the United States is very easy, for it was not until 1920, that women were allowed to vote. Machismo is a set of beliefs that allows men to have a legitimate claim that they should be the aggressor and the head of all decisions. Marianismo is the counter-weight to machismo, which offers the woman self-gratitude and dignity.


In conclusion, I found that machismo is defined in a negative manner among Mexican males and females. It is not that the participants wanted to speak of machismo as negative for their people, but they all concluded that it was a thing of the past and should be left there. All the participants in my study proclaim to treat their wives with full dignity and honor, and for this study, that is how they shall be remembered. All the participants in my study say that they do not agree that men should treat women the way the machismo male ideally should. “Women are not passive anywhere in the world; they simply have different styles for pursuing their objects than do men” (Stevens, 1973).  Many of the attributes of machismo are no more than myths past down about braveness and freely acting out sexually. Today when people define machismo, they can not offer a definition without using violence, sexual infidelity, and alcohol. However, the effects of these myths have shaped the current Latino male’s view of the macho male. “Machismo, like its female counterpart marianismo, exists mainly as an exaggerated stereotype” (Beattie, 2002). The research would suggest that the male is exaggerating his views or simply making it up as he goes; I, to the contrary, would say that the machismo is learned as a young child and is reinforced throughout early childhood interactions and socialization, which puts machismo men in a position of normality -to act as they were taught. Mexico and America are not equal in terms of gender equality; the US is far more equal to both sexes than is Mexico. The Mexican woman is raised to have a life of servitude to a man, which is the direct opposite to what American feminsm stands for. Here in the US, the woman can pursue any ambition that she should have: Ask the Senator from New York, Hillary Clinton, if “women can do any job they want to?”

This study raises some key questions for further research: How do recent Mexican immigrants in the United States define machismo?  Where did machismo start?  Why do women stay with abusive machismo men? These are by no means a complete list of questions for further study. There needs to be more exhaustive work on machismo and Marianismo concepts, since both are underrepresented by empirical research in the social sciences today. To fully understand the concept of machismo and how it operates in daily life, a researcher should immerse him/herself within the natural context of this cultural phenomenon.

Reflexive Statement and Conclusion

Prior to undertaking this project, I wanted to portray machismo in a positive light due to the fact that the literature review on machismo stated that there were few positive aspects researched and written about it. I do feel that I did not negatively reflect machismo; rather, the data itself determined the outcome which happens to be of a negatively associated definition. The participants in my study felt comfortable in sharing information with me. I think this was because they saw this project as something that might help them, even though the intent of this project was to solely understand machismo. Ironically, when I asked the male subjects if they would want a man like the one they defined as machismo as a partner for their daughter, they stated ‘no,’ -firmly. Indeed, from my interview data, I interpreted that only one of the male participants had true aspects of full machismo.

The results of this study yielded different degrees of machismo. There is a light machismo, which would have aspects of the man cheating on his wife, drinking often with fellow males, but bearing an equal responsibility for the children. There is medium machismo, which manifests in high consumption of alcohol, physical violence to one’s spouse and male associates, and having numerous sexual partners outside the marriage. The severe case of machismo would include daily abuse of one’s family, alcoholism, and sexual infidelity outside of marriage. This extreme machismo male is the one that is the most respected by his peers and his wife. Nevertheless, today’s machismo male is faced with challenges that threaten a way of life and gender relations that differ from his home country, ultimately forcing him to assimilate.



Baker, Gary and Irene Loewenstein. 1997. “Where the Boys Are: Attitudes Related to Masculinity, Fatherhood, and Violence Toward Women.” Youth & Society 29: 166-196.


Beattie, Peter M. 2002. “Beyond Machismos.” Men and Masculinities 4: 303-308.


Deyoung, Yolanda and Edward F. Zigler. 1994. “Machismo in two Cultures: Relation to Punitive Child-Rearing Practices.” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 64: 386-395.


Galanti, Geri-Ann. 2003. “The Hispanic Family and Male-Female Relationships: An Overview.” Journal of Transcultural Nursing 14: 180-185.


Pena, Manuel. 1991. “Class, Gender, and Machismo: The “Treacherous-Woman” Folklore of Mexican Male Workers.” Gender & Society 5: 30-46.


Stevens, Evelyn, P. 1973. “The Prospects for a Women’s Liberation Movement in Latin America.”  Journal of Marriage and the Family 35: 313-321.


Torres, Jose B. 1996. “Masculinity and Gender Roles among Puerto Rican Men: Machismo on the U.S. Mainland.” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 68: 16-26.


Villereal, Gary L. and Alonzo Cavazos Jr. 2005. “Shifting Identity: Process and Change in Identity of Aging Mexican-American Males.” Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare 32: 33-41.


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