Zoe: The lessons began before I even hit puberty. They came in the form of comments to cover up a body that was quickly transforming into something that could attract unwanted male attention. Attention, I was taught, wouldn’t come if I acted like a proper lady. I was warned to expect eyes on my body, crawling like bugs up and down my limbs, taking without permission. No amount of clothing layered on top of skin seemed to be enough to prevent the violation I would feel. Violation that would keep my heartbeat racing, my steps moving a little bit quicker, my eyes shifting to the ground, and sending prayers that somehow I would become invisible. I learned through firsthand experience that it didn’t take much for a gaze to become hands touching without consent. It was the first time I realized part of my being a woman meant always anticipating what a man around me might do next, it meant living, without choice, in a machista world.
Ruben: I was thirteen years old and my body was changing. I had to start wearing deodorant and was convinced that my brain was broken because I couldn’t stop thinking about that girl in my class. The awkward videos about how puberty worked started to make sense. I’d barely left childhood—although most men act like children until at least their early 30s—but I was suddenly bombarded with questions about my sex life. Sometimes they came from sweaty, brown-skinned teammates whose grossly explicit fantasies about smashing girls hinted at an upcoming lifetime of violent masculinity. But, much more often, the questions were implicit and from family members. They’d ask if I had a girlfriend, make suggestive comments when I said I didn’t, and treat me like I was a full-fledged, girl-crazy, conquest-prone, machista adult before I even knew what a blowjob was. Machismo was thrust upon me like an old coat, one that I wore because it was bequeathed even though it fit uncomfortably.
Z: I don’t have enough fingers to count the number of times I’ve been catcalled, had besitos thrown at me, and been made painstakingly aware that as a woman, as a Latina, I am a target for a unique form of multilingual machismo that comes in all ages, shapes, sizes, colors, and languages—Spanish, English, Spanglish. I’ve learned no place is safe. Including that time I was sweetly sixteen heading home from school with traffic creeping along at a snail's pace, every second seeming to take longer to pass than the last. Music blasting, smiling without a care, my windows rolled down, and the sun beating on my back—can be a recipe for attracting attention I don’t want. Attention that pulls up next to me in a van of Latinos old enough to be my tíos. They smile, but I’ve learned looks can be deceiving. Their gazes soon turn into stares backed up by whistles I don’t want to hear. They’re shouting, “¿Como te llamas?” and I wish they would just go away. I want them to stop. I roll up my windows, my smile gone.
Ruben: Ratty, outdated, unnecessary machismo makes life a danger for women. Women are instructed to walk in pairs. They’re asked to make themselves less visible. They’re blamed when machismo makes men feel like they can assault women. Latinas are expected to be sexual objects for consumption—the fiery maids and lovers with an accent—but at the same time also supposed to be saintly mothers. Machismo builds an impossible double standard for Latina women. Deviating from the standard leads to very real, and often violent, effects on women. Rape, fear, and domestic abuse find a home in Latinx households because machismo is allowed free reign. Its presence is never questioned.
Z: Machismo is learning that being a woman means working extra hard to make sure that safety is a reality. It is being expected to be an amazing cook, have a career, and not carry too many opinions. It means lying about having that novio to ward away men, because, when you’re a woman, who you are—your worth as a person—isn’t tied to the words borne from your lips, but the ring that should be resting on your finger and the man to whom you supposedly belong. It is a culture weaved through every interaction with Latinos, from the way they talk over you, because of course, their words carry more weight, to the way they act like “no” is a suggestion in need of persuasion, to the way they grab without permission. It is a tradition that is so ingrained in Latinas, who teach every new generation to be more fearful than the last, passing down what seems like a survival kit comprised of warnings that when ignored could spell a violation that can’t be undone. Being a man shouldn’t mean you have the right to ignore my basic humanity simply because I’m a woman. Being a Latina does not make me voiceless and it is time that Latinos are taught to listen, or machismo will always exist: an immortal living, breathing monster haunting Latina lives.
R: I’ve benefited from machismo. I’ve been allowed out of the house much more freely than my younger sisters have. There was never a question about my desire to have a career—el hombre macho has to sustain the household, right? I can smash whomever, hurt whomever, emotionally wreck whomever, and my culture says it’s okay. Machismo is a free pass in life and giving that up is hard. But, ultimately, brown boys everywhere will have to do so. Too often Latino men, myself included, find it easy to say machismo is unavoidable because our parents grew up in Catholic countries where it’s expected. Our fathers and tíos brought it from El Salvador in their luggage, and we claim there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s too ingrained in our culture. But that excuse is too convenient and too selfish to work for much longer. There’s a way of preserving a sweet, Salvadorean, Mexican, or Latin American culture while getting rid of its painful, violent, oppressive components for the benefit of men and women yet to be born into it. There’s a way of rethinking our machista world.
Ruben E. Reyes Jr. ’19, a Crimson Editorial Chair, is a History & Literature concentrator in Leverett House. Zoe D. Ortiz ’19, a Crimson Associate Editorial Editor, is a Social Studies concentrator in Mather House. Their column appears on alternate Wednesdays.
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