Well, after 8 years of living in Central America/Costa Rica, I think I have a pretty good knowledge base to write on the powerful entity that is machismo at this point. Where ta’ start….
First of all, after those 8 years, I’m still as perplexed as ever as to why it has such a foothold and why both sexes reinforce it so desperately. Yet, here we are, it’s invasive, and pervasive, in every aspect of modern living. Business. Relationships. Perception. Social constructs. Religion. E-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. The perplexing part is that it has no legitimate relevance in any viable social construct. It’s inevitably baseless and foundation-less. It’s an outdated and archaic methodology built on sand.
The more machista the man, the more reverence he seems to have in society….yet that machista is like carrying a gun around, bragging that you have it, showcasing it at every turn so people don’t fuck with you…..but knowing innately that it has no bullets. It means getting away with treating your wife poorly, cheating on her (because you can and everybody else does, of course, it’s the benefit of being married)…..but not having a bloody clue how to treat her as an equal, interact with her, protect her, cultivate her capability, or revel in her success. It’s carrying your balls in your hand at every possible opportunity and exhibiting them to other men in as many social circumstances as you’re able…..but not having a bloody clue how to act as a strong, self-confident, comfortable masculine figure. It’s having a big truck, dangerous dog, nice clothes, and bling to showcase your material accomplishment….but not being able to articulate why it’s important, show kindness and grace to others less fortunate, or keep your ego in-check because of insecurities, paranoia, and self-revile. And what’s the bigger discovery for me here is…..women reinforce it as strongly as men do.
Women tear down strong women, decisive, confident women regularly for their comfortable sexuality, for their business acumen, for their projected self-confidence….because it’s a direct threat to the old-school patriarchy and their own ranking status within that hierarchy. That was an amazing discovery for me. Insecurity all the way around. (Keeping in mind that in Costa Rica, it’s far more subtle in its application as society, in general, is more passive-aggressive, more subtle, less-brazen, and less violence-driven than the surrounding nations)
Take even the recent bank shooting. A well-off Costa Rican businessman with a long-standing successful business cheaps-out and refuses to use the pretty well-trained armored-car services in the country to transport his funds to the bank. Instead he gets a regular female-civilian to do it for him. She (imagine) gets attacked and robbed by the husband/2 sons of a woman who works for him, who’s transferred this private info to the 3 to benefit, at the expense of the other woman’s safety.
Now, I’ll admit that, because I’m a) a foreigner, b) a self-confident, shoe-comfortable, c) loves and supports the evolution of his own wife’s accomplishments, d) isn’t a cheater, e) it fairly outspoken on equality….I have zero male friends here. Unlike in Canada, I’m actually quite comfortable and non-resentful of that fact. I’ve had my car keyed, my reputation trashed and slandered, smear campaigns, a car flying up threateningly-fast behind me while jogging, 3rd-party threats, avoided like the plague. BUT. But I’ve never had a man here come up to me and say “I don’t like how you are/what you say/how you act, and I want to talk to you about it.” Once. It’s a secret, passive-aggressive, ongoing psychological campaign to give disrepute….all in the name of reinforcing the current stereotype. Festering. Resentful. Bitter. Uncomfortable. Self-loathing. I can do little but find it intrinsically comical all along the way. Because it also comes across as helpless and desperate due to a deep-seated insufficiency. It’s an archaic vision of being a man in modern times and you know there’s little they can do anything about it as it’s so internally-ingrained through the generations, with so much to live up to the past versions….that they’re trapped with their own obligation, misplaced in time.
For those of you in North America who continually remind me that “toxic masculinity” isn’t as substantial a thing back home as the media or certain political-wings would have you believe…I can assure you hear it’s a pretty real thing. (though I dislike that term as it makes it look like if you touch it, you get infected and that New-Agers have copped a modern term for something old and historic) I openly told a friend of mine a while back that I loved going out with my wife and her friends for drinks and chats when we do….as long as no men are present. With lads present, I know it’ll be a night-long peacock show of attemped-oneupmanship. Continually a competition of areas in life I find utterly unimportant and not at all part of my rapport. One time I remember clearly a man at our table asking me if I “allowed” my wife to act a certain way in public and if I “helped-out” with house chores (dishes/meals/laundry, etc.) Upon answering that my wife can “act” however the fuck she wants when we’re out and I do, indeed, “do my equal share” at home….I received a scoff and a side-handed comment on my femininity. I let it go and moved on. However, when he interjected snidely again and asked me what I did for a living, my response “I teach people arms and counter-violence skills when I’m not instructing a security team…you?” increased my much-appreciated space bubble proportions sufficiently that I was able to enjoy the rest of my drink(s) in peace. Subliminal-messaging. Effective as well as unresponsive.
Now, to be clear (and fair), this is not solely prevalent here or in other Latino or Central-American countries. We have it back home too. My dad is from an older generation and different era so when he passes the odd (he’s gotten much better, he’s learning) sexist comment, while I don’t give a free hall-pass, I can somewhat understand where it comes from. Here, two generations on, and it permeates everything as it always has. There are signs of change and, to be more fair, some wonderful family men I’ve met that have worked very hard at not falling into the same stigmas and paradigms. They suffer and struggle here but they’ve been rewarded with good marriages, wonderful kids, and a solid, happy home life. They are still the exception to the rule, though, and made aware of it with regularity….because it makes others uncomfortable and akin to their jeans not fitting.
So, back to our current situation. It culminated yesterday, while jogging and listening to a quick audio from a friend as I started, in a car of a noted “enemy” (in his head) of mine’s wife zooming up behind me quickly and intentionally to scare me, my 7-year old son yelling from across the street to warn me, and me jumping out of the way in time to see the woman zip by smirking. (I know, my bad, it was in an enclosed compound away from public traffic so I lulled) Did I almost get hit by a car? I dunno, I’m really not sure. (I’m not good at ambiguous messaging) Instead of the man stating there’s a problem, we have the wife of that man sending out a (not-so) subtle threat defending her territory to understate that there’s a problem. How defining of the machismo dynamic. The woman acting on behalf of the man to send out that message…..so the man can remain self-sufficient in the public eye without doing anything and without personal risk to body or reputation. A dialogue or discussion (or even confrontation) where face can be lost here is not a pride issue that simply goes away with time like in Canada or the U.S. Here it’s potentially-lasting and potentially-damaging. It exhibits the weakness but it’s reinforced as strength by other men in his comfort-sphere, also insecure should the pride-damage have been them. When not reinforced by a foreigner, or national who’s had alternate conditioning, or a strong woman who chooses not to play…they bond together to protect their societal status. It’s truly quite an amazing thing to see. But it’s clearly a conscious construct, as it sure has the restraint methods prevalent and on-display during tourism season. Opinions and viewpoints are kept to oneself. Treatment of foreign women that wouldn’t usually be afforded to one’s own wife and/or daughter(s), shown openly and graciously. Noted problems with femicide (that’s a thing, and I learned that term here, not in NA) and misogyny, downplayed with a smile and over-exaggeration claim, citing often that because we had a female president here a short time ago and the first African-Caribbean female VP, it should demonstrate how far we’ve come and that that is simply not the case. (based on that)
Now, does this have any value or benefit in modern society? Sure. If everybody buys in and backs the theory…but that’s starting to change. Women’s movements, the LGBTQ community, progressive-minded men, growing expat communities all will put a dent in this construct in the future. However, old boys’ clubs die hard and, as this is so ingrained, it will take slow progression over the course of generations to slowly lessen its impact. But it’s coming. And it couldn’t come soon enough. For those here who feel uncomfortable and upset about this article, you’re more than welcome to reach out and…..oh, right…never mind, apologies, let me re-phrase. You’re welcome to stew quietly or have your wife contact me with a complaint letter. (have your people memo mine)