Citizenship in Latin America had traditionally been extremely divided. From Independence well into the twentieth century, only wealthy males were allowed to participate in society. For centuries, women fought to defeat the barriers, which prevented their complete participation in society. This article examines the treatment Latin American women endured in a male-dominated society.
Machismo and Hembrismo
Historically, the masculine-feminine opposition had been prevalent throughout various Latin-American communities. As seen in Mexico, the Don Juan persona envisaged men as the dominant gender within society, ruling over women, having many mistresses and being the ultimate conqueror.
Strong emphasis on machismo inevitably produced its counterpart, hembrismo, or extreme female passivity, submission and dependence. This is where the woman is viewed as requiring male dominance in order to function, to consider herself whole in Latin society. To further understand this relationship between the two sexes, it is necessary to analyze its implications in the realm of behavior beginning within the Latino family.
The Latin-American Family
The Latin ideal of masculine valor signified strong masculinity in sexual superiority and general behavior. In the New World, the idea of being extremely masculine expressed itself quite naturally in the domination of the conquistadores over native women, for the conquerors came alone, without their families, with the purpose of exploiting and then returning to Europe. Children were born and felt full of resentment toward the absentee father. At the same time, they desired to be as macho as he was.
The mestizo boy was attached to the mother however the Indian mother was of a lesser and loathed class. The mestizo male had to take on the dominant characteristics of his father in order to obtain status. Identifying with the despised mother had become unacceptable whereas identification with the father became customary showing ultimate control.
This conflict became intensified during colonial times when legitimate children were almost cared for by Indian maids. It was the Indian woman who nursed the children while the actual mother often remained distant. In relation to female companionship, the wife was the symbol of this detached mother. She was romanticized and respected while the mistress became the symbol of security but in association with the despised class.
The legal wife was viewed as beautiful, revered and religious. The mistress however was seen as highly sensuous, a symbol of security, warmth, affection and sexual response. Often, husbands had extramarital affairs and wives were left alone. As a result, mothers developed possessiveness towards the sons, yet the sons also demonstrate a machismo spirit if they are to be accepted into the male dominated world. For the female child, the role of passivity becomes the ultimate choice.
Within the religious community of Latin America, machismo and hembrismo further manifested themselves, which had become typical of Latin American values. For example there was a tendency for fathers to want to control the selection of husbands for their daughters. Secondly, there was a strong avoidance of discussing sex within the church. Lastly and quite significantly was the expectation of all daughters to be virgins upon entering into marriages. Overall these ideals further propelled the attitude of men being the more dominant citizens of society.
- Bryson, Lyman, eds.. Social Change in Latin America Today, New York: Random House, 1960
- Bueno, Eva and Ceaesar, Terry. Imagination Beyond Nation: Latin American Popular Culture, Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998
- Nida, EugeneAlbert. Understanding Latin Americans., CA: WilliamCareyLibrary, 1974