If you’re Latino, then you’ve probably exhibited some form of “toxic machismo” in your lifetime. Wait, I should rephrase that. If you’re Latino then you have definitely exhibited toxic machismo in your lifetime.
No one is exempt, yours truly included.
What is toxic machismo? Toxic machismo is rooted in a term that we’ve all heard before: toxic masculinity, which can be defined as the unhealthy and violent ways that men are often told to act in society from a young age.
Toxic machismo teaches boys and men to use their bodies as vehicles for violence and aggression against women and others. (Have you ever noticed the way that one relative of yours always refers to women as sexual objects and seems to prove his sense of worth by acting in aggressive ways? Both are a form of toxic machismo.)
Like most things, toxic machismo is complicated, but it’s most harmful for young boys in Latino communities because it teaches them that “softness” and vulnerability aren’t masculine. Who remembers always hearing the phrase “son cosas de hombres” at our family functions? Or worse, “stop acting like a b****? Do any of these sound familiar? They both also contribute to unhealthy ideas of masculinity.
“It’s also the idea that society teaches boys and men to think about their bodies as vehicles for violence and aggression against women and others.”
Last year the oscar award winning film, “Moonlight,” gave us a hint of how vulnerability can be expressed in our homes. Juan, an Afro-Cuban immigrant played by actor, Mahershala Ali, was a complicated figure in the film, but the way he expressed a softness towards the film’s main character, Chiron, reminded us that vulnerability and masculinity can exist at the same time.
CREDIT: Credit: Moonlight
So how do we undo the negative effects of toxic machismo? We may not have the answer right now but one thing is certain, we have to do a better job of calling it out wherever it appears and, of course, continue to be patient with one another because unhealthy, patriarchal systems of power have existed long before we were born.
We spoke with twelve Latinos about toxic machismo, vulnerability, and how we can undo patriarchal ways of thinking.
Here’s what they had to say:
“Toxic machismo is when you use misogyny, transphobia, and homophobia to probe how much of a man you are. There’s nothing uglier than someone trying to test their masculinity by how they can put down others. As a man of color, I’ve fallen into those behaviors at one point or another. Just because I’m a queer man of color, it doesn’t mean that my toxic masculinity should be tolerated. Toxic masculinity, however you perform it, should never be tolerated.”
“When I think of ‘toxic machismo,’ I think of someone who is consciously chauvinistic. All of us, no matter how enlightened we think we are, have blind spots with respect to others’ life experiences and struggles. As men, the best of us can and occasionally do fail to overcome unconscious sexist biases. But the ‘toxic machos’ wear their prejudices proudly. They’re the guys who, despite worshiping their mothers, can’t stand the sight of a woman in a position of power. Like most forms of intolerance, I think it’s perpetuated by fear — in this case, the fear of men expressing their true sexual selves.”
“When I was growing up in East San Jose all the boys in my neighborhood use tell me, “you talk like a girl,” but I never understood what they meant. As an attempt to listen to them I would look for examples of masculinity I could mimic in the men in life and quickly I saw that maybe I didn’t know how to be a man because I had an absent father and an alcoholic grandfather. For me toxic masculinity is this idea that we teach boys that they always have to be in power. We give them responsibilities they don’t want and soon they grown up into man that just don’t show up.”
Vladimir De Jesus Santos
“In my family toxic machismo has manifested itself in the physical and mental abuse of those that do not fit into the strict gender roles that it demands. Sexist remarks, slut shaming, homophobia, and general disdain of any emotional sensitivity is how I’ve seen toxic masculinity and machismo manifest itself in my family and community. I was lucky that my mother raised me with an understanding that the patriarchy was bullshit from an early age and always pointed to toxic masculinity and machismo as the antithesis of what I should become, as a young man.”
Pablo José López Oro
“Toxic machismo is fed by the delusional myth that Latina women are inferior, property, and sexual objects for Latino men to consume, own, and do away with. Sexual violence fuels toxic machismo among men and women. Therefore, toxic machismo creates a society where Latino men an exterior shell hardened by violence and aggression where emotions are deemed weak, feminine, and soft making Latinx men disconnected to the complexities of manhood and masculinity.”
“The social construction of masculinity is deeply connected to patriarchy. As men of color we have normalized toxic misogynistic practices in order to gain subjective power and deal with our own oppression due to coloniality. We have lots to unlearn not only to correct our past patterns and actions but to redefine our gender politics.”
“Combating toxic machismo starts with self-reflection to unlearn some of the unhealthy ideas we were taught as boys so that we can teach Latino boys that it is okay to be vulnerable and that the expression of love, care, and empathy are beautiful things. It is also important that as Latino men, we join the struggle for the liberation of women of color so that justice can take place.”
Cesar De La Vega
“I understand toxic machismo to be an unhealthy obsession with power and control. It’s a fixation with the aggressive dominance of others, often expressed through the devaluation of women, promotion of violence, and the suppression of emotions. It’s an infatuation with the desire to be “better than” that creates an irrational fear of vulnerability and undermines the notions of community and solidarity. I believe toxic machismo transcends race and ethnicity, and permeates any patriarchal society.”
Alexandro José Gradilla
“Unlearning and “un-doing” toxic masculinity, especially for Latino men, requires us to connect with other Latino men with authentic hermandad and love. Latinas, queer hermanos, and Latinx people must be respected and engaged without fear or feeling threatened that we might be perceived as weak. In addition to love, we must continue to read and increase our knowledge in order to bring another way and world into being, so that we can all be freed from our invisible cages and to realize our collective liberation.
“Toxic machismo is a destructive but fragile way of knowing and navigating your world. It is unwarranted anger, aggression, hyper masculinity and the complete and total erasure of all that is feminine. Its an ego that blinds you from seeing queerness and femininity as valuable forms of expression. Toxic machismo has and continues to kill women. Toxic machismo stifles growth and liberation. Its kills joy. Toxic machismo has to be unlearned and no longer taught.”
Francisco Aviles Pino
“Toxic Machismo as someone who grew up in a hyper masculine household and community is something I’ve been institutionalized to do, something adulthood has even rewarded me for. Family and friends always ask about my relationship status but never assume its anything consistent or anything romantic. Overall, toxic machismo for me are only walls that limit who I truly want to be, a caring vulnerable person.”
“To me, all machismo is toxic. Machismo confines us to an identity rooted in power and fear, where all who do not fit this mold are automatically lesser than. It makes us too afraid to see others as human, to let go of the unwritten yet deeply internalized rules that dehumanize and emotionally repress men. And as the rising wave of feminicides across Latin America tragically show, the first victims of machismo are always women.”