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Self-centered macho?

Although machismo is still dominant, women's conquests intimidate men more and more

REPRODUCTIONS THE AMERICAN ART BOOKThe Brazilian urban woman of the 21st century talks about everything: she complains about her partner, demands her right to pleasure, her sexual preferences, and wants to have the same salary. And she does everything as well: she takes initiatives in the relationship, she works, and more and more she supports her family. She even dispenses alimony, and doesn’t mind splitting the bill at the restaurant or the household expenses – on the contrary, she sometimes demands it. It has been like this on a growing scale in the last three decades. On the other hand, she does not forgot the custody of her children or being romantic – she loves having the door opened for her, being given preference in the elevator etc.

And what about men? Well, the majority of them are watching the advance of the opposite sex with a knot in the head. At times they seem intimated, at times, cornered. Admitting to machismo, never. More than a few set off for a confrontation and try to impose their cultural condition of domination. They talk loudly, they shout, they hit, and they kill. For ages, physical, sexual, psychological or moral violence have been frequent. Or, more subtly, they mark their territory, claiming their role of responsibility for the upkeep of the house.

Are we experiencing an undeclared war of the sexes? Not today, always. The difference is perhaps that, for the first time, males do not know exactly what to do, as is to be observed in the day-to-day – in relationship, in the working environment, in bed. The problem lies in the difficulty that they have in admitting that the values disseminated over thousands of years are increasingly questioned or abandoned.

As complex as understanding the emergence of terms like metrosexual – a vain man, with feminine habits – is to define the concept of machismo or to quantify its negative impact on Brazilian social and economic life. However incredible it may seem, the theme is still little studied in the universities, although the relationships of inequality between men and women have been the object of some these for a master’s or doctor’s degree at the University of São Paulo (USP), for example.

From the historical point of view, the term ‘machismo’ is associated with the patriarchal social and family system still disseminated with rigor today by the Bible, by the Qur’an and by other religious books. The preaching is that, as a divine right, the father must be the leader of the family in all aspects. Another common concept is the belief that men are physically and intellectually superior to women.

Some researchers think it is complicated to talk about men being ‘cornered’, since, at work or in the home, violence against women is no novelty. Thus, the female ascension has not caused a male ‘reaction’ or counterattack. “The conflict has always existed, the novelty is perhaps that women are increasingly conquering and maintaining spaces in quantity and quality”, says Elizabeth Cardoso, who defended her master’s thesis at the Communications and Arts School (ECA/ USP) about the post-75 Brazilian feminist press, and is currently studying for a doctorate at the Literary Theory and Compared Literature Department of FFLCH/USP – she is researching the female personages of Lúcio Cardoso.

For her, in the working environment, some men continue to use ‘base stratagems’. From sexual harassment to the constant disqualification of women. The researcher recommends, though, not falling into generalizations. “We know that human beings are endowed with complexity, and we have several male reactions to the female ascent en route to senior management and to the CEO positions of companies and institutions.” Even so, she highlights as one of the main changes motivated by the ascension of women in the productive milieu (outside the home) the valuing of the ‘feminine’ way of managing and administering. “A lot is said of female flexibility , of the capability for acting in multiple tasks simultaneously, of dialog, of dealing with differences, of the humanity that women impart to their professional relationships. But we must stress, to exhaustion, that all this discourse in praise of the feminine does not prevent women from continuing to have lower salaries than men, and that they occupy positions of leadership with less frequency.”

As Elizabeth observes, during the 1979’s and 1980’s, women’s economic independence was seen as the main way towards their social, sexual and cultural liberation from male control. But the centuries of patriarchal power have shown that its roots are deep. Despite this, men are being forced to revise their points of view. “Perhaps there is a lack of a more collectivized struggle, seeing that women are fighting in individual, day-to-day, silent wars, really as consequence of the paths that the feminist movement has followed, but these conquests overlap, and adding them all up, improvements are perceived for all, men and women”.

Maria de Fátima Cabral Barroso de Oliveira, in doctoral studies defended at the School of Philosophy, Literature and Human Sciences (FFLCH), analyzed the portrayals of women in Canadian newspapers in the 1990’s. The central hypothesis is that the media, through a discourse that celebrates sexual diversity, legitimates and marginalizes identities. She believes that the ‘mix-ups’ of sexes pointed out today have to do with roles established for the genders that sometimes contradict the very experience of ‘being’ man or woman. “I know men who have an extremely ‘feminine’ mind and vice-versa. So what? What happens when men do not have those qualities held to be ‘masculine’, does the same happen with women?”

What she realized was that the masculine world is the ‘serious’ one, the ‘important’ one, the world of business, of politics.  The women’s world is more ‘pink’, without much importance. “The media solidify woman as a mother or a sexual object, either the professional, who is a mother, wife, young, slim and beautiful, superwoman, that is, or the victim, subordinated and subjugated to the masculine world. So, women that are homosexual, black, from the Third World etc. are marginalized and/or excluded.” Man, in the process, is the norm, the rule, the model. “I think that we have to choose whether we are going to work inside the established stereotypes, such as woman is feminine, mother, the prey etc., the same being valid for man; what are the attributes or qualities to the ‘masculine’ gender???

In her doctorate at USP, Ellika Trindade investigated the male perspective of the themes of paternity, sexuality and life projects. She only interviewed men. Despite their not having been questioned about the growing occupation of space by women, generally speaking, they see the possibility of a greater division of responsibilities with them, including in financial questions, as something benefic and positive for the relationship and for themselves, in that the pressures are also divided. According to her, the crisis that many men undergo in middle age does not necessarily have a relation to ‘economic domination’.

It has more to do with the place in society occupied by men at work and with the meaning that this universe of work has for the male sex. The male being – that which carries out and commands – can be experienced in a critical way as retirement approaches and the consciousness that he is growing older, with the losses arising from this, is thought about. “In the universe of the interviewees, the crisis of middle age was recalled mainly in relation to the contact with the children, with the realization that they are entering into the adult world, and also into the universe of work, the approach of retirement.”

Ellika observes that, for some men, getting along with women in the world of work can be seen as a reason for fear or as a complicator of affective relationships. However, one cannot fail to consider that competition with other men, a hallmark of the world of work, can also be a reason for fear. “The fact of women working can be seen as something negative, if the way of thinking of education as a responsibility only of the mother is maintained.” Other social actors, though, can perform this function, including fathers. So what is happening is that, with the woman who is a working mother, it becomes necessary to review this way of thinking and broaden the perspective to other people who may carry out the task of educating the children, from members of the family to educational institutions.

The evolution and the causes of female participation in the Brazilian job market were studied by Luiz Guilherme Scorzafave in his doctorate at USP. He found a ‘strong’ increase in the female participation, particularly of those with from 1 to 11 years of schooling, amongst the spouses and those belonging to all racial groups. He also observed the main determinant factors for women and for their evolution. He concluded that education had a fundamental role in the growth of the levels of female activity in the last few years in Brazil. Besides this factor, he highlighted the importance of the ‘age’ variable and the binary variable associated with women spouses.

Scorzafave concentrated on the presence of women in the behavior of the economy, and less on the behavioral aspects. He says that the most recent studies show that the difference in salary between men and women with the same productivity has decreased in Brazil. One of the factors that explain this – there is no consensus yet – could be the reduction in the discrimination against the female sex. In particular, in the younger generations. He recalls that some theoreticians argue that the greater contribution from women in the family income increases their bargaining power in the taking of decisions within the family – where the money will be spent, who is going to work, etc.

Men and women today are living through transformations at all the social levels, even though, at a first moment, they are not perceived in a positive way. Or good for everyone. You just have to observe the position of women, blacks and other social minorities over centuries as oppressed. That is what is said by Ana Maria Capitanio, of USP, the author of the thesis Woman, gender and sport: an analysis of the self-perception of inequalities.

For the researcher, with the female conquests, the socialization of men also tends to change, and the sensation of strangeness becomes evident. With time, though, the transformations tend to settle. And these dynamics do not affect one side only. And the concepts of masculine and feminine are also undergoing changes. “Don’t think that it is (was?) not stressful for men to have to correspond to the social expectations, such as being the provider, being the best, the strongest, the most competent, amongst other adjectives demanded by society, or even in the sporting context.”

Ana Maria says that it is all a question of socialization. If women take initiatives even in relationships, which were traditionally a masculine role, it will cause a muddle in men’s minds, depending on how both were socialized. “Men, roughly speaking, can ‘think’ that women who are more independent and take the initiative are less feminine, for example. It will depend on the idea of woman he has for himself. And she as well will have to understand that.” Perhaps, she adds, he feels threatened by the fact that women are studying more, fighting for their rights, leaving home to work both to earn their keep and for the family, and for personal satisfaction and trying to have a posture of an equal to men.

A book that could acts as a contrast to understand the subject better in Brazil is Invisible Machismo, by the Mexican psychologist Marina Castañeda, which has just been issued in Portuguese by the publishing house A Girafa. Suffice it to read a few lines, though, to realize that, despite the oppression being more intense against Mexican women, the problem is still serious amongst the Brazilians. That is why it is a work that fascinates and startles. In an interview by telephone, Marina states that machismo manifests itself in various ways, in the most trivial situations, always subtly, which makes it difficult to perceive. “I am not talking about what is evident, but of the subtle ways that exist in all the social classes.”

Examples? Husbands do not prevent their wives from working any more, they just practice full-time surveillance. They want to know where they are and demand explanations all the time. She also observes that anger is not socially permitted for women, unlike weeping, fear, dread, or tenderness. If men are courageous, women must be fearful, in an established relationship of dependence. In the job market, it is no different. “Machismo leaves people of both sexes unfit.” According to her, women have indeed advanced in rights, but men are not on a parallel path.

Marina identifies with clarity the genesis of machismo in daily life. Men spend all their life attended to by the feminine sex and tend to develop an infantilized personality, because they are surrounded by devotion. They do not accept criticism, they do not want to be disobeyed, and think that are always right. In the era of information technology, though, physical force does not count much, because there is not sense in dividing work that way. “The global economic and social forces are going to lead to an equilibrium of roles. I do not believe that they are going in the direction of a confrontation between the sexes, but machismo is not economically efficient.”

The psychologist laments that society tends to reproduce stereotyped models that do not allow men to show sentiments. It could be a problem of education, of family upbringing. Boys and girls are orientated to be completely different. Another distortion appears between women who ascend to positions of command and become machistas: like a man, they show themselves as authoritarian, despotic. The justification is that it is the way to survive. She believes that couples can be happier with more equalities. “It is much better to redistribute roles and be allies. After all, life is already so difficult, why not join forces?”