Not Every Guy is Machista, But This One Was

Why Latino men are still telling women how to dress, think, and behave


I was walking alone in downtown Covina, making my way toward my car after a night out with friends. The night air chilled my skin as I had forgotten to bring a sweater. As I made my way along the mostly empty street, a homeless man began to catcall and make lewd comments. At first, I attempted to ignore him, but as his calls became louder and as he continued to walk closer, I could feel my heart accelerate and my body propel me faster toward the safety of my vehicle.

Up ahead I saw a group of guys hanging out near a local dance club. Normally, I would have just continued walking, but the homeless man had made me uneasy, and despite the awkwardness, I reached out to these strangers in an attempt to scare him off. After a quick explanation, I asked the one closest to me if he wouldn’t mind escorting me to my car.

As we approached my car, the guy who had walked with me asked if I would like to come inside the club and dance with him, instead of leaving. He was attractive, and the night was still young, so I agreed to dance with my newly made knight-in-shining-armor.

Once inside, salsa filled my ears and a room full of smiling dancers swayed and shimmied across the dance floor. I could feel myself relaxing, ready to leave my problems and the troublesome homeless man at the door. As a new song began, my dance partner took me to the dance floor and we became instantly in sync with each other’s movements. I felt at home among the Latin music, dancing with a fellow Latino, in the city I call home. The night was turning out surprisingly well, bringing me the joy and fun that I had been missing as of late. The dancing, the music, the atmosphere … it all felt like it couldn’t get any better.

As the night grew later, my dance partner finally agreed that it was time to walk me back to my car. We continued talking, our conversation running as smoothly as it had the entire night. We had discussed everything. Break-ups, career goals, we even exchanged anecdotes about our shared passion for food during the dance breaks we took between songs. I felt completely comfortable with this new person, and was even considering giving him my number when the illusion of perfection quickly dissolved in the span of several sentences.

“Esperate. Ves a esa muchacha que va entrando al club?”

“Wait. Do you see that girl who is entering the club?” he asked me.

I responded that I had.

“Do you see her heels? Her dress? Her straight hair? Her make-up?”

Still unsure of where he was going with this, I said, “Yes.”

“Deberias de vestirte asi la proxima vez que vengas.”

“You should dress that way next time you come out.”

Suddenly, I felt like I was being branded as property by a male who I had barely even met, but had somehow trusted. I felt instantly inadequate, and yet I really shouldn’t have been surprised. In my culture, we call guys like this machista. For generations, Latinas have been forced into fitting the set traits of a “woman” set by machista males, and adopt the expected role of confining herself to the kitchen with a baby on each hip.

Still somewhat in shock, I choked out, “I’m not into that style. I have my own.”

Quickly ignoring my obvious discomfort he said, “That’s fine, but if you just got dressed up, you’d feel better about yourself, and guys are gonna want to keep dancing with you.”

I’d love to be able to say that I told him off right then. That I had been witty and clever and had a whiplash retort to throw his way. That I had been a decent advocate for females everywhere with my cutting words, but alas, in the time when I needed my sassy remarks the most, I was utterly speechless.

Taking my silence as an invitation to continue, he went on about how I dress and behave in general, and even gave advice on how I should deal with my recent divorce.

Unable to take much more, I finally thanked him for the dance, got in my Chevy Metro, and drove away.

As I drove home, I couldn’t help but think about what he had said and the more I thought about it, the angrier I grew.

First of all, why would I get “dressed up” for an hombre? A woman’s decision to put anything on her face or body is made for her own, personal fulfillment and not to be the eye candy of the opposite sex. The idea that a man could think that he had the right to decide that for me, seemed so glaringly sexist that it should have come from a Mad Men episode, not from a guy I was hanging with in 2016.

According to “Machismo and how the Family is Molded into Form: An Analysis in Gender Roles,” a sociological study conducted by Jered Pigeon at Minnesota State University Moorhead, the term “machista” is defined as “… a group of attitudes that allows the male to overly assert his presence on women …” To the rest of us, machista is just the deeply rooted sexism that is ingrained in Latin culture.

To this day, I wish I would have mouthed off right there in that parking lot and defended myself.

As a Latina in her late 20s, I had never before been restricted by anyone, male or female, on what I can and cannot do as a mujer. While in theory, I understand that for many other Latinas machismo culture is still incredibly prevalent, I was still incredibly shocked when it happened to me. It was as though something like that could or would only happen to someone else, in a country far less advanced than my own. Yet here was a complete stranger with the pelotas to tell me that I should change my looks after only having met me a few hours before.

Obviously my story cannot compare to what many other women have experienced living in machista dominated societies. However, there does seem to be hope for the future. Women’s advancements within a traditional machista Latino society can be seen internationally. In his essay “The Machismo Paradox,” Nikhil Kumar wrote: “Although a great deal of work must still be done if Latin America is ever to see true gender equality, today’s female presidents have taken some strides towards that goal, and the symbolic value of female political leaders has been helpful for recent advances.”

Without the efforts of Latin American feminists in the first half of the 20th century, it’s unlikely that any woman in the region — let alone four of them — would be president and unlikely that Latin America would be a global leader in female parliamentary representation.

It is also important to mention, not all guys are machista. Thankfully, part of women’s strides towards equality are the men who choose to treat women as equals and with the respect that they deserve as humans. But this guy, this guy in a random club I met one cold night, this guy was. Which makes it an important reminder that while change may be afoot, our society in general, and the Latino community in particular, has a long way to go before something like this can be considered a “thing of the past.”

For that reason, we must remind ourselves regularly that there is not, and should not be, a dominant gender. Women and men are equal.

Y no dejes que nadie te diga diferentemente.

Don’t let anyone tell you any differently.