Machismo in Counseling

Historically, the term machismo is a derivative of the Spanish word macho. Although the term machismo is Mexican in origin, the construct of machismo is an international phenomenon. Macho is a term that describes a male animal or specific types of tools related to husbandry. The term was translated by European Americans to describe a concept for Latino men and Latino male behavior. Ultimately, the universal term machismo came to describe a negative set of hypermasculine behaviors among Latino men. Machismo is countered by the traditional Latino/a standard of femininity, marianismo (a construct defined by the Virgin Mary’s feminine virtue) and hembrismo. Marianismo describes women as spiritually superior to men, capable of enduring great suffering, whereas hembrismo describes women’s strength and perseverance. However, for the Mexican people, and for many Latinos/as, solely viewing machismo from the negative or antisocial derivative of the term is debatable. A more culturally relevant and sensitive perspective includes both positive and negative aspects of the term.

Currently, the one-sided negative historical perspective has been substituted with an expanded, dialectical perspective that assumes a more gender-positive stance without minimizing negative characteristics associated with the term. This dialectical perspective defines machismo within a social, political, and cultural context as both progressive and reactionary to the historically and socioeconomic realities of society. As a result of these variables, the masculine ideology of the term machismo is prevalent in the United States and is not solely a characteristic of Latino/a Americans. Studies have shown that next to Latinos/as, White Americans are the second highest ethnic group in their value of traditional masculinity. A significant difference between the masculine construct valued by White Americans and the Latino/a machismo is the social acceptance of these concepts by one group over another. For example, when masculine ideologies such as toughness, competition, and assertiveness are associated with White males, the terms are more socially accepted than when applied to Latino males. Machismo or the idea of masculinity varies within the cultural, social, and economic groups that comprise that society. If machismo is examined from this more expanded perspective, the term becomes more complicated but also prevents the formation of a reductionistic perspective that permeates Western society and assumes that all Latinos/as, and all racial/cultural groups, manifest machismo in similar ways.

Latino/a American machismo has been socially misconstrued as synonymous with negative terminology such as chauvinism, exaggerated aggressiveness, emotionally restrictive, controlling, and homophobic. While machismo is multidimensional, consisting of both positive and negative elements, the positive elements have been neglected in the Western interpretation. The positive dimensions are, in reality, the most central components of machismo. They include honor, respect, bravery, dignity, and family responsibility. These virtues are of tremendous importance and a source of great strength for the Latino/a community. Examining machismo from this more dialectical perspective, which includes both the positive and negative aspects, allows for increased flexibility and utility within a therapeutic or counseling setting when working with clients.

A counselor may emphasize these positive values with the Latino/a client—encouraging the client to utilize these resources to facilitate adaptive behaviors and personal growth. In addition, challenges may also arise in counseling a client who values machismo. Potential barriers include the client’s discomfort with expressing emotional vulnerability, resistance to disclosure in the counseling setting, and avoidance of counseling altogether. This is troubling because reluctance to discuss personal issues has been shown to result in depression and a limited ability to cope with traumatic life events. Therapeutic encounters such as these may be seen as degrading and antimasculine for men who place emphasis on a traditional machista value system. Additionally, it is debatable whether or not a male therapist is seen as a more viable option for machista men than a female therapist.

Regardless of the client’s issue, the culturally responsive counselor must consider each individual client’s unique worldview. Machismo, although widely valued by the Latino/a community, varies on an individual and social basis. Likewise, an understanding of machismo can be extended across all cultures to better counsel individuals who value similar ideologies. Cultural responsiveness requires the unbiased knowledge of cultural constructs, such as machismo, as well as the recognition of each individual’s uniqueness. With this awareness, a counselor can optimize therapy by watching for potential obstacles and compensating for these challenges with unlimited wealth of individual and cultural strengths.

References:

  1. Fragoso, J. M., & Kashubeck, S. (2000). Machismo, gender role conflict, and mental health in Mexican American men. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 3(2), 87-97.
  2. Gonzalez, R. (Ed.). (1996). Muy macho: Latino men confront their manhood. New York: Doubleday Press.
  3. Torres, J. B., Solberg, S. V., & Carlstrom, A. H. (2002). The myth of sameness among Latino men and their machismo. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 72(2), 163-181.

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