The Impact of Machismo on Mental and Sexual Health in Latinx Communities

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Key Takeaways

  • Machismo refers to an ideology that promotes certain expectations for how men of Hispanic and/or Latinx backgrounds ought to act.
  • No discussion of Machismo is complete without also delving into Marianismo, the Catholic church, colonization, and more.
  • Given the potential impact of these ideologies on the mental and sexual health of Hispanic and/or Latinx communities, greater efforts are needed to address this public health concern.

Machismo is excessive manliness or hypermasculinity, according to Richard Jimenez, PhD, an expert in healthcare disparities and faculty member at Walden University.

Cultures impacted by colonization tend to contribute to oppression on the basis of binary gender. It’s important for those who are not members of the Hispanic and/or Latinx communities to learn more about how machismo is part of the culture, and how patriarchy can harm all genders in a given community.

Ideologies Have Always Caused Harm

Jimenez explains that machismo contributes to adverse health outcomes for men and those who interact with them, especially in the case of women and children, but cautions that this is not unique to Latinx culture. “The term “Alpha male” is [another] good example,” he says.

By noting how Machismo is often used by non-Latinx persons to signify a man who is exhibiting hyper-masculine behavior in terms of dominance over others, Jimenez highlights how its prevalence has been linked to domestic violence and adverse physical and mental health outcomes.

Jimenez explains, “When speaking about Machismo as a cultural phenomenon among the Latinx community, it is important to recognize that the US Latinx community is not monolithic. Consider ‘intercultural’ as well as ‘intracultural variability’ within the Latinx community.” 

While Latinx sub-groups such as Mexican Americans, Cuban Americans and Central Americans may share common values and traits, Jimenez notes there are also differences in language, idiomatic expressions, cultural traditions, and attitudes towards Machismo between groups. 

Richard Jimenez, PhD

We should try to mitigate the toxic effects of Machismo while capitalizing on cultural values such as honor and responsibility for loved ones to protect the entire Latinx family, both the nuclear and extended

— Richard Jimenez, PhD

Acculturation levels and immigration status should also be considered, according to Jimenez. “The process of acculturation is complex and has important implications for health workers who are designing public health interventions and who provide mental and physical medical health services to the Latinx community,” he says.

Complicated Masculinity

The effects of Machismo can manifest in surprising ways. During the pandemic, Jimenez was tasked with HIV/AIDS prevention education for Latinx women, some of whom faced a higher risk of contracting HIV from male partners who had contracted it through sex with other men.

Jimenez highlights, “Machismo played a role in the transmission of HIV between men who did not identify as gay or bisexual yet engaged in same-sex sexual behavior. These men were, in their minds, able to preserve their manliness or macho-ness, by self-identifying as straight. Machismo could also promote inconsistent condom use, creating risk.”

In terms of mental and physical health promotion and disease prevention, Jimenez cautions that Machismo may not be the only reason for reticence among Latinx men to seek preventive health screening, but it impedes the process. “Conforming to traditional masculinity prevents men from seeking mental health care and counseling,” he says.

Jimenez explains, “The public needs to be aware of the diversity of the Latinx community. Latinx subgroups vary. Community health education and promotion program developers, as well as clinicians who provide services to the Latinx community, should keep this in mind. Outreach must be [both] culturally sensitive and appropriate.” 

Successful interventions manage to address social norms. “We should try to mitigate the toxic effects of Machismo while capitalizing on cultural values such as honor and responsibility for loved ones to protect the entire Latinx family, both the nuclear and extended,” says Jimenez.

Founder of Estoy Aqui and public health expert, Ysabel Garcia, MPH, explains, “Machismo describes the beliefs and expectations about the role of men in Latinx society. It is like a checklist for masculinity, as machismo asks, what should a man do, say, wear, etc.? When people talk about toxic masculinity, they are really talking about one of the consequences of machismo, which is the root cause.”

While Machismo can be prevalent in Latinx culture, Garcia notes that Marianismo is its counterpart in terms of a checklist for binary gender. “Marianismo is rooted in the image of the Virgin Mary, Christian values, and colonization,” she says. 

In this way, Garcia highlights how women are taught to be sexually abstinent until marriage, submissive with their sexual partner, and caring at all times. “Marianismo co-exists with Machismo, and they keep the status quo of traditional gender roles alive,” she says.

Ysabel Garcia, MPH

In terms of mental health, when talking about Machismo and Marianismo, these social constructs operate on the belief that Latinx LGBTQ+ communities do not exist, so it erases their experience. Machismo and Marianismo assume heteronormativity, which can significantly impact the mental health of people who are queer, nonbinary, intersex, etc.

— Ysabel Garcia, MPH

Although some may assume that all Latinx women should be opposed to the ideology of Marianismo, Garcia notes that some continue to be interested in “traditional” cisheteronormative marriages in which, men are expected to their wives, who are the mothers of their children. 

Garcia explains, “In terms of mental health, when talking about Machismo and Marianismo, these social constructs operate on the belief that Latinx LGBTQ+ communities do not exist, so it erases their experience. Machismo and Marianismo assume heteronormativity, which can significantly impact the mental health of people who are queer, nonbinary, intersex, etc.”

In fact, Garcia covers these concepts of Machismo and Marianismo in her Exploring Latino/x Mental Health workshops and notes that at least nine times out of 10 times, her participants admit they are unfamiliar with Machismo’s female counterpart of Marianismo despite decades in such fields as mental health and human services. “There is a huge gap in knowledge,” she says. 

Given such gaps in how mental health providers may be supporting Latine communities, Garcia also offers workshops on Colorism and Anti-Blackness, Familism, Assimilation and Acculturation, and Microaggressions, in addition to exploring both Marianismo and Machismo.

What This Means For You

If you are attempting to support loved ones who are members of Hispanic and/or Latinx communities who may be navigating the toxic effects of machismo, take the impact of oppression into consideration. Often, marginalized groups have unique coping skills to manage the potential harm of their cultures due to colonization which outsiders may not understand.

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