Academic journal article Western Folklore

Folklore, Machismo and Every Day Practice: Writing Mexican Worker Culture

Academic journal article Western Folklore

Folklore, Machismo and Every Day Practice: Writing Mexican Worker Culture

Article excerpt

I believe we drink, raise hell and mistreat women for the sake of machismo.

[Mexican worker]

The ethnographer is the midwife, as it were, who delivers and articulates what is vernacularly expressed in working class lives. . . .

George Marcus (1986:180)

Americo Paredes, the late renowned folklorist, once wrote about a form of Mexican male discourse notable for its phallic thrust (1966). Sexist and aggressive, this discourse is intimately tied to a type of male speech play (what I have elsewhere called the "folklore of machismo" [Peña 1991]) whose goal is to assert one's power over his opponents, and whose prime symbol is, as the Mexican philosopher Samuel Ramos noted, the penis (1962). The exploitation of the penis as a rhetorical weapon lends this speech play the phallic character Paredes so well described, a character closely identified with two oral traditions that form the textual core of this paper-the charrita Colorado (red joke) and the albur, a form of speech play that utilizes double entendres to convey sexually charged messages.1 Compared with the discourse of sexual anatomy common among American men, which may be sexist and aggressive but not obsessively phallic, the anatomical emphasis in the folklore of machismo projects an aggressive sense of masculinity by making pointed reference to the speaker's sexual organ, which is counterpoised against the anal areas of his adversaries (Paredes 1966, 1971; Paz 1961; Ramos 1962).

For example, while certainly no strangers to machismo (Kimmel 1996; Paredes 1966), American men do not hesitate to make their posterior the focal point for certain kinds of self reference, as in he chewed my ass out,, she's apain in the ass, or the insulting kiss my ass. "Such expression(s) would be unthinkable to the Mexican," wrote Paredes. "The Mexican must avoid all reference to his own buttocks and rectum, since this will put him in a vulnerable position, open to insult and ridicule" (Paredes 1966:122-23). Instead, as Paredes notes, a Mexican man steeped in the discourse of machismo is more likely to say that "someone is irritating his penis" (ibid. 123).

The term machismo itself has been conceived and defined in various ways (Brandes 1988; Gilmore 1990; Gilmore and Gilmore 1979; Guttman 1996; Lancaster 1992; Mirandé 1997). Indeed, Guttmann (1996) has attempted to deconstruct the whole concept by denying it a unitary meaning. While his position has much to recommend it my own research and that of others point to the existence of a bundle of cross-cultural practices that can be studied as a form of "hypermasculinity" (Gilmore and Gilmore 1979) or machismo. But let us be clear: There is no such thing as a static or single-minded form of machismo. Moreover, like all other forms of social life, it is daily constructed and contested. Nor can it ever subsume the whole of a man's thought and action: it is possible to be a buen hombre and still lapse into machismo. Thus, like Guttmann's neighbors, the men who collaborated with me in this study individually and collectively displayed a complex, sometimes contradictory array of cultural practices that both endorsed and undermined the premises of machismo-an overweening sense of virility and phallic potency, sexual aggression, the degradation of women and a particular style of discourse.

As a mode of communication, then, machismo exists. Guttman may argue that it is not a "system of generally agreed-upon gender meanings and experiences" (1996:14), but, contrary to his assertion, as a bundle of communicative practices machismo does come close to being a coherent set of sexist ideas. Or, to quote Connell, the social construction of machismo is a "systematic process" (1995:38; emphasis mine). Most important, in the orchards where I conducted the research for this paper (see below), the discourse of machismo served as a kind of template undergirding a gendered style of cultural performance that I call the folklore of machismo. …

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