The Macho Industry

Word Count: 2295 |


William Lopez
GSI: Lara Stein Pardo


For many years, US companies have been working hard to expand its horizons and create corporations around the world with universal policies for employment, hiring, and promotions. It is widely known that US corporations have had a long history of being a male controlled business sector whereby it is understood that occupational segregation by sex is extensive in every region, at all economic development levels, under all political systems, and in diverse religious, social, and cultural environment around the world. Sexism is less prevalent in the very reformed Unites States, which has also had a long history of feminist activism. However, it still endures, and between the sexes, representation in governing corporations and salary differences are immense. When comparing this dilemma with Mexico, there are some very shocking differences but also some inevitable similarities.
With the growing number of maquiladoras in Mexico and the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), more attention is being placed on the working conditions in Mexican labor factories, and particularly gender issues are receiving a large amount of attention. “Adelita told me that the hardest thing was to adjust to the idea that she couldn’t get up to stretch or walk around or clear her head.” (Hellman 1999) These are just minor issues that affect the women each day. Maquiladoras are facilities engaged in manufacturing and assembly processes located in Mexico, mostly along the border with the U.S. These facilities are used to take advantage of the low labor costs and the close proximity to the Unites States. Many of the workers that give up their labor are women. This trend expressed in the book Mexican Lives as it explains, “Virtually everyone in Cañon Inez [a place known to be occupied mostly by women run households] worked in the maquila plants.” (Hellman 1999)
In Mexico, gender discrimination is much higher than what it is in the United States. This is due to the fact that Mexican women have less legal protection than the women in the U.S.; this is definitely due to the increased amount of activism of women in the United States, mainly concentrated in the decades of the 1960s and 1970s.
Machismo is a form of masculinity, which typically has a negative connotation and used to describe how male dominance and superiority are encouraged by parents and societal forces. The term Machismo is a Spanish word usually used pejoratively in describing an attitude of male dominance and superiority which is legitimized through patriarchal social systems and reinforced through cultural values and norms. Although these values and norms can change from individual to individual, as Gutmann puts it, “My definition of male identity focuses on what men say and do to be men, and not simply on what men say and do.” This distinction is necessary because it is always the case where a man can say something to his friends and say and do something completely the opposite to his partner. Latin societies have been influenced by Roman law, which firmly incorporated males as patriarchs. Some associate machismo with the repeated rise and fall to political power of men who are able to dominate other men and women. For example, the origins of Mexican machismo are thought to be associated with Spanish conquest. The Spanish word “macho” can also, but not usually, simply signify masculinity and can even be used in a positive sense, referring to gender pride and identity.
The word macho in Mexico and in the United States can have very different meanings and ties with the way corporations are governed and structured. Mexico comes from a past where male dominance over a woman is commonplace. Although the United States comes from this similar background, over the years, it has also transformed its beliefs due to uprisings. Machismo in Mexico has also gone through some very drastic changes according to Matthew Gutmann’s book The Meanings of Macho, he explains how the meaning of macho has all to do with how much power the woman has in the household and in the business. Many times, “when one person dominates the choices, the person is usually the man.” (Gutmann 2006) This is prevalent in the maquiladoras where men are usually the ones that are heading businesses, and the women laborers have very little chance of rising up the employment hierarchy.
Mexican culture as a whole has also gone through some changes. Mexican culture has changed considerably from 1980s to 1990s due to the effect of economic development, which is partially the reason why the Unites States got involved with Mexico in the first place. One possible change is an increase in individualism. It is thought that more prosperous countries tend to have cultures that are more individualistic than less developed countries. When analyzing the United States we see that there is a very high rate of single family households and unmarried individuals that create the countries workforce. Therefore, as Mexico develops economically, its culture may develop norms congruent with higher levels of individualism. This trend can be seen as women such as Esperanza in Ruth Behar’s book Translated Woman are forced, because of the lack of a male provider in the family, to take one job or more to provide for the whole family. Behar writes, “Esperanza has a keen sense of her gender blending, of how she has had to be a father and mother, economic provider and nurturer, upholder of the social-religious order, and a mirror in which her daughters can read a past that threatens to become their future.” (Behar 2003)
Another factor affecting Mexican culture is the integration of women in the workforce. Mexican women have made substantial gains in securing management and administrative level positions in Mexico as the years have progressed. Female Mexican managers are characterized as delegating responsibilities, encouraging open communication, supporting employees, using nonabrasive problem solving processes, and prioritizing staff development. When you compare this to the Unites States system, it is very similar. It seems possible that female Mexican managers are contributing to changes in Mexican culture through their involvement in the management of organizations. These changes can be attributed to the rise in Mexican female socio-political movements. Gutmann articulates, “The feminist movement in Mexico has effectively challenged the notion that women’s sole creative function is to reproduce the labor force.” (Gutmann 2006) As women rise up in the workforce and become more independent, the economic gain also affects the traditional gender norms which create a flux in the usual interpretations of gender roles and in due time will erase them completely. This transformation in gender norms can take many forms some of which can be of husbands taking on some non-traditional roles in supporting their wives’ careers. These changes may accelerate the evolution of the predominant Mexican management approach from an authoritative style to one that is participative. However, this is not the only basis of such a change in Mexican culture.
Interaction with other cultures is another possible source of change in Mexican culture and management style. Trade and foreign investment has increased significantly in the U.S. – Mexico border region due in part to Mexico’s economic development policies and the governmental will for progression. The significant investment in
maquiladoras, for example, has led to intense interaction with American and other multinational firms, which is contributing to changes in Mexican management style; Mexican management styles become more similar to that or U.S. management style with U.S. implementation and oversight. Additionally, for those Mexicans that are in a more stable economic status it is common for those living on the border to secure their education in the United States which makes them thoroughly familiar with the American culture.
The American culture displays a similar type of macho attitudes, yet to a lesser degree than in Mexico. These attitudes are transfused over the years and along the border it may seem like one cultural attitude because of the constant interaction. An example to the stereotype is the U.S. construction worker that whistles to the pretty lady as seen in commercials, or in the past men such as those in the Rat Pack during the late 1950s and early 1960s, the men with the knack for wooing the ladies but with no intention of a relationship. This ideology can be traced back to Hugh Hefner in the mid 1960s where his philosophy of the Playboy describes using women as if they were sports cars or things of that nature.
The less known and less spoken type of macho is the man who simply tries to be a responsible husband and father. This is a more balanced individual who believes in honor, respect, strength, dignity, and protection of the family. This type of man in the United States is what many women try to attain, yet starting from the 1960s, it has almost been a myth to find such a man. The 1960s was a time of free love which skewed and brought about new meanings for the word macho in the United States.
In Mexican culture, this type o macho is also deemed mythical and can be attributed usually to the man in the past. Professor Frey spoke about the myth where is the man who simply tries to be a responsible husband and father. This is a more balanced individual who believes in honor, respect, strength, dignity, and protection of the family. It makes it seem like this type of macho is a hard find these days in Mexican culture since no stories are heard about them. When cultures combine at the border we hear of stories of Mexican American farm workers. These are men that accept their low status in society and responsibly work with dignity through long and difficult hours in the field. Yet stories like these are not reserved for those close to the border working on American soil. Because of NAFTA, agrarian reforms in Mexico have also had men working long hours on their plantations for very little compensation. Large US companies have taken over the lands. Hellman narrates, “Basic American Foods, Birds Eye, Campbells, Del Monte, and Green Giant had all set up processing plants on these rich plains to take advantage of the twelve-month growing season, which permits the production of vegetables and fruit for the North American market straight through winter.” (Hellman 1999) As one can see the products of these plantations are not even going to the farmers or the Mexican people, these products get shipped out directly to the United States, monopolizing the Mexican land without giving anything in return.
Cultures high in masculinity place an emphasis on material gain and assertiveness, while countries high in femininity emphasize relationships, concern for others, and quality of life. In masculine societies, sex roles are clearly distinguished with the ideal male behaving assertively and the ideal female behaving in a nurturing manner. High masculinity cultures are also known for having a strong father figure in the family, while the position of the mother figure is supportive. Mexico and the United States are examples of countries which rated high on masculine values. With every case there are exceptions. We see these exceptions in Mexico, “It is common to hear women and men in Colonia Santo Domingo say that although there used to be a lot of macho men, they are not as prevalent today.” (Gutmann 2006) “On the other side of the border, in the United States, the term machismo has a rather explicitly racist history; from the first appearance of the term in print in English that I can find.” (Gutmann 2006) Therefore, in the United States, masculinity can take on any form and can come from either a man or a female; when the female has to take on both gender roles and when a man has to take on both gender roles.
The construct of machismo appears to be related to sexist attitudes associated with gender-based discrimination. There is inadequate evidence that exists to consider machismo simply as a result of biological or evolutionary forces. Instead, the very strong effects of cultural values are paramount in defining societal expectations about gender roles both inside and outside of the workplace.
The implications of these propositions are important for U.S. companies expanding into Mexico. As companies attempt to discourage gender-based discrimination within the workplace, they will need to be sensitive to the dominant cultural values of the respective regions within which they operate, as has been done from the implementation of NAFTA. Moreover, with the different meanings of macho as has been explained in Matthew Gutmann’s book. The changing social structures after the implementation of NAFTA as Hellman’s book explains could happen, and the role women play in the definition of machismo as expressed in Ruth Behar’s and Gutmann’s books; we see that although in the past men have had a stronghold on business and the household, both in Mexican and US cultures, women are entering the workforce and able to change how national social structures are constructed.


Behar, Ruth. Translated Woman: Crosing the Border with Esperanza’s Story. Boston: Beacon Press, 2003.
Gutmann, Matthew C. The Meanings of Macho: Being a Man in Mexico City. Berkley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2006.
Hellman, Judith Adler. Mexican Lives. New York: The New Press, 1999.

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