Harmful Influence of Machismo on Latin American Women

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Throughout this course, we have encountered many historical accounts describing both machismo and marianismo culture in Latin America. These sociocultural terms represent attitudes and expectations towards gender roles in Latin American society, machismo concerning masculinity and mariansmo indicating the role of women in society. We have delved into many events that signify the rise of empowerment for women in Latin America such as women taking part in revolutionary movements in Nicaragua and means of artwork through the eyes of Frida Kahlo. Throughout this essay, I will examine various firsthand examples of ways in which women exemplified their representation and moved away from the machismo dichotomy that is so widely implanted in Latin American society. Specifically, I will discuss works of art by Frida Kahlo that I believe symbolize more than just her challenges faced in her lifetime but the difficulties women face as a whole in Latin America.

Frida Kahlo’s paintings symbolize much more than just nationalism in Mexican society but the traditional beliefs of gender and identity. A painting that Kahlo is famously known for is “The Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird” or Autorretrato con Collar de Espinas. To describe this painting, Kahlo is shown with a thorn necklace which looks like it’s piercing her neck since she is suffering. The thorn necklace looks like roots as it trails down the rest of her body. A black hummingbird hangs from the thorn necklace almost as if its a pendant. A black monkey sits on her right shoulder and a black cat on the left. She has two butterfly clips on her head and two dragonflies fly above her. Kahlo uncommonly illustrates herself with thickened eyebrows and even a bit of a mustache. She also has a solemn face as if she is feeling no pain whatsoever. Kahlo encompasses many symbolic features in this painting that are up to our interpretation.

By presenting herself in this manner, with bold eyebrows and even a mustache, I believe Kahlo challenges stereotypes regarding gender representation and sexuality. The thorns holding her down could represent machismo culture confining women empowerment. She also is enduring pain since she is bleeding which can also add to this interpretation of feminity and its confinement during this period. I believe the monkey and cat sitting on her shoulders represent some sort of evil being that the monkey is towing at the thorns which may inflict pain on Kahlo. However, Kahlo demonstrating in the portrait as if she is feeling no pain might alure to the idea she will keep moving forward despite the challenges in her life. Kahlo states in her diary “Feet, what do I want them for I have wings to fly” which I believe can be connected to the butterflies and dragonflies above her demonstrating her overcoming of both womanhood in Latin American society and physical pain as Kahlo suffered many disabilities in her own life. Frida Kahlo’s paintings represented feminist ideals challenging the traditional beliefs of machismo and marianismo culture in Latin American society.

Frida Kahlo’s “Self-portrait on the Borderline between Mexico and the United States” demonstrates Kahlo’s perspective on conforming to gender roles. If you were to glance at the painting, you would see Kahlo in a bright pink dress with white laced gloves. Frida Kahlo looks as if she fits the stereotypical figure of a woman here until you look further. Kahlo is holding a cigarette in one hand and the Mexican flag in the other. She is standing on a stepping stone inscribed with the words, translated in English, state “Carmen Rivera painted her portrait in 1932. The background showcases a United States Flag hidden by smoke coming out of a factory labeled Ford. In the distance, you can see a metropolis behind the United States. The other side shows a broken landscape.

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To break down this image, I believe the cigarette marks her defiance to gender roles set forth in society. Frida Kahlo is dressed up because that is how society wants her to dress and conform to social norms. Kahlo, on the other hand, hints that she will not conform to these norms. The flag, on the other hand, marks her favoritism towards Mexico. Frida Kahlo made many paintings demonstrating nationalism in Mexico which I believe this depicts quite well. Kahlo is illustrating that the U.S. is a technology-dominated and draws its power from the soil of Latin America which is shown through wires coming from the United States side to the roots which I believe inhabits what is implied as Latin America. Although I have focused on the fact that Kahlo is defying machismo culture she also speaks out in ways of promoting nationalism in Mexico. Women didn’t have a voice yet in this era politically, however, Kahlo is speaking up in another manner making note of the United States’ exploitation of Latin America.

From what we’ve learned in class, women have not shied away from speaking out. We have seen this demonstrated by the artist Frida Kahlo as well as other instances in Latin American history. For example, in the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, Argentine mothers continued to riot and campaign for the disappearance of their children. Despite being harassed and threatened by the military, they continued to campaign. In the face of military dictatorship, these women acted as symbols of resistance and weren’t afraid to voice their opinions. Other instances such as in the Nicaraguan revolution have shown increased development in the status of women. Women that joined the Sandinista movement against the Somoza dictatorship made up a third of the movements army. Women joined into this movement not only to take part in the revolution but to push gender equality. Traditionally, women were housewives and caregivers, however, the Sandinista movement allowed women to break away from the gender roles set forth by society and actively take a leading role in the movement. The Sandinista movement proves that gender stereotypes were changing which ultimately would lead women of Latin America to gain representation in positions of politics.

However, roots tied back to the marianismo perspective of women in Latin American history still exist today. Much of society supports the fundamental ideas of machismo and marianismo culture. Many men and women are convinced of their pre-established roles in society. Patricia Gualinga, a Nicaraguan writer and activist stated that “For me, as a woman, the greatest challenge is ourselves. I know what the men are like. I know their weaknesses, their tendency to try and dominate. But women’s reluctance to change is a structural problem. We find ourselves within a social and cultural structure that has been reproduced over many years. Many women don’t understand this, and therefore it’s difficult to change it” (Gatehouse 39). Gualinga is right in stating that these beliefs regarding gender roles are dated back over history, however, she brings up the point that there are many people who fail to recognize that there is even a problem in the first place. I believe this is important because its another problem that persists today, awareness of the problem in general, so it can be subject to change. Women in Latin America have come a long way since the early 1900s but it is still evident that machismo culture permits to this date.

In conclusion, the role of women in Latin America has developed significantly but still is haunted by past cultural attitudes and beliefs. Today, women in Latin America have one of the highest levels of representation politically but sexism still exists. As mentioned in the book, Voices of Latin America, Social Movements and the New Activism, machismo culture still exists through means of reproductive rights where women are subject to imprisonment for having an abortion. This leads to illegal abortion operations which ultimately lead to death and disease. However, with continued means of speaking up, we can begin to bridge and eliminate the gap between gender roles in society. We can learn from Frida Kahlo that although everyone cannot speak up given their situation, there are other methods in which women can express their disarray as well as find motivation through another form rather than solely political and social campaigns.

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