AUTHOR'S NOTE ON THE TITLE: The Macho Paradox
Because there is no explicit discussion of the phrase, “the macho paradox,” in the body of this book, I would like to offer readers a brief explanation about the term from two different perspectives: 1) the contested cultural meanings of the word “macho”; and 2) the way that I have used the term to describe some of the contradictory aspects of traditional notions of masculinity, related to men’s potential for leadership in the ongoing struggle to end men’s violence against women.
1) The term “macho” carries multiple meanings, with both positive and negative connotations. For some Latinos, the positive characteristics of the Spanish word “macho” have been lost in mainstream English usage, where “macho” is used almost exclusively to refer to hypermasculine aggression. Traditionally, the word “macho” carried many positive associations. To be “macho” was to be well-respected, embodying traits such as courage, valor, honor, sincerity, pride, humility and responsibility.
Since language usage has a political context, it is unfair to discuss the definition of “macho” in contemporary U.S. society without acknowledging the colonial exploitation and cultural domination of Latin America by early European and later U.S. imperial powers that characterize an important part of the past five hundred years in the history of the Western hemisphere. Thus, when English-speaking Americans use the term “macho,” they should be aware that some see the negative connotation as further evidence of the ongoing effects of the Anglo conquest of Latino cultures in the southern part of the hemisphere. While some would argue that the “true” meaning of the word macho has been lost, it is important to remember that there is no such thing as the “true” meaning of words--only ways they evolve in particular cultural-historical contexts.
In any case, the term “paradox” in the book’s title was intended to address any concerns that use of the word “macho” might contribute to the perpetuation of a negative cultural stereotype of Latinos. A key definition of “paradox” is “exhibiting inexplicable or contradictory aspects.”
By using the term “paradox,” I mean to coin a phrase that expresses both the negative and positive definitions of the word macho and appropriately conveys the word’s contradictory meanings and rich history.
2) Many people have rightly asked “What is the macho paradox?” Here are suggestions which form the basis for our thinking:
a. If you are a man, it is a lot easier to be sexist and abusive toward women – or remain silent in the face of other men’s abuse – than it is to speak out against sexism. It is ironic that men who speak out against men’s violence against women often are called wimps, when they actually have to be more self-confident and secure than men who remain silent in order to fit in and be “one of the guys.” (Thus, a “macho” man, with its original Spanish meaning, would have the courage to take responsibility for controlling sexist or violent behavior in his community.)
b. The same qualities that some people ascribe to macho or hypermasculine men (see discussion above), such as “toughness” or a willingness to use violence to get one’s way, can be read as expressions of weakness and cowardice. In other words, a man who beats his wife or girlfriend proves not that he’s a “real man” who is “in control” and thus worthy of others’ respect, but rather that he has serious problems and needs immediate help.
-- Jackson Katz