Macho Men - Where did it begin? Part 1

Updated: Nov 8, 2020

As clinicians, we are engaged in an inter-subjective experience to acquire

knowledge and understanding of the person before us. Our inquiries explore the history of our client in order to gain understanding. We explore their relationship history, family systems, home life, and other influential environments, cultural beliefs, a sense of self, and their perceptions and feelings of all the above.

My concern for the adult children of abuse has caused me to dig deeper into research on when and why this macho belief system came into play. Biblical males in the Bible are gentle giants, not macho, tough guy, and all-powerful. Men who come to my office for counsel struggle with telling their story, allowing themselves to be vulnerable because they were taught that men don’t cry, they suck it up and move on.

I know that the military teaches men to toughen up for the purpose of war, but sadly, they are not reprogrammed when the war is over. Some men (and women), are robbed of their innocence when they are abused by a dominant parent or significant other. These individuals carry some heavy burdens all their lives without any release except for an act of abuse onto another.

Being Macho is a learned behavior beginning from young childhood and practiced in adulthood. It can be very difficult for individuals to change their perceptions after learning a specific behavior. Oftentimes they don’t know why they act that way and its my job as the counselor to challenge those actions and the beliefs behind them.

McKinney, Caetano, Ramisetty-Mikler, and Nelson (2009) conducted research on a diverse population of individuals who experienced childhood family violence and intimate partner violence. The study concluded that in the United States an estimated 54% of men and 40% of women are victims of violence committed by a partner and overall 65.4% of men and 51% of women reported a history of childhood abuse. These percentages represent a significant impact on negative treatment towards victims of abuse and, not surprisingly, machismo has been one of the reasons why partner abuse is experienced also.

Based on the statistics of abuse, one assumption can be that machismo is passed on from one generation to the next. Physical abuse and sexual abuse are learned behaviors oftentimes passed on to the next generations. Attention needs to be placed on the negative perceptions of machismo in order to educate the men with this macho mentality.

Three principles theories helped identify the origins of machismo and explored important factors that can explain the overpowering destructive behaviors of being Mr. Macho;

  1. Social Learning Theory:

Learning Theory, developed by Bandura (1997), tells us that machismo is learned during childhood. Social Learning Theory is based on several assumptions about how a child learns, which includes learning to be aggressive and other behaviors of abuse through observation (Abbassi & Aslinia 2010; Bandura 1997). A child is able to learn aggression from their parents, siblings, uncles, family members and friends, as well as learning the other characteristics assigned to being macho, such as dominance, over-protectiveness, conditional love, assertiveness, and power. We can observe this type of male in our society today in business, in the political arena, and among the rich and powerful that can buy and lie their way out of trouble. I have also counseled the couples who are not so rich and powerful, but the man who was raised in a house of dominance and abuse by their drunken Father.

Social Learning Theory also stated that it is sufficient for a child to witness a negative or positive action to determine whether the child will engage in future similar negative or positive actions (Bell & Naugle, 2008). A child raised in this negative environment can choose to continue the macho behavior or take on a better role and be more like the neighbors’ father who showed him kindness, humility, integrity, and honesty. Money and power were not their God and the child admired such character, deciding to be a better person than his father was to him.

When individuals in different cultures practice machismo and the children in their family witness it, then it is likely that the child will believe the negative actions are normal and acceptable, therefore incorporate these roles onto others. Social Learning Theory also explained how machismo is related to gender roles within a culture; such as men being the breadwinner and women taking care of the family (Bell & Naugle, 2008). In many cultures, gender roles are rules that identify the tasks/responsibilities of the female and male in the family. Gender roles are defined by society and taught to individuals during childhood, at which time men are placed in positions of power over women (Bell & Naugle, 2008; Dobash & Dobash, 1997; Mihalic & Elliott, 1997). Gender roles in the family can make up the concept of machismo when gender roles mean that female inequality is present.

Men tend to exercise machismo as a way to show that they are the man of the house and demand respect and power. In our society, positions of power, decision-making and authority are most likely taken on by men (Leung, Li, & Zhou, 2012) although that has changed since this study. We live in a patriarchal society and it has become a norm for men to dominate women. Men carry out machismo anytime there is a sense of losing power in a relationship. An Intimate Partner Abuse (IPV) study concluded that some characteristics of abuse are constant fighting, lack of communication, lack of respect and machismo (Klevens et al., 2007).

Developing these negative behaviors in relationships between partners constructs what many women perceive as machismo. In many situations where machismo is experienced by women, physical or verbal abuse may arise due to a woman’s complete disagreement with being submissive to a man (Klevens et al., 2007) of which she disrespects. A power struggle begins to develop between the genders, which can result in verbal or physical abuse (Klevens et al., 2007).

Women have rebelled and no longer want to submit to an abusive man. This idea of an imbalanced power between men and women is emphasized through Feminist Theory.

Part 2: The Feminist Theory