What Is Machismo?

The traditional man's role in LatinX culture

person experiencing grief

Verywell / Alex Dos Diaz

What Is Machismo? 


In LatinX culture, the term 'Machismo' describes a strong or exaggerated sense of manliness; an assumptive attitude that virility, courage, strength, and entitlement to dominate are attributes or concomitants of masculinity.

Stemming from the Spanish word “macho,” Machismo is a social construction of masculinity across Latin American and Spanish culture that maps out how men should engage with their gender based on virility, courage, strength, and power. 

The assumptive nature of Machismo is traditionally ingrained in men throughout LatinX cultures and impacts how they behave, speak and interact with others and their role in their household and society.

Machismo describes a way of being in which being “macho” rules. The biggest, greatest, and most prideful men are to be respected by those around them by all.

Machismo Characteristics

Machismo encompasses positive and negative aspects of masculinity including bravery, honor, dominance, aggression, sexism, sexual prowess, and reserved emotions.

  • Bravery

  • Honor

  • Sexual prowess

  • Reserved emotions

  • Sexism

  • Dominance

  • Aggression

History of Machismo 

It's believed that these strict gender roles, like marianismo (the opposite of machismo and directs how women should behave) are a result of Christian influence during the colonization of Latin America

The word itself has only been in popular use since the early 20th century.

How Machismo Presents Itself in Society and Relationships

Machismo culture is multidimensional. At its worst and most collectively understood, Machismo enforces toxic masculinity.

Machismo Enforces Toxic Masculinity

When Machismo is adhered to, men’s worthiness is attributed to a traditional narrative of a kind of hyper-masculinity that is authoritarian and emotionally restrictive.

Dominance Is Seen as a Admirable Trait

Men are taught that they need to exercise their power through dominance because they are men. They can work hard and provide monetarily for their family, and as a result of fulfilling this role as a breadwinner, can treat their spouses however they wish.

Machismo Fosters the Idea That Men Are Superior to Women

By doing so, men do not need to feel or learn how to control or express their emotions. To embrace the toxic value of misogyny within Machismo is to respond to the world (and most importantly, women) as a “Machista,” a male chauvinist. In other words, someone who believes that they are better than women just because they are men.

Bravery Is a Positive Attribute—Until It's Not

Machismo culture is most widely understood as a 'culture of toxicity,' but not every originating value of Machismo is inherently inexcusable. To be brave is not an inherently harmful virtue. Brave people are often looked upon with reverence across societies, stories, and traditions. 

What, unfortunately, makes bravery toxic in this context is when it is mixed with the other trademarks of Machismo like sexism, dominance, and aggression. To be Machismo is to be a practitioner of that mix. 

How Machismo Contributes to a Violent Society

Machismo at its worst assumes that violence toward women and LGBTQIA+ people is excusable. It’s widely documented that Machismo contributes to femicide (the murder of women because they are women), homophobia, and domestic violence, issues that are pervasive across Latin America and traditional LatinX communities. 

The Murder of Women

High Rates of Femicide

Reported cases of femicides have surged across Latin America in the last 20 years. In 2020, Brazil “registered a total of 1,738 murder cases that were classified as femicides” the highest number of gender-based violent deaths in the region. In Mexico (in the same year), 948 women were killed in a case of femicide.

In separate data released by the Mexican government and reported by The Institute for Economics and Peace, in Mexico, “the incidence of femicide, or the murder of a woman for gender-based reasons, has risen significantly in recent years, from 427 reported victims in 2015 to 1,004 in 2021, marking a 135 percent increase.”

Femicide is not exclusive just to Brazil and Mexico. It can be seen across Latin American countries, with more than 30 countries implementing laws against domestic violence.According to the United Nations, the region houses 14 of the 25 countries with the highest rate of femicide in the world.

Discrimination and Violence Against the LGBTQIA+ Community

Machismo does not just perpetuate femicide, it also leads to documented prejudice against LGBTQIA+ individuals.

Since Machismo provides an outline of hyper-masculine character traits (which traditionally perpetuates the homophobic narrative that heterosexual marriage is the only form of marriage), Machismo men are not likely to engage with, respect, or entertain LGBTQIA+ identities. 

LGBTQIA+ Violence in Latin America and the Caribbean: Statistics

According to a 2019 study by the Regional Information Network on Violence against LGBTQIA+ People in Latin America and the Caribbean:

  • 4 LGBTQIA+ people are murdered every day in Latin America and the Caribbean
  • Most of these deaths take place in the home

In the five years leading up to 2019:

  • Over 1,300 LGBTQIA+ people were murdered
  • Of those cases, almost 12% were committed by people that knew the victims

Aggressive Behavior

Aggression, as a trademark of Machismo, can be deadly for anyone who is not a cis-hetero male in Latin American countries and even in some Latinx communities in the United States if and where Machismo is upheld. 

LGBT National Hotline

If you are seeking support for issues with coming out, relationships, bullying, self-harm, and more, contact the LGBT National Hotline at 1-888-843-4564 for one-to-one peer support.

Machismo and Its Opposite—Marianismo 

Where Machismo encompasses various aspects of masculinity and assigns a constructed view of how men should act, it also upholds attitudinal beliefs about the role of women.

In traditional Machismo culture, women are seen as homemakers. They are to be wives and mothers who cook, clean the house, and take care of the children. 

Machismo and Marianismo Create Strict LatinX Gender Roles

Machismo’s existence is symbiotic with Marianismo.The two are co-existing social constructs about gender roles, with Marianismo perpetuating the idea of a woman as a homemaker, mother and caretaker of the family.

Marianismo Characterizes the Woman's Role

In a typical Machismo family setting, the man would encompass the traits of the construct that would subsequently inform the role of the wife as Marianismo. Similarly, Marianismo suggests that women be virtuous, modest, and abstinent until marriage. This is enforced often by the presence of the Catholic Church in Latin America. 

How Machismo Impacts Mental Health

Machismo has been found to be related to increased levels of depression and stress among men. With restrictive emotionality acting as a key characteristic of Machismo, men are not taught that their emotions are real, valid, or worthy of being expressed.

They are taught to not engage with their emotions unless it’s pride or anger.

Machismo Perpetuates Mental Health Stigma in LatinX Culture

The perpetuation of Machismo contributes to the prevailing stigma against seeking therapy or mental health services in the Latinx community. Machismo, although multidimensional in nature, historically creates a toxic environment for all, including those looking to grow up in a more progressive, mentally healthy household.

A Word From Verywell

It's important to note that not all those of LatinX origin perpetuate the toxic aspects of machismo culture. However, if you find that you're struggling with depression or another mental health issue, it's OK to open up and be vulnerable and ask for help.

You can rely on a support system that you trust or speak with a mental health professional who is culturally sensitive and understands how LatinX culture impacts the perception of mental health.

LatinX Therapy has an extensive directory of LatinX therapists. The directory includes Spanish-speaking therapists of varying genders and nationalities so there's a good chance you'll find someone who you will feel comfortable with.

Crisis Support

If you or a loved one are struggling with a mental health crisis, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

11 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Dictionary.com. Machismo.

  2. Nuñez A, González P, Talavera GA, et al. Machismo, Marianismo, and Negative Cognitive-Emotional Factors: Findings From the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos Sociocultural Ancillary StudyJ Lat Psychol. 2016;4(4):202-217. doi:10.1037/lat0000050

  3. Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Machismo.

  4. Statista. Number of registered femicide victims in selected Latin American countries in 2020.

  5. Vision of Humanity. Understanding the dynamics of femicide in Mexico.

  6. Population Reference Bureau. Domestic Violence: An Ongoing Threat to Women in Latin America and the Caribbean.

  7. UN Women. Supporting rural and Indigenous women in Argentina as gender-based violence rises during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  8. Hirai, M., Dolma, S., Popan, J.R. et al. Machismo Predicts Prejudice Toward Lesbian and Gay Individuals: Testing a Mediating Role of ContactSex Res Soc Policy. 2018;15:497–503.

  9. Reuters. LGBT+ murders at 'alarming' levels in Latin America - study.

  10. WMST-L. Marianismo: Origin and Meaning.

  11. Fragoso JM, Kashubeck S. Machismo, gender role conflict, and mental health in Mexican American men. Psychology of Men & Masculinity. 2000;1(2):87-97.

By Ixa Sotelo
Ixa is an Austin, Texas-based writer and contributor for Verywell Mind, where she explores the intersections of Latinx culture, spirituality, non-monogamy, mental health, and queer identity.