We All Lose with Machismo - René Vargas Zamora

We All Lose with Machismo

Written by René Vargas-Zamora

I’ve always found the idea of calling out to girls in the street pointless; the whistling, the car horn hooting, the noisy kiss smacks thrown in the air, or outlining their attire in a suggestive way to make them know it is being addressed to them specifically, is vulgar, unnecessary, and downright obnoxious.

Due to my position of a man against sexual harassment of women, I must present my personal credentials in that respect: I am heterosexual, not a virgin, and enjoy looking at pretty girls like any other guy.  Due to the male image we’re encouraged to follow, those details are always brought into question when someone in the male gender pool takes a stand on the issue.

I come from a Latin American country where machismo is seen, heard and felt pretty much everywhere, so I’m no stranger to it.  A girl can’t calmly walk around town without being called out to by some driver, guard, or other male citizen.  I’m not going to say I haven’t checked out pretty girls on the street, but what guy hasn’t?  However, it has never occurred to me to step outside respectful boundaries to make sexual, downgrading remarks about their bodies.  When retaliated against for their gestures, perpetrators act perplexed, confused, even amused by the whole issue―they consider it trivial, and think girls shouldn’t “get their panties in a twist.”

But it’s not a trivial issue; it’s straight-up offensive and unwanted.  For starters, I’ve never seen the gesture work in a man’s favor in any way, so, from a goal-achieving perspective, why keep insisting on a fruitless maneuver?  Also, a stranger in the street is highly unlikely to care about another stranger’s opinion of their physical attributes and attire.  If one’s desire to express their admiration is so strong, a respectable comment is the norm.

This problem undoubtedly affects a woman’s mobility and freedom.  If not accompanied by a male, or in a group, women are exposed to unwanted approaches by men to the degree that they might be followed, on foot or by vehicle, while receiving the remarks.  There have even been cases where men actually get in a girl’s face, blocking her and making demands.  This undoubtedly creates an atmosphere of uncertainty, forcing women to take precautions and tactics in the hope of staying safe, sometimes to the point of sacrificing certain activities they enjoy.  One has to recognize the reality that women are generally the target of crimes, so even if a perpetrator’s approach is “just for fun,” it shouldn’t be done. 

People sometimes relate it to cultural customs and habits, something tolerated and understood in some way, but that should not be, and cannot be, used as an excuse.  Yes, there will always be diversity in one way or another between different cultures, but I refuse to use that as a pretext for doing something that is clearly wrong.

While studying for my Master’s Degree in Taiwan, I’ve experienced the benefits of its absence. Here, girls live in an environment where they’re capable of going wherever they want without a problem, dressed in whichever way they desire.  I admit citizen security plays a role in this, but shouldn’t it be this way? When a woman has the chance to dress up the way she wants, she can look good, and stand out in her own way, the way she wants to stand out.  This is not the ultimate solution for the eradication of machismo, being that its presence is beyond the street (which must be looked into, as well), but my argument is that something as "trivial" as this has a multiplier effect that proves to be a formidable stepping stone.  I have found it incredibly refreshing to come across women who know what they’re looking for, are able to discuss it, and have the confidence to go for it―their behavior isn’t bound by external conditioning or any type of prejudgment.  Conversation is definitely enriched and intriguing, including gender-neutral interaction, where assumptions and expectations are excluded.  Again, this is due to an environment where women don’t feel threatened in any way.

It is sad that due to machismo, women have to restrict themselves in various ways to shield themselves from perpetrators.  Yes, there will always exist that probability of a couple of individuals with habits from the Stone Age, but it should definitely represent the exception, not the rule.  Machismo obviously has always made things harder for women, but, consequently, it can also make it harder for men to interact with them.  Guys, shouldn’t we look into abolishing this through our own personal attitudes and actions, while discouraging friends to not bother women?  I think if we allow women the human right to empower themselves and not be bothered, we will all reap the benefits of it.  Plus, it’s simply the right thing to do.