“Machismo.” The word rings loud in my ears as I walk down the street each day, receiving numerous catcalls. I hear catcalls of “rubia. hermosa,” which means "beautiful blonde girl" in English. These catcalls are the soundtrack to my daily commute. Seemingly inconsequential words that shouldn’t roll off my back so easily but, after almost two months, are the unfortunate background noise that I’ve adopted here in Buenos Aires. In fact, it seems as though every man in this city has been instructed to shout at women. This includes truck drivers, construction workers, shop owners, and taxi drivers—the list goes on. Yet, interestingly enough, I have yet to see a woman reach out to a man in this way. Why are women singled out in such an obvious and consistent way? In Argentina, the concept of machismo, that men are aggressively dominant over women, is an active part of the culture that has defined gender stereotypes for centuries. Although catcalling occurs occasionally in D.C., its frequency and fortitude is much lower than in a country where this type of machismo prevails.
In the United States, we understand catcalling as an exercise in control. Catcalling is a way for men to show women that they remain dominant despite the passage of time. By catcalling, men effectively expose the vulnerabilities of women and force them to feel unsafe in a normally secure environment. In Buenos Aires, catcalling has the same intentions, with a slightly more aggressive undertone.
If so many steps have been taken to promote gender equality, why do women continue to receive this kind of unwarranted attention? For me in Spanish class, I was tasked with interviewing different Argentinians about local culture. For this exercise, I chose to ask a 26-year-old man and a 37-year-old woman about the prevalence of machismo and the idea of gender equality. The woman immediately lamented about the trials of the wage gap and the pervasiveness of machismo in Argentinian society. However, the man took a different approach. Although he realized that machismo still exists in everyday life—a small victory for feminists everywhere—his initial response was that machismo has diminished greatly and, in fact, has almost died out entirely. With these words, it is evident that a distinct divide still remains between the oppressed and the oppressors.
The concept of machismo does not manifest itself only in the act of catcalling, however. One of the other girls in my study abroad program is extremely fit and works out almost daily, a privilege that women take for granted in the United States. Here, in Argentina, it is almost impossible to see a woman prioritizing exercise; women may run or walk, but would rarely go to a gym to lift weights or use exercise equipment. This is not because Argentinian women do not have the desire to work out, but rather because is it frowned upon for women to be muscular. The idea of machismo promotes this ideology; because men are seen as the strong, aggressive, and dominant presence, women are understood to be the weaker, submissive gender. Understandably, having visible muscles does not contribute to this theory; therefore, women are discouraged from lifting weights. Although we continue to make strides worldwide for gender equality, the prevalence of machismo in Argentina causes the country to remain prejudiced against women.