Masculinity vs. Machismo

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Editor’s Note: This is the second post in a series on toxic masculinity. If you have questions or advice please comment below.


The expectations that men will adhere to specific guidelines of masculine norms work across generations and cultures – fathers and mothers perpetuate them from every corner of the world. When I think about raising boys, I wonder if I can do anything to prevent them from becoming indoctrinated into a society that advocates them denying instincts – like crying.

How can I help my boys?

When answering that question, the first thing I have to do is define the difference between machismo and masculinity. Where machismo is a solid or aggressive masculine pride, the term masculinity is a set of attributes regarded as characteristics of men in general. The difference between terms is subtle but essential. If my boys grow to identify as masculine, I must ensure that I do not inadvertently teach machismo. The key to accomplishing this is to be aware of your parenting style and the everyday nuance of language.

I’ve put together a list of three tangible ways to help boy moms like me who are weary of a society that frames machismo inside of masculinity as the norm. I hope that this list enables you to recognize the daily practices you use to parent your children. We are responsible for the next generation of boys who will one day be men. It’s up to us to change the narrative of masculinity as framed by machismo.

It starts at the baby shower

Did your baby shower look like a blue Tiffany box? Or did you choose browns and yellows? You thought about it because it matters. Color choices in gifts and wardrobes at a baby shower are perhaps the first decision we’ll make that perpetuates machismo. Extreme? In both of my baby showers, the themes were baby blue. Back then, I would have said that this opinion about machismo starting at the baby shower is extreme. It was when my eldest turned three years old and picked up a Barbie Doll and said, “I like her, but that’s just for girls,” that I recognized how early on machismo is enforced. I thought, wow – when did he learn that? Did I miss something? Since that moment, I’ve considered that maybe being surrounded by a color scheme since birth isn’t the best way to rewrite a gender paradigm for our kids. It simply doesn’t matter what color their toys are.

Is the babysitter on your team?

One day after coming home from running errands, I heard our babysitter telling our son that he would get over it while he was mourning the loss of a toy. It made me think of this meme from Janet Lansbury.

It’s not the babysitter’s fault, and I didn’t say a word when I heard her because we’d never had a conversation about what language I was comfortable with. These are the things and statements told in every household, and especially to boys. My advice is that you have a conversation with everyone who helps watch the kids. Make sure that they understand how powerful language is when addressing our children.

Explaining Pronouns

Breaking down aggressive masculine pride, i.e. machismo, starts with language. How we address someone can be a way of living in empathy, and living in empathy can be seen as the opposite of prideful. Now, pronouns might not seem like something that you have to explain to your two or three-year-old, but consider that the things we think of as ordinary, like saying “bless you” to someone after sneezing, we learned very early on, and probably in toddlerhood. What if our kids heard us asking a stranger how they identified before we addressed them? What if we explained that not everyone uses the pronouns, he/her? What if we demonstrated that the pronoun “they” is not specifically plural? What if we explained these things while they are still young? To me, this sounds like a step in the right direction.

Of course, these are just a few of the ways we can make a difference in the lives of our boys. Look for more posts from me regarding other tangible forms of changing the machismo paradigm, including my first in the series What is Toxic Masculinity? Asking for a Mom Raising Boys (Me).

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Olga Rosales Salinas writes poetry, short stories, prose, blogs, essays and is currently working on her first fiction novel. Her heart center is with her family that includes two rambunctious boys. She has received an Honorary Mention for the Charles Bukowski Poetry Prize by the Raw Art Review. Currently she facilitates a poetry writing workshop for 5th and 6th graders at Harbor House, a non-profit in Oakland, CA. In 2019, along with her five sisters, The Rosales Sisters’ Scholarship was founded in order to help 1st generation or immigrant students from Aptos High School, where the sisters each attended. She was the founding curator of Vetted Word, a monthly showcase featuring poets, writers, and musicians.

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