Machismo – the image trap!

It is surprising how much we human beings are conditioned by images. The  cigarette advertisements that I grew up watching during my teenage  showed a man dressed as a cow boy with a cigarette on his lips. I am sure women from my generation would remember swooning over Suresh Oberoi and Jackie Shroff who symbolized this “ideal man”! But the question that I would like to ask is whether this is what  being a man is all about?

During the course of the last week I was attending an international seminar where we were discussing issues relating to women’s empowerment and one of the key experiences that many of the participants brought to the table was the fact that –Women’s empowerment would not be possible without men’s engagement . We spent a lot of time discussing the challenge of engaging men.  One of the key barriers that seem to come about in the concept of engaging men was the entire social image construct of men – this thing called “machismo”. Machismo is a Spanish word  which  describes  an attitude ranging  from a personal sense of virility  to a more extreme male chauvinism. Characteristics include domineering, fierceness, bravado etc.  Most men are victims of this “image trap” which forces them to behave in ways that keeps this concept of chauvinism alive.

Having said that I would like to now examine how women perceive this machismo thing. I mean, do we women not find Suresh Oberoi and Jackie Shroff very appealing in those cigarette advertisements? I remember once asking some women in a village with whom we were having workshops about what was their concept of an ideal man and lo .. we heard it again “Strong, brave, responsible “! So you see friends this machismo thing is not something that men keep alive to be the dominant sex but something that we women find attractive – or should I say learnt to find attractive.. so when there is a demand for machismo and there is obviously enough of this going around!

Let us now look at the gentler side to men- what the Raymond ads are trying to promote ( upto a point I guess)-  Men who care for their mother enough to get a visa for her when they get a job abroad, or coming down from the stage to touch the feet of an old teacher during their wedding reception. Yeah, certainly positive images! But how much of this is real? To some extent among the urban educated middle classes we do have men who are caring enough to help out at home but when I go to the villages I still see this machismo thing very much alive! I see men who twirl their moustaches and spend time with other men discussing I don’t know what and come back home drunk and beat up their wives!  Can nothing be done about this?

I don’t know because we have not really done anything to talk to men about this but some of our colleagues in Africa have an interesting project where they began work with a few men and tried to get them to change. And the few who changed were used as role models within the villages where this campaign was on to change other  men.

This is an interesting idea that appealed a lot to me. If an image is trapping men into being something that is so negative then it is important to work on the image and not the prisoner! I remember some people make snide remarks about my father who used to be a very tough boss “ this man is like this here in office. Go home and you will know who is the boss “! This was because at work my father was trying to subscribe to his machismo image – the tough boss etc but at home he was being himself- a kind father and a caring husband! In his generation, I guess it was important to keep the public image of machismo alive!

But the question that we need to reflect upon is whether men are willing prisoners of this image? My late mother-in –law used to be very annoyed whenever I asked my husband to carry our daughter when we used to go out. “Why don’t you bring the maid along so she can carry the child”? used to be her question. For women of her generation I guess it  used to be extremely embarrassing to see a son having to carry his own child in public!!! It took me over ten years of marriage to break this thing down and get him to do a lot “non macho” things which I find now he enjoys a lot – e.g washing clothes ( he has a fetish for cleanliness, you will be amazed to see the array of cleaning fluids he invests in), making coffee ( again a passion.. he makes better coffee than even my own mother!) , baking..!!! Both of us now feel very liberated!  He because he does what he can to help me out particularly in activities that he loves and me because I get someone to share in my burden of housework!

It is amazing the extent to which we human beings can go to keep society happy ! I know it takes a lot of courage to break out of stereotypes but once someone does, it is important we acknowledge the person and their courage to do it. We also need to understand and appreciate  what they gained out of this liberation. If bravery is a masculine attribute then breaking a stereotype is also an act of bravery! Respect is not a trait that is reserved for elders alone. We need to respect peers, partners and life partners! Violence gets us nowhere…! If someone only took an account of the cost of violence in economic terms we would find that it is a sizeable amount of our GDP! So a man who is not being violent is actually contributing to the GDP- being a responsible citizen!!

True masculinity lies in the heart and the head of the man. It is exhibited in terms of caring and sharing in life with one’s partner, parents and the community. It manifests itself in terms of questioning injustice and doing the right thing. It calls for gentleness and patience.

People like to call Shri Ram as “Maryada Purushottam” or the ideal man but I would like to reserve my comments. The ideal man is still evolving!


  1. Interesting.But I have a few thoughts on this one.As you suggested,society is kinda programmed to find certain qualities in males attractive.Now besides cultural programming,biological programming also plays a role.You know,all that alpha-male syndrome and all.The thing is-gender stereotyping isn't totally human-choice based.It could be.But somehow there is reason to think the opposite as well.I personally don't like any sort of stereotyping.Expecting a woman to be so and so...and a man to be so and an utterly primitive thought process according to me..But thn again,a lot of people subscribe to this kinda thoughts.....WHO is going to change all that???Can it be changed in the first place?

  2. This reminds me of the ad on TV recently on Woman's Day. A woman who does all the housework and office work to perfection. Yes, images/ads play a very important role. According to me, there is no ideal man or woman. Its all about the compatibility between individuals. A fine balance between heart and head that develops over the years of togetherness.

  3. well, talking about those ads, i think its more based on the perception that majority of people will like that only....on the other hand when we see today's scenario, there has been a complete transformation to that, i personally feel that now a days men are more caring n sharing, may be bcoz their life partners are also working equally in every walk of life....

  4. Thank you all for your comments. About the transformation of the image,, I am not so sure Irfan- in the village the concept of "mardangi"is still the same. @Juxtaposition- what has happened is that the concept of a perfect woman has now included in it a perfect office worker plus a home maker- no change in the male participation bit! @ Rahul we need to make that change. No one else can do it for us.

  5. This 'mascho' thing is more a creation of cunning ad makers designed to deceive the gullible and increase the sales.A true brave heart is one who is kind and considerate to the womenfolks,treats them as equal and who stands by his partner unmindful of what others feel.It does not depend on the swagger ,six packs ,well trimmed mustache,baritone voice or button free shirts showing his hairy chest.The true man reveals through his actions than looks.

  6. Absolutely true...The ideal man is evolving. I didn't come across such macho men at home front. My dad loved to do household chores- my mom and dad usually woke up at five and cooked together in the kitchen! It was their own private time, with the kids sleeping and them, starting the day filled with aroma of the kitchen...I was horrified when all my husband would do was boil some hot water:((( It took me nine years to get him make a coffee for me, that too when i was too sick. All this because he was brought up in a household of a homemaker. Mostly children brought up by housewives turn up so indifferent to their partners. In case of working women, i find their sons more condescending and helpful. But for my husband to prepare a meal for me, i would have to wait a lifetime:(((

  7. An interesting subject.

    Of all the adverts that tell that men with macho or call it machismo image are more brawn and less brain are the commercials with Akshya Kumar.
    But there is a huge audience out there among women who will be bowled over with this contrived image of "the man".

    Is there something called an ideal man? Is it not an utopian like an ideal woman?

    When you compare the anti hero Ravana ,with the worshipped hero in the Ramayana, I would vote for the former. Because he showed respect to his hostage Sita, a woman and the wife of another. He did not touch her. He would not without her consent and will. While our hero had no gumption and good conscience to believe the aspersions and innuendos spoken about his wife and sent her through the test of "fire" .And after she bore him two sons consign her to the dangers of the forest again doubting his wife's chastity.
    And this is the ideal man many laud about. Compared to that I guess these stupid commercials with guys with whiskers and six packs are a joke and amusement.

  8. Namaste...
    Thats because we are always looking outward for external validation instead of inward where all the answers lie.

    have a blessed week.


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