No country for machos: What is there about machismo in Brazil and Latin America?

Campinas, Brazil. A man breaks into a house and kills in cold blood 12 people in New Year’s Eve – amongst them, his own son. Why was that? Love, the press claims. He wouldn’t stand divorcing and not living with his son, consequences that he directly linked to his ex-wife’s character and fate.

Cases like this are no new news to the Brazilian media. In the first 25 days of 2017, there were at least five cases of female deaths caused solely by the sense of right and possession so intrinsic in our patriarchal society (as a form to make my point and also keep their memories alive, I will refer to them by name: Isamara, Amanda, Janaína, Lucilene and Brena).

In Brazil, the killing of a female due to domestic violence or ‘simple’ gender-based hatred is called feminicide. It was ratified as a law in March, 2015, and tries to protect the 13 women daily murdered every day in Brazil under those circumstances. Those who did not recognise value in the making of this legal device generally assume the use of it as a maneuver from Mrs. Rousseff, who was the president back in those days, or the inutility of a resolution that ‘harms the universality present in the Brazilian Constitution’. These arguments are, for themselves, a reflection of how resistant and traditional public opinion can be – a direct result of our political immaturity.

The concept behind the law is that the crimes are committed because of one’s belonging to the female gender – all the motivations that come along with that are secondary. The first law concerning the matter in Brazil, which was named after a pharmacist who was left paraplegic because of her own ex-husband’s murder attempts, was heavily criticized since its institution as well, in 2006. The Maria da Penha law punishes any acts of domestic violence and, theoretically, guarantees physical and psychological integrity to women, which leads us to a second analysis – why this does not work.

Brazil, and also its Latin American neighbors, although considered new democracies, come from a system of exploitive colonization. This means, in rough lines – beyond the obvious submission culture – that rigid hierarchy and inverted values are strong and long-lasting. Therefore, the reminiscence of roles such as breadwinner and head of the family decisions, taken as masculine by common belief, escalate quickly, ending up reinforcing visceral male right and supremacy; stretching the concept to the maximum, the male hegemony over the bodies.

Naturally (or regretfully enough), not many citizens would describe the panorama in such words. But it is there, and it is everywhere. It is in softer actions, like mansplaining; it is in calling a lady a bitch because of her fashion choices or sexual behavior, both of them assured by the law; it is stereotyping and sexualizing Latin females (even inside the very countries – take Globeleza, in Brazil, and comedy TV shows across the continent, making fun of a said ‘female stupidity’, for example).

That does not justify, but surely explains how naturally rape cases happen in all of those countries, some followed by death – this is called the culture of rape. Sexual aggression is not a crime like homicide, for instance; it can be used as subversion pattern, a relation in which the stronger part always wins and, therefore, expiation for any frustration (like love rejection, intellectual superiority, hierarchy or even lack of arguments in a discussion).

Brazil is the most dangerous country in Latin America to be a woman, however it does not mean that data in the rest of the continent are appeasing – in Mexico City, 72% of women claim to have suffered sexual abuse; In Peru, over 300,000 women underwent sterilization during the 90’s, thanks to Mr. Fujimori’s Family Planning (only 10% of them voluntarily chose to have the procedure); one woman is killed every 30 hours in Argentina and Lucía Perez, a 16-year-old girl doped, raped and impaled last year became a symbol of the Argentinian protest ‘Ni una menos’ (not one less); Chile still fights an inefficient feminicide law that only includes husbands, ex-husbands and fathers of a victim’s kids as possible aggressors (and excludes boyfriends and acquaintances, amongst others), making it understandable why 48% of women who pressed charges for domestic violence in 2013 ended up dead.

Those pieces of information are deeply shocking, but they are not everything. Countless other forms of disrespect are widely spread in families, in the media or at work and subjects such as catcalling or brutal salary divergences among genders will only be mentioned as food for thought.

All these kinds of aggression, though, explain somehow a tendency in the feminist movement: it is likely to be more aggressive (and, in a certain way, more disorganised). Since there are plenty of demands and daily aggressions, fights against those who actually stand for the aggressors and, what’s worse, serious diversions inside the movement (‘sorority’ is a practice to be improved; money and race are still important and fragile aspects for the groups), it can be noticed that even militancy must be worked on.

Finally, what there is to say is that the Latin countries face a serious battle against their own pillars. It will take long – old habits die hard – but the constant empowerment and effort to raise awareness on the matter will be worth it.

Luísa Monteiro
Luísa Monteiro
Luísa Monteiro is a bachelor in Social Communication and is currently taking a Master's degree in Communication and Politics at PUC São Paulo. Her researches are closely linked to the studies of internet as a democratic agora and her latest academic production correlates the (offline) social movements and their exposure on the net.