“So, are you dating anyone here?”
“No. Nicaraguan men are mean. It’s just not worth it.”
I and my American friends have had this conversation several times with Nicaraguan women, and they all say the same thing, whether we asked or not. Most Nicaraguan men are mean.
A common term in Latin America for this is “Machismo,” which is closely related to the US term “Macho man.” These men are often extremely masculine. Many spend time working in the gym, if they have the luxury of time to do so. Others get the best office careers and make sure that women don’t.
Machismo is often described by Central American feminists as a form of patriarchy used to dominate women and make men feel better about themselves. While in the past machismo has had positive connotations, people use it today as the idea of a machista, a sexist man that sees woman as objects to be used in some form or another. Years ago, and possibly still today, some men see machismo has a code of honor–a way that the head of the household would live. Defending his land, protecting his family, and supporting his community were the highest duties of a machista and the honorable way of life. But most men use this idea to live however they want to–even at the expense of women and children.
This idea, unfortunately, is not confined to Latin America. The United States, even though equality is more of a reality, has many problems with patriarchy and rape culture. There are far too many boys in the United States that believe having sex with a drugged or drunk woman is perfectly okay. But in the United States, there is at least a backlash to that sort of behavior. At least online and in some courtrooms, the “boys will be boys” excuse falls flat.
In many parts of Nicaragua, this is not the case. In the past, machistas regularly raped women, attacked gay men, had two or three girlfriends at once, and/or beat their wives. While that still happens, less extreme versions of machismo are now more common. It’s the comments that “women shouldn’t go to college” because they “only belong in the house,” or all those catcalls when a woman walks to the bus stop, or the dismissal of a girl partner for a school project because “girls are stupid.” My male teacher said that because he studied French in college, many of his acquaintances told him he was gay. And when he washes his own clothes at home, his male neighbors laugh at him for doing “women’s work.” My other teacher, a woman, said her previous boyfriend (who is in his late 20s) left her for a fifteen-year-old girl. There was a news story a couple years ago showing father and son going to a brothel for the boy’s birthday. And this is normal.
“It is getting better,” my teacher told me. “It used to be worse. Some women are doctors and engineers and architects now. And Nicaragua doesn’t have the gang violence that Honduras and Guatemala have, so the [sexual violence] and crime isn’t as organized.”
Still, a friend at Bartahola Norte told me that about three years ago a man killed his wife, and no one in the neighborhood did anything about it for a long time. A few people were to scared to tell the police, and others just didn’t care. Many years ago, another man in the same neighborhood also murdered his wife. But he didn’t go to prison, and the neighbors don’t like speaking poorly about him because he’s such a nice man.
Because of this, the cultural center has neighborhood meetings on violence prevention. Ideas do take time to catch on, however, and usually the men of the neighborhood see these meetings as an opportunity to talk about whatever they want, while the meetings were really designed to help women know they have resources to help them get out of bad situations.
The people of Nicaragua are friendly, usually kind people. They make tons of food and are always trying to give you more. But there are some deep-seated problems in their society–ones that are not unique to them.
It is exciting to learn more about the culture if Nicaragua, and encouraging to learn about nonprofits and individual people that are slowly eroding the abusive “machista” image of manhood and replacing it with something that benefits the whole society. And something I believe is much nearer to our own roles as image-bearers of God.