Isbel Diaz Torres
HAVANA TIMES — Machismo was one of the subjects included in the recent call of entries for Havana Times’ 8th photo competition.
Of course, it’s impossible to reflect such a complex issue like machismo is which could even be considered a kind of ideology that has its historic roots in the world’s system, in an image. This is why I’m sure it was a great challenge for the photographers who took part, to capture such a thing in a static two-dimensional object.
On the whole, the finalists’ photos seemed to have the right composition and the use of colors and light was interesting, in my opinion anyway. A beautiful aesthetic creation.
Nevertheless, I personally found that many of these photos reflected a hazy understanding of machismo, and further still, confusion about how masculinity and gender roles play out in society.
I thought it was fair that photo 602 won the competition, but I’ll leave a few notes on some of the others.
Photos 691 and 965 show us men who have a violent relationship with animals. Such behavior is reprehensible in itself, but it isn’t exclusive to the male gender, nor does it reflect, by itself, an oppressive relationship towards women.
On the other hand, photos 507 and 561 only show men by themselves, as if this situation was enough to communicate machismo. Machismo is about a system of relationships. Having tattoos and smoking cigars isn’t enough to deduce that he is a misogynist or is a dominating macho.
In fact, I think photo 561 is an extremely beautiful image that captures our humanity, the exhaustion that our bodies suffer over time, the life sacrificed by a worker.
Photos 551 and 993 for their part, display two people who make attributes that are culturally identified with masculinity very clear, such as wrestling. At this stage in the 21st century, it’s hard to believe that these sports are exclusively reserved for men, and much less that they communicate superiority over women when portrayed alone.
Nevertheless, the practice of violent sports is one of the elements that has been used to express machismo, for example, towards homosexuals, who are mistakenly identified with weakness, which means rejecting everything that is considered “unmasculine”. The same thing goes for women.
The remaining photos did capture gender relations.
Photos 44 and 1476 reveal the kinds of interactions that can be found in couples. In the first, a woman is helping a man who is carrying a load on his tricycle up a hill, which fits into the subject which had been put forward because it is the complete opposite of machismo, given the fact that it reveals women’s capacity to do jobs that imply a great deal of physical strength.
The second is perhaps one of the more interesting photos, as it shows the opposite: a man carries a child and the rest of the shopping, while a woman doesn’t seem to display any kind of commitment to help him. On the one hand, machismo that dominates society demands this kind of behavior from the man, but the interesting thing here is that one of the oppressive subjects is a woman, who like we already know, actively takes part in building these social roles.
I say it is one of the most interesting because it reveals just how complex gender roles are and how both parties are both objects and subjects of oppression. And if that’s the case, can we really talk about machismo in this instance? I believe we can, but I also believe that “yes” is an insufficient and too much of a comfortable answer.
One of the most controversial images, in my opinion, is photo 35, where a man is watching a woman who is passing him by. The “ogle”, as we call it in Cuba. I know that it’s already been established in feminist environments (especially outside of Cuba) that ogling women is a show of machismo, which is another form of sexual harassment, and violence in general.
Nevertheless, I’d like to put this position into context. First of all, because it is a simplistic and because it’s a clear show of how feminism has left many issues in the air, or have only dealt with them in a very superficial way.
Humans are erotic beings, and I don’t believe that the simple act of a man admiring a woman’s beauty is violent. In the competition’s photo, it definitely isn’t. There isn’t any evidence of harassment, the woman isn’t being intimidated or coerced, the man isn’t assaulting her, he’s not even speaking to her; he’s just admiring her.
In fact, one of the worst features of machismo is to promote the inferiority of female sexuality as a passive subject, denying women their desires. Broadly-speaking, we can then say that we should defend the right for both genders to be active subjects and not to repress our sexual desires.
What’s more, Cuban women, in certain contexts, are just as sexually uninhibited, and admire masculine beauty without beating around the bush or double standards. Lesbian women also “ogle” other women in a systematic way, which is an expression of freedom in my opinion, when violence isn’t involved.
Therefore, every expression of masculinity (understood in its most traditional sense) or virility cannot be automatically considered a show of machismo. And I believe that this happens precisely because there is very little understanding about what masculinity is, and even, what feminine identity is.
We can’t continue to fight against machismo, hiding the real part that both gender roles play in mutual oppression, and we can’t also hide our ignorance about others under the same anti-macho struggle.
Is violence a part of eroticism? Could this be deconstructed? Is every expression of virility, machismo? What elements in masculine behavior eroticize women or gay people? And vice-versa?
Can you renounce the need to be socially accepted? Is there one way of being a woman or a man? If there are various forms, are some more valid than others? Which ones?
As a homosexual, I am a victim of machismo, but as a man, I am a victim of “radical feminism”. I have more questions than I do answers. I know this is very complex, but I refuse to reduce things to caricatures, and to silence a part of this discrimination which is politically correct.