Rachel Schwartz and Greg Thompson, Anthropology
Throughout this paper I will argue that the actual real lives and behaviors of Paraguayan men are in contradiction to the discourse of Paraguayans about Paraguayan men. Paraguayans, through their discourse of machismo, have created an ideal type of machismo with carefully constructed categories which defines and describes men’s perceived behaviors. However, throughout the course of my study I found that there was not one Paraguayan man in Asunción who fully inhabited the categories of the ideal machista in Paraguayan society. This paper describes what machismo is in actual Paraguayan society and what the current perceptions of machismo are.
A Supportive Machista
Verita and I are sitting in the new dining area of her store, at wooden tables and chairs which Marcos, her husband, got a good deal on. Verita and Marcos are 57 and 56, have three adult children and have been married for over 25 years. Both are calm-natured, slow-paced and very kind. I begin telling Verita a hypothetical situation where the husband earned some extra money one week and decided to spend his money on buying beer for his friends and getting drunk. I ask, “Do you think that the man used his extra 300,000 guaranies in a good way?” Verita smiles at me and responds, “No.” “And why not?” She looks at me again with a smile on her face and sweetly replies, “Because this is the experience we live in our house and I know that it’s not okay.” She laughs a little bit as she states this last part. I wasn’t sure if I understood correctly, because Marcos is standing only two tables-lengths away from where we are sitting and this was the first time I had ever heard Verita say a negative word about her husband. “And you’ve seen this?” She again laughs and says, “I’ve lived it.” “You’ve lived it? Like in your house now or your father’s…” Verita finds my incredulity amusing and is laughing, “No, no, no! In my house now!” I still feel uncertain as to whether we are understanding one another, because I can’t believe that Marcos, the hard-working husband, currently installing a new door, is a stereotypical irresponsible drunkard. “Right now?!” “Yes! With him!” Verita is lightly laughing and points straight at Marcos, who is only a few feet away from us talking with the carpenter. I stare at him and then at her and I point to Marcos saying, “He has done it!?” Verita is finding this exchange quite amusing and is still laughing, “Yes, yes up until now!”
Slowly I come to realize that Verita is telling me that her husband fits a part of the machista stereotype. As I get up to leave, Marcos comes over and asks if I want to see the back area and what he’s done over the past week. As we enter into the kitchen area, Verita points my attention to a large, new black stove. She proudly tells me that Marcos bought her this stove for her store, as she looks at him lovingly. Marcos looks at the stove and mumbles how he thought she needed a good stove in order to cook. He then continues to show me the new doors they put on and the back area space where they want to eventually put more tables and have family barbeques.
According to my informants, to be machista is to believe that a man works outside of the home and a woman has to stay in the house and take care of the children. A man can leave and go anywhere “and his wife has to respect him and has to stay in the house. This is machismo: that a man can do whatever, but a woman can’t.” Verita and Marcos both defy the normative model of a machista household. Verita does not submit herself to remaining dependent upon Marcos’ paycheck, but does submit herself to his drunkenness. Marcos does not change his drinking habits, but does support his wife’s business venture. What is even further discordant is that Verita’s machista husband not only permits her to have her own store, but supports her in her venture. Verita and Marcos define themselves in machista classifications, but their behaviors state there is a dissonance in their perceptions of machismo and their reality.
Edmund Leach describes an ideal type as being “a model of how people suppose their society to be organized, but it is not necessarily the goal towards which they strive. It is a simplified description of what is.” Leach argues that individuals’ perceptions are as equally real as the empirical data they present. What is important is not what the empirical data says, the important focus is how individuals believe their perceived version of their realities are actually empirically real. Ideal type is a focus not on what average individuals’ actions are, but is focused on how the actual behaviors of individuals interact with the idealized behaviors expressed in society. Individuals in Paraguayan society may all believe that all men are machista, but in actuality, there is no such thing as a completely machista man. Not one Paraguayan man completely encapsulates every definition and characteristic of the machista ideal type.
This belief that all men are machista and inhabit the full characteristics of that ideal type stems from the constant discourse of machismo amongst Paraguayan men and women. The power of language and stylized discourse is described by Michel Foucault as being the way in which individuals within society re-instantiate their own subjectivity. Discourse and language shape the ways of thinking about the external world. By being able to describe something and use words to categorize it grammatically, one can create concepts in which you not only think about, but experience the external world. Discourses are stylized modes of thinking that give shape to your subjectivity. They create boxes or borders for ways in which people can experience and perceive the world by talking about them. Using these modes of thinking gives shape to one’s identity. They become forms of power-knowledge which are then enacted upon individuals.
I argue that Paraguayans, through their stylized discourse of machismo, have created rigid ideal types which men are expected to inhabit and by which men are perceived. The rigidity and well-defined categories found within these ideal types provide a framework by which Paraguayan men and women are able to organize and define their social relations with one another. However, the current ideal types found within the discourse of machismo further subjectify Paraguayans to only perceiving and describing men with strict and rigid definitions from which they cannot escape. Not one man in Paraguayan society fully inhabits the stylized machista ideal type. This creates an aberration in the discursive model which inhibits perceptions of Paraguayan men from inhabiting multiple categories of different ideal types or by not inhabiting the machista ideal type at all. The comments and perceptions that Paraguayan men and women have about machismo and Paraguayan men are focused on the stylized ideal types found in the discourse, but are not representative of the actual lived realities of Paraguayan men.