Strutting macho male, 'under stress,' is no longer king of the roost in Mexico

October 06, 1991|By John M. McClintockJohn M. McClintock | John M. McClintockJohn M. McClintock,Mexico City Bureau of The Sun

MEXICO CITY 2 — MEXICO CITY -- The macho Mexican male, that oversexed, philandering, self-described king of the Latin world, is having trouble at home.

No longer can he count on an adoring wife and a bevy of young mistresses.

The women are getting fed up, and so are some of the men.

The archetypal mustachioed hombre once strutted through life packing a pistol to symbolize his sexual potency.

Today the pistola has been replaced by a cellular phone.

The macho ideal was Pancho Villa, the turn-of-the century revolutionary general who married 21 times and had hundreds of lovers.

Pancho was considered "muy hombre" because in keeping with the macho credo, his sex drive was like the wind or rain, a force of nature that could not be contained.

But the lovers of today's Panchos are more likely to complain of premature ejaculation.

A recent soap opera about a reluctant mistress typifies the collapsing world of the macho. It was called: "I Don't Believe in Men."

Women are showing signs of breaking the rigid macho mold that defined them as either "whores" (non-married, working girls who become girlfriends) or "virgins" (good-girl wives who stay home with the children).

At a women-only male strip joint in Mexico City, one can see women from all classes, something unthinkable 10 years ago.

Now Mexican psychiatrists find that fewer women are willing to put up with the poor sexual performance of their macho husbands, said Dr. Jose Luis Alvarez, founder of the Mexican Sexology Institute.

"I'd say the macho world is under stress and that the clearest indication is the number of women who bring their husbands to be counseled for premature ejaculation," said Dr. Alvarez.

"It used to be that women were ignorant of their sexual capacity. Now they are insisting on orgasms."

At the same time, Mexican psychiatrists report an increase in impotence, particularly in marriages where the "good" wife adopts a more demanding or experimental sexual role, said Dr. Alvarez.

A wife's open sexuality is considered dirty by many Mexican men, since it challenges the macho belief that the man is the dominant partner. It is acceptable, however, in a "bad" girlfriend or mistress.

Other factors cutting into machismo are the threat of AIDS, the woman's use of contraceptives and the influence of "liberated" women in American films and television programs shown in Mexico.

But perhaps the major factor is economic. During the 1980s, when Mexico endured a severe recession, female participation in the work force increased 7 percentage points. Whereas women constituted only 12 percent of the work force in the heyday of the macho in 1950, today they are 32 percent.

As recently as 10 years ago, many middle-class girls would have stayed home, hoping to follow in the footsteps of their mothers by marrying a dominating macho and bearing his children. Today the girls have jobs and no longer view marriage as the only viable economic option.

"I'd say the macho is beginning to see his world in a state of collapse," said Carlos Monsivais, one of Mexico's most prominent columnists. "Because of the economic crisis, more women have been forced to work and are more independent. And most men no longer have the money to keep a mistress."

Geraldo Henriquez, an out-of-work macho engineer, laments that can afford only to treat his would-be mistress to an occasional cup of coffee. "Ten years ago I could have rented an apartment or a hotel room," he said.

As ideals, lifestyles and economic conditions change, many men and women find more traditional marriages uncomfortable. Though still low by Western standards, the number of divorces in Roman Catholic Mexico nearly doubled during the 1980-1990 economic crisis, from 22,000 to 41,000.

Take for example the rocky marriage of Roberto and Alicia, a young, upper-middle-class Mexico City couple who did not want their real names used.

Like his father, Roberto inherited the family business, and his friends believed he would pursue the life of a true macho. He would father a number of children and expect the saintly Alicia to stay at home while he bedded a series of pretty, lower-class young women.

But Alicia, an orthodontist, is economically independent. She doesn't want to have children, hates to cook and spends her spare time playing keyboard in a local rock band.

Roberto is now receiving therapy. It is he who wants a quiet family life. And, most un-macho of all, he'd rather cook than play around.

In the world of the macho, all women outside the home are fair game, a fact that has caused some attractive foreign tourists to cut short their vacations to avoid further pestering. Mexico City, after all, reserves special subway cars for women lest they be fondled, pinched and propositioned during the rush hour.

But even the macho's relentless pursuit may be changing.

"Frankly, I got tired of all this sexual stuff to impress other men," said a former finance chief for the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party who recently remarried.

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