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‘The Gender of Tortillas’
The Meanings of Macho: Being A Man In Mexico City by Matthew C. Gutmann
© 2014 James LaFond
JUN/10/14
1996, University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, 330 pages, with tables, maps and photos
Matthew Gutmann, a young visiting scholar at the Center for United States-Mexican Studies at the University of California, San Diego, spent a year in Mexico City with his wife and infant daughter. The Gutmann’s resided in the Colonia Santo Domingo, a 150,000 person working class neighborhood that was built from scratch by 20,000 squatters who ‘parachuted in’ or ‘invaded’ an ancient undeveloped lava flow on the outskirts of the world’s largest city.
Without government assistance, and in the face of corrupt police and government goon squads, tens of thousands of poor rural people used muscle and dynamite to blast a foundation for a naturally paved neighborhood, even trucking in dirt. Due to the logistics of working outside the neighborhood and the threat of eviction, the women stayed behind and fought the goons and the cops while the men went off to work. This resulted in an area where women have more social parity with men than elsewhere in Mexico City.
Gutmann is a follower of Margaret Meade’s methodology, and was working under the aegis of a scholarly institution with a feminist bent. So, his work is stilted somewhat toward modern sociology rather than old school anthropology, which seems to regard the natural apex of human social evolution as a society without distinct gender roles. However, Gutmann shoots down as many feminist stereotypes about Latino men as he does masculine stereotypes. What he found was a neighborhood where four distinct labels were applied to various ‘types’ of men, my favorite being the mandilones [‘men bossed by women’]. I just know, that right now, somewhere in America, two Mexican landscapers are looking at some middleclass white dude making out the check for the work they did on his wife’s lawn, and shaking their head, ‘what a mandilone!’
What Gutmann found was that men ranged from stay at home drunks who beat their wives and sent them out to work, to partners in two-income families who often shared childcare duties, like keeping the baby in a cardboard box under their table at the fruit stand while their wife was taking care of some rich woman’s baby. The tone of manhood in Colonia Santo Domingo was dependent upon class, ethnicity, and alcohol use. In many cases Gutmann waxes apologetic—with a sly grin I wager as he was typing—about crashing the stereotypical images of Mexican men held by liberal upper class American scholars, which seemed to have been prejudiced by contact with liberal upper class Mexicans.
The cover is libel to turn many ‘masculinity’ readers off, with the picture of the man holding the baby in the guitar shop. However, this photo was the center of a study that Gutmann conducted identical to one of my own [See my article Alienation Nation on the Blog page]. The author ran into a Mestizo man in a guitar shop who was cradling an infant. He found this interesting as it went against type, and took the photo around and showed it to other residents of various classes, ethnicities, and genders. This is an excellent way to learn about local standards of behavior, perceptions, and prejudices.
Gutmann did note rising domestic violence and the reticence of men to discuss the subject, which he attributed to increased demands by women for more equity. He also sounded an ominous dystopian tone about the working Mexican’s outlook on the economic future of his country, which all but predicted the surge of immigration to America since. Despite this, it is notable what an anarchic/libertarian undertaking the founding of Colonia Santo Domingo was.
The Meanings of Macho is a highly informative book, which remains accessible for the general reader even as it exposes the methodologies and prejudices built into the social sciences.
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