Matthew Gutmann is an anthropologist who writes books turning his experiences and knowledge into phrases that teach a lesson that cannot be ignored. As a Professor of Anthropology at Brown University he is familiar with the gender bias inherent in society and it is this gender role that he discusses in his books. Before writing The Meanings of Macho: Being a Man in Mexico City, Gutmann lived for a year in the town of Colonia Santo Domingo. His reason for staying here was that he wanted to experience first hand the community culture and norm so as to understand the social dynamics that created the 'Macho Man'.
Gutamann realized that there had to be some difference between the stereotype of the violent and angry Mexican and the 'real' man. So, he began his research, which would give him an astounding insight into the truth behind the concept of 'machosim'. Living in Colonia for a year he found that the reality was so far from the image popular in society that it was astounding. Men who got drunk were rare, they helped in household chores and pitched in with child care. Thus, his book is a rare insight into the Mexican family system.
Summary and Theme
Gender roles, changing dynamics of gender relationships and the social system within which they exist has fascinated social researchers for decades. Matthew Gutmann is no exception. Writing on the concept of Machoism and its changing perceptions through the decades and across borders, Gutmann presents the theory that the stereotype of the Macho Man is merely an image that distorts the truth and renders the society incapable of helping the Mexican society change. The truth is that the Mexican Men are struggling to make a living in face of exploitation. The 'macho men' society so derides are rethinking their cultural traditions and gender roles and allowing modern society to redefine the concept of the honorable man.
The book is valuable in terms of research and provides an ethnographic insight into a changing society. Gender diversity and role changes have fascinated the sociologists for years for these issues have the ability to completely change the way a society functions.
Matthew Gutmann has created a study of machoism in Latin America focusing on Mexico. Through his research he overturns the stereotypes and presents that Mexico men are surprisingly modern. The image of machoism has merely become a symbol of the past. The Meanings of Macho suggests that Mexican men are sensitive, open minded and willing to help their wives around the house. Like most their contemporaries around the world they talk about sex, socialize with their families and are willing to relate to their wives in terms of communication. Gutmann reveals that women are responsible for helping the males change in their static beliefs and have created social forces similar to those changing societies around the world. It is one of the first ethnography's on machoism and as Gutmann states in Chapter 1, he wrote this book in a sense to, "undo our ability to speak of a unitary Mexican man, or Mexican urban men, or even a Mexican working class man, in any reasonable manner." (p. 3)
Chapter 1: Real Mexican Machos are Born to Die: In Chapter 1 Gutmann presents that the Mexican macho stereotype is an idea created only because the world society cannot perceive the issue through the concept of multiple Mexican masculinities, thus he states that, 'this book is an examination of the dialectic between engendered meanings and social power.' (p. 12)
Chapter 2: The Invasion of Santo Domingo: About how the city which he studies began its course to change in reference to social forces.
Chapter 3: Imaginary Fathers - Genuine Fathers: This chapter outlines the role of fathers as perceived by men and women, society and then Mexican men today.
Chapter 4: Motherly Presumptions: Gutmann presents past notions society has of the role of men and women and then presents the contradictions present within these notions as pertinent to Mexican society.
Chapter 5: Men's Sex: This chapter focuses on Colonia Santo Domingo, but uses examples from the lives of men and their roles in society to prove that the concept of sex is changing in Mexico. It disproves through case presentations, past preconceptions of the male sex and sexuality.
Chapter 7: Degendering Alcohol: The image of the macho Mexican men is one of a drunk degenerate that beats women and yet, through his research Gutmann in this chapter degenders the perception of Mexican men being alcoholics.
Chapter 6: Diapers and Dishes, Words and Deed: Gutmann suggests that the concept of men working and women taking care of the house in Mexico is no more. At times both men and women work so men have become active members of household chores.
Chapter 8: Fear and Loathing in Male Violence: Through creating a scenario where Mexican society is shown to be different in their definitions of violence Gutmann disproves that all types of violence in Mexican society is considered Machoism.
Chapter 9: Machismo: This Chapter is about how to "describe and account for these mixed and changed sentiments regarding macho and machismo." (222)
Chapter 10: Creative Contradictions: This chapter suggests that as the society changes concepts of gender and identity too have changed, becoming less dependent on past cultures, concepts and characteristics.
Writing a book targeted at the Western world, Gutmann attempts to overcome the social forces that balk at changing preconceived notions. Past ideas that have romanticized the image of the Macho Man in Mexico and now past researchers and media depictions have reinforced this image. We are as products of Western superiority unwilling to allow for the fact that we may be wrong. Gutmann has aimed to target the reader in a manner that will show them that the images we have held are no longer valid. He presents that the media is wrong.
Through intricate detail that first shows us the past and then the way the Mexican man has changed, Gutmann recreates the society.
Gutmann is an expert at presenting data and challenging the status quo. He does not merely write down the data he reinforces each statement with real life case studies and thus, validates his research. He deftly shows the reader that there is no bias involved by keeping the analysis to a minimum and focusing on the facts. His case studies create a more vivid picture and allow the reader to understand and relate to the men who have been so misunderstood.
However while he effectively relates the concept of machoism in Mexico and the changes that have been created he does not inform his reader why these changes have taken place. What his research lacks is an effective analysis. Trying to keep out assumptions and analysis has caused his book to be less effective in terms of making an impact on his readers. While he presents facts well he fails to give opinions, which would help the reader, decide on the concept of machoism one way or another. What Gutmann should have done was provide the reader the reasons of the changes taking place in the lives of Mexicans. These would invariably be economic deprivation, political upheaval, feminist movement and the influence of the media.
The Meanings of Macho is definitely a book that challenges the past perception of Machoism and yet, it fails to define exactly what Machoism is. Gutmann it seems perceives it as a cultural facet and thus changing with the societies in question. He believes that what is considered Macho in Mexico is something entirely different in the U.S. And vice versa.
So at times, instead of being a look into the concept of machoism the book becomes a relation of social activity and the factors involved in controlling gender dynamics. Consider for example when he states that the West considers Mexico a patriarchal society and women staying home a consequence of machoism. By arguing that it is not always an extension of machoism if women stay at home he contends that every society is different and gender roles defined by individuals can be by choice-thus, rendering the concept of machoism in these circumstance invalid.
The Meanings of Macho has received critical reviews that usually fall in favor of the author. According to Schwalbe (1997), 'Anyone interested in contemporary Mexican culture and especially gender relations and masculinity in Mexico should check out The Meanings of Macho.' He states that the book provides an insight to the difference between the U.S. And Mexican society making the social problems faced in the U.S. easier to understand. Levinson (1997) in his review suggested that Gutmann's critique portrayed 'Mexicans as inexorably bound to a monolithic standard of macho or marianista behavior'. Then by focusing on the "cultural creativity" of men and women...he shed important light on the construction of masculinities and femininities across regions, communities, and epochs.
Bullock (1998) in his review of the book suggests that…