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What was regarded as “common sense” in Argentina about gender roles and stereotypes has, in the last ten years or so, become more and more nonsensical in the public eye. The types of images and language being used has kept roughly the same connotations over and over, from the very beginnings of Argentine media to today. In this article, we’ll take a look back at the foundation of machismo, a type of sexism that’s specific to our Latin-American culture. One of the main points is that there are certain tropes that link machismo to national identity. A couple of decades ago, to be Argentine and male meant conforming and living according to machismo’s ideals. What has changed? How has that change taken place and where is it most easily noticed?
Here’s a first attempt: How they’ve become so entwined is more a matter of archetype – some even link it to the times of the Spanish Conquista – than of stereotype. Which means that machismo as a hyper-masculine, aggressive, and violently sexual role came before our worst Tinelli TV specials. Another characteristic of the machista, which we’ll also come to in a bit, is talking openly about sex – which is not to be confused with being open about sexuality; the machista goes after women like a “Conquistador”: think “Latin Lover,” or the label “crime of passion.”
If you add machismo to the “viveza criolla,” you get an explosive cocktail of men in power distancing themselves from the violence they’ve caused (which explains, for example, actor Juan Darthes’ response to being accused of sexual harassment by Calu Rivero), or women blaming other women. No wonder we have an Argentine refrain that goes, “La culpa siempre es del otro” (it’s always the other person’s fault).
So, without delving into other socio-historical causes and effects that have made this change at least possible (which would require a Ph.D.), let’s dissect three of the most relevant areas in which that change is starting to happen in Argentina: film, music and television.
Spinsters, Vedettes, and Virginal Girls: The First Representations of Women in Argentine Film
Though probably forgotten by most who are not in academia or over 70 (sorry, abuela!), one of the first Argentine films to be released with sound in 1933, “Los Tres Berretines” (“berretín” is an antiquated term for a want, desire, or illusion), illustrates three popular obsessions associated with the new Argentine middle class of the thirties: football, tango, and the movies.
Sound familiar? In the movie, a middle-class father (played by then-newcomer comedian Luis Sandrini) is upset because his wife and daughter spend most of their time going to the movies instead of taking care of the house, in addition to his eldest son being an aspiring football star and the other, a frustrated composer.
These three things have been, for at least a century, the main identifiers of what it means to be Argentine and, even more so, what it means to be a man. Each had its own market and subculture, be it paid club associations or record company deals with the newest movie stars, and they equally set the grounds for a new figure in popular culture: the farándula, a.k.a. Argentine celebrities. Through these public personae, the new immigrant middle-class came together to admire, imitate, and revere the rich and famous, be it their style, their behavior, or their beliefs.
We could add a fourth berretín, which ties all three together: the new female presence. This counterpointed another, less traditional model of masculinity as embodied by the aspiring composer: the “hombre llorón,” or crybaby, whose Tango lyrics told stories of nostalgia, of being left by a woman, and having to avenge the injustice of being single.
It’s a berretín in that this type of masculinity – played by the likes of Carlos Gardel – portrayed men as both the victim and the embodiment of justice, and women as objects to be obsessed over (the lyrics to one of these songs reads: “creole guitar / you’re the only broad / that never fails me”). Under this newfound sensitivity lies some good old-fashioned machismo. One of the running themes in these commercial, highly-grossing films were the “education” of women to fulfill their roles as perfect housewives, all while displaying the classic stereotypes in which women seemed to unequivocally fall: the solterona (“spinster”), the innocent virgin, or the “funny one.”