No doubt you know the term machismo (from the Spanish ‘macho’) – most romantic heroes, after all, exude this quality. But what connotations does machismo have for you: positive or negative?
Certainly, definitions of the term lead to confusion:
Merriam-Webster: ‘an attitude, quality, or way of behaving that agrees with traditional ideas about men being very strong and aggressive’.
Oxford English Dictionary: ‘strong or aggressive masculine pride’.
Cambridge Dictionaries Online: ‘male behaviour that is strong and forceful, and shows very traditional ideas about how men and women should behave’.
Only Oxford leaves room for machismo to be a positive trait.
The interpretation of machismo is a question I had cause to ponder while writing my new novel Indiscretion. The story is set in 1950 in the south of Spain – a time and location when male pride was indomitable. My hero, Salvador, embodies this pride, and by necessity in his role within the family, he is macho. But does that mean he is ‘aggressive’ and ‘traditional’? Sometimes. But equally his machismo is rooted in a very positive sense of pride that is admirable for the heroine, Alexandra.
Machismo as negative
The term has existed for a long time in Spanish and Portuguese, and related mainly to the male position in taking care of the family. But come the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and ’70s, feminists began to use the term to suggest male aggression and even violence. Machismo came, to some, to represent a belief that the male is superior to the female; that macho men dominate women (such as the character of Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire). Frequently, the term was used to be synonymous with chauvinistic.
Machismo as positive
If machismo were purely about aggression, violence and domination, then why is the romance genre, in which macho men abound, the bestselling? Because, I’d argue, machismo is only negative in the extreme. In fact, machismo has plenty of positive connotations as well.
Academics point to a fellow term from Spanish: caballerismo. A caballero is a gentleman, and caballerismo relates to honour and chivalry. Machismo can embody this caballerismo. Macho men can be honourable, loyal, responsible and fiercely courageous.
Certainly, this is an apt description of my character Salvador. He is strong, he is virile, he is a man to take charge. He is very loyal to his family and those he sees as his responsibility. But above all, he has machismo in the Oxford sense: ‘strong masculine pride’. His sense of honour is so strong, he cannot forgive himself for an indiscretion; his honour is, ultimately, that which defines him but also that which places him in danger of losing the woman he truly loves.
So there you have it, machismo, a multi-layered trait. Do you look for this in a romantic hero? How much machismo is desirable and how much unattractive? Are there elements of machismo no romantic hero should embody? I would love to hear your thoughts.