Growing up in a Latinx household has its pluses and minuses. You likely grew up in a fun, colorful household that celebrated every life event with flair. You might have learned to speak another language or, at the very least, have mastered Spanglish by now. But there’s a dark side to growing up Latino, and that’s the machismo that is still prevalent in our culture.
As Alex Porteé wrote in mitú’s Fierce, every woman has a moment when she realizes that the cards are stacked against her and she is facing sexism. For her, it was a moment that many little Latina girls probably know well:
“I clued into this reality back when I was a kid watching TV on the couch with my twin brother (a.k.a my same aged brother who had no reason for being treated any differently than me). My mother had been in the kitchen when she called me over to clean up. It wasn’t the first time she’d asked for my help with cleaning, but it was the first time I realized I was the only one asked, and that it was total caca that my twin hadn’t been asked as well.”
I remember similar examples in my own childhood. Growing up, I was the older sister who was always tasked with cleaning up and doing everything. When I didn’t (which was rarely), I was grounded and not given my allowance. My little brother, though? He never had to do the dishes night after night or make the bathroom spotless every weekend. In fact, when he did something “bad,” he never had his allowance or video games taken away—it seems that in my machista household, only the girls received punishment. There are other signs, too, such as family always asking about your relationship and pressuring the girls in the family to settle down early (but never the boys).
As an adult, I now realize that this is just how things were and I’ve been able to forge a fierce, independent identity as a proud Latina woman and certainly one who will not allow these same mistakes to happen with my own kids. As my friend Mary Ann recently put it to me: “The good thing is that growing up with [my machista dad] taught me the importance of being in charge of my body and finances. I’m trying to teach my daughter and my son to take care of themselves and to respect the bodily autonomy of others.”
If you suspect that you grew up in a machista household, too, here are 15 ways to tell.
When your father controls all the money.
“He gave my mom an allowance of $100 a week, for groceries and anything else a household of eight might need. He was also a drunk and gambled a lot, so he forced my mom to be frugal but he himself was not. I still can’t wrap my head around that one.” — Charles
“Dad was an alcoholic with poor impulse control who spent money faster than he made it, but yelled at my mother for not doing a better job at keeping the bill collectors off his back.” — Mary Ann
When your father makes mom be a stay-at-home mom.
“My dad made my mom drop out of college and quit her job to be a stay-at-home mom because women aren’t supposed to work — causing us to live in poverty when we could have been a two-income household instead of one.” — Emmy
When your father expects his plate to be served at dinner.
“At last Thanksgiving, dad misunderstood when mom asked if he was ready to have dinner served. He walked over to the line and asked why the fuck he was called over if his plate wasn’t served. Other mealtime habits, [his] drink will be right in front of him, but he’ll have someone else serve him.” — Gabby
“My favorite is ‘the men eat first,’ even though he women are the ones who cooked the food. [We] eat last, right.” — Emmy
“Men eat first and men eat best. He bought himself steak and shrimp to eat on the regular because ‘he worked hard and deserved it.’ Hamburger meat and rice and beans were okay for the kids and wife, though.” — Mary Ann
When your father gives you mixed messages about your future.
“I feel like for me it was mixed messages about my future. On the one hand, my life is incomplete without a man and a child to look after. On the other hand, I must be independent and focus on my career.” — Valeria
“Yes, this sounds familiar! ‘You don’t need to worry about getting your Masters. You need to get your Mrs.’” — Sonya
When your father won’t let mother do anything that involved being around other men.
“My late father wouldn’t let my mother go back to school for her GED when I was little because ‘she’d be looking at other men’ and that wasn’t acceptable. She always had to walk behind or right next to him with her eyes downcast, because God forbid she’d make eye contact with some random male human.” — Mary Ann
When your father obviously favors the son over the daughter.
“For me, it was mostly the feeling that whenever my brother did something for the family, he was doing us a favor. While for me, being the girl, I had the obligation. The dynamic between my parents was very similar, my mother was expected to do a lot without anyone ever acknowledging her efforts, but when my dad did something at home, it was always celebrated and noted.” — Angela
When your father and other men in the family ask a LOT of the women.
“The dynamic in my family structure is that the men REALLY ask a lot of the women in our family, in terms of support, love, emotional labor, etc., but they get very irritated and mad when we advocate and stand up for ourselves. Lots of bruised egos and yelling matches. That to me is the biggest indicator, the weight of the emotional labor and the expectation that us women don’t need the same kind of support—that as long as we don’t want financially, we should not complain about anything.” — Valeria
“Even in my fairly liberal Latino family, women are always doing the cooking and cleaning at family functions. The men are always chilling with cervezas.” — Rebecca
When your father doesn’t trust women to drive.
“When your father doesn’t allow your mom to get a driver’s license, even though he’s never home and she needs to get five kids to the hospital, dentist, sports events, etc. Her best friend ended up teaching her after she’s been 17 years in this country.” — Leticia
“[My father] finally had to teach her how to drive when he needed back surgery, and even then he made her pull over about a block away from the hospital after his discharge because he didn’t trust her to drive home.” — Mary Ann
When your father and other men never really grow up.
“My grandmother still tucks in my uncle’s shirt.” — Susannah
When your father thinks it’s totally okay to cheat on your mom.
“My dad cheated on my mom, then told her he would continue doing it because he was frustrated in their marriage. She suggested an open marriage if that was how he felt, and he said the thought of her with other people made him sick. It was fine—cool, even—for him to have girlfriends. My mom could barely even have friends.” — Rebecca
When your father and mother have different standards for you and your brother.
“When you are told to clean and cook and stay inside at all times, but your brother is free to frolic outside with his friends. When your mom tells you ‘it’s a beautiful thing to wait until you are much older to have sex,’ but your brother of the same age gets laughter and applause from her and is handed condoms. When they make you go to a Catholic girl’s school because they fear the shame of having a daughter pregnant since that’s the worst thing they can imagine for a girl, but not for a boy… Even though boys can also father children? When they finally let you out of the house around age 17 because you say you’re a proud lesbian, and then they freak out that their insane rules gave them a lesbian daughter.” — Gerry
When your father can’t acknowledge that he needs to change.
“My dad damn near bites my head off when I suggest therapy for him to help him deal with his depression and emotional intelligence. He definitely thinks it’s emasculating.” — Valeria
When your father demands more children, whether or not mom wants them.
“He coerced my mother into having another child 13 years after me and my kid sister because he wanted to try for a boy. Then he didn’t like how my brother turned out (too “soft” and attached to my mom for his liking) and forced my mom into two more pregnancies. One resulted in a miscarriage and the other in a boy that he liked well enough, and who resembled him enough, so he was satisfied.” — Mary Ann
When your father drunkenly demeans your mom.
“On a recent family trip, my dad got drunk and kept saying that he is the best thing to ever happen to my mom. In particular, he was really proud of the two beautiful kids he gave her. But then he also said that in every relationship, one person settles and the other rises—and how he settled for her (because she’s less intelligent than him). He didn’t really understand why we all got mad at him for that.” — Irina