Macho, the derivative of machismo, appears to have a fairly wide range of definitions. On what might be considered on the surface to be a positive take on the word, the Cambridge Dictionary defines machismo as a “strong pride in behaving in a way that is thought to be typically male, esp. by showing strength and power.” I guess the ambiguity comes from the phrase “typically male.” Some might say that a typical male has an unusually high or exaggerated sense of masculinity. including an attitude that aggression, strength, sexual prowess, power and control is the measure of someone’s manliness. A macho man feels having these traits entitles him to respect and obedience from men and women around him. The key words here are exaggerated and obedience. This poses the question. Is it possible to have pride in one’s masculinity, to seek respect as a man yet not attempt to forcibly control or dominate others – especially women?
I would answer with a strong affirmative. Men can be macho in the light rather than the shadow when they express their masculinity in ways that earn respect not demand it and do not attempt to dominate others – especially women – just because they are male. A good example would be comparing a dictator or bully with an elected or chosen leader. The dictator seizes power through aggression, coercion and usually some aspect of violence to control the environment. In contrast, an elected or peer selected leader earns the respect of those who put him in power through a proven record of accomplishment. Both the dictator and the elected leader can be labeled “macho” but with obvious differences.
Certainly it is legitimate to ask how we would characterize a female dictator or bully? Probably some would label her behavior as “macho” with the implication that she is acting like a typical aggressive dominating man. Again those are the shadow traits of being macho. The challenge for men in our gender sensitive world is to figure out how to take pride in being a man without being labeled as a domineering misogynist. This can only happen through the expression of their machismo in the light. This is critically important especially for younger men trying to figure out the differences between a gender equal and a gender neutral society.