Monday, March 28, 2011

Machismo and Marianismo in Ciudad Guayana, Venezuela

When considering gender roles and behaviors in Latin America, perhaps the most defining concepts are machismo for males and marianismo for females. Machismo is a widely recognized phenomenon defined by the “cult of virility”, more or less, competition between males and male sexual aggression toward females (Stevens, 4). Marianismo is a less known, but equally prevalent, phenomenon defined by the the moral and spiritual superiority of women, with the Virgin Mary as the ideal woman. Machismo and marianismo reflect a gender binary in Latin America in which both sexes coexist in their varying characteristics. In this, there is a division of labor based on sex (Stevens, 5). Machismo places men in the public sphere (the workplace, politics, and bars for example), while marianismo keeps women in the private sphere (the home). While machismo puts a great deal of responsibility on men, mainly to earn money and support their families, it works with marianismo to place other burdens on women and allow men to be lazy in other areas. Although women typically do not have the responsibility of making money, all other responsibilities, such as bearing and raising children, maintaing the home, and keeping a moral atmosphere in the family, fall on them. Women’s lack of financial power, a result of machismo, works along with marianismo to produce a culture in which women must stay faithful to their husbands despite infidelity or abuse. If a woman is financially dependent on a man, she must tolerate his laziness or aggression in the way of the female martyr. She accepts her suffering as part of the role of a woman and also accepts her role as a model of faith for her children, whereas the husband is allowed to stray from the narrow path. During my time spent at a Roman Catholic mission in Venezuela, I saw the reality of the machismo-marianismo culture, but I also noted distinct trends that showed a move away from these traditional gender roles.
A major problem for young men in Ciudad Guayana is gang violence. Men typically form gangs within their barrios and designate that barrio as “their turf”. If men from outside the gang step into a barrio that has already been claimed by a particular gang, it is considered disrespectful and violence often ensues in defense of the turf. The men who participate in this violent subculture are gangsters known as “malandros”. Most are school drop-outs and abuse drugs. They can be seen loitering at all hours of the day. The violence is such that the priests with whom I lived said funerals on a weekly basis for victims of gang violence. Gun shots were also a nightly occurrence.
The gang violence in Ciudad Guayana is a very accurate reflection of the machismo that exists in greater Latin America. It takes place completely in the streets, the public sphere that men dominate because of machismo. Machismo also fosters both camaraderie and competition between males, both of which are key in gang relations. To become part of a gang a male must prove to meet the male standards set up by gang leaders and he will later form a bond with other gang members based on their maleness, competing in what they consider a friendly manner. While the relationships between members of the same gang may be violent and competitive, all of this is set aside when there is a perceived threat from another gang. This usually involves on gang trespassing on the supposed property of another, an unacceptable offense to the machismo culture of ownership, pride, and control. The competition between gangs is a direct result of the sense of entitlement and need to prove oneself that males have in machismo culture.
Another aspect of machismo that is especially common in Ciudad Guayana is infidelity. There is a great disparity in the ratio of men to women in Ciudad Guayana with many more women than men. Some of the residents with whom I conversed estimated that there are as much as four women to every one man, which creates an unusually high level of competition between women for the attention of men. Due to this gender imbalance, the men are very easily able to have multiple sexual partners. This is quite typical of Latin American culture because machismo dictates men to prove themselves through sexual aggression and the drive to reproduce as much as possible. Marianismo tells women to accept their partners’ infidelity as part of life’s suffering, but not to engage in infidelity themselves. However, the culture I discovered in Ciudad Guayana was one that defied traditional marianismo in that women had multiple sexual partners as well. It was a rarity to find a couple in which both partners were sexually faithful.
I talked to many teenagers and most were willing to admit, without hesitation, that they had more then one girlfriend or boyfriend. As a result of this promiscuity, HIV and AIDS and teenage pregnancies have become a serious problem. Machismo culture also dictates that men should not have to wear condoms, which greatly exacerbates these serious social and health problems. Dr. Luz Rodriguez, who occasionally works at the parish at which I stayed, estimates that 25 percent of the girls in the area between the ages of 13 and 15 become pregnant, some getting pregnant as young as age 11. Some of the local teenagers I talked to told me that most kids start experimenting with sex at age 12. They told me that many of their friends have gotten pregnant and, because abortion is illegal in Venezuela, some have tried to perform abortions on themselves or have sought unqualified help to have illegal abortions. Many young women die as a result of botched and unsanitary abortions. This is a living example of a de-facto shift in the culture away from machismo-marianismo, even if the written code of Venezuela still reflects the traditional Latin American gender roles. Abortion is completely contrary to marianismo because marianismo tells women that being a mother and raising their children is their main purpose in life. Like the Virgin Mary, they are meant to be sacred vessels of human life and they are obligated to serve this purpose without questioning their role. Marianismo uplifts women as the only ones worthy of the honor to carry a child and to have an abortion is to deny this honor. I was surprised to find that so many women and girls have had abortions because of its blatant defiance of marianismo. This helped me to see the slow shift in the populous away from marianismo, although the laws still reflect marianismo standards.
HIV/AIDS has been on the rise in Ciudad Guayana in recent years as well. I met a young mother with four children named Milagro. Milagro had been in what she thought to be a committed relationship until she discovered that she and her youngest two children had HIV. Milagro’s husband had cheated on her, in typical machismo fashion, and unknowingly contracted the HIV virus. He subsequently spread it to Milagro and the two younger children were born with the virus. Milagro’s husband died a few years ago and Milagro was left with no income and no way to feed or cloth her children. She began working as a prostitute to earn money, which helps spread HIV in Ciudad Guayana. Milagros story is a very common one in Ciudad Guayana. Most women get pregnant at a young age and drop out of school. Thus, when their partner abandons them or dies, they are left without a means of supporting themselves and they turn to prostitution. Prostitution is another contradiction of marianismo because it defies the culture of purity. Marianismo sets Mary, a virgin even in her own marriage, as the model of perfection. To be a prostitute is to contradict Mary’s example of virginity. Prostitution, on the part of the male customer however, fits in very well with machismo culture. Machismo culture encourages men to pursue sexual activity with any number of women and it entitles them to seek alternate sources of pleasure if their wife fails to satisfy his “needs”. Male transvestite prostitution is also common in Ciudad Guayana. Becoming a transvestite directly contradicts the ideals of machismo. Dressing as a woman, allowing yourself to take a woman’s role in sex and letting someone else purchase and objectify you are all very strong contradictions to what a man should do according to machismo.
One of the ideas of marianismo is that women are morally superior to men and are responsible for the morality if their husbands and children. I noticed that within my uncle’s parish, most of the active members of the church are women. Even at daily masses most of the people in attendance are women with just a few men mixed in. One of the most active groups in the church is the Legion of Mary, the members of which are all older females. The primary roles this legion were fundraising for the church and community outreach. The women raise money by making empanadas or pizza to sell after worship. They also work in the area surrounding their church, taking care of the sick and feeding the hungry. The nature of the Legion of Mary directly corresponds to women’s role in marianismo-machismo culture. Most obviously, the group’s patroness is the Virgin Mary and thus, it reflects the Virgin’s perceived moral perfection, selfless caring, and suffering. The women address community problems unquestioningly because it is their responsibility to adopt the suffering of the people around them.
According to machismo, men are supposed to provide for and protect their family. but because the unemployment rate in Ciudad Guyana is close to 70%, men are unable to earn money for their families. Most homes in Ciudad Guayana are headed by females and even in homes that are male-led, most men do not financially contribute to the household. Maria, one of the women who worked at the parish was the head of her household, is an example of this phenomenon. She has four children with the same man, a fisherman on whom the family depended for their food. He is very undependable and only comes home at his convenience without considering his machismo obligation to feed his offspring. Maria decided she needed to take charge of her situation so she went to the church for help. She got a job cleaning the church and the parish helped her move out of her metal shack and to purchase a house. She and her daughters now have a sense of stability, but their father only stops by once in a while. Although women in the marianismo culture are supposed to live in the private sphere, most women of Ciudad Guayana are now realizing that the machismo drive to provide for the family is weakening. They have to get an education in order to get a job and support themselves and their children. The church offers many classes that help people get training that will help them find employment. However, some women still aspire to be mistresses of wealthy men from the neighboring town of Porto Ordaz. This way, they can have his children and receive child support to avoid having to work. While this kind of aspiration beyond a life of suffering does not necessarily reflect the self-deprecating marianismo, it still keeps women in the private family sphere.
Throughout my education in Latin American Studies I have read and heard a lot about marianismo and machismo. During my stay in Ciudad Guayana I was able to see some of these concepts in reality, but I was also able to recognize deviations from these concepts. I began to realize how complex the reality of machismo and marianismo is and how they could penetrate most facets of daily life in Ciudad Guayana. Although these two gender norms are supposed to complement each other, it seemed to me that in order for machismo to succeed, women had to put aside the moral guidelines of marianismo. It also seemed to me that the reality of machismo might be shifting away from the role of the man as head of the house and toward a more sexually promiscuous, uncommitted role. The fact that this shift in the focus of machismo is occurring means that many more women are moving away from marianismo and becoming more sexually promiscuous or must enter the public work world in order to comply. Being in Ciudad Guayana helped bring to life many of the concepts I have learned about over the last four years and it gave me a more realistic vision of the complexities of and deviations from the gender norms.

Yeager, Gertrude M.. "Evelyn P. Stevens, Marianismo: The Other Face of Machismo." Confronting Change, Challenging Tradition: Woman in Latin American History (Jaguar Books on Latin America). Wilmington: SR Books, 1997. 3-16. Print.

Monday, May 3, 2010


Below is a list of slang words that are commonly used in this region of Venezuela. WARNING! Many are inappropriate.

Malandro: Gangster (usually refers to teenagers or young adults who have dropped out of school, use drugs and are violent)

Como está la vaina?: How is everything? ( “Vaina” literally means “sheath” and is sometimes used as a slang word for “vagina”)

Perilla: Literally means “goatee” but the slang version means “pussy” and is used as a derogatory term for women.

Chamo: Guy or Dude

Epale: “My man.” used between guys who are friends.

Llave: literally means “key” but in slang it is used like “Bro” or “Cuz” are used in english.

Mi pana: My friend

Echar una: literally it means to “lay one down” but the slang meaning is “to have sex.”

Entrar pingaso: To punch someone hard

Joder: to beat the crap out of someone

Rescado: adj. Drunk

Tener una pea: To be really drunk “hammered”

un ratón: literally means “mouse” but in slang means “a hangover”

Pinga: Huge

Nahguarah: “Oh!” or a surprised expression

Coño: to fuck

Fumar un pito: To smoke a joint (smoke weed.) Pito literally means whistle

Verga!: Oh Fuck!

Echar la paja: to masturbate or gossip

Hablar la paja: To talk badly about someone, Talk Shit.

Pipe: Dick

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Maria’s X-rated Birthday Party

The Other weekend , Pablo and I were invited to the birthday party of a woman who worked as a janitor at the church. Maria was turning 40 (although you wouldn’t have guessed it by the “youthful” way she dressed) and was having a party at her house to celebrate. Father Greg bought a cake and some alcohol as a gift and when we got there we discovered that it was a sex themed party. Maria had a penis pinata hanging from the middle of the room and as we entered she stuck a penis or breast shaped pin on us. We also played a very x-rated version of pin the tail on the donkey that even my cousin, a Catholic Priest, was forced into playing . What made the party even more unbelievable is that Maria’s four pre-teen and teenage daughters (the oldest of which was pregnant) and their father was there. Most of the guests got drunk and were openly joking and talking about sex even though there were children in the room. The decorations and activities where like those of a bachelorette party in the U.S. but I am told that sex-themed parties are very common here in Venezuela for many different occasions.


While in Ciudad Guayana, I have had the opportunity to try many new foods. Almost everyday for breakfast, Pablo and I walk to a neighbor’s who sells empanadas out of her house. They are not the wheat flour and cheese empanadas that I am used to. Instead they have an outside shell made of corn flour and they are stuffed with shredded beef, chicken, fish, beans, plantains or cheese. Then they are deep fried. Here in Venezuela empanadas are served only at breakfast and in the evening they serve pastelitos which are the same thing as the empanadas but wheat flour is used to make the pastry like shell. Both empanadas and pastelitos are served with a mayonase based dipping sauce. Very fattening but very delicious.
Another extremely common food is arepas. Arepas are a deep fried corn bread. Sometimes they are made with yellow corn flower and are sweet. These are served with butter or cheese. Other times the arepas are made out of white corn flour and are cut open and stuffed with a variety of ingredients to make a sort of sandwich. Arepas are an extremely important staple in the Venezuelan diet because they are very cheap and easy to make, but unfortunately they have very little nutritional value so many children here are under nourished.
One thing that I have tried and liked very much are the cachapas. They are a sort of huge, thick pancake also made out of corn flour, with melted butter and cheese on top. Cachapas are usually served with some sort of meat like steak or sausage.

Religion in Ciudad Guayana

Ciudad Guayana had about 800,000 Catholics but only 44 Catholic Priests. Of those 44 priests only about 20 are Venezuelan. The rest are missionary priests form the U.S., Germany, Spain, Poland, Italy and France. Many of the lay people what more attention from the priests then the priests are capable of giving because of the huge disparity. In recent years many of the lay who want more attention from their religious leaders, have converted to Evangelicalism. There are many more Evangelist leaders then Catholic Priests in Ciudad Guayana because it is much easier to become one. Evangelist leaders only need about 6 months of training, As apposed to years of training that Catholics require, and they don’t take vows of abstinence or poverty. It is hard to say exactly how many Evangelical churches are in ciudad Guayana because many are run out of homes and even in the street. My uncle predicts that in his parish, which has one Catholic church and four chapels, there are about 50 Evangelical churches. At most of these churches you must “donate” to attend services. They even have revivals out in the parks were they will exercise people in order to rid them of evil spirits. In order to recruit people they will go door to door in the barrios and preach. They have even come to my uncles house a few times when I was sitting on the porch but Lucy, My uncle’s fierce German Shepherd, had scared them off. From What I have heard from my uncle, most Evangelicals in his area preach a more negative message saying that if you do not join them then you will go to hell.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Price Control

One of Chavez’s biggest projects in Venezuela is trying to control the price of the basic needs such as sugar, milk, and meat. I witnessed the enforcement of this price control the other week when I was at the mall. My husband and I went downtown with Milagro, a friend on my uncle. She took us to the mall and we saw a huge line at the grocery store. We asked the people in line what they were waiting for and found out that the line was for sugar. We continued through the mall for about an hour and saw that the steadily moving line was just as long as it was an hour ago. Milagro decided to call my uncle to ask if he needed sugar. He said he did so we got in line. Each family was allowed to buy 7 bags (1 Kg each) of sugar. Members of the military were there to enforce the 7 bag rule and to keep order. To get the most sugar possible, we had to pretend we didn't know each other. We each got 7 bags and proceeded to the checkout. The checkout lines were extremely long and it took about an hour to pay. The sugar cost 2.5 bolivares per bag (about $0.75 USD). A couple of days later at an outdoor produce market, we saw people selling sugar for 8 bolivares per Kg.
Today Chavez’s daily TV show was about hunger and price control. He broadcast his show from a warehouse of the government run grocery store, Mercal. He interviewed employees and checked the prices of all the foods. He then compared the prices that Mercal charged to the prices that the “capitalists” charges. He had a whole table of different products that each had a sign with Mercal’s price and the “capitalist’’ price. For example he had a bag of ice tea mix and it said that Mercal’s price was 2.5 bolivares and the “capitalist’s” price was 4.5 bolivares.
I am not exactly sure who he meant by “the capitalists” but I think he was referring to small privately owned grocery stores that would but their products from Mercal and sell it for profit. After he compared the prices of the products he asked a lady from his audience if that scared her. During his tour of the warehouse he would also point out products produced in Venezuela and claim it was the best in the world.
After the tour, Chavez gave a speech to the employees of Mercal, and a Catholic priest. He praised Mercal for for being a good socialist company, owned by the people of Venezuela. Chavez announced his plan to help Mercal expand so that they can put the, overpriced, capitalist grocery stores out of business. He wants everyone in Venezuela to have easy access to affordable, price controlled food. He talked a lot about how socialism has eradicated hunger in Venezuela and that hunger really doesn’t exist in Venezuela anymore.
During my time in Venezuela I have realized that the cost of living is very high. The only grocery stores within walking distance have Chinese owners and it is very expensive. Not many who live here have a car and are able to drive to the cheaper grocery stores. The price to get to one in a cab is about $7.50. Expanding the Mercal markets will defiantly increase socialism’s presence in Venezuela.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The US Dollar in Venezuela

When my husband Pablo and I arrived in the Caracas International airport many people would walk by us and whisper “Change dollar.” Although we thought is was a little strange that they were acting secretive we didn't think much of it and we decided to change the little USD that we had at an authorized money exchanging booth instead. They gave us a rate of 4.2 Bolivares per dollar. A lady working at the Venezuelan tourism office informed us that we could get 5.2 Bolivares for every dollar if we change it on the streets but she did not explain why they offered a better rate in the streets that at the money exchange booths. When we arrived in Puerto Ordaz we asked my cousin, Father Greg Schaffer, why you can get a better exchange rate on the streets. He explained that the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, has made it illegal to have US dollars in Venezuela because his opposition uses the US dollar. So for a Venezuelan citizen or company to get or have US dollars they must get a permit, which requires a lot of paperwork, or they can try to illegally buy them from US tourists but with the risk of punishment.
This reminded me of a story that one of my high school spanish teachers had told us about Cuba. She was born in Cuba and when she was very young Castro took over. He, like Chavez. made it illegal to have the US dollar. My teacher’s grandfather owned a vending machine company that operated in the US so he had a lot of US change. He did not want to get caught with this money so he brought all his US money to a field in the middle of no where and his family helped him scatter it around. He was so afraid of the consequences he would face if he got caught with the money that he had to throw it away.
Chavez identifies as a socialist but I find it very alarming that he is using the same extreme tactics as communist leader Fidel Castro, to take power away from his opposition.