- Olena Strzelbicka
What are Micromachismos?: Understanding Everyday Sexism
Updated: Oct 19, 2021
The world we live in today presents many challenges for women and girls. It seems that we can’t read the news without hearing about how gender inequalities manifest themselves in our society. These inequalities are made up of many different ‘small’ behaviours that build up over time to produce what we would label as discrimination or inequality, to name a few. So, is there a term for these common occurrences?
The term micromachismos, made up of the words micro (small) and machismo, was first coined by psychologist Luis Bonino Méndez in 2004. Rooted in the Spanish language, Bonino Méndez believes that micromachismos refer to ‘subtle acts of violence that take place in daily life and are for the most part unperceived. Yet, they reflect and strengthen machista attitudes and the inequality of women with respect to men at a subconscious level’.
"subtle acts of violence that take place in daily life and are for the most part unperceived"
To understand this term, let’s unpack the Spanish terms machista and machismo. In Latin American culture and academic writing, machismo often refers to ‘a social behaviour pattern’ in which the male sees himself as superior to the female whether it be socially or physically. In a nutshell, machismo describes hypermasculinity and an exaggerated sense of pride and power of the male. Therefore, machista attitudes would be those that reflect these hypermasculine values. For example, a machista attitude could be the belief that men should be the breadwinners and decision makers of the household. Similarly, a type of machista behaviour could be violence against women. As a result, these attitudes and behaviours combined (micromachismos) slowly eat away at gender equality over time.
It’s all in the details. Forget the headline-stealing, shocking and sexist behaviour that we see on the news all the time. There are smaller yet equally damaging human behaviours at play, often undetected. It is the invisibility of micromachismos that makes them so detrimental to gender equality. Many women have normalised and accepted situations experienced everyday as part of their lives. Dark alleyway? I’ll just take a detour. Some guy manspreading on the bus? I’ll just sit at the back, it’s fine. Or is it?
More often than not, these internal monologues happen automatically and we adjust our actions accordingly based on what we have been taught to expect.
It’s worth mentioning that, initially, machismo started off as a term with positive connotations to describe decisive and responsible men who cared for their families, what you might know as a macho man. However, nowadays, machismo is more associated with its negative characteristics like the ones mentioned above. One quick Google search of the term will bring up endless articles about machista violence, especially in Latin America.
The four types of micromachismos
Bonino Méndez divides micromachismos into four types:
The belief that there are skills typically considered as ‘feminine’ such as cooking, cleaning and childcare. For example, assuming that women know how to cook or are responsible for maintaining a clean house. Education of children plays a huge role in how often we see this micromachismo in our society. The language we use and how it differs, the books that pupils read in school and how teaching material depicts the differences between boys and girls are all instrumental in the creation of this belief.
Subtle emotional manipulation of women with the aim of making their desires invisible. For example, a man telling a woman that he will carry a heavy item for her because he subconsciously considers her to be physically weaker than him, even if the woman wants to carry the item herself. These kinds of comments don’t often have a malicious intent but rather are the product of an upbringing and education in a sexist and unequal society that teaches us to see men and women as unequal.
Blaming the woman during difficult moments such as an argument in a relationship, making her the scapegoat for all problems. This is often accompanied by gaslighting (causing an individual to constantly doubt themselves, their actions and how they perceive situations).
Exploitation of male superiority to exercise power over the woman and limit her decision making. For example, where a man has more money than a woman and insists on paying for something because he knows he is able to, even if the woman wants to pay her share regardless of her economic status. Also, a man who projects his perceptions of how a woman should act onto the woman. Does ‘that’s no way for a lady to act!’ sound familiar?
The common link between all four micromachismo types is that they are the consequence of the world that we live in and the values that have been taught to us from an early age. It has taken us a long time to question these commonly accepted behaviours and how they undermine gender equality in our society.
Microactions to end micromachismos
These subtle acts of violence will not be eradicated overnight. However, by actively looking out for them and challenging individuals whose actions are influenced by machista attitudes, we can begin to deconstruct and re-define what we have learned about gender. If we question the social gender ‘norms’ around us, we can begin a conversation around machismo and how it influences our everyday lives.
The most important thing is to not accept things as they are and to speak out against inequality. It can start from striking up a conversation with a family member or friend, reading up on the topic, supporting women’s movements in our communities and beyond. The most important work we can do, though, is to reflect on and re-evaluate our own actions and belief systems. The things that we have been taught are not set in stone. Our world can only get better once we decide to take ‘microaction’ and educate ourselves. Billions of collective ‘microactions’ are the step forward to fighting against micromachismos.
For more resources on women's rights, head to our dedicated Gender Issues & Feminism section.