A couple of days before the picture of Bruno Gerussi, which appears on the cover of this Maclean’s, was taken — at a time when I was worrying the idea of the new machismo around in my mind — I saw a man who by his very presence brought the whole subject into focus. It was after a children’s concert at my daughter’s school in midtown Toronto, and among all the mamas in their fur coats standing around outside in the snow waiting for their offspring to emerge triumphant was this guy in the prime of his young middle age, a junior partner in an important law firm, maybe, or a stockbroker from one of the big downtown houses, wearing an expensive navy-blue overcoat and a rep tie. He was lean in the manner of somebody who plays a lot of squash and he had this great Celtic coloring, thick black hair going silver around the ears and grey-green eyes, and he looked as though, in another time, he might have gone to RMC and ended up as a lieutenant-colonel in the Queen’s Own, which is probably what his grandfather was. I kept staring at him until he nodded in a civilized manner in case we might know each other, but what I was thinking would not have pleased him.
I was trying hard to figure out why it was that 10 years ago I would have considered him the handsomest man I’d seen all week and now the way he looked was somehow quaint. He was just too handsome, too barbered, too controlled. I mean, you couldn’t imagine him swearing or sweating (except in the confines of the Badminton and Racquet) or . . . well, you get the idea. He just didn't have it.
Before I go on, I’d better explain that I don’t think my response was particularly unusual even in that careful crowd. I’ll wager if I’d been crazy enough to climb the school steps and holler, “Hey, I’m running a contest and the first prize is your choice of Bruno Gerussi or this
sterling - silver citizen,” most of the young matrons in the assembly would have mentally picked Gerussi (though what they’d do apart from mentally picking, I’m not sure; years of worrying about good day camps, better orthodontists and enrichment-versus-acceleration tend to make you cautious).
What the ladies would have been responding to is the new machismo, what an academic friend of mine disdainfully calls “roosterism,” the current style in what looks good in and on men. And if they didn’t know the word then, before the year is out they will. Because it’s one of those conceits that take hold in the media every once in a while — words that start out saying something important about an era and become catchalls, beaten into absurdity by overuse. (Charisma was a word like that; it gained currency in the politically ambiguous climate of the late Fifties as a mystical quality of magnetic leadership, as defined by the German sociologist Max Weber, but it ended up being applied to everything from the hold John Diefenbaker had over small-town audiences on the Prairies to tacky boutiques pushing cheap incense and Hong Kong silks.) Machismo — which is derived from the Spanish macho meaning male and is an integral part of the argot of Mexico -— is still in its media infancy, but in the past few months I’ve seen or heard it used to describe two-toned cuban-heeled shoes worn by dudes in Denver, Derek Sanderson’s stick handling and any number of overt statements, subliminal attitudes and sideways glances indulged in by the kind of chauvinistic males that the Women of Liberation despise.
The old authentic machismo, the Mexican kind, comes out of the heart of that country’s lifestyle which is what the sociologists call matrifocal and patriarchal — i.e., the woman of the family keeps everybody going by providing love and tortillas but the man’s word is law. Within this
culture, a man’s worth is reckoned in terms of his maleness rather than his possessions. To the lower-class Mexican, to be macho or show machismo (bravery/virility/pride) is more important than anything else. (And this is true to a lesser degree in most of the other countries of Latin America.)
A man can prove he’s macho in many ways—by physical prowess in defending his honor against all slights; by fighting bulls while dressed up magnificently in tight trousers before a roaring crowd (and at the kill, shouts of “macho, macho” are heard in the roar); by the sexual conquest of many women (the truly macho man figures he can melt the resolve of the most virtuous woman with an eye flash at 50 feet); or by a reckless disregard for money, sobriety and good sense.
What machismo means to the men who live by it (and the women who suffer under it, for at its worst it breeds brutality and proliferates poverty through its denial of the
work ethic) is illustrated in the culture’s aphorisms — Tiende pantalone! or He has pants! is a good thing to say about any hombre — and in proverbs like, “Never lend your gun, your horse or your woman.” (And whoever made that one up ought to be sentenced to 30 days in a small cell with Valerie Solanis and Betty Friedan.) Just what the new machismo, the North American pop culture version, portends is something a little more complicated. By other names and in other guises, it’s always been part of the working-class culture; truck drivers, cowboys, mechanics, miners, guys like that, are all natural macho males. And there have been intellectual manifestations of it for 40 years in the blood-and-guts aesthetics of Ernest Hemingway, James T. Farrell and Norman Mailer and their glorification of bullfights, prize rings, battlefield heroics, barroom brawling and sexual athleticism. (“The earth moved. And it was good.”) But since
the late Sixties, and particularly in the last year, the machismo myth has gone beyond the literature into the contrived lifestyle of the middle class.
There are at least three interconnected reasons for this. Machismo is part of the urban guerrilla mystique of the New Left and militant black movements in the U.S. and such related movements as the FLQ in Canada with their, revolutionary heroes (Che Guevera, Regis Debray), their costumes of work shirts, gun belts, boots; their ugly manners, rough talk and ceaseless need to show how really tough (“out front”) they are. In true macho style, the men of the movement from the beginning reduced women to the role of camp followers and their leaders, Stokely Carmichael, Eldridge Cleaver, Abbie Hoffman, made statements about women so ugly they were enough to turn the stomach of the most accommodating Aunt Tom. Some of the movement women were too turned on to the egali-
tarian ideal to put up with this oppression, and the radical feminist groups were the result. A small but noisy group of women began to trespass brazenly on the old masculine preserves, strong language, aggressive politics, free love, the independent life. Now to go further with this merry theorizing. Already social scientists are saying that feminine aggression as manifested in the women’s lib movement, both here and in the U.S., means to a certain kind of masculine mind an usurping of the male’s rightful role, and their response is to clamp down, to display their own supremacy, to become as Margaret Mead has described it “provoked into a display of male fascism.” In other words, at a time when sexual roles are becoming more ambiguous, certain men lean harder on their machismo. And this is what we’re seeing now on the streets of North America — and in the pictures on these pages which show the archetypal macho / continued on page 72
continued on page 72
MACHISMO from page 35
styles — among those who believe that you are what you wear; costumes proclaiming that men are more than merely masculine, they’re supermale.
For any woman who wants to go macho measuring while the machist'as are out girl-ogling on the coming afternoons of spring, the following guidelines may help:
• The middle-class male with pretensions to machismo may never get himself in a total macho costume but he’ll add macho touches to his everyday wear: brigade boots, wrist watches with hig wide black leather bands, denim with metal studs, leather jeans with front lacings, red cotton bandanas knotted around the neck, officers' great-coats turned up at the collar and, in the summer, a safari suit in khaki.
• In the movies now there are disappointingly few macho heroes; most of the new stars (Dustin Hoffman, Richard Benjamin) belong to the perennial adolescent or groping gentle misfit category but actors like Robert Redford and Jack Nicholson (in Five Easy Pieces but not Carnal Knowledge) are trying. Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart and Robert Mitchum were prototype machistas, but the greatest macho star of all time was probably Marlon Brando playing Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire.
• Macho males often have friends called Buck or Lefty who are not as macho as their hero hut who laugh a lot at his jokes and envy him his style. The sidekick, in fact, is an important part of macho mythology — Don
Quixote was a rarefied mad macho hero and he had Sancho Panza; Hopalong Cassidy was a cowboy macho hero, and he had California. There are even sidekicks for macho politicians and they tend to take the blame for the hero's failings as Ted Sorensen did for John Kennedy and Marc Lalonde does for Pierre Trudeau.
• Rock singers are macho and so, in careful emulation, are rock fans. Think of Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, the Rolling Stones, Country Joe and the Fish and the Beatles in their heyday. The Beatles stopped being macho — and stopped being a group — when a couple of strong-minded women came into their lives, which bears out Lionel Tiger’s theory, as expounded in Men In Groups, that males don’t bond so readily when women gain importance to them as anything more than sexual objects.
• Most folk singers are not macho but Gordon Lightfoot writes some macho songs. (Think of the lines in That’s What You Get For Loving Me: “I ain’t the kind to hang around / With any new love that I've found / I've got a hundred more like you / I’ll have a thousand ’fore I’m through.”)
• The macho man tends to marry a quiet, accepting, admiring erstwhile pretty girl who shortly becomes old and resigned, with lines in her forehead and a tight look about the mouth that's more pronounced when she's referred to as “my old lady" and left at home to look after the kids and the dogs while the hero is out drinking beer and seeking easygoing broads who aren’t going to become anybody’s
old lady — not if they can help it.
• The machismo hero tends to call an intelligent girl saying intelligent things “a chick who’s into heavy talk.” In fact, he is usually put off by any intelligent and/or strong-minded woman (unless she happens to be his mother) and he divides women into two groups: the dumb and silly and the shrewd, conniving and malicious.
The trouble with the new machismo though is that it's hard to be sure it’s authentic no matter how many audio/ visual aids to macho-watching you may have to go by. Midnight cowboys, bikers and the devotees of Gay Liberation have picked up on the macho style to make a point about their existence that may be clearer to the social psychiatrists than it is to anybody else. The old machismo came out of a culture where sexual roles were clearly defined; we live in a time and place where people put on costumes to hide their insecurities and to remind themselves of who they think they are.
You have to remember, too, that in even the most sympathetic, apparently unchauvinistic, un-macho male, there lurks something of the machista and in all but the truly liberated woman there is some terrible atavistic admiration for this attitude.
Not very long ago, in the company of an intelligent, self-sufficient, resolutely enlightened friend of mine, 1 was embroidering on the feminist thesis that machismo or the masculinity myth is an anachronism in the second half of the 20th century, that it ought to be possible, as Gloria Steinern says, for the so-called masculine and feminine virtues to lose their gender so that we could have courage, daring and resourcefulness acceptable in women and charity, mercy and tenderness acceptable in men and nobody would have to play at being aggressive/ dominant or dependent/passive in order to prove their sexuality.
She nodded in furious agreement all the time I was talking but half an hour later, when we'd moved on to a discussion of great kitsch poetry we had known, she said in dreamy seriousness: “You know I’ve always liked that really terrible poem by Richard Lovelace or, anyway, one of the Cavalier poets, which is about a soldier coming back to his lady from a war and ends with the fabulous line, ‘And he pleasured her with his boots on.' ” She caught me laughing and, with a valiant attempt at rue, we agreed that it’s going to take more than 5,000 women’s libbers objecting and 300 sociologists dissecting to kill the macho myth. It seems, alas and hurrah, to be programmed into the race. ■
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