How men in Latin America are unlearning machismo

In January, Freddy Contreras, the leader of a well-known Colombian taxi union, made headlines after he released a video mocking women Uber drivers, saying they should work as cleaners instead. In early 2019, the Colombian women’s soccer team publicized the fact that they had not had a match or a head coach for seven months, while the prized men’s team experienced no such slights. And after the country’s local elections last year, just 11.8% of mayors across Colombia were women.

The force driving each of these cases is machismo, an attitude ingrained in nearly every facet of Colombian society. It’s an exaggerated masculine pride that moves through public spaces and behind closed doors—almost constantly present in workplaces, on the street, and in popular culture. A survey by the European Union found that 70% of Colombians are “moderately machista.”

Machista attitudes have real consequences for women, said Kelly Mendez, an advocate for gender-based violence in Colombia. Sometimes their effects can be relatively innocuous, like laughing at a sexist joke. Other times, the consequences can be fatal; the concept of male dominance and control is so deeply ingrained in individuals and society that seemingly “harmless” actions can lead to physical and brutal violence.

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