MONTERREY, MEXICO — Radio talk-show host Oscar Muzquiz is searching for "La Fodonga del Año," or "The Female Slob of the Year."
On "Educating Your Woman," broadcast daily from this industrial northern city, husbands are invited to enroll their wives in the contest if they: sleep until 9 a.m., serve only packaged foods, watch TV all day, and rarely shave their legs.
"This is not life - living with someone who has become your greatest enemy," Mr. Muzquiz admonishes his male listeners. "Wake up, rise up ... and change your life!"
If Muzquiz sounds like Howard Stern in a sombrero, that's because, in part, he is. In addition to targeting the lazy housewife, Muzquiz crusades against "shameless" women who live independently, marry late, and work outside the home.
Social and economic changes in Mexico over the past three decades - from the increasing number of working women to the explosion of supermarkets, which cater to a rushed lifestyle - have transformed family culture here and left many men struggling to redefine their roles. Muzquiz's radio show is just one example of a country twitching as it witnesses a shift - some say the "Americanization" - of its family values.
"Men across Mexico are violently resisting this change," says Lourdes Plata Toledo, a well-known psychologist who counsels couples in a column in the Monterrey newspaper El Norte. "More women are saying, 'I don't need a man to support me. I don't need a man to fulfill me,' and men are thrown by this."
The backlash is apparent in popular TV shows, newspapers, magazines, and music. A nationwide ad campaign by the Monterrey-based bank Banorte, for instance, pictures a stretch of pavement littered with broken glass and a fallen lipstick. A message scratched below warns: "There are many women driving. Insure your car with Banorte!"
Meanwhile Brozo, the lewd clown who hosts the popular morning show "Early Riser," long maintained that his voluptuous and scantily clad "secretary," Isabel Madow, was the perfect woman - not just for her curvy frame, but also since she never uttered a word. (Ironically, she recently left the show to pursue a career on her own.)
"Educating Your Woman" draws tens of thousands of listeners across northern Mexico and southern Texas. Muzquiz and cohost Carlos Alberto Agundiz actively push for a return to times of old. Muzquiz is especially venomous toward wives who won't rise at dawn to make their husbands fresh tortillas.
The antics of Muzquiz and Mr. Agundiz have earned them the ire of women's activists across northern Mexico.
"It is lamentable such a program is broadcast in Monterrey in the year 2003," says Sister Marianela Madrigal, a nun who runs a center that offers women vocational training. "It reflects the terrible lack of effort to change our mentality from a macho patriarchy to one of equality."
According to the Census Bureau, more women are working outside the home in Mexico than ever before, especially in big cities like Monterrey.
Women now make up 32.3 percent of the labor force in the northern state of Nuevo Leon (compared with 29.9 percent nationwide), according to Mexico's National Institute of Geographic Statistics and Information.
A study by the Minnesota Population Center (MPC) at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis indicates that that figure has jumped 50 percent since 1990 and almost quadrupled since 1970.
Education for women has skyrocketed, too - especially in Monterrey. Here, women make up half of the student body at the city's major universities, according to Susana González, who runs the Nuevo Leon State Commission for Women.
Various studies also indicate that urban women in particular are marrying later, having fewer children, and increasingly insisting that their partners share in the burden of homemaking.
"A lot of Mexican men think that if they give you money, you should have breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the table for them," says Marie Angelica Parilla, a Monterrey mother of five who also works outside the home. "Now I'm earning money, too, and still I should do all the housework? Who is the slob here?"
Women's groups say that despite progress on the work front, there's still a long way to go before Mexican women achieve equality. Levels of domestic violence, rape, and sexual abuse remain high, with few efforts to address the problem, they say.
Fair labor legislation is another issue. Mexico's Congress will shortly consider a bill which would ensure women equal pay, better working conditions, and improved job security.
Muzquiz insists his show isn't misogynistic, and says he and his cohost have spoken out against spousal abuse and violence against women, and various forms of discrimination.
Still, he says that too many Mexican women are confusing "liberty with licentiousness," and too many Mexican men are becoming "mandelones," a terms that politely translates as "wimps."
"Our show is comic, but there are serious aspects, too," he says. He says that Mexican men want to take back the word "macho" and make it positive. Muzquiz says his show promotes "machismo light:" the idea of caring and providing for your woman, and expecting her to be there to care for you.
Mexican men feel emasculated by women's advancement, he says, and the "gringofication" of Mexican culture. Women north of the Rio Grande have taken it too far, he says, and the phenomenon is seeping southward.
"American women are building their lives alone, just to work, and sleeping with men only to toss them away like dirty diapers," he says. "This isn't advancement. This is machismo of the woman."
In a mainly Catholic country where the conventional family is large and tightknit, Muzquiz's argument finds resonance with men who are confused by women's changing roles.
"It's not that I oppose a women working, I'm just not used to it," says factory worker Rodolfo Barro Espinosa, who is slumped over a bar in a Monterrey Cantina one afternoon at 4:30 p.m. "Here in Mexico, men like to be treated nice, to come home to a hot meal. And it's true: We like our tortillas homemade."
Bartender Rosa Maria Sanchez Reyes, who supports four kids since her husband left her two years ago, erupts with laughter.
"This guy still lives with his mother," she shrieks. "What does he know about women?"
Times have changed in Mexico, she says, and there's no turning back.
"The day after I marry you," she warns him, "I am going to sleep as late as I want, and then go straight to the shop for a packet of tortillas."