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In Latin America, new ads aim to steer men away from machismo

A growing number of men throughout Latin America are bucking traditional 'machismo' roles as a wave of anti-machismo ads and campaigns attempt to redefine what it means to be Latino.

By Nacha CattanCorrespondent, And Steven BodzinCorrespondent / February 15, 2011

A couple and their baby on a stroll in Mexico City. Latino men are bucking traditional stoicism.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff

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Mexico City; and Santiago, Chile

Ernesto Vargas spends most of his days taking his 12-year-old son to and from junior high, helping him with homework, and cooking dinner while his wife works as a full-time nurse.

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The part-time house painter grew up in a traditional home. His father worked while his mother was a homemaker. "My parents did not raise me this way – to wash dishes or do housework. My mom did all of that." But when he got married 24 years ago, at age 21, he adapted to his wife's hectic schedule.

"I'm not being forced to do this. It's just what needs to be done," says Mr. Vargas, who lives in a low-income suburb of Mexico City.

The reversal of traditional roles might not sound edgy elsewhere in the world. That it is happening in Latin America, long caricatured as a hotbed for machismo, is even odd to some of Vargas's friends, who urge him to be the breadwinner.

Yet Vargas is one of a growing number of Latino men bucking traditional roles. The macho man – stereotypically stoic, male chauvinist, and violent – appears on the run, a trend exemplified by Vargas and amplified by a regionwide wave of anti-machismo ads and campaigns, including government-sponsored commercials and independent television shows, that are attempting to redefine what it means to be Latino.

Ad campaigns region-wide challenge machimso

In Mexico, a new soap opera suggests women dislike macho men. In Chile, a current ad campaign attempts to appropriate the derogatory word for a gay man and recast it as a critique on machismo, saying: "A maricón is someone who mistreats a woman." Meanwhile, an ad in Ecuador quotes men saying: "I wash, cook, iron.... My wife earns more than me.... Sometimes I cry."

"What of it?" each says.

The Ecuadorean ad, which ends on the line "machismo is violence," was credited by broadcast network Teleamazonas with a 25 percent increase in accusations of domestic violence last year, which often goes unreported. That's because one way to curtail domestic violence, experts say, is to attack machismo.

Signs of changing attitudes

Men who mistreat women have "a misunderstood idea of masculinity," says Bernardita Prado, director of domestic violence prevention at Chile's Ministry of Women and Children's Affairs. Her group ran the recent campaign to redefine the word maricón. Their next campaign, Ms. Prado says, will encourage men to take more responsibility in childcare.

She and others already see signs of changing attitudes.

Matthew Gutmann, an anthropology professor at Brown University in Provi­dence, R.I., and author of "The Meanings of Macho: Being a Man in Mexico City," says he has noted signs of this trend.

"The ads, the TV shows," he says, "are a sign of ongoing ferment about what it means to be a man, what it means to be a woman, relations between men and women."

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