this article was first published here
They occur everyday: when your mother is the one always cooking at home; when it seems that your ideas at the office have to be extremely outstanding in order the get approved before those of your male colleagues; when you have to think twice what clothes are you wearing if you are coming back home alone after midnight. When a woman talks about feeling uneasy when being catcalled; when some other calls out sexist language; when a girl feels guilty after an awkward comment without knowing why.
Countless cases that many women live and suffer every day, according to experts. They are there and they happen every day, even if sometimes we don’t recognize them.
But who are ‘them’? The word “micromachismos”, a term that the psychotherapist Luis Bonino coined in 1990, refers to those situations and behaviors of male domination in the daily life. “Those common behaviors that men use to express and define their alleged superiority, and their right to exercise control over women,” is how Bonino describes the concept of micromachismos on his report: Micromachismos: la violencia invisible en la pareja, and continues: “they have a powerful ally: the social order, which gives men automatically the monopoly of reason.”
The micromachismos surround us everyday life, and part of their problem, is that we accept them normally within the Western society, costumes and values. There is where the -micro- part comes from: it doesn’t refer to small or meaningless practices, but refers to an ongoing pattern of being and socializing with the others; daily behaviors of exclusion that are invisible to society because they seem natural and unchangeable. The French philosopher Pierre Bourdieu referred to this soft violence as a phenomenon that emerged after the conquests of women in the twentieth century.
Inconvenient and awkward compliments, some uses of language, ideal love stereotypes, or whiskey systematically for him and coke light for her. Micromachismos are often accused to be exaggerated reactions of a bunch of angry feminist. But they are not, they are not isolated reactions or unfortunate events. They are socially patterns of behavior that have been constructed and progressively evolved on the basis of the patriarchal Western culture. Culture does not make people, is people who make culture.
That is the evidence that behavior can be changed, that mental processes are not naturally out there to be learnt and perpetrated by people. The individuals within the society make them happen by behaving according to the social norm.
Changing these norms is a matter of social and political willing, changing laws and implementing legal measures are remedies to solve an ongoing problem. But those measures shouldn’t be the final solution; the solution is within the social structure; within the different members and stakeholders that basically shapes society. It is fundamental that individuals not only start pointing at them, but start changing progressively behaviour patterns. How?
Again, with E-D-U-C-A-T-I-O-N. Boys pay the bill and show their braveness in front of their friends. Girls tend to shrink themselves waiting for the approval from the outside, while seeing as a threaten the rest of the girls, as competitors for the attention of men. Boys and girls are undeniably different, but socialization exaggerates the differences and thus it becomes a self-fulfilling process. Beginning from schools, children need to know that they can choose to play football if they are girls; in high schools, teenagers should learn that following the physical appearance is not the key to be successful.
At universities, in the US, there are only 14% of engineers mainly for a matter of expectations and stereotypes towards the STEM field (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) that seems not important when appears as a free choice of the female students. At big enterprises, where according to a CNNMoney analysis, only 14.2% of the top five leadership positions at the companies in the S&P 500 are held by women, measures like equal parental leaves are key points to start changing the status quo.
There is an unequal distribution of exercising power that leads to an asymmetry relation between men and women. The position of gender (male or female) is one of the key axes where these power inequalities run through. According again to Luis Bonino (1990), the roots of male domination in Western culture is maintained and perpetuated, among others, because of this reasons:
- The sexual division of labor, which is still awarded to women domestic space.
- The social legitimization of women’s right to exercise self-assertive power.
- The ability and skills that men have to guide the type and content of everyday interactions in terms of their own interests, beliefs and perceptions. Also called ‘scoring power’ that sustains the idea of man as an authority that defines what is right (Saltzman, 1989).
- The myth of women more suitable to do caring home duties because of the so-called “power of love” (Jonnasdotir, 1993) in which Western culture makes women sort of “natural experts”.
It is common that after noticing the behavior of dominance and predominance of men over women, it remains as something circumstantial, leaving out of the debate something that is behind the social structure. It is also common that when talking about micromachismos, the person that suffers the domination doesn’t notice it, because she is also used to live and behave following these social rules.
It is not a matter of women against men, a matter of “angry feminists” against the rest of the society, it is a matter that affects all us equally, both men and women influencing the way we raise our children and we relate with each other.
Mainly all the legal and therapeutic approaches to end gender violence have focussed exclusively on the more obvious forms of violence. But violence is more than physical action against a person, it is any action that coerces, limits or restricts the freedom and dignity of women. In that sense, multiple practices of subtle violence and male domination in daily life get ignored in a process that legitimates them. Making them visible is the first step to neutralize these practices and start changing the model of relations between women and men.
Some micro-machismos are conscious, but most of them are done with the “innocence” of the unconscious habit. By behaving according to them, men internally reaffirm their “masculine identity”, an identity constructed on the belief of superiority.
Women get sexualized and objectified even before they realize what it means, before they can raise awareness on the oppression they are victims of. They internalize that somehow, they are smaller, weaker, so as such, they can feel minimize if men decide to overpower them. It is basic and capital to raise our voices together, to don’t shrug off the complaining and to accept that women daily experiences are more challenging than those that men experienced.
Let’s just accept that an implicit subtle violence actually exists against them, and that is not just fundamental to revert it, it is also possible to make it happen.