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ASU professors’ scale sets definitions of ‘macho’ men

April 28, 2008

Professor Miguel Arciniega clearly remembers the dichotomy of being a Mexican-American youth trying to learn what it means to be a man.

Now he and his colleagues have developed an academic scale to define what it means to be either a gentleman or a “macho” man in the Mexican-American culture.

“This has been a lifelong thing for me, in terms of growing up in El Paso, Texas, and finding out the messages about being a man from my father and grandfather,” says Arciniega, an associate professor of counseling and counseling psychology in the Division of Psychology in Education with ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton College of Education. “On the streets, from my friends, it was a very different message.”

Arciniega says he was raised to believe that men took care of their families and respected their wives. His family raised him to be un caballero – “a gentleman” – but his peers embodied machismo, which is the stereotypical, hypermasculine image of Mexican-American men as chauvinists who drink too much and fight too much.

This contradiction in the meaning of “manhood” resulted in Arciniega pursuing an extensive study of machismo in the Mexican-American community. The resulting research article, “Toward a Fuller Conception of Machismo: Development of a Traditional Machismo and Caballerismo Scale,” was published earlier this year by the Journal of Counseling Psychology, the top-tier journal in its field.

The journal gives particular attention to empirical studies on the evaluation and application of counseling interventions, and the applications of counseling with diverse and under-represented populations.

The machismo article also received special recognition as the featured article on the journal’s Web site,

The journal’s associate editor, Stephen Quintana, worked with Arciniega and his team through many drafts to produce the final manuscript.

The journal features just one article in each of its four issues per year based on its appeal to a wide range of readers and researchers, and the quality of the research itself. Journal editors have received many positive comments about the article since its publication.

The project evolved from research Arciniega worked on in 2005 with Tom Anderson, who was a doctoral student in counseling psychology at ASU. They realized then that very little research had been done on machismo. The few studies that had been done focused on a restricted view of aggression and dominance among Mexican-American men. Therefore, Anderson developed a “Measure of Machismo” to investigate clinical correlates.

“Both the academic literature and the popular literature tended to talk about machismo as very negative,” Arciniega says. “Other measurement scales only perpetuated this negative stereotype.”

He sought to redefine machismo into a more positive trait of Mexican-American men by developing a new scale that included negative and positive aspects.

The research team for the second study included Terence Tracey, a professor of counseling and counseling psychology in the Division of Psychology in Education with the Fulton College of Education. Tracey is an expert in statistical analysis and development of scale construction measurement. The research team also included doctoral candidate Zoila Tovar-Blank, who then was a graduate research assistant.

The researchers used Anderson’s instrument in a sampling of 403 Mexican-American men of various ages and education levels. Anderson gathered 71 positive and negative statements about manhood from traditional Latino stories, folklore and interviews with Mexican-American males about their gender roles and values.

“We pride ourselves on Tom Anderson gathering statements from so many different areas, with a range of positive and negative statements of what it means to be a Mexican-American man,” Arciniega says.

The statements ranged from “real men should never let down their guard” to “men should be affectionate with their children.”

Tracey culled through the research items to determine if the responses validated the statements.

“His intricate, statistical analysis was phenomenal,” Arciniega says.

The responses helped the team discover two distinct constructs:

• Traditional machismo is the stereotypical masculine personification of a Mexican-American man as controlling, sexist and violent, correlated with antisocial behavior, aggressive masculinity and wishful thinking as a coping style. These men tend to have more difficulty expressing emotion. However, traditional machismo did not correlate with dominance as hypothesized.

• Caballerismo is a positive image of a man as the family provider who respects and cares for his family. It depicts Mexican-American men as chivalrous, nurturing and noble. These men rated higher on the social connectedness scale, saying they felt value in their family relationships and were in touch with their feelings, and the feelings of others. They also displayed more practical ways of solving their problems.

As expected, younger, less-educated men identified more with traditional machismo than caballerismo. However, the hypothesis that older, more educated Mexican-American men would correlate more with caballerismo did not hold true, Tovar-Blank says.

The study also revealed that overall satisfaction of life among these men contradicted expectations of lower satisfaction of life. Caballerismo was associated with a higher satisfaction of life, but the men who displayed traits of traditional machismo didn’t see their manly characteristics as negative. They viewed themselves as assertive men who stood up for themselves and were the heads of their household.

“Individuals who endorsed a more positive aspect of machismo, such as caballerismo, reported more satisfaction with life,” Tovar-Blank says.

But those men who endorsed traditional machismo also were more likely to be less in touch with their feelings or denied their emotions, which could have clinical implications for counseling Mexican-American men.

“We felt there must be a difference in coping skills,” Arciniega says. “People who use wishful thinking, not practical problem-solving, were highly connected to traditional machismo.”

Arciniega aays the team’s hypothesis correlating traditional machismo to fighting and arrests was confirmed. Not surprisingly, the men who didn’t fight identified with the more gentlemanly traits of caballerismo.

The article revealed that men who strongly identified themselves as Mexican endorsed more traditional machismo, while men who valued people from other cultural groups endorsed more caballerismo aspects. Although the study focused on Mexican-American men, there were responses from other Hispanics, including Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Guatemalans, Caribbeans and South Americans.

“It seemed to hold just as well for these groups,” says Tracey, who also expressed caution in the statement because of the small sample.

“We really want to do a further study with samples from these other groups to see how these constructs apply. Do they apply to men in general?”

The team hopes to test and retest for reliability, as well as to study larger sample groups, including non-Mexicans, and include questions about sexual orientation, marriage and acculturation data.

Verina Palmer Martin,
(480) 965-4911
Mary Lou Fulton College of Education