(Volley) Balls and Machistas

“Ay preciosa, hermosa, guapa, princesa, barbie….”. I stop in my path and glance over with cocked eyebrows at the man squatting on the corner.

“Barbie? That one is new”.

He shrugs at my comment, and now that he feels he has my attention he continues with his assault. “You are the most beautiful women I have laid eyes on, come marry me, come to my house, I will show you….”

The rest of his sentence falls on my deaf ears. I am skilled in the art of blocking out these comments, which have become such a permanent part of everyday life here in Nicaragua that I cannot conceive of my life without constant cat-calls and propositions of various sorts from male strangers. Indeed it is getting to that point where, if a random male sitting on the corner staring at me does not call out something, I wonder what is wrong.

I have been meaning to write a blog post about machsismo – a concept that infiltrates and permeates almost every social interaction in this part of the world. But the concept still evades me. It is not just “hyper-masculinity”, as most of the English-speaking dictionaries define it, it is not just the “belief that women are subordinate to men” as most of the Spanish-speaking dictionaries define it. It is a lived concept, whose boundaries are at times very fluid, making it hard for me to discern where machismo stops and starts.

I am part of a volleyball team here. It is an inter-institutional tournament and I was recruited I think largely because they needed more people, I am tall, and it had been said that I was this amazing volleyball player (I think I told someone once that I played volleyball for 6 months when I was 15 in Germany and the result of what I call “Nicaraguan whispers” is that he heard I was a fantastic volleyball player that had played on the regional selection team in Canada. How…?). I was  not surprisingly also the only female player in the tournament by the end. When we won the tournament last week, one of the first things the captain said, in the nicest way possible, was      “…and we even won with a girl on our team!” Seeing the appalled look on my face he added quickly “oh it’s not because you are a bad player, it just gives our win more value.” I almost punched him.

But there are always those rare moments that make me question what I really think or know about masculinity, manhood, machismo, and how much I am still imposing my western concept of manhood on men here.

After our victory we decided to head to a bar to celebrate. I jumped in the back of the pick-up truck with another fellow player, who also happened to be the most machista out of the team. He was the one that was just as likely to comment on my curves as on my volleyball skills and I anticipated an awkward drive fending off his attempts to hit on me in English.

Unsurprisingly he starts off with “you played well today, almost as good as a man” followed closely by “we have this saying in Spanish: ‘you are so beautiful it makes me face hurt.’” So I was surprised when he asked me if I like salsa music. I confirmed I did, and without pretext whatsoever, he was like : “I do too, I love this song, ” and proceeded to serenate me with very old, beautiful Salsa songs whose lyrics were surprisingly complex and profound.

I sighed inwardly, confused. Sitting on the back fender of a pick-up truck, a warm breeze in my hair, a machista to my side singing beautiful salsa music, whose lyrics talked about how you could never own a woman, should never own a woman, how they are most beautiful when they are free, I realized how I still haven’t caught that moment where machismo starts and where it ends. I had meant to write a blog post about machsismo, but for the time being,  the concept still evades me.

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