“Cultural machismo in Latino communities”

March 30, 2011

I would grow frustrated and nervous to walk to and from school as a high schooler, in the early 2000s. I would best describe myself, then, as a very conservatively dressed and studious Latina usually wearing a large backpack, casual jeans, my hair tied in a pony tail, and a baggy sweater to hide my large breasts. On a daily basis I would get cat-calls at least twice a day by much older Latino men who took the time to role down their driver’s side window, slow down street traffic, hang out of their truck or car, just to whistle or say, “Hey, mamasita!” All I wanted to do was flash my middle finger, but I was honestly too scared to do such a thing, not knowing what that man may do to me and also because I would usually walk by myself.

What disgusted me the most was the fact that a Latino man, that could have been my father’s age, felt the urge to address me in such a way that was abusive and clearly lacking any human dignity or respect. Because of my experience with constant verbal abuse in public spaces I felt certain that I would one day get kidnapped and raped. Fortunately, that never happened to me.

I am happy that today I no longer live in Southeast Los Angeles, specifically in the city of Cudahy, but I fear for those young girls and women who continue to interface (and some who accept) c

The questions I would pose to all those Latino boys and men are: Why do you think it is okay to cat-call or whistle at a female? Would you do that to your sister, mother, tia, grandmother or family friend?

– Anonymous

Location: Clara Street, Cudahy, CA

Share your street harassment story today and help raise awareness about the problem. Find suggestions for what YOU can do about this human rights issue


June 29, 2009

There is a problem in the Hispanic Male community. I don’t want this to sound racist, and I apologize if it does. I moved recently from Lincoln Square (North side of Chicago) to Albany Park (2 miles west) and am now in a neighborhood that is a large percentage Hispanic. I want to point out that most of the people are very friendly and I like them. However, since it has gotten warm outside, I have been catcalled, harassed, and followed by men in cars at least once a week.

This has never happened to me before in my life and I am 32 years old and have lived on the North Side of Chicago for over 10 years. The men are always Latino. There is no other explanation other than culture for why this has started happening all of the sudden to me.

To those in the Hispanic/Latino community who care about this issue – PLEASE, teach your boys that it is NOT ok to harass women like they’re meat on the street? There is something wrong with a culture that teaches men that is acceptable.


Location: Albany Park, Chicago, Illinois

(Submit your stories here)

[Editor’s note: While I have a policy against racism, I chose to post her submission as she sent it  because I did not feel her experiences or opinions were voiced in a malicious or hateful way. Race does play a role in much of gender-based public harassment, especially in the U.S. where race means many things to different people, and so I think it’s important to have dialogue on the issue if it’s done with the purpose of learning and addressing the problem and not being racist. Please see my related post on “piropos” for more about street harassment in Hispanic culture.

But I will note, men of all races harass women of all races and really, American culture teaches men this is acceptable just as much as any other. Just read comments from American men and some women when mainstream news or blogs cover catcalling or more benign forms of street harassment. Inevitably some of the commenters declare the behavior is flattering and men’s right and women ask for it by the way they dress and women overreact and blah blah blah.]


June 29, 2009

From  https://i0.wp.com/blogs.ya.com/diariodegolifre/files/piropos.jpgMany women – both Latina and not – whose street harassment stories I’ve read have commented on the volume of harassment they receive from Hispanic men due to the culture of machismo. I know men of all races harass women of all races, but this viewpoint is common enough that it is one I am exploring.

A few months ago, a woman in Colombia who, as part of her PhD work, is examining how people justify violence against women in Colombia, contacted me because she was interested in my research. One of her case studies focused on a woman’s experience being groped in public by a stranger. We exchanged a few e-mails and she shared the following with me when I asked her about street harassment in Colombia.

One more thing you might be interested in…in Hispanic countries there is a cultural history of a sort of courtship in the streets.  “Piropos” (http://www.piroposkc.com/whatis.html) are probably the best way to name this historical-cultural act. If you use the word ‘piropo,’ many people will tell you how beautiful and wonderful they are.  However, if one looks closely, there are definitions of piropo which also include unpleasant piropos, such as ‘you look like a nice f*ck’, and ‘I want to suck your …’.  There are those who would say that any piropo too directly related to sex is vulgar and uncalled for.  Also, piropos don’t have to only be verbal.  Some articles mention that they might be accompanied by a ‘touch.’  I know that many women will say they don’t mind or even like the nice piropos, but no one likes a quick stranger grope nor a vulgar comment.”

I recently read an article by Joan Fayer entitled “Changes in Gender Use of Public Space in Puerto Rico” which further educated me about “piropos,” which seems to be a tradition adopted by many (most? all?) Hispanic cultures from the Spanish. I found the article to be very useful, so I’m including highlights from it below.

Fayer says that piropos are “compliments or flattering comments traditionally given by men to women” which are “more than ever restricting equal access of women to public space. The hostile environment piropos create by making women ‘open’ to all and any other comments by men” (Fayer, 214).

Piropos were originally compliments given by aristocratic Spanish men to women as a way to admire their beauty and grace. Over time, piropos spread to other social classes and to Hispanic areas. Apparently, piropos used to be fairly prim and proper but gradually vulgar piropos creeped in so that today there’s a good mixture of both being given by men (Fayer, 216).  In fact, in Spain a law passed in 1931 prohibiting piropos and related gestures that were impolite and vulgar and violation of said law resulted in a fine or a jail sentence of 5 to 20 days (can you imagine if the US had a similar law!?!).

She  says, “Machismo, as a public act, is evident in street culture in Puerto Rico and other Hispanic countries in which men control public space not only by looking at women, but also verbally by giving women piropos – compliments that can range from the polite and poetic to the vulgar” (Fayer, 216).

“Piropos are typically given on streets by a man or a group of men as they pass by a woman or women they do not know or as the women pass them…Today piropos are usually given when walking, but it also possible for males to shout from cars to women who are walking or who are themselves in cars. Although they are more common from young men to young women, there are no age restrictions. Some men give piropos all their adult lives; however, there are some men who never give piropos. Although class distinctions may be a factor, there are men of all social classes who would never make comments about women in public” (Fayer, 217-218).

“The conventional female response is to ignore piropos, both verbally and nonverbally. The woman may be flattered, offended, or feel sexually harassed, but to respond in any way is ‘to ask for trouble.’ Women who are offended by piropos may, if possible, avoid areas in which piropos are common. Avoiding piropos ‘areas’ thus limits the access women have to public space. Recently, there has been a change in the response women make to piropos. Some female teenagers who receive vulgar piropos now turn to the males and say, ‘Would you say that to your mother/sister?’ ‘Go to hell,’ and so on. These young women are claiming more equal access to public streets; they do not just avoid piropos ‘areas'” (Fayer, 218).

“Piropos given by women on the streets can also be vulgar…however there are differences in the way women give men piropos in public space. Women almost always give piropos when they are in groups on the street or when they are in cars. For a woman to say something when she is alone would be too dangerous. The group or the car insures protection and prevents the male from interpreting the remark as an invitation” (Fayer, 219).

“Public space can also become a hostile environment when women become targets of both piropos and other types of verbal and nonverbal harassment” (Fayer, 220).

Fayer’s conclusion for the article as related to piropos is that they are largely male to female and thus permit “men to intrude and sexually harass women in their personal space in public areas. This hostile environment serves to restrict the access women have to public space…The gendered use of public space in Puerto Rico indicates that although there have been recent changes, social organization and public space continues to be male dominated” (Fayer, 223).

Does anyone know more about piropos and the way it impacts the way Hispanic men treat women in public spaces? Also, the article focused on heterosexual piropos, but are same-sex piropos ever given?