The Reformation of Machismo


The conventional wisdom is that Christianity reinforces the oppression of women.

Elizabeth Brusco, a feminist Marxist scholar conducted fieldwork in Columbia from 1982-1983, and found that pentecostal conversion transformed traditional gender relations by giving women a moral authority in the home to challenge their husbands’ drinking, gambling, or adultery.

She wrote up her findings in "The Reformation of Machismo: Evangelical Conversion and Gender in Columbia" (1995).

Brusco wanted to find out, What happens to the macho value system when the husband converts to evangelical Protestantism?

The answer? He swears off the traditional masculine vices like drinking and partying most of the weekend and reintegrates himself into the household. He assumes the role of husband and father he may have neglected since the early days of his marriage and participates actively in the church community.

For many men, no longer having to maintain the facade of unrelieved masculinity and bravado is a great relief; the private world of household and loved ones is preferable to the public world of men. Brusco writes that, “In Colombia, machismo is, over the long run, very demanding and difficult for all under its sway, including the males who must perform this role" (p. 120).

Those changed male behaviors result in a radical reorientation of family consumption patterns. If formerly a goodly share of the husband's income was diverted into wine, women, and song, that income is now channeled toward the welfare of the entire family.

Thus individual consumption by the father/husband turns into collective spending on a better diet and educating the children.

Another major shift takes place within the family, in the sphere of power relations between spouses. If the macho husband was characterized by drunkenness, infidelity, and even physical abuse of wife and children, the converted husband is pacific (appropriate New Testament behavior) and his attentions focused on his marriage and home life. Upon his conversion, however, he adopts a value system sharply at odds with the values prescribed for males by the dominant culture.