Mexico's Machismo Machine

Monica rummages frantically in her bag as we dine at a Mexico City restaurant. She pulls out her cell phone and checks for messages. "Is anything wrong?" I ask. "No, it's nothing," she smiles, "just my husband. He becomes upset if he calls and I don't answer. I'm always supposed to have my cell phone on--he likes to know where I am." "You mean he likes to keep track of you," I say, and she laughs.

As Monica explains, sheepishly, that Esteban is actually open-minded, it dawns on me that I've been hearing a lot of similar stories recently, from female friends and patients. The cell phone has become a new way for men to keep tabs on their wives, calling them and pressuring them to come home as soon as possible. Machismo might be out of fashion in today's Mexico, but control is definitely in.

You rarely hear of men not allowing their wives to study, work, or go out during the day. Almost 40% of working-age women hold jobs, school and university enrollment is evenly split between the sexes, and the average wage differential, whereby women earn about 70% of what men make, is comparable to that of industrialized nations. Women are increasingly aware of their rights, demanding equal treatment in the workplace and in politics.

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