Carlos Vives’ Tone-Deaf Comments on Patriarchy Speak Loudly About the Problem of Machismo in Latino Culture
Carlos Vives is undoubtedly an icon of Latin American music. However, when it comes to feminism, the “La Gota Fría” singer missed the mark with flying colors.
In an interview that is still making the rounds on social media, Vives sparked controversy in a radio station by assuring, “I have never been touched by patriarchy.”
“There is a very strong feminist current against the… How do you say? The patriarchy?” said Vives. “Where is that? Where is patriarchy? I have not been touched by patriarchy, never.”
What Vives called “feminist current” is historian Gerda Lerner’s 1986 definition of any social organization in which men enjoy a status of supremacy over women.
Carlos Vives echoed the toxic argument that underpins machismo in Latin America
Vives was responding to broadcaster Adriana Bustos, who recalled the saying, “Behind every great man, there is a great woman.” The singer responded: “The role of women is not on the side. It is pulling. She goes ahead, pulling. The woman is the one who goes ahead.”
“My grandparents were like that,” he continued. “My grandfather used to do [his thing], but my grandmother was the one in charge. The one who did [the] accounting was my grandmother.”
For those of us who grew up in Latin America, this argument is the most common when we try to talk to our parents — especially our mothers — about the importance of feminism.
After all, to admit gender inequality is to acknowledge that we have been doing something wrong. And if you know Latino families, this is not a common currency.
Back home, there was no time or will to talk about patriarchy
In the 1960s, when many of our parents were born, the concept of a society run by and for the benefit of a “father” was just being debated. Meanwhile, at home, there was the illusion that because our mothers and grandmothers were strong and hardworking — worse, because of their strength of character — they were really “in charge” at home.
They had to “pull” the infantilized male burden, where the man passes from the hands of his mother to those of his wife, with no emotional independence but for his tantrums of feigned autonomy.
During the interview, when asked if his wife, Claudia Elena Vasquez, was in charge at home, Carlos Vives answered positively, adding, “Who doesn’t want his wife to do everything for him? I want my wife to do everything for me!”
Moreover, the Colombian singer assured his current wife had “saved him” because “She loved me. She loved my work, she loved my country, and what I was doing for my country.”
When the gender-based violence argument is brushed aside
In 2021, at least 4,473 women were victims of femicide in 29 countries and territories in the Latin American region, according to the Gender Equality Observatory for Latin America and the Caribbean (OIG).
But when one talks about those figures at the patriarchal family dinner table, we’re met with rolling eyes and the unbothered “That didn’t happen in our house.”
And that’s the best-case scenario.
What we fail to make older generations understand is that the system of social sex-political relations established in Latin America — and which, unfortunately, we have carried with us in our suitcases all over the world — has normalized that the man is the epicenter of the dynamics.
Simultaneously, the woman is valued for her submission and devotion to her husband (see above Carlos Vives’ definition of “love”) and for being “the one who pulls.”
Meanwhile, inequality persists
According to a study by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), women hold only 15% of management positions in Latin America. They own just 14% of companies.
According to UN Women, since 2020, women and girls in Latin America and the Caribbean face a worrying increase in domestic violence and care-related burdens, as well as less access to income and employment.
Meanwhile, in popular culture, movies and series continue to cultivate the image of the taciturn woman who “pushes” (or “pulls,” depending on the plot of the day) the man to fulfill his dreams. Or, failing that, she holds an entire household on her shoulders where the man is conspicuous by his absence.
However, for Carlos Vives, who took Latino culture to every corner of the earth, patriarchy does not exist. Yet, machismo remains a silent export.