Using ‘Latinx’ Makes Us More Inclusive, but It’s Just the Beginning

There’s much more work to be done to take down machismo

Photo: Filip Gielda/Unsplash

IfIf you aren’t already aware, “Latinx” is a term used to foster inclusivity among Latin Americans. The goal is to eliminate the sole use of the identifiers “Latino” and “Latina” to acknowledge all gender expressions. While the word isn’t new — its usage dates back to 2004 — its popularity has soared over the last couple of years.

In 2017, Mitú posted a video praising “Latinx” for overcoming the gender bias inherent in the Spanish language — since masculine grammar becomes the default, the word challenges the patriarchy by stripping away that default masculinity. But the overwhelming majority of the video’s comments condemn the word, arguing that it inherently excludes native Spanish speakers, as they aren’t privy to the American nuances of gender politics.

Are we ready to call up Abuelita to let her know that she’s aiding and abetting the patriarchy for not complying with millennial diction?

It’s a fair point. Just because Spanish is a gendered language doesn’t mean it’s gendered out of malice. Are we ready to call up Abuelita to let her know she’s aiding and abetting the patriarchy for not complying with millennial diction? It does little to change the minds of those in our home countries if the first move is to tell family and friends their language is wrong.

I support the goal behind “Latinx” — the last thing I want to be is dismissive of others’ identities. But to accomplish the social reform the word seeks to inspire, we need to communicate in a way that reaches the most people. Trying to turn an inherently gendered language into a gender-neutral one is nothing more than a cosmetic Band-Aid on a larger cultural problem.

Language is vital, and the words we choose matter. If the usage of “Latinx” over “Latino/a” is the difference between someone’s happiness or misery, then, by all means, shout “Latinx!” from the rooftops — but just because the words change doesn’t mean our reality does. To dispel the harmful and pervasive gender narratives in Latin American culture, we need to go to the root of the issue: down with los machismo.

Machismo culture is patriarchy’s burlier cousin. Defined by scholars as hyperaggressive masculinity, machismo outlines male dominance and female subservience under the guise of family values. Men, it holds, are the tough breadwinners to be waited on by their adoring wives — wives whose will to live starts and stops at raising children.

It’s not that different from the sexism women everywhere face, but as a first-generation Mexican American, I can definitively say that machismo is far more insidious than the patriarchy.

In the journal Merion West, Veronica Lira Ortiz explains the difference: “For some of us, sexism encounters a bigger problem deeply rooted in our historical narrative, making any change nearly impossible: machismo. Machismo is quite a singular word, for it’s not only defined as sexism or misogyny. Instead, it mostly refers to an attitude or conception that men are, by nature, superior to women.” These attitudes, while harmful to women, also trickle down into damaging implications for our LGBTQ+ communities.

How do we move forward? I understand the need to upgrade “Latino” to “Latinx.” It’s a feel-good middle finger on behalf of literally everyone who isn’t a heterosexual man, but is it enough? If you believe it is aiding in gender discourse, use it. Language evolves as we do, and I think it is functional if understood.

But we can’t kid ourselves: There’s a lot of work to do. Maybe I’m wrong, and the journey to reform a culture with deeply embedded sexist narratives starts with a single “x.” Perhaps I’m right, and we should be focusing on challenging gender narratives in ways that speak to the people perpetuating them.

We may be putting the cart before the horse on this one. “Latinx” is the cart, machismo is the horse, and we’re the ones frantically trying to turn it all around.

A self-proclaimed conceptualizer with a penchant for hyperbole & abstract thinking. I work at the intersection of digital, politics, and unapologetic buffoonery

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