Café con Piernas: Machismo in a Chilean Context by Claire Bens

Claire Bens is a junior at Ohio University, majoring in political and global studies, focusing on peace and war. Claire is currently studying in Vina del Mar, Chile at the Universidad Vina del Mar.

Those of you who have not taken a Spanish class may be asking yourselves what “Café con Piernas” means. Literally translated as “Coffee with Legs,” this is a phenomenon I discovered my first day in Santiago de Chile. Café con Piernas are cafes that service businessmen in downtown Santiago. They offer a wide variety of coffees and light snacks and “happy minutes.” A happy minute is when one of these many establishments closes the windows and doors for a minute and the ladies who serve the coffee perform a striptease for their male customers. In other words, Café con Piernas is the Chilean version of Hooters. Needless to say, machismo is not yet dead in Latin America.

Machismo is generally the term used to refer to sexism or a sense of male-domination throughout Latin America. Although Chile is an incredibly sophisticated and developed country, that at times resembles Europe more than other parts of Latin America, this sense of machismo is still visible in society. Having now spent two months living and interacting with Chileans, I have observed small instances of this machismo in family life as well as public places. For instance, men being served first at a family table or the numbers of working men versus working women in the business districts.

However, in contrast to the machismo in Chile, I have also had the opportunity to study and understand the context in which feminism arose in Chile. The oppression during the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-90) led to a growth in women’s solidarity and a new wave of feminism. The popular slogan “Democracy in the Country and the Home” was touted by many women during the years of protest (mainly 1983-1986) and helped to bring about the end of the dictatorship. The ability of women to draw parallels between the oppression they felt during the dictatorship and the same machismo that existed in their home was a key component in the birth of this movement.

It is important to mention that I feel Chile is on its way to greater equality between the sexes and that machismo will someday cease to be a prominent part of Chilean culture. For instance, women are very influential politicians in Chile and Chile had a female president, Michelle Bachelet (2006-2010). Overall, I think the outlook for women in this country is bright, even if Café con Piernas still exists.

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