An academic explores the performative social construction of masculinity among South Texas Hispanics by analyzing the size of their barbecues and spiciness of their condiments

If you looked at Heather Heying’s tw**t in this morning’s Hili dialogue, you’ll see this:

The “salsa accused of constructing masculinity” reference intrigued me, as it looked like one of those obscurantist po-mo pieces that keep academics and journals (predatory or not) busy without contributing anything to society. So I looked the article up, and, indeed, here it is (reference below, free access, pdf here; click on screenshot to see full article):

Molina is an assistant professor of sociology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, specializing in “Social Demography, Critical Race Theory, Latina/a Issues, Immigration”.

I can summarize the paper in a space shorter than even the paper’s own abstract; here’s my summary:

Mexican-American men in Texas demonstrate their masculinity by barbecuing meat, having bigger grills, and eating spicier pico de gallo.

(Pico de gallo, meaning “beak of the rooster” in Spanish, is a Mexican condiment made of chopped tomatoes, onions, jalapeno peppers and cilantro. It’s used on foods like tacos or fajitas.)

That’s it, and it may well be true, but does it merit a paper? We all know that home barbecuing is one form of cooking largely monopolized by men, though I’m increasingly seeing women do it. But do Hispanic men pride themselves on having bigger grills, or on eating a pico de gallo with more hot peppers? That’s what Hilario Molina, writing in Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power, concludes.

But how does he arrive at this conclusion? Does he take a survey or do a poll? No, he does what he calls “autoethnography,” which appears to be a fancy word for “anecdotal observation”. In Molina’s case, he (his students verify his sex and also have some pungent words about his teaching) went to 30 cookouts involving Mexican-Americans in South Texas. From these “field observations,” he simply chooses a number of observations and anecdotes to support his thesis, fleshing them out with tedious and obscure language that simply points to my conclusions above. That’s it—seriously.

I’ll present a few passages to show what this species of sociologist is up to. Note especially the pompous and bad writing meant to give an air of profundity to otherwise trite observations:

Although the physical environment sets the social space, the stage for manly performance, the pico de gallo  and the grill are direct identifiers of masculinity. This is not to say that men do not venture into the kitchen; however, they do so under an umbrella of gendered space immunity. The entry into feminine space is to comply with a gender role which takes precedence over gender environment boundaries, such as needing the means to make the pico de gallo . As a result, negative social sanctions are non-existent because the trespass into feminised space is a requirement for the journey of macho or male  socialisation, as demonstrated in the passage below that took place at a participant s house:

A middle-aged man chops onions, cilantro, tomatoes, and jalapenos; then, placing these ingredients in a glass bowl, he squeezes lemon juice over it. Vieja (Spanish slang for wife) come and try the pico de gallo, he yells at the wall in front of him. A woman comes from another room. It is too hot! I do not think we will be able to have any, she protests after tasting it. I will make two; one for us and one for you all, he stated in a firm tone.

What a sexist pig!

Here’s another bit of “field work”:

Thus, grilling links man to both a present gender identity and one which has a historical and trans-generational recognition of dominance and mastery of the environment whereby nature has become the cognitive embodiment of the social and cultural factors of symbolic conquests. Within this stratum, grilling game (meat) is indicative of manliness and participant attempts to let those around him know his level of manliness, as shown in this passage, an interaction which directly drew my attention in this cookout:

A mature, aged man, surrounded by a myriad of young males, standing near a grill and holding a beer, said, The smell of this mesquite burning reminds me of a time when I was about your age, and I was living in the campo (rural area). He then added, Your father and I had to walk for miles to get to school. Today, you all sure have it easy.

The grill is both a prerequisite for a boy seeking to form a gender identity and a signifier of economic stability and ability as a provider important qualities of a macho . Thus, a public display unfolds in which a man shows himself enduring, surviving and eventually succeeding against nature’ – representative of life s challenges. By grilling for those within the subculture, he is publically [sic] committing to the group s norms and values as his self becomes part of the structure.

Well, the statement is nothing more than the common claim that “we had it worse than you when we were kids”, something that’s hardly unique to Mexican-Americans—or to men. Remember the Four Yorkshiremen of Monty Python? There’s nothing in the statement above about constructing a gender identity, demonstrating that the author is simply using anything to reinforce his preordained conclusion.  This is not objective investigation but confirmation bias.

And here Molina explains the significance of his work:

This article contributes to the studies of gender roles and Latino issues by incorporating masculinity theory to present a sociological perspective on working-class Mexican American machos  in the RGV. As such, the purpose of this article is to explain how the behaviour of manliness comes from a traditional and ritualistic association to the natural world. Mexican American masculinity is measured against the gender formation of men s and women s roles in the RGV. Without the social construction of feminine space (indoors) and masculine space (outdoors), mild salsa for the women and children versus a spicy salsa for the men and the significance of the grill s size, the cultural meaning of masculinity (machismo) as representing the apex would not exist.

Within this perception of reality, masculine space serves to define his’ group position but also serves as a stage for gender role performances. Whereas the pico de gallo  and the barbeque grill are symbolic indicators of masculine discourse and social interaction, they rely on its gender opposite (marianismo) to clearly construct the macho  hierarchy. Therefore, we see how working-class Mexican American males pursue this apex status and also how they transmit these subcultural values of masculinity to the next generation of machitos (little men).

The significance of this project is twofold: (1) it explains gender formation of working-class Mexican Americans living in the RGV area; and (2) this group is, according to demographic scholars, such as Rodriguez and his colleagues (2008 ), the fastest and largest growing ethnic group in the United States. Within the Latinos/as community, Mexican and Mexican Americans account for more than 60% of this ethnic category; as a result, it is essential that studies begin to address structural issues of inequality endemic within this community. In addition, studies must also be conducted on other subcultures where subordinate groups encounter structural and cultural challenges.

This smacks of desperation and a search for tenure. The conclusions may be correct, but they are based on anecdotal observations, not any kind of systematic study. Plus they’re overblown by couching them in po-mo jargon like “gender role performances” and “construct the macho hierarchy.”  Finally, yes, the Hispanic community may be growing rapidly, but seriously, do studies of grill size and pico de gallo help us to either understand or interpret that phenomenon? Inequality of grill performance and the spiciness of pico de gallo is hardly the kind of “inequality” that American liberals need to address!

Now I’m not saying anything here about the quality of this journal, or of sociological work as a whole (yes, there’s good work in the field). What I’m saying is that when serious academics engage in this kind of work, something is wrong with the academic standards of the field. Increasingly, I see trivial and PREORDAINED conclusions tricked out in fancy-schmancy language designed to make them look profound. Further, we see anecdotes often used instead of systematic analysis. I think I could find exactly these conclusions if I went to a bunch of cookouts by white people: men would dominate the cooking and I would probably find—at least occasionally—some guy boasting about how hot he likes his hot sauce. So the conclusions, based as they are on anecdotes, aren’t even unique to Mexican-Americans. Or, if they are, it hasn’t been demonstrated here.

One thing Molina fails to note is the equation of grill size with penis size. Imagine what could be made of this:

__________________

Molina II, H. (2014) The construction of South Texas masculinity: masculine space, the pico de gallo and the barbeque grill. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. 21: 233-248, DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2013.868352

52 Comments

  1. Charles
    Posted January 13, 2018 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    “….went to 30 cookouts involving Mexican-Americans in South Texas.”

    Tough job!

    • yazikus
      Posted January 13, 2018 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      My thought as well! Sort of a win-win scenario, regardless of the findings. Also, the more pico the better!

    • yazikus
      Posted January 13, 2018 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      My thought as well! Sort of a win-win scenario, regardless of the findings. Also, the more pico the better!

  2. phoffman56
    Posted January 13, 2018 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    My goodness! How could anyone fail to see the many fundamental truths, the deep ities, and the fundamental scientific advances that sociology has provided humans? And even more so in recent decades, with postmodern philosophical guidance!

  3. Flaffer
    Posted January 13, 2018 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    HIs professor ratings site is no longer there. He masculanized action by destroying roadblocks to gender motion gravitating towards feminitization. Or had it removed, however you want to say it.

  4. Linda K
    Posted January 13, 2018 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    Such an academician that he doesn’t know that barbecue only has a Q when it’s BBQ. And barbecue is long slow low-heat cooking, grilling is what happens on a grill.

    • Simon Hayward
      Posted January 13, 2018 at 10:01 am | Permalink

      Quite right! And anyone proposing to use gas you might as well hand in his man card and start eating quiche 🙂

      • XCellKen
        Posted January 13, 2018 at 10:46 am | Permalink

        Texas Manly Man Mr Hank Hill would disagree. “I sell propane, and propane accessories”. “Taste the meat, nit the heat” There was an episode where Peggy and Bobby accidentally discovered they liked meat cooked over charcoal. When Hank yelled at Bobby when he found a charcoal briquette in his pocket, Bobby went with the “I was holding it for a friend” defense

        • yazikus
          Posted January 13, 2018 at 11:54 am | Permalink

          I love King of the Hill. Highly underrated show.

  5. fjordaniv
    Posted January 13, 2018 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    It would appear that the comments on Rate My Professor were deleted, probably due to the unflattering attention from realpeerreview.

    It’s impossible to make a parody about this kind of “research.”

  6. Posted January 13, 2018 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    Under an umbrella of gendered space immunity. Wasn’t that the title of a song by Rhianna?

    • Historian
      Posted January 13, 2018 at 10:01 am | Permalink

      Does the world need more gendered space immunity? Let the debate begin. I’ll keep an open mind on this.

      I would have put a smiley face emoji here if I knew how to do it? Could somebody explain?

      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted January 13, 2018 at 10:09 am | Permalink

        Edit / Special Characters in my browser (Firefox).

        • Historian
          Posted January 13, 2018 at 10:39 am | Permalink

          I couldn’t find what you indicated though I also use firefox. However, I did find an emoji add-on, which allows me to choose from a wide number, such as these.

          😃😢😎😫

          • Posted January 13, 2018 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

            It should be in one of your pull-down menus. But it looks like you got it handled in any case. 👍

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted January 13, 2018 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

              I never intentionally bother with emojis, I just put in the old ASCII emoticons, and WP then emojis them anyway… like (spaces interpolated in first column so WP doesn’t emoji them)

              : ) 🙂
              8 ) 8)
              ; ) 😉

              and so on…

              cr

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted January 13, 2018 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

                Hmmm..

                8 – ) 😎

  7. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted January 13, 2018 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    It’s all true. Trivial, but true. I can still recall my feelings many years ago when I got a new set of big barbecue tools, replacing my old puny ones. The length. The heft. I still recall the slight surge of testosterone.

  8. Randall Schenck
    Posted January 13, 2018 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    Certainly something that no one would find profound or generally speaking, even think about. I did not know that spiciness or heat in the food was a condition of masculinity. If it is, count me out. I’ll eat in the kitchen with the women folk.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 13, 2018 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, me too. I prefer properly cooked food to charred-on-the-outside raw-on-the-inside carcinogenic chunks.

      cr

  9. jaxkayaker
    Posted January 13, 2018 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    “Mexican-American men in Texas demonstrate their masculinity by barbecuing meat, having bigger grills, and eating spicer pico de gallo.

    (Pico de gallo, meaning “beak of the rooster” in Spanish, is a Mexican condiment made of chopped tomatoes, onions, jalapeno peppers and cilantro. It’s used on foods like tacos or fajitas.)

    That’s it, and it may well be true, but does it merit a paper?”

    I think such a topic could potentially merit a paper, but this particular approach and paper do not merit publication in a peer-reviewed journal, for the reasons you highlight, Jerry. Autoethnographies delenda est.

    That’s not research, it’s storytelling.

    • fjordaniv
      Posted January 13, 2018 at 9:37 am | Permalink

      Storytelling is what passes for research in many departments. An essay based on “lived experience” doesn’t require research, and it places the speaker in the position of deflecting criticism without actually having to refute opposing arguments.

    • Kiwi Dave
      Posted January 13, 2018 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

      A cautionary tale.

      Decades ago, long before I knew terms such as epistemology, post-modernism and autoethnography, I started teaching and also enrolled in a course on the sociology of education.

      As one of my assignments, I wrote well enough from my own experiences and observations, i.e, autoethnographically, about the arrangement of space in the classroom for the instructor to include it in a magazine publishing educational research.

      About 8 years later, someone drew my attention to it, so I read it again but thought some of it was incomprehensible and much of it unconvincing.

    • Posted January 15, 2018 at 11:50 am | Permalink

      I agree – food choices and the sociology of sex and gender in a given community make sense as areas to investigate. But this approach is just the worst sort of “participant observation” and that sort of thing.

      Storytelling is right – that’s how you get the excesses of many “cultural studies” works, which at McGill years ago seemed to be an excuse for language students to do bad (or worse, pomo) sociology! Dunno what the matters are like now, 20 years later, so take this criticism as purely historical, mind you.

  10. fjordaniv
    Posted January 13, 2018 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    I was a graduate student at IUP years ago. There were some decent professors there, but the Pomo/identitarian crowd was gradually crowding out traditional liberals.

  11. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 13, 2018 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    There are Weber grills, of course; but that bad boy on the bottom is worthy of a Max Weber.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted January 13, 2018 at 10:03 am | Permalink

      Even if you could get the box this comes in, into your vehicle, you will find some assembly required on the side.

  12. Adam M.
    Posted January 13, 2018 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    Hey, it could be worse. I honestly felt a twinge of relief that for once the focus wasn’t on the evil of white males. I expected at least one passage saying that toxic white masculinity has colonized the formerly pure Mexican immigrant culture. It’s a missed opportunity on the author’s part, perhaps!

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted January 13, 2018 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      Worse. Cultural appropriation. The suburbanization of salsa! The caucasionization of chorizos!

      • XCellKen
        Posted January 13, 2018 at 10:50 am | Permalink

        I heard that salsa replaced ketchup (catsup?) many years ago as the #1 condiment in the US. Cultural Appropriation ™ indeed !!!

        • Craw
          Posted January 13, 2018 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

          Don’t buy the imported stuff though. What they send us isn’t their best, they don’t send us their best.

  13. Posted January 13, 2018 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    Mexican-American men in Texas demonstrate their masculinity by barbecuing meat, having bigger grills, and eating spicer pico de gallo.

    If true, so what? Does Trump need to build a bigger wall to keep them out? At a time when Mexican-Americans are being maligned as potential rapists is this the time to read sexual aggression into their cooking?

    • XCellKen
      Posted January 13, 2018 at 10:56 am | Permalink

      But those Mexican American men already live here. Its only current immigrants who are rapists

      (Sarcasm, for anyone who wants to attack me for my sense of humor, or lack thereof)

  14. XCellKen
    Posted January 13, 2018 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Here is my autoethnographic research (anecdote)

    I grew up in the North, and come from a long line of Northern Europeans. As such, I like my food quite bland.

    When I moved to Texas after college, I quickly learned that I could tolerate only the mildest of salsa. And I don’t even like Beak of the Rooster.

    I oftentimes face ridicule for this. May times from Hispanics. Many times from FEMALE Hispanics. Seems many of them take great delight in my attempts to eat spicy food.

    So much for his “research”

    • Posted January 13, 2018 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      I am from Iowa and I prefer to eat corn on the cob by first slicing off the corn with a sharp knife.
      Oh, the disapprobation I receive from my homies!

  15. pck
    Posted January 13, 2018 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    I’m still having a hard time finding anything objectionable about this kind of journal article. It’s quite clearly literary art, published in a literary art magazine.

    • Craw
      Posted January 13, 2018 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

      So you agree it’s fraud then, but fraud is ok? Because it isn’t presented as “literary art”. It is presented as science, used to obtain tenure, and used to justify teaching what look to many of us a stereotypes. Nor is the magazine presented as a literary one.

      • pck
        Posted January 13, 2018 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

        Nobody is being defrauded. Even a cursory glance at the articles published in the journal shows that it’s clearly not science. Yes the website uses the same template as a scientific journal, but all the articles that I saw there are longform opinion pieces. What a tenure committee makes of this is their own business – if they were to count things like that as scientific articles I doubt that publications in <1 impact factor journals are going to impress anyone.

  16. Jon Gallant
    Posted January 13, 2018 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    As we know, this deep sociological research simply restates humor from animated TV shows like “King of the Hill” and also (by the way) “The Simpson”. Obvious conclusion: current Sociology, as well as post-modern scholarship of any other kind, would be best presented in animated cartoon form. Picture, if you will, a cartoon onion announcing “I am under an umbrella of gendered space immunity”, to which a cartoon chili-pepper replies “trans-generational recognition of dominance and mastery!”

    • XCellKen
      Posted January 13, 2018 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

      “Foucault, that boy ain’t right”

  17. jimroberts
    Posted January 13, 2018 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    That macho dominance can be achieved by doing the cooking is not a new idea, but dates back at least to Jesus:
    Mark 10:43 whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,

  18. ladyatheist
    Posted January 13, 2018 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    I follow @realpeerreview (perhaps I discovered it here?)

    My favorite new “methodology” is “autoethnography” in which someone studies him/herself and then writes about the details of his/her navel.

    It used to be difficult to get a Ph.D. and to get published. Now you can work from home!

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted January 14, 2018 at 12:15 am | Permalink

      Genius comment

  19. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted January 13, 2018 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    Hmmmm. I have this theory about small men who drive very large 4-wheel-drives…

    cr

    • Posted January 13, 2018 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

      You are obviously the world’s next great sociologist! Get that theory published!

  20. Posted January 14, 2018 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    I understand the pressure of “publish or perish” but I do not understand the acceptance of grotesquely mediocre work. As a former college professor it became clear to me that there are quite a number of taboos in that profession. One of them was based upon the principle “I will not criticize you if you will not criticize me.” Academics gossip as much as any other group and things are said behind people’s backs, but public criticism of another’s work/ teaching? It is just “not done.”

    Academic criticism through the review process has always been an “open season” to critique a competitor’s work, but that competitor was almost always at another institution, so didn’t fall under the taboo. It was also always done with some degree of privacy. The author of a work and the reviewers were aware of who was whom, but the public never (or almost never) saw the squabbles involved in such reviews.

  21. Posted January 14, 2018 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    This is the epitome of a macho grill:

    http://shoplagunamadre.com/longhornbullbarbecuegrill.aspx

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 14, 2018 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

      What a waste of sheet metal!

      What’s it made of? If it’s copper or bronze it will conduct the heat away so fast nothing will cook. If it’s anodized steel then the anodizing will come off and it will rust to buggery in a couple of years. Maybe you’re just supposed to park it in the yard for decoration and do the cooking in the kitchen where it should be done 😉

      cr


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