After many decades of “I want to marry a lady who knows how to sew and who knows how to embroider”, to repeat that “crying is mine” or to carry the mandate to be the providers of the home, begins to gain space among men the need to question the assumptions of masculinity.
This change of perspective becomes fundamental in a context in which macho violence continues to escalate: 2019 closed with 327 femicides – one of the highest numbers in recent years – and 2020 started with record numbers. Thus, the possibility of rethinking what it means to be male is, for specialists consulted by the nation, an opportunity to disarm stereotypes that contribute to inequality and violence and that shape the minds of men and women almost from the cradle.
Diego Rodríguez is part of the Collective of Antipatriarchal Men of the city of Buenos Aires, an organization that was born in 2010 to reflect on masculinity. Together with his companions, he is convinced that there is a multiplicity of ways of being a man and of transiting masculinity, but he knows that questioning the socially instituted model still has consequences.
“Men are built with emotional limitations, from the impossibility of demonstrating or communicating emotions such as sadness, empathy or love to ways of bonding emotionally with other men, whether in sex or emotional relationships or family or friendly,” he explains Diego. “Even,” he adds, “we are forbidden to take care of ourselves, from the moment they don’t let us play with dolls or babies to learn how to care for others.”
For its part, the gender specialist of the Spotlight Initiative – a global alliance of the European Union and the UN to eradicate violence against girls and women – Victoria Vaccaro also highlights the importance of these types of reflective exercises. “A key strategy in the prevention of violence against women is the modification of social patterns and practices that undermine equality and promote violence,” he says. Therefore, he considers fundamental “the work with men in the redefinition of the way of being male and in the possibility of thinking and rethinking the effects of a toxic masculinity”.
While the main effect of this model of toxic masculinity is sexist violence, it is not the only one. “We also see the imprint of this model in the intervention of several institutions, as in some judgments of the Judiciary, in interventions by police forces or in school practices,” warns Natalia Gherardi, executive director of the Latin American Justice and Gender Team (THE A).
Gherardi believes that academic, government and civil society institutions are incorporating this change of perspective at different rates. “Progress is made in parity norms, but the conformation of decision spaces with authorities that are totally masculine is not questioned, as in the Chamber of Deputies, or ways are sought to circumvent the application of the rules that seek to guarantee greater diversity”, underline
Victims and costs
One of the certainties shared by the different actors is that “the hegemonic model of masculinity fundamentally generates violence and inequality.” This is expressed by Luciano Fabbri, doctor of Social Sciences and member of the Institute of Masculinities and Social Change (IMCS). “I would not reduce the danger for women to the risk of physical and sexual violence, but mainly to the costs associated with men who intend to dispose of them. That cost can be, among others, losing autonomy and self-confidence. “, analyzes Fabbri, who also coordinates the gender and sexualities area of the National University of Rosario.
This widespread form of masculinity is also risky for men themselves, especially younger ones. According to the study “Men and masculinity (s)”, carried out by the IMCS with the support of the Spotlight Initiative, these mandates impose on them a series of pressures that expose them to different dangers. For example, the report lists certain expected behaviors that lead to excesses with drugs and alcohol, to be reckless behind the wheel, to have an early sexual initiation and even little awareness about health care.
Last November, Ignacio Garraza, 24, decided to publish on his Twitter account his decision to undergo a vasectomy as a contraceptive method. He never imagined the impact it would have and the violence of which it would be targeted. “I felt very exposed when it took on transcendence; it was to feel machismo in my own flesh by some comments, something that must be incomparable to what women face every day,” he recalls. However, not all were insults. “Many wrote to me interested in knowing a little more and I also had many retweets helping to make it known, to be an option when choosing how to take care of ourselves,” says Ignacio, a native of San Luis and an advanced student of Nutrition.
The case of the attacks that Ignacio received is not exceptional. “Many of the men who do not adhere to these macho practices end up in some way silencing their repudiation or their difference because of the fear of being expelled from the masculinity groups,” says Fabbri, of the IMCS, an institution that proposes a federal network of spaces of work to make these debates visible.
For Ignacio, there are many naturalized attitudes. “We have to play football, fix things to pineapples, be strong and cold. We grow up with the ‘applause to the grill’ or the strange look of the grandfather when we wash a plate. Then, in relationships, they have to take the pills and we use condoms, if we use it. “
Precisely, one of the challenges lies in how to raise children, how to eradicate the micromachist attitudes of daily life or the sexist thoughts that are perpetuated (see separately).
But is there a healthy model of masculinity? “We have to think of a masculinity that knows how to care for and take care of itself, that values reciprocity, similarity over inequality and hierarchy, that can think not only of the authority that gives it the look of other men, but of the rest of the social groups, “Fabbri proposes. Another axis is “being able to empathize with the situations of suffering that other people live and are often produced by those practices that we exercise and naturalize.”
Not just a local claim
This new look has global consensus. The UN has been promoting the #HeForShe campaign, which aims for men to engage in favor of gender equality, whether discussing stereotypes or rethinking their masculinity.
There are also more specific initiatives. One of them is Men Weavers, a group born in Chile to raise awareness that any activity or hobby does not require belonging to a particular genre. For this, it organizes weaving meetings in public places.
Men Weavers already has a local detachment and Javier Oliva Pérez is one of its members. Publicist by profession, but dedicated for more than a decade to the design of dolls and textile objects for boys, Javier learned to weave at 45. “I must confess that knitting in public cost me because I did not know how the other was going to take it, I had to fight with my own prejudice, “he explains. In their environment they received it well, but it is not the most common reaction. “I have friends who wove in their rooms and when they felt their dad talk nearby they hid the fabric, and others who were told by their moms: ‘Don’t let your dad know,'” Javier says.
In Argentina, the organization has just published a book with weaving projects. In his prologue, it can be read: “We are convinced that a new masculinity is woven from childhood. And as adults, rethinking and questioning how we influence our sons and daughters when choosing games, colors, sports and artistic activities “.
Rethinking masculinity is, in short, a challenge that challenges both men and women. All the actors consulted agree that crossing it is decisive to end sexist violence. The high rate of femicides requires doing so urgently.
A model that questions privileges
The different sources consulted agree that there are multiple ways to travel through a non-macho masculinity. Therefore, there are those who prefer to talk about masculinities.
For Diego Rodríguez, of the Collective of Antipatriarchal Men, it is essential that men take off their backpack if they are the brave, suppliers and viriles. In this regard, he adds: “Some men identify the privileges we carry and try to question them.”
The prologue of the book Men Weavers Argentina brings its own: “We men can also do housework, raise children, change diapers, be affectionate, playful, less competitive, shelter, tell a story and, why not, also weave “.