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Interview: Egalitarian Masculinities, Urgent in Latin America

Given the Worrying Cases of Gender Violence in the Region, it is Necessary to Work on Reeducation and Prevention. That Men Know and Apply Healthier Masculinities is Necessary.

Two men shaking hands

Photo: Unsplash

LatinAmerican Post | María Fernanda Ramírez Ramos

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Leer en español: Entrevista: Masculinidades igualitarias, urgentes en Latinoamérica

At LatinAmerican Post, we speak with Benjamín Fuentes, anthropologist and coordinator at Ilusión Viril, a foundation that works to prevent gender violence and promotes knowledge of diverse, egalitarian and non-violent masculinities. It seeks to question the social constructions of masculinity, which end up promoting inequalities and generating violent behavior. The objective is to raise awareness among men so that they assume a change in the face of macho behavior.

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LatinAmerican Post: From your experience in the Foundation and with the activists, what are those toxic traits in masculinities in Latin America that need more awareness?

Benjamín Fuentes: It is important to point out that it is attitudes and behaviors that are toxic, not people. For this reason, at the Foundation we have spaces for reeducation because we believe that it is possible to collectively transform these behaviors. In Latin America, the first toxic trait, and the most urgent to work on, is the exercise of physical violence to solve problems, which is seen in intimate partner, intra-family violence, between men or hitting some object. There may be work on public policies and education, but there must also be work on internal questioning and violence.

A second trait is the abandonment of parental and domestic responsibilities. In Latin America, most have or know a story of a father who never took charge. In Chile, Sonia Montecino wrote the book "Madres y huachos", which tells that this was how the nation was created. It has to do with the lack of commitment and with the feeling that man only generates in fertilization and his work is finished.

It is associated with gender roles because men have been established as providers. Care work is ignored: not washing, not cooking, not contributing to unpaid work is a toxic trait that also overloads women, because they are the ones who bear all the weight of housework and child rearing, in addition to their work in academic and professional spaces.

There are two more features: the null emotional work and the idea that there is only one way to be a man. From childhood, children are often denied the space to communicate their emotions. You always have to be rational, controlled and never cry. Socially, in some way we have castrated male emotionality, which leads us men to have zero emotional work and an internal world that is ignored. It is not that it does not exist, but that we are not able to identify what we feel or express it in a healthy way. In addition, there is the idea that there is only one way to be a man: that competition to show who is the most macho, the one who drinks the most, the one who flirts the most, etc. They are unrealistic and arbitrary standards.

LP: From Ilusión Viril, you point out that there is a problematic use of the term new masculinities and they prefer to speak of egalitarian masculinities. Why is it more appropriate to call them that?

BF: Academically, there are many concepts that are being used: dissident, alternative, depatriarchal or egalitarian masculinities. Everything points to the same idea: rethinking male behavior. We say that they are not new because we have references of men who have exercised traits of egalitarian masculinity throughout history and worked for women's rights. In Latin America, we have, for example, Quino, who created Mafalda, a highly questioning female character who is critical of modern culture. These characters contribute to building different imaginaries about the sex/gender relationship and help to promote a more egalitarian discourse.

LP : What are the main obstacles and resistance that you consider exist today in the face of changing the macho culture and toxic masculinities?

BF: The main factor that we find as resistance is that patriarchy itself is a complex system that has many maintenance mechanisms. It is super difficult to leave their institutions. There is usually great resistance from men, through ridicule, rejection and violence. This has to do with losing masculine privileges, which is what costs the most because many times we are not aware that we live within the privilege. There is the classic phrase: “who lives in privilege feels equality as oppression”. When one talks about feminism, questioning masculine practices or rethinking flirting, many men feel "they are limiting me, restricting me or they want us to become other things", even though this is not the case.

There is also a highly justified resistance or mistrust of feminist groups because men have been in a privileged position for millennia. There have been many cases of men who allegedly question everything and then return to sexist and even violent practices. The distrust is there, it will last a long time and it is completely valid. What we tell many guys who enter the Foundation to train is that it is a place to question themselves, not to play nice, be liked or be liked by girls. It can be a difficult and even painful process because you have to face your own vulnerability. Many times they will meet with resistance from their friends and family: ridicule, rejection or questioning. There are social and cultural pressures that it is difficult for us to make visible. When you are not within the desired masculinity they question you. For example, when you wear a different colored shirt or move your body in a different way.

LP: What advice could you give to men who are beginning to be interested in the concept of alternative masculinities? Where to start rethinking yourself as a man?

BF: The discussion of whether or not we can be feminists must be discarded. We must abandon the need for protagonism. It doesn't matter what category you want to wear, it has more to do with what you're doing. Women's movements have sought to be in the streets, regain confidence in public space and enter the political sphere, to positions of power. They go out somehow. In the same way, and in response, the movements of men should seek a space inward; to reconnect with the internal emotional world and with the domestic world.

Men must question their practices and privileges. Experience has shown us that although it is a personal process, and each one has their own rhythm, living it collectively is more enriching. If you can share these reflections with your male friends, colleagues and family, it is more interesting. It can be an uncomfortable process to take this learning to other groups of men, but it is necessary to rebuild fairer societies, with more egalitarian and loving masculinities.