The struggle for gender equality led by the feminist movement has begun to reach certain men who recognize their responsibility in this matter and the need to work together to change gender power relations. For this reason, in recent years several groups have been organized to break the male mandates imposedon them by patriarchy.
Are men born or “self-made”?
We learn to be girls or boys, women or men from the family, school, different religions and society in which we live. Gender learning is one of the first and most important lessons we assimilate: the fundamental characteristics of our personal identities are built on it. In our childhood, we go through a process of socialization that fosters attitudes considered appropriate for each sex, or that suppresses those that do not conform to the established roles and stereotypes: it rewards those who meet established norms and punishes or excludes those who do not. Being a man or woman thus involves values and behaviors associated with the biological characteristics of each person. The feminine and masculine is learned and, therefore, it can be modified.
Gender is a socially and culturally constructed category that defines what is meant by male and female. Therefore, it defines what values, behaviors and expectations must be owned by men and women in a given context.
Characteristics of hegemonic masculinity
Historically the role and identity of the male gender has been privileged in rights and opportunities when compared to thefemale gender. This has generated a model of masculine dominance that permeates all areas of societal structure (political, economic and cultural), legitimizing and perpetuating a form of power exercised by men and keeping them in that position from generation to generation. The key to hegemonic masculinity is power over others, whether it is over women or other men.
The culture of inequality is directly related to holding control over another person to satisfy the need of maintaining power over another.
An important part of male identity consists of continually proving their own abilities to other men in order to confirm manliness and worth. This leads to attitudes that disregard personal safety, and a tendency to be exposed to risk because in this struggle for power, men are raised to be competitive so as to attain power or status. In line with the continuing need to demonstrate manliness, traditional masculinity is defined in opposition to everything associated with femininity, which includes the emotional side, the lack of personal care and homophobia. A man must prove that he is not a child, he is not a woman and he is not gay. In this sense, violence forms part of the male socialization process to a much greater extent than in women. Though violence is clearly losing legitimacy, it is persistently used either against women, to resolve conflicts with other men, or with themselves.
On the other hand, the tendency to project outwards, neglecting personal development,strengthens instrumental and competitive skills, thus highlighting the primacy of productive work (at the expense of the reproductive, corresponding to women). Finally, the predominant male mandate entails emotional control: inexpressiveness and poor management of emotions and feelings, traditionally associated with femininity.
Gender, then, describes the unequal power relations between men and women.
Rethinking how to be a man
In other words, although men enjoy certain privileges as a group in general terms, the elements of the so-called hegemonic masculinity also have downsides: they limit the possibilities for personal growth, the potential of men as human beings and their ability to develop fully.
In addition, it keeps them in the position of privilege that perpetuates the system of subordination and violence against women. In recent years, some groups have organized to analyze the imposed roles and to find new ways of “being a man”, based on the ideas of social justice and equality.
One of the biggest organizations formed by men and dedicated to the struggle for gender equality and the eradication of violence against women is the Canadian White Ribbon. After 14 young women were killed in 1989, possibly for studying a traditionally male-dominated degree (known as the Massacre of Montreal), a group of men felt they had a responsibility to engage and involve other men by doing something – starting with an end to the silence. In 1991 they launched the first White Ribbon Campaign as a symbol of peace, and soon after they became an organization.
Countering machismo in Spain
In Spain, the Centre for Studies of the Male Condition has devoted its efforts to research, teaching and promoting changes in manhood and machismo since 1993, as well as promoting changes in men’s lifestyles, behaviors and health. Driven by the same sense of social justice, but with a more practical approach, AHIGE (Association of Men for Gender Equality) emerged in Malaga in 2001 and Homes Igualitaris (Egalitarian Men) in Catalonia in 2009 to analyze and deconstruct the male roles imposed by patriarchy.
“You cannot make a shift towards an egalitarian society if you don’t take men into account and, for this reason, men should also change,” explains Paco Abril, president of Homes Igualitaris. One of the association’s main activities is to provide a space for reflection, and tools –especially emotional ones – to counteract the harmful and restrictive effects that gender roles have on men, thus developing a more communicative and empathic side.
A more egalitarian society also implies an improvement in men’s lives especially in self-knowledge and having more fulfilling relationships. Building from a review of personal experiences, the associations work towards a model that allows men to be more sensitive, able to understand and express their emotions; men who care more for themselves and their families; who are more tolerant with the diversity of sexual orientations and options; less violent and committed to fighting all forms of oppression of women and other men. Paco Abril recognizes that, althoughthe changes are in their infancy, they are happening little by little and unstoppably, due to the need for a paradigm shift: not only for women, but for the whole of society.
Cover photo: via CENESEX
Translation of the original article in Spanish by Amanda Vela
This is a non-profit explanation