By DALIA ACOSTA
HAVANA TIMES, Dec. 5 (IPS) – The rules for “being a man” that predominate in Latin America include “never saying no” to temptations out on the street, being “macho” — hanging tough — no matter what the risks, and above all, avoiding any characteristics or feelings that might be seen as feminine or cast doubts on one’s masculinity.
According to this logic, it might appear that machismo is the only way to “be a man,” says Cuban historian Julio César González Pagés, a University of Havana professor and the coordinator of the Ibero-American Masculinity Network, in this interview with IPS.
But in his view, new models of masculinity are not only possible, but essential, in order to end domestic violence, among other social ills.
IPS: Although masculinity can take many forms, machismo is the dominant expression in societies like Cuba’s. How did this come about?
JULIO CÉSAR GONZÁLEZ PAGÉS: It would appear that machismo is incorporated in men’s DNA, and that it is an identity that goes beyond culture. Why is this so? Because for far too long it has been transmitted through culture and education. All of Latin America, not just Cuba, is in a sense regarded as a region where machismo is part of male identity.
Education and culture are the two great bastions of these values. It’s as if machismo were a label, a masculine attitude per se, and that dominance, masculinity and machismo are three essential parts of “being a man.” And the problem is that, in a way, those three aspects form key parts of the patterns that define social acceptance for a man. Because of that social acceptance, in turn, we teach, nurture and transmit those values.
IPS: How can we explain that often it is women themselves who educate their sons according to sexist patterns?
JCGP: It’s not that women are machista, since they cannot be victims and victimizers in the same process. Women transmit machista codes to their sons because the social acceptance of a male includes all that. No one brings up a son to be vulnerable, not even among animals. Therefore, as a rule all those values that are acquired from culture and education have legitimacy within the family, the neighborhood and the community.
IPS: Can the damage that machista culture does, not only to women but also to men, be regarded as a health problem?
JCGP: The values transmitted by education and culture have had the consequence that, in all our countries, men’s health issues have not been considered a state problem, because of their links with machismo and dominant masculinity.
However, if we look at wars, risky behavior or lack of care for the body, we see that we should have more preventive health strategies in relation to masculinity. We would spend much less on health if we prevented men from being raised with risk-taking attitudes.
For example, you can find very similar attitudes among the under-25 generation in the entire area of Central America and the Caribbean. Why? Because they are socialized in the same way, with the same music and the same risk-taking culture.
The Reggaeton music of Puerto Rican artist Daddy Yankee can be heard by a young worker in Tegucigalpa, a kid from a middle-income family in San Juan, a guy from a rural province in Santo Domingo and a university student in Havana. This globalized culture also transmits values, and they are the same values that promote risk-taking attitudes.
Rather than advocating action at a national level, we have to think globally. Sustainable development is not possible in any of our countries if the link between masculinity and violence is not taken up as a health issue and a social issue, with specific funding.
IPS: Are we talking about funding earmarked for working with men, as opposed to the funds that have so far been devoted to gender issues but always aimed at women?
JCGP: Exactly. We cannot think that the funds devoted to inequality as a women’s issue will be the same as those our governments should provide for the issue of masculinity and violence. These are two problems that are related but different, and we must get to the roots of both.
IPS: Could the lack of preventive public health campaigns also be seen as another form of violence?
JCGP: It’s a way of exercising violence against our own health. We don’t know how to take care of ourselves, there isn’t a culture of caring for men’s bodies. There are cases of 40-year-old men who take up exercising and die because they didn’t see a doctor first to find out if their hearts could stand it. When we talk of violence and masculinity, we tend to think of men hitting out, and not of all the possible violence, including psychological violence, which we impose on ourselves.
IPS: Is this the same vulnerability that men who are on their own have to face at the end of their lives?
JCGP: Women usually come to terms with widowhood. They see it as a new stage in their lives, they go out more and enjoy themselves. There are exceptions, but this is the norm. Men fall into loneliness and depression; they don’t know what to do with their lives. In the end, masculinity makes them completely dependent on women and makes them feel useless, a painful process.
I think the pain and discomfort caused by that dominant, socially constructed masculinity in men should be studied. Global society has grown older, countries like Cuba are ageing, and there are increasing numbers of men over 60 who don’t know what to do with their lives, and if they are widowed they are much worse off.
IPS: So machismo works against machos themselves?
JCGP: Ultimately, it is negative for women and for men. The solution is to create new models.
IPS: What then are the messages that should be spread in order to promote changes towards what has been called a culture of peace?
JCGP: The messages must be aimed at specific sectors. Nowadays, everyone is talking about diversity and, if there is diversity, there must be universal messages but also specific ones. The world needs love, but not the love that soap operas show us, an idyllic and impossible love, like Romeo and Juliet.
Anything we do will have to be aimed at that generalised stress that impels us to occupy every hour with something and so not leave any time for thinking, for reflecting, for loving. We have to learn to love ourselves, our time, our body, our city. In other words, we have to build that culture of peace that often seems impossible, but that I think is possible.
IPS: Are we talking about changing daily routines, too?
JCGP: The culture of peace is often seen as a slogan. We associate the concept with symbols, and not with simple attitudes. Human beings are living at a very fast pace, and that fast pace is violent and works against us. To learn how to live is the culture of peace, as is learning to listen, to respect, and to sweeten life.
In a way, one of the first things that men who are liberating themselves from these machista attitudes are learning is intimacy, and part of that intimacy is the kitchen, because everyone has to eat. So, part of promoting the culture of peace should be to say: “Take some time, share with your friends, make some pasta or whatever you want, but give yourself that mental space to share the essence of life.”
It’s not about opening a big disco called Culture of Peace that would be no more than extra consumption of the usual. It’s about getting back to essentials, to the moments when men and women used to share small, deep down things that made them happy. It’s about going back to the roots of daily life, but as enjoyment, not torture.