From Chile: Stereotypical Masculinity & Drug Consumption

By Andres Kogan Valderrama

HAVANA TIMES – After watching the different marches, activities and initiatives held all over the world to commemorate International Women’s Day, I very happy about what’s going on. These actions open enormous possibilities for confronting a patriarchal system that continues reproducing itself in all the existing spheres. Many of its forms haven’t been generally examined through a feminist lens, or one that would promote more diverse types of masculinity.

That’s the case with the consumption of drugs, including alcohol, on the part of millions of people. In this area, unfortunately, machista discourses and practices continue replicating themselves every day: in families, schools, hospitals and the mainstream media, this time through a drug-centric lens. That view has done no favors at all to the push for gender equality and an end to discrimination; rather, it condemns women to a life of stigmas, discrimination, and violence.

It’s important to view the phenomenon of drug consumption as the heir of a forced hegemonic masculinity that oppresses women in different ways and in different places. As men, it also leads us to practices that harm ourselves and others. Those who have traced the relations between gender and substances have now shed some light on the connection, demonstrating that our relationship to drugs isn’t neutral.

That’s the key idea proposed in Chile by the National Service for the Prevention and Rehabilitation of Drug and Alcohol Consumption. Their free course called Gender and Public Policy on Drugs[1] takes a very complete look at the phenomenon of substance consumption from a gender perspective. That’s very good news, not only for those of us who work in that institution, but also for anyone interested in reflecting on the matter.

The course brings to light the profound harm generated by the existing gender roles and stereotypes. Women drug users suffer the greatest harm, since society isolates and excludes them much more than men, due to the maternal role that has historically been imposed on them. This causes them to seek help much less, out of shame; hence, a far fewer number of women than men enroll in drug dependency treatment programs.

Similarly, we men should be the first in line to examine our own machista practices, ingrained in us from the time we’re very small, and simply rebel against the mandate for hegemonic masculinity. In the case of drug users, such rebellion becomes a necessity in order to change and begin to alter a large quantity of sexist myths that don’t only make women more vulnerable, but also cause us great self-destruction.

As a result, if you examine closely the representations that men give to drugs in general, these are closely tied to risk-seeking, prestige, recognition, conquest, potency, achievement, force, daring, but also to the lack of self-care and neglect of our own physical and mental health. That translates into a greater consumption of illegal drugs among men than among women, hence more overdoses, more suicides and, of course, more traffic accidents among men.

All the things we’ve been taught in order to be men are closely linked to the rationalist denial of our own emotions from the time we’re very little. Drugs, then, become the ideal way to be able to cope with pain and not have to face ourselves, since we’re incapable of reflecting on our own sense of life and experiences.

In other words, it’s as if we men we can’t accept our own weakness and vulnerability, since that would supposedly be very feminine, and so we opt for the use of drugs in order to have more control. In the long run, that’s a totally unsustainable repression that with the passing of time is bound to explode at some moment, in a way that can inflict very violent damage on other people and ourselves.

Definitely, the prevention of drug consumption can’t be kept distant from the gender perspective and the questioning of the dominant hegemonic masculinity, which generates tremendous ill effects in society. Because of that we men must begin to dismantle all this and promote diverse forms of being a man and of relating to our surroundings. In that way, we can cancel the patriarchal value that drugs continue to hold right up until today.

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