By Andres Kogan Valderrama
HAVANA TIMES – Chile’s Ministry of Education has drawn up new guidelines, with meetings on gender-neutral education in schools set for April 19th. It will allow a space that raises awareness about stereotypes, discrimination and gender-based violence, opening up a door for society to rethink the construction of masculinity and the damage it has had.
While these kinds of meetings at schools, after many cases of sexual harassment and abuse have been reported at these establishments have been brought to light by the feminist movement, normally focus on the great damage the patriarchy has had on women in every aspect. However, they don’t focus on men, which ends up neglecting policies to dismantle what it is and means to be a man.
Just like Argentinian anthropologist Rita Segato, invited by president Gabriel Boric to his presidential inauguration on March 11th, so rightfully said, the hegemonic masculinity that has been established throughout History as a binary gender (man and woman) and heteronormative system, has devastating effects for men too.
Drawing from this, Segato talks about how we men have been subjected to a masculine order for centuries, which focuses on competition, productivity, authoritarianism, hierarchy, power, conquest, exploitation, dominion and war, which has made men very unhappy, as we are governed by a male ideal impossible to reach in reality.
In other words, men have been subjected to all kinds of pressure and tests, ranging from sexual prowess, holding an important job position, being economically successful, being the most intelligent, the most funny, reaching sports goals, receiving recognition from their family, taking risks and always overcoming their limits.
It’s no coincidence then that men live shorter lives than women and that suicide rates among men are much higher than among women, taking their lives by more violent means too, as there is a history of rejecting their emotions and suffering, which is the result of this masculine order.
Cases of men’s harassment, abuse and rape of women, for example, have no relation whatsoever with sexual pleasure and go beyond subjecting women, as it has to do with receiving their fellow man’s approval, subjected to hegemonic masculinity.
The same thing goes for murder, where man kills at the end of the day to feel stronger, more powerful and not show any kind of vulnerability or weakness to other men, if they feel there is a threat in their path that can’t be resolved peacefully.
There are many examples at schools of this male need to have their fellow men’s approval, and it goes from joking about with friends, physical assault to show they are stronger, public humiliations and of course, using women’s bodies as a trophy to show off to the rest.
That is to say, men use women to show off their heterosexuality and virility to other men, regardless of whether they are with them or not or whether they are telling the truth, as it’s a matter of making the rest of the men believe that he has been with many women and that he fits the mold of an alpha male.
To give you an example, there were many complaints at the Liceo Lastarria de Santiago against a group of high school students from that school who were sharing nude photos of women on WhatsApp. This is a good example of how the masculine order continues to be perpetuated in Chile’s schools, and it’s urgent for education to be taught from another perspective.
Unfortunately, the right-wing mayor of the Providencia community, Evelyn Matthei, didn’t see it this way, reacting with punishment and explaining what happened as an individual problem, saying that these students have psychological problems, so they can’t study at any high school in the municipality in person.
By resorting to safety and biomedical reasons, mayor Matthei has just further entrenched the problem of gender-based violence, sexual violence and the negation of the other, as she has closed the door for the school to establish a dialogue and reflect upon how this hegemonic masculinity is hurting and destroying the lives of millions of women and men.
As a result, Matthei’s overly authoritarian response also responds to the masucline order, which can also be enforced by women, going beyond the idea that the symbol of masculinity is in the body of a man, as Segato is right to point out.
Meanwhile, the school is playing a crucial role today in pushing for a different school experience, trying to dismantle the masculine order and shedding a light on alternative and anti-patriarchal masculinities, which call into question the idea of one kind of man, as every man should be able to freely choose how they want to be.
The need to think about men differently, which not only questions gender stererotypes and them sharing different roles with women, but also allows them to connect with their environment in a more emotional and experiential way, leaving rational logic behind which only takes away from and saddens our lives.
The same thing needs to be done to encourage men to work more on care-giving, collaboration, games without competition, humor without victims, learning from their mistakes and talking about their bodies and sexuality freely, without the phallo-centric pressure that’s been instilled in us since the beginning of time, also demystifying the idea that you have to be heterosexual to be more of a man.