No doubt, we are living through a moment of pivotal change in gender relations, both in Argentina and across the world, as part of a reaction against the institutionalized heteronormative definitions of what it means to be a woman or a man. As movements such as #NiUnaMenos gain strength, it can be easy to label the issues that the patriarchy imposes on society as ‘women’s problems.’ However, this cultural shift is leading men to reconsider their role within the patriarchy and the way that it also affects their lives. One such group is El Colectivo de Varones Desobedientes (The Disobedient Men’s Collective) who are encouraging men to join the conversation.
Based out in Haedo, the group was founded three years ago as a space to share and discuss the way that the patriarchy affected its members, as well as the manners in which they as men benefit from how the gender power balance is constructed. “We question this issue by first understanding that we are the oppressors and the privileged ones in this society,” they say. “Men do suffer the consequences of the patriarchy, particularly in our private lives, but while we consider that men have a lot to gain, we also understand that in reality we have a ton of privileges.”
The name of the group itself represents much of their ideology, stemming from this drive to check their privileges as men and recognize how the patriarchy impacts their lives. “We liked the idea of being ‘disobedient,’ of being opposed to obeying social rules,” they say. For them, an ‘obedient man’ is one who unquestioningly complies with all the norms that the patriarchy imposes on him. However, while they describe themselves as ‘anti-machista,‘ they aren’t necessarily against the patriarchy, as this is far too closed a definition. Instead, they wanted to create a space for discussion and reflection, where they could consider the way that the patriarchy impacts their lives.
They recently set up a series of monthly workshops, entitled ¿Te cabe el machismo? (Does machismo suit you?), as a way to bring men together to discuss these issues. The themes discussed in the workshops are varied and interlinked. “Last month we started with male privilege, but of course, the themes are all interlinked. We also discuss machismo, the patriarchy, responsible fatherhood, different types of masculinities and sexualities, contraception, domestic violence, and machista violence. They’re all related topics but we choose one to focus on.
“The way that it works is that we choose a theme and then start a reflective workshop. The starting point can be a text or some sort of activity, or a mix of the two that will lead us to reflect on what happens to us as men with everything that the patriarchy imposes on us. We then question and debate these issues. We don’t try to make excuses or see ourselves as victims; we know that we are in a position of privilege, but what we’re trying to do is really modify the practices of thinking, feeling and acting that we have.”
The workshop is only for men, as it is a safe space to discuss things that affect them as males. “We have to consider how society is constructed and how men fit within it. We think that there’s been a small transformation that you can see, and we now have to think about areas to work on. The patriarchy can be found on all sides in this sense, so as a colectivo we are always looking for a filter to see these things, without necessarily stopping being a part of the patriarchy.”
We so often discuss the impact of the patriarchy on society in general, and in particular women, but how does it affect men’s lives? Well first of all, they feel that there are certain behavioral models demanded of men in our society. “You have to be the macho argentino, you have to be dominant,” they explain, although they are keen to emphasize that this is not something unique to Argentina, but rather patterns of behavior that can be found all over the world. “There is also the difficulty of showing emotions, having to be brave and always up for a fight, sexual potency, and the mental and physical consequences that this brings. Men have much higher rates of suicide and it’s a much more violent way to die.”
Clearly, this understanding of the gender balance and systems of oppressors and the oppressed comes from the group’s left-wing ideology. They see these power matrices as a direct result of capitalism, a political and economic system based on domination, of winners and losers. “Hopefully, one day we can have a society where we have less of the dominated and dominators,” they say.
They are all men who grew up in an era when being macho was the norm. One of the members, Leandro, remembers his uncle telling him “maricón, don’t cry” or “you look like a girl,” while nowadays the younger generation have this freedom to cry and be sensitive, and to choose the type of man that they want to be. Attitudes toward el macho argentino are shifting as well. “My nephew uses machista as an insult,” says Leandro. “It’s through no influence of mine, he picked it up at school! Before, being macho was something to be praised, but now, at least in our circle, ‘machista’ is an insult and I think that’s something really promising.”
However, while things are steadily improving, periods such as the World Cup serve as an instrument to reestablish traditional views of gender roles and ‘masculine’ behaviors become even more apparent. “The gender roles become much more clearly delineated,” they explain. “Around the World Cup, you see the return of the machote argentino who thinks he’s the best, that only he can do anything, who is aggressive, powerful, and has this need to win. In the World Cup, masculinities become hinged on whether players score goals or lose.” In Argentina, and around the world, football remains something that is categorized as ‘masculine’, and it creates a breeding ground for all these behaviors to develop.
That being said, just because the collective are anti-machista doesn’t mean that they consider themselves feminist. In a time when national attention has turned toward the abortion debate, the role of men within women’s movements is also an interesting one. For the Colectivo de varones desobedientes, they see themselves as “a group born of the feminist movement,” but one entirely focused on men’s issues, definitively rejecting the label “feminist.” It would seem that even now, sectarian divisions reign supreme, and one would have to question the effectiveness of such a limited scope given the wide-reaching implications of the social structures that they are discussing. It should be noted too, that the abortion vote in the Lower House has been scheduled for just before the World Cup, which once again creates a stark delineation between “men’s” and “women’s” issues, when in reality there is substantial overlap between the two.
It is cultural phenomena like the World Cup that shed light on the reality of gender relations in Argentina. While things are changing, “there has been a lot of evolution with regard to masculinity, which in reality is very little,” they say. Gender roles are still definitely constructed around the oppressor and the oppressed. While things are progressing slowly, events such as the World Cup demonstrate how the path to achieving gender parity is far from linear.
What is important is that unlike in the past, people are no longer silently accepting that these are the way things are. There is a more widespread acceptance that everyone has to play a role in this process, it’s not just a question of ‘women’s issues’ or ‘men’s issues,’ and so hopefully things will continue to change. As long as the conversation continues, these issues will not go back to being part of the everyday, and so the existence of groups such as this one are reasons to hope for a brighter future in Argentina and around the world.
¿Te cabe el machismo? | Caseros 200, Haedo | El Colectivo de varones desobedientes | For more information, click here