New Barcelona center teaches Spanish men to explore their masculinity | Stephen Burgen in Barcelona
It is hard work to maintain the macho image of the Spanish. But help is at hand thanks to Barcelona’s new Center for Plural Masculinities, which offers men the chance to shake off the macho straitjacket.
“This is not a place where men come and blame themselves for being bad men,” says Laura Pérez, Barcelona adviser for feminism and LGBTI, who has overall responsibility for the project.
“It’s a place to talk about sexuality, without taboos, a place to explore masculinity. It all has to do with how boys are educated to be men. Men must be heroes, they don’t have the right to be afraid, boys don’t cry. It doesn’t allow for the many different versions of masculinity that are possible.
While the center aims to confront misogyny and homophobia, the emphasis is on encouraging men to explore other ways of being, beyond traditional role models. Spain, after all, is the country that gave us the word “machismo”.
While the center staff, made up of 10 people, organize group and individual discussions on site, perhaps the most important function of the organization will be the outreach work it does.
Through exhibitions and events in museums, libraries and other cultural institutions, she hopes to spark debate on masculinity. She will also be active in the city’s many sports associations.
Pérez sees sport as one of the last areas where men cannot speak openly about their sexuality, a point confirmed by the media attention given to Josh Cavallo, the young Australian footballer who turned out to be gay last month.
The center will also try to fill the void in the discussion of gender roles and identity at school by involving parents and teachers. Pérez says there is little sex education and almost no discussion of sexuality in the Catalan education system.
“We have taboos about talking about sex, but at the same time we have internet access to all kinds of sexual activity,” she says. “The only access young people have to sex education is through pornography and it is very dangerous.”
Some of the programs predate the center and one of the most successful and popular of them prepares expectant fathers with discussions about parenthood, childcare and the sharing of household chores.
A survey by the National Institute of Statistics shows that Spanish men spend an average of 23 hours per week looking after children and 11 hours on household chores, compared to 38 and 20 hours respectively for women.
On gender issues, for a while, Spain lagged behind other European countries due to the legacy of Franco’s dictatorship, says Viviana Waisman, president of Women’s Link Worldwide, a goal-oriented organization. nonprofit that uses the law to advance women’s rights.
“More and more we are seeing young Spanish men and women understand the need to break with gender stereotypes,” she says, but adds that some institutions in the country are lagging behind.
This was highlighted in 2018 with the so-called la Manada [wolf pack] case where three judges acquitted five men of the gang rape of an 18-year-old woman during the bull festival in Pamplona on the grounds that the video the men recorded on their phones showed the woman offering no resistance. A judge even said they should only be found guilty of stealing the victim’s cell phone. “The case was a turning point in Spain, especially since Trump was in power, and when someone is so blatantly misogynistic it helps people understand how laws and policies are so anti-women,” said Waisman.
“Here is a young woman who was the victim of a crime and the judges focused on her and not on the accused. She was asked to explain her behavior while she was the victim. It broke the collective silence about how women experience violence and discrimination in society. “
The conviction sparked a huge uproar with tens of thousands of women and men taking to the streets across Spain in protests that forced the government to introduce new consent legislation.
The old ideas remain, however, and have found their champion in Vox, the far-right party that espouses traditional family values and whose leader, Santiago Abascal, has a penchant for Putin-style photo ops and supports activities such as hunting and bullfighting. “The ideas of how women can be have come a long way. Not so much in the case of men, ”says Pérez.
“Gender stereotypes affect us all,” says Waisman, who supports the Barcelona initiative. “If we just focus on the fact that women are feminists and fight for equality and don’t do the same for men, we are leaving out half of the population.”
Pérez agrees. “Barcelona has been promoting feminist policies since 2015, and it is important that we consolidate the theme of masculinity within them,” she says. “Otherwise, it’s just the sound of a hand clapping.”