Hegemonic masculinity observed as an invisible cell

Photo Credit: Mauricio Martínez

"Once again, men, challenged by the dramatic nature of the current hour, propose themselves as a problem. They discover how little they know about themselves, about their "place in the cosmos," and they are concerned to know more. Moreover, in the recognition of their little self-knowledge lies one of the reasons for this quest. Settling into the tragic discovery of their lack of self-knowledge, they make themselves a problem. They inquire. They respond, and their answers lead them to new questions."

Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1969

A few years ago, I began to become aware of my masculinity. It was a fortuitous encounter because on my journey, I was searching for the wounds I carried from my childhood, which were inflicted with insults like "sissy," "butterfly," "gay," "broken," "damaged," among others. I thought these wounds were a result of my homosexuality, but as I observed them through illustration and memory, drawing and writing about them, and realizing that as a child, I had no desires towards other boys, I discovered they were actually directed at the inappropriate presence of femininity in my expressions, my delicacy, and my vulnerability—matters not suitable for a male, born and declared a man because of his penis.

Having a penis in a patriarchal society automatically implies being enrolled to be socialized under the cultural ideal of traditional masculinity, also referred to as hegemonic masculinity since the 1980s by the Australian sociologist Raewyn Connell. From a very young age, we begin to learn how to be a man, which involves being strong, aggressive, competitive, invulnerable, powerful, successful, violent, and insensitive. In my childhood, I threatened the patriarchal system by proposing a way of being a man (a way of being a child) that was outside the narrow margins of the ideal to aspire to. An efficient education was launched against me, laden with permissions that granted me privileges and prohibitions that shaped my behavior, my way of being and feeling, and taught me a constant surveillance of my body and the suspicious observation of other male bodies.

Being hegemonically masculine leads us to sign a direct social contract with patriarchy, implying embracing a gender supremacy pact among cis-heteronormative men. We learn (almost unknowingly) and commit to accept and reproduce it as we are taught. As men, we have been taught to live "under control" and in extreme vigilance of our deepest feelings, especially if they involve vulnerability, fear, sadness, pain, or insecurity. Although not all emotions are censored because anger and its expressions are allowed, and the more intense, the more masculine they are.

We learn to watch our bodies to not show sensitivity and emotions of vulnerability, to be strong, daring, and violent with ourselves and others, to represent stereotypes and roles based on anything that is not feminine, as being feminine is considered a lesser human category. We accept being providers, virile, dominant, and we embrace power. Thus, we become "real men" each day and from an early age. As proposed by Jair España Galán in his text "Pivots and Mechanisms of 'Conscious Masculinity'". Masculinity viewed from Political Philosophy, connecting how masculinity is socialized as a surveillance system based on Foucault's panopticon metaphor:

"Foucault clearly explains the panoptic model: it is based on a tower surrounded by a peripheral structure composed of cells. Both the tower and the peripheral construction are spaces to be occupied: the cells in the periphery can be occupied by patients, students, or prisoners (or anyone in a position of interdiction and requiring surveillance), while the tower should (or can) be inhabited by a watchman whose function is to ensure control over the 'prisoners'. We say that the watchman "can" occupy the central tower, because he also "can" not occupy it. The curious and ingenious thing about the panopticon is that the windows of the central tower prevent the 'prisoners' from being able to see inside. Therefore, if the watchman is absent, his escape would not be noticeable to the willing hostages." (España, p.193. 2017)

Discovering through my questions how I have become a man, and moreover, what being one has entailed, is recognizing that it has been a painful process filled with burdens, in which I had to leave personal matters behind on the path of who I am to fit into what I should be. This has had direct implications on my relationship with myself, with other people, and with the environment, hindering my ability to love myself and to love. So, I wanted to know if I was the only man feeling this discomfort that was growing into indignation, or if, on the contrary, other masculinized life experiences felt the same.

I approached academia seeking articles and taking courses where there were supposed answers about masculinities. I joined men's circles to listen to common stories and created a meeting space among men called iMANcipated where we could discuss what it means to be a man. My indignation took shape; it became an awareness of how masculinized individuals receive the direct impact of patriarchy that distorts our subjectivity to conform to its mold. Everywhere there is a reinforcement of what it means to be a "real man." The system is reproduced in the family, school, church, and society.

For men, there are few free and safe places where we can question and form different ideas about what masculinity implies, except those created for deconstruction purposes, which are few and usually exist with limited resources due to lack of institutional support. iMANcipated has allowed me to do something more than just critique the society we live in, which, although hard to admit, is the society we construct every day. In every encounter with other masculinized individuals, we have been able to discover how diverse we are but also how similar the ways we become are. Art is the excuse to address questions and project possible answers where no one has the absolute truth.

Today, the idea of being a man made without thought, without having been able to develop one's subjectivity as a creative act from the freedom of choice, is disturbing. My reflections have led me to recognize that it is important not only to inhabit indignation but to use anger and frustration as an engine of transformation. Thinking of ourselves as individuals (beyond gender labels) who have been masculinized is a task beyond necessary—it is an action of resistance. It implies a challenge, a commitment that involves profound questioning, triggering personal and political changes. It's not just about masculinized individuals transforming ways of thinking or how we handle feelings and our forms of interaction.

It's not just about painting our nails in colors, wearing skirts, doing chores, "helping" with parenting, or simply caring. Nor is it about being gentlemen who pull out chairs or open doors for ladies to exit cars. It's about recognizing that as hegemonic males, we are the gears of multiple violences: 91% of the deaths in the conflict between 1985 and 2016, according to data from the JEP-CEV-HRDAG project, 80% of intentional homicide victims worldwide, and 90% of the perpetrators according to the report of the UN Economic and Social

Council. We are the presumed perpetrators of 557 feminicides according to the Colombian Observatory of Femicides, 80% of the fatalities in road accidents according to the National Road Safety Agency. We constitute a high percentage (80%) of suicides (for every woman, four men commit suicide according to PAHO data, 2022). And this is just mentioning a few statistics. Therefore, it's about these uncomfortable questions, improbable conversations, and changes having social and political impact, affecting the ways we construct our subjectivities, the legacy we leave to new generations, and the construction of a new society.


España Galán, J. (2017). Pivots and mechanisms of "Conscious Masculinity": Masculinity viewed from Political Philosophy. (4), 191-211. Social Sciences Journal. Retrieved from https://rephip.unr.edu.ar/bitstream/handle/2133/10324/Jair%20Espa%c3%b1a.pdf?sequence=3&

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