Participants in a group class in Mexico City. Photo: Berengere Sim. In a quiet street tucked away in Roma Sur, in central Mexico City, are the offices of the organisation GENDES – short for gender and development. Founded in 2009, for almost a decade it has promoted gender equality in Mexico by fighting machismo and negative masculinities.
The organisation has done this through research and advocacy but also by creating space for reflection and intervention. Among other things, they run group classes for men.
Last year, I attended and observed one of these classes, called “Hombres Trabajando(se)”, which roughly translates to “Men working on themselves”, to produce a short film about the project for openDemocracy 50.50.
“I promise to listen and accept the opinions of my partner” and “I promise to create a healthy environment for myself and for others” are two of the 12 promises to maintain healthy relationships that the men repeat each class.
Video: Finding ‘Yo Real’
The men sit in a circle with two facilitators – Guillermo Mendoza Rivera and Rubén Guzmán López – guiding them through a series of reflection exercises designed to help them connect to their “true self” or “Yo Real”.
One man says he is 37 and that this is his second class. “My acts of violence were against my mother-in-law and my son. With my son, it was physical violence, and also verbal, with my mother-in-law it was verbal,” he says.
The men take turns introducing themselves and sharing what kind of violence – physical, sexual, emotional, financial, or verbal – they may have perpetrated that week and whether or not they practiced a “retiro” – an hour long “time-out” to anticipate and avoid violence.
The second half of the two-hour class focuses on a specific act of violence that one of the men has committed. Members of the class, led by Rubén, help the man unpack the situation and how it became violent.
Afterwards, Rubén tells me that this part of the class is like breaking down a violent act into “movie scenes.” By pressing pause at various points, the men consider how they could have acted differently.
During the class I attended, a man said he had recently hit his daughter after she ignored his instructions. It had been a tense evening: they had been waiting for a call from her mother, with whom they hadn’t talked in months.
The men reflected and discussed how problematic social norms allow them to assume roles as punishing fathers when their children ‘disobey’ them.
Vicente Mendoza, 26, comes to GENDES every week. A friend told him about this place. He says he’s here to take responsibility for violent behaviour against his mother and his partner.
He told me: “We all exercise violence in one way or another. Identifying it, recognising it, and working on it, well, I think it makes us better people and brings about a better society. It is important that, as men, we work on this, especially in Mexican society where machismo is entrenched from the cradle.”
“We all exercise violence in one way or another... in Mexican society, machismo is entrenched from the cradle.”
Mauro Vargas Uría, one of the founders of GENDES, told me it’s unjust that women face barriers in Mexico because of a certain masculine frame of mind – machismo. He said the goal is to eradicate this and all “violent behaviours and actions against women.”
I asked Mendoza to define machismo. He called it “a veil that blinds us... that gives [men] super powers, which do not actually exist and that – on the contrary of being super powers – are negative and they have a strong impact.”
“Far from being constructive,” he said, this can “ruin the lives of other people.” He told me: “That is what machismo does, it puts you in a position of power or authority... it doesn’t matter what happens in the lives of other people, you don’t care, and it has an impact on the other person.”
Mendoza said being a man in Mexico means privilege but also responsibilities “not to cry, not to express your feelings, and to be the provider,” he said. “These responsibilities that lead you to limit yourself in the exercise of being and make you hard and cold to another person.”
Rubén has been a facilitator at GENDES since the group’s first classes. He says that fighting machismo “is a process that lasts your whole life” and that men must be “constantly analysing our acts of violence.”
“The culture that we have is very strong,” he told me, of what they’re up against. “Violence is everywhere, in the media, in religion, in schools, at work, basically everywhere, it is very naturalised.”