“O Silêncio dos Homens”: Confronting ‘machismo’ through male-driven movements


By Madeline Asta

Machismo’. The idea that masculine pride comes from strength and aggression. A concept that is predominantly associated with Latin American culture and customs, but is also prevalent in societies across the globe. Historically and contemporarily, ‘machismo’ is used to justify male sexual, physical, and emotional dominance, primarily over females. It is the stereotype that the man goes to work and makes a living while the woman stays home to take care of children and clean the house, that men do not cry or need help, and that expressing feelings is a sign of weakness. Local, national, and regional feminist movements have been fighting to change these societal roles and customs.

The ‘Green Tide’ brought the issue of abortion to the streets of Argentina, #EleNao spread across social media platforms as women resisted now Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, and numerous women fought back against violence through politics. Within the last five years, men have also started taking steps to change this culture. Throughout Brazil, groups and centers aimed at starting dialogue between men about masculinity have developed. The film “O Silêncio dos Homens,” or “The Silence of Men,” was made by Papo de Homem as part of a project to bring awareness and open dialogue surrounding machista culture in Brazil.

“Men are always talking, imposing themselves, interrupting women whenever they talk. They are in places of power. How are men in silence? What I hear most is a man’s voice talking. But there is a difference between talking and actually unveiling oneself […] he talks to maintain an image.”

“O Silêncio dos Homens” demonstrates precisely why there is a need to bring men out of silence. Through interviews and research studies, the project addresses the idea of masculinity within the church, schools, racial structures, the LGBT community, pregnancy, domestic violence, and communidades, or low-income neighborhoods. Within each of these spheres, there is a different ideal that machismo creates that defines how a man should act. However, men are starting to create dialogue amongst themselves to address the question: “How do I belong to this masculine world, being that I do not identify with it?”

When talking about machista culture, it is hard not to talk about violence against women. In 2017, over 2,700 women were victims of femicide within the Latin America and the Caribbean region, with Brazil topping the list with over 1,100 femicides. Women have led the fight against the violence through national social media movements and political efforts. However, within this dialogue, there is little talk about the role of men and violence that affects males. A Papo de Homem survey of over 40,000 Brazilians throughout the country revealed that men are four times more likely to commit suicide than women, men live on average seven years less than women, 83% of homicides and deadly accidents result in men dying, and 60% of men have some level of emotional disorder – anxiety, depression, insomnia, alcoholism, drug problems, etc. When Brazilian men suffer sexual abuse, it takes them an average of 20 years to tell anyone. Men represent 95% of Brazil’s prison population. Silencing dialogue around the issues men confront only exacerbates the violence they put into society. As highlighted through interviews within the film, “There exists a strong relation between the pain a man feels and the pain he provokes. […] Rape is associated with masculinity. Seventy-one percent of femicides are influenced by this” idea of masculinity, machismo. Machista society is as violent towards men as they are violent towards others. Therefore, men have the “fundamental role in this” dialogue. Men “are the protagonists of violence, [they] are the ones who are killing most, [they] are the violent ones.” Through dialogue around this issue, men are shown that there are other models of masculinity that do not involve the ideal masculine identity as defined in a machista society.

Projects in Brazil range from high school workshops to national meetings, all with the goal to exemplify that there are alternatives to a machista figure. There is Instituto Plano de Menino at a high school in Pirituba, São Paulo, a group that leads workshops for students to talk about sexuality and objectifying women. Casa Prazerele was started by Claudio Serva to offer men a space to talk about sex and sexuality – “everything your father never taught you.” Serviço de Tecnologia Alternativo (SERTA) in Pernambuco, O Tempo de Despertar, and Homens em Conexão are all groups aimed at creating spaces for men to talk openly and without prejudice. Lá da Favelinha is a project in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais that works offers workshops directed to create an open community and show boys there are alternatives to drug trafficking. Despite the successes of the national movement, only 10% of Brazilian men have participated in such projects. Nonetheless, the dialogue has been started. Sixty-one percent of Brazilian men show interest in participating in these projects.

Fighting these ingrained conventions, specifically within a society of machismo, is challenging. Some “see this deconstruction of these values as if [they] are destroying society. Many people see that those who are questioning these values want to destroy the family, want to destroy traditionalism.” However, this movement instead aims to point out that “there are people who do not match this [ideal] and also have the right to exist.” Brazil stands are a regional example of alternative ways to address and change machista culture. Women have been fighting this structure for years, but now men are taking it upon themselves to make a difference through their own actions.

Watch “O Silêncio dos Homens” here.

Image from Wikimedia.