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Could Focusing on Men’s Feelings Help Achieve Gender Equality?

Eduardo Liendro’s workshops teach men to express their feelings, and the program has become wildly popular — with women.

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Could Focusing on Men’s Feelings Help Achieve Gender Equality?

Ena Aguilar Peláez, GPJ Mexico

Carlos Mata, right, discusses themes of sexual violence, its different forms and consequences with his colleagues, Miguel Ángel Palacios, left, and Fernando Santos, middle, at a masculinities workshop in Oaxaca, Mexico.

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OAXACA DE JUÁREZ, MEXICO — In the hills of Oaxaca, on the floor of a hotel’s palm-covered rooftop terrace, nine men sit in a circle on colored mats. The group is part of a workshop designed to help men express their emotions in a healthy way, an exercise intended to improve their abilities and communication skills in both their personal and professional lives.

Carlos Mata has traveled seven hours by bus, from his home on the coast of the state of Oaxaca, to attend the bimonthly workshop for the last two years. Today, he wants to talk about the loss of his grandmother, who died two days earlier. But still, talking about his grief is not easy for him.

The men all work at local radio stations. They’re connected by Ojo de Agua Comunicación, a Oaxaca-based organization that serves to defend the rights of indigenous communities and train the radio stations’ staff in video and audio production. The group was invited to attend the workshop following a request from a colleague who felt she and other women at the community radio stations were not being treated equally and respectfully by their male colleagues.

These workshops are designed to create a space where men feel safe to express their emotions without being judged and without the burden of conforming to social norms, which often discourage male vulnerability.

Eduardo Liendro, a social anthropologist, runs the workshop. Thirty years ago, Liendro set up Colectivo de Hombres por Relaciones Igualitarias, a nonprofit that held workshops and training sessions to address male behavior that affects women. He felt the only way to achieve gender equality was to work with men on their learned masculine relationships. After closing the organization in 2006 claiming it had lost its focus, Liendro went solo, running workshops that aim to create a space for men to express their emotions in a judgment-free forum. The result, for many, is better working and personal relationships.

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Ena Aguilar Peláez, GPJ Mexico

Carlos Mata travels seven hours by bus to attend a bimonthly masculinities workshop, which creates a judgment-free space for men to express their emotions.

As the workshops have grown across Mexico, an increasing number of women have requested them for their male colleagues. Liendro welcomes the demand, but he doesn’t have the funds to meet it. Grants for masculinity workshops are still scant in comparison to those for gender-equality workshops for women, he says. He often relies on working with organizations that have the will and cash reserves to pay for the workshops, but without more cash, he can’t expand to meet the growing demand. In September 2022, UN Women, a United Nations entity that promotes gender justice, said in a report that at the current pace of progress, it could take close to 300 years to achieve complete gender equality. Liendro believes this could be achieved sooner if more men were included in the work to achieve equality.

Mata, a legal representative at the community radio station in San Pedro Tututepec, in southwest Oaxaca, wishes he’d found Liendro’s workshops sooner.

“When I was living with my [then] girlfriend, I became arrogant and even verbally violent when she shared her emotions,” Mata says. “Today I know that if I had taken these courses before, my relationship would not have ended. I would have understood that she was not questioning my actions but rather just sharing her emotions.”

Mata says he had suicidal feelings following his relationship breakup and was not able to talk through his emotions, which put more pressure on work relationships.

When a culture only allows men to express anger and no other emotions, it leads to “emotional hypertrophy,” says Quetzalcóatl Hernández, the coordinator of the doctorate in psychology research at the Universidad Iberoamericana Puebla. The gap between what a man experiences emotionally and what he’s culturally permitted to express leads to mental turmoil, and the first step to closing the gap, Hernández says, lies in recognizing that there’s a disconnect.

Ena Aguilar Peláez and Adriana Alcázar González, GPJ

Eduardo Liendro leads workshops for men that include trust exercises and discussions on the objectification of women, and encourage men to express their emotions in a healthy way.

Liendro says his workshops allow for reflection, and men can share their experiences, joys, frustrations and pain, and the ways they control, dominate or exert violence — breaking silences and pacts learned since childhood.

According to research by Simetría A.C., a nonprofit based in Mexico City that promotes gender equality and the eradication of violence against women, it is necessary to involve men in any work to prevent gender-based violence, but “a lack of resources is one of the main barriers faced by civil society organizations (CSOs) in Mexico that include men in their programmes and is the main reason for a lack of evaluations of these interventions.”

Simetría’s 2021 report, which was based on interviews with eight CSOs that work for women’s rights and aim to prevent gender-based violence in Mexico, recommended that government resources “be devoted not only to support for survivors, but also to prevention, a stage in which men and boys must also be included.”

The Mexican Congress annually approves a budget known as Annex 13 for gender equality programs, policies of the Federation Expenditure Budget, but Global Press Journal found no public records of disaggregated information on federal government spending for programs aimed at men’s education and awareness.

Resources are not invested in the causes that go to the root of gender inequality, Liendro says.

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Ena Aguilar Peláez, GPJ Mexico

Carlos Mata takes notes during a masculinities workshop led by Eduardo Liendro in Oaxaca, Mexico. The workshop focuses on sexual violence and its consequences.

Global Press Journal received no response to requests for an interview with the Grupo de Trabajo de Presupuesto con Perspectiva de Género, a working group set up by the Mexican Congress to focus on budget expenditures with a gender focus.

Paola Morales, who requested the workshop for her male colleagues, says having a place where men can express their emotions and vulnerabilities, as Liendro’s workshops offer, is an important step toward gender equality.

“As long as men are not aware that they are engaging in dominant behavior, we will never organically achieve equality and women will always have to struggle to achieve it,” Morales says.

Luz Estrada, who works in production at a community radio station, says her workplace has improved since her male colleagues have attended Liendro’s workshops.

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Adriana Alcázar González, GPJ Mexico

Preparations are made for the “Men and the Co-Responsibility of Life Care” workshop for members of the Red Mesoamericana por la Defensa del Territorio y los Bienes Comunes, in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Mexico.

“Before [the workshops], I didn’t feel confident at work. My male colleagues didn’t ask for my opinion, nor did they respect my role in the workplace,” Estrada says. “After my male peers attended the masculinities workshops, I began to notice the difference. They are respectful now. We share tasks and decisions fairly.”

Gabriel Andrade, who is completing an internship at Ojo de Agua Comunicación while studying psychology at university, says the workshop has been transformative.

“Generally, sharing my feelings in spaces with men was complicated, and today, looking at myself after a year of taking the workshops and knowing I’m doing it without any trouble, that I speak openly without feeling observed or judged, has had a transformative impact on me,” Andrade says. “Since I have been taking the workshops, I resolve things by listening and asking questions in order to speak [with people] from a more compassionate point of view and not from anger.”

Liendro is in talks to design a training school with and for indigenous men with a regional organization, which he doesn’t want to name, as the process is in the very early stages and still awaiting funding. Meanwhile, he has more workshops lined up and dreams of a time when he can plan his entire year to meet the requests he receives.

“All men should have spaces for reflection — in schools, work, health centers — so they can work deeply on their learned reactions and raise their awareness, which will enable them to take on the responsibility and commitment to change,” explains Liendro, who then quotes French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre: “We only become what we are by the radical and deep-seated refusal of that which others have made of us.”

Ena Aguilar Peláez is a Global Press Journal reporter based in Mexico.


Shannon Kirby, GPJ, translated this article from Spanish.