by Daniel Jiménez
In the second of our occasional blogs on the theme of Male Psychology and masculinity around the world, Daniel Jiménez describes the surprisingly high levels of prejudice against men in Spain in the past 20 years. The implications for men’s mental health are concerning.
In recent times the United States has been witness to a devaluation of masculinity in the public discourse. From academia to mass media and gradually pouring into popular culture, masculinity has been blamed for a range of social illness: mass shootings, intimate partner violence, sex crimes… to the point where some claim that there is no toxic masculinity, but rather masculinity itself is toxic. Male creativity, contributions and achievements are, on the other hand, attributed to individual traits or to a position of privilege. The so-called “masculinity crisis” has been a hotly debated topic, as the State gradually appropriates the role of provider and protector that men held, and modern economy facilitates women becoming financially independent.
From the Unites States it would be easy to perceive these developments as particular to the Anglo-Saxon world, and perhaps Nordic European countries such as Sweden. On the other hand Spain, like most of Southern Europe, tends to be regarded as a place where traditional notions of masculinity remain strong. This is the country the world associates with Don Juan Tenorio, brave bullfighters and the term machismo. Most Americans are surprised to find that a negative perception of masculinity not too dissimilar to that of the United States has developed in Spain, and that its devaluation has been taken even further.
The catalyst that triggered the change was the killing of Ana Orantes in 1997. Domestic violence was starting to be discussed openly in the Spanish media, and Orantes appeared on national television to tell her story. She was burned alive by her husband the next day, and this brutal killing shocked public opinion. This wasn’t the death of an unknown person, but a familiar face that people could recognize and a story they empathized with. Over the following years domestic violence killings (when committed by a man) became treated not as the isolated actions of evil or unstable individuals, but were rather understood according to gender theory postulates. Domestic violence was explained as a manifestation of male oppression, and the dismantling of structures and socio-cultural practices that made this oppression possible was said to be the only way to eradicate it, because domestic violence emanated from the imbalance of power.
In 2004 the view of domestic violence as a gendered phenomenon materialized into the Organic Act on Integrated Protection Measures against Gender Violence. The adoption of the term “gender violence”, instead of alternatives such as “domestic violence” or “intimate partner violence”, framed the conversation in terms of violence against women by their male romantic partner or ex-partner. The law would impose higher penalties to these men in a subset of domestic violence crimes, as shown in Title IV. The act would include, among other measures, special courts designed only for these crimes: the juzgados de violencia sobre la mujer, which presently number over a 100. To my knowledge Spain is the only country that has courts exclusively focused on male crimes (as gender violence is defined), making the U.S. Violence Against Women Act seem soft in comparison. The law has also been weaponized during divorce processes, as accusations often activate a protective order against the male and give automatic custody of the children to the accuser until the accusation is resolved. Depending on the circumstances and the region, making an accusation – regardless of the outcome – can confer other benefits such as a small stipend, free college tuition, job placement or the granting of permanent residency in the case of immigrants.
The complexity of the 2004 law would merit a separate article, but what needs to be pointed out is that it marked a turning point in Spain. Gradually, mass media, education at all levels and public policies came to be interpreted through the lense of gender theory, cementing a discourse that fuels a sex war where the male sex is widely portrayed as a problem in need of fixing.
While the United States has also fed on ideas about masculinity based on gender theory, having lived in both countries I would assert that the negative perception about masculinity is more pronounced in Spain. In fact, the Spanish media has not only created expressions such as “violencia machista” to replace the less explicit term “gender violence”, but has shown itself eager to adopt terms that originated in the United States as well. Aside from expressions like toxic masculinity (mascunilidad tóxica), neologisms such as manspreading, mansplaining and manterrupting have either been borrowed or translated by the Spanish media, with machoexplicación (the translation of mansplaining) becoming candidate for word of the year by Fundeu (Fundación del Español Urgente).
Masculinity, and men in general, have become an acceptable punching bag for the media and public officials. While there are many examples, I will only mention some of the most recent. On one occasion a journalist declared on national television that celebrating Men’s Day would be akin to celebrating “The day of the terrorist”. There is also the case of a judge specialized in gender violence that described males as “acorn-fed animals.” And not long ago, in a regional government-run campaign against gender violence, male bystanders were accused of sexist attitudes or even domestic abuse by an actor who introduced himself as “your (inner) machismo.”  In the political arena, the 2017 State Pact Against Gender Violence included in its congressional discussion terms such as “patriarchal justice,” “patriarchal domination,” “male domination,” “structural machismo,” “patriarchal violence” or “privileged-oppressed relationship.”
While discontent (and disconnect) about men’s negative portrayal in the media and public institutions is growing among the Spanish population, the negativity doesn’t seem to be waning. And while it’s true that ideas from the United States have had an influence on the perception of masculinity in Spain, if the latter country were to be considered its student, it would no doubt have surpassed its master.
 Machismo in the Spanish sense of the word, which implies a sexist sense of superiority over women and even a sense of entitlement over them in more recent uses of the term.
About the author
Daniel Jiménez is a Spanish Language and Culture Instructor for the U.S. Defense Language Institute. Raised in Spain, he has been living in the United States since 2006. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official views or opinions of any agency of the U.S. government