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Representations of men in Latin America are in flux as new idols, peers and a nascent set of brands work to shift narratives around masculinity.
For years, macho idealisation has reigned in the Latin American (LATAM) market, where the performance of toughness and overt sexism have been considered markers of masculinity.
‘The patriarchy and sexism helped men, but also created a series of emotional anguishes,’ explains professor Claudio Serva, founder of Prazerele, whose classes are dedicated to rethinking masculinity. Indeed, LATAM men have long avoided discussing their emotions or crying in public. Instead, they have exerted physical strength and sexual dominance to signify their role as providers and protectors of their families.
Now, however, representations of men are in flux. New idols, peers and a nascent set of brands are working to shift narratives around masculinity, using beauty and wellbeing as their conduit. This is helping LATAM men to connect with their aesthetics and feelings, deconstructing and co-creating what it means to be a man now and in the future.
While LATAM men are embarking on a journey of self-reflection, for many it remains critical to be sleek in appearance at all times. In Brazil, this means keeping their hair ‘na régua’ – or sharply shaped. In Colombia, the desire to keep up appearances translates into having manicured, subtly shiny nails.
In order to ensure their grooming remains up to par, many LATAM men are turning to subscription services – a concept that the Western beauty and grooming sector has been slow to embrace but offers a way to build loyalty. Examples include Brazil’s John Six Barber Shop and Natu’s Club, where customers pay a monthly fee ranging from £14.50 ($19.30, €17) for haircuts to £17 ($23, €20) for hair and beard trims.
Nail care is also helping to change masculinity narratives. As Puerto Rican rapper and idol Bad Bunny explains: ‘Que le ponga un poco de color a mis uñas no dice nada de mi sexualidad ni de mi masculinidad,’ – ‘That I add a little colour to my nails does not say anything about my sexuality or my masculinity.’ Best known for his painted nails and bold dress, Bad Bunny has been vocal about not limiting oneself by aesthetics. He preaches respect above all, and has become a welcome figure among the global LGBTQ+ community.
That I add a little colour to my nails does not say anything about my sexuality or my masculinity
When it comes to perceptions and emotions, ideals of masculinity continue to affect how men actually feel about themselves and others. A poll of 20,000 Brazilian men by lifestyle and education platform Papo de Homem shows that 72% of respondents have been taught not to show any weaknesses.
A growing number of initiatives are now emerging to deconstruct ingrained attitudes and help men to embrace and face their vulnerabilities. In Colombia, Bogotá’s culture office has launched Calm Line, a hotline fighting violence against women, which encourages men to call and speak to psychologists to better understand and control their emotions and actions. In its first 10 months, almost 2,000 men called in. Similarly, Grupo Reflexivo de Homens – the Male Reflection Group – is a behavioural ‘rehab’ service for men fined by law after offences against women. The programme's male participants discuss their role in society, using it as an educational space for men to unlearn their toxic beliefs, start afresh and carry forward a new perspective.
Elsewhere, private consultancy MEMOH – a play on ‘memo’ and ‘homem’ – seeks to promote gender equity in corporate environments, giving companies and their employees access to similar ‘reflective groups’ that promote conversations on healing and evolving attitudes. So far, MEMOH has worked with Netflix, Facebook, Ambev, among other companies in Brazil.
Cultural commentary is also growing in this vein. Fabio Manzoli is a Brazilian speaker whose awakening came after years of depression due to toxic masculinity. He built his platform online to support others, offering mentorship for companies and individuals seeking help. His latest project, Travessia (Crossing), is a guided rite of passage to healthy manhood. It is launching in March 2022 and is a program focused on the development of emotional intelligence and a more conscious sexuality among young men.
The time has come for men to leave the (dis)comfort zone inherent in a society that places them as a superior being that should suffer in silence
Conversations about pornography’s impact on male sexual behaviour, health and wellbeing remain pertinent in Latin America, with many men fixating on penetrative sex through the lens of porn. Pornhub data from the region in 2020 reveals its highest mobile traffic came from Mexico (89%), Colombia (86%), Brazil (85%) and Argentina (85%). As Carlos Eduardo Carrion, a Brazilian psychiatrist and sex therapist, explains: ‘Men without any sexual experience may feel this [pornography] is how it should go. Others, in a smaller percentage, see their ideas of disregard for the partner reinforced.’
Porn’s local impact is greater, however. It also reinforces views of anal sex as a submissive act reserved for homosexual men and women, with ramifications for men’s sexual wellbeing. While 95% of Brazilians recognise the importance of rectal exams for the early diagnosis of prostate cancer, 9% believe that the exam interferes with male sexuality and 11% think that a rectal examination can leave a man sexually impotent.
Nascent platforms are seeking to break this wall and make conversations about men’s sexual health mainstream. Founded in 2020, digital platform Omens aims to help the 69% of Brazilian men who have experienced sexual health issues, connecting users directly with urologists.
Focusing on education, Cláudio Serva is the founder of Prazerele, an initiative supporting LATAM men to deconstruct sexism through positive attitudes to sexuality. His latest class, Sexual Potency and Healthy Masculinity, offers direction for a healthier, more pleasurable masculinity that frees men from sexual anxiety and porn addiction.
1. The first step to unlocking male vulnerability should be through education and wellbeing services over the creation of products. Focus on the trust required to build a safe space for men to express their feelings.
2. Consider the positive influence of not only singers and fashion idols, but online content creators such as Fabio Manzoli, to help build empathy and positive outlooks among men. Relatability is crucial when breaking ingrained attitudes.
3. Familiar tools and platforms are central to evolving male attitudes to sex, relationships and wellbeing. Take cues from how MEMOH is engaging people in their places of work, while Thiago Iorc is using music as his medium.