At the end of 2022, the Spanish Ministry of Equality launched a campaign entitled El hombre blandengue, and caused an earthquake of controversies between politicians and citizens. It quotes the words of the singer el Fary, who, in a 1984 interview, dropped his opposition to a certain type of masculinity: «I have always hated the soft man. The man with the shopping bag, the boy’s trolley with the car. That’s why I say that the man should be in his place and the woman in hers, there is no doubt. Before other things, I think that the woman needs that piece of uncle there. But, my friend, a man must never brandish.” Although they may sound controversial and deplorable, these types of statements were made with total impunity on broadcast television and other media in front of masses of viewers who, if they were opposed, barely expressed it.
Around that same time, the actor Fernando Fernán Gómez assured the press: «Man is smarter than woman. Just a little bit, but we are. My perfect woman is a female of impressive beauty and the brain of a mosquito ». A few years later, Joaquín Sabina (curiously, also accused of being macho because of the content of some of his lyrics) rejected that model in an interview with Jesús Quintero: «What I don’t like about Andalusia is professional Andalusianism. That ends up being terribly upsetting to the stomach and that, embodied in the Andalusian gentleman, that there are fewer left, but they still remain, is a very unpleasant way of being in life ». Although Sabina was referring to the model of Iberian male represented by the Fary and other “Andalusian gentlemen”, the question is not reduced only to Spain. In the eighties, The Benny Hill Show It was hugely successful all over the world with scenes in which the chubby protagonist never tired of harassing and making fun of young women. In 2007, the BBC was forced to take the show off the air for its “sexist, macho and backwards” content.
Was Hill’s thing typical of caustic English humour? It seems not. At the same time, the Argentines Olmedo and Porcel filled television and movie theaters with their tremendously macho and violent humor, turning harassment and abuse into comical situations over and over again. Both in his programs and in his films, women were vulgarized and turned into a source of grace, to highlight the perverted and defiant masculinity of the leading men. In Surgeons get out of hand (Hugo Sofovich, 1980), Porcel and Olmedo deceive their co-stars (Susana Giménez and Moria Casán), drug them and end up raping them. The message was clear: the male picaresque allowed these treats if she was well executed.
From abuse to rape there was only one step. Olmedo y Porcel’s humor was aimed mainly at the heterosexual male viewer, from an urban and married context. That is why picaresque always worked outside of marriage and masculinity was built in relation to sexual desire and the double contempt of the wife and lover. The macho was macho by virtue of the relationship established with the women: underestimating or violating them was, then, a necessary condition.
In front of the soft man, the macho coup. in the soap opera master and lord (1984), the protagonist, played by Arnaldo André, used to slap his co-star Luisa Kuliok. Nor is it an exclusively Argentine aspect. In a country like Uruguay, a constant advocate of football and carnival (two of the main factories of males), those models reproduced by television and the music industry fit the bill perfectly. In 2008, Canario Luna openly confessed that sometimes it was necessary to hit women: “They must have done something and some women are very brave.”
ARTISTS AND THE NEW MASCULINITY
The Spanish ministry’s announcement takes Fary’s phrase to reverse his macho intransigence: “Every day we are more soft men building a healthier masculinity.” The measure is political and is aimed at society as a whole, but intrinsically focused on a very specific part: young people. It is clear that it is easier to educate an adolescent in new forms of behavior than to deconstruct the males of other times. In fact, it’s something that younger artists have been doing for some time now. While those at the end of the 20th century sponsored a toxic masculinity opposing men and women, those of this time are involved with alternative forms of sexuality, new sexual identities and diverse civic behaviors.
When Ricky Martin came out as gay in 2010, he was taking a big step by offering an alternative to his gay image. sex symbol Latin. For the first time, it was massively and instantly suggested that the stereotype of heteronormative masculinity could harbor different orientations. Now, however, homosexuality no longer even seems to be enough. After all, you can be gay and very macho at the same time. On the contrary, the new artists look for something more in the definition of their identities and their public image.
In 2019, the British singer Sam Smith declared himself non-binary, that is, not identified with either the male or female gender, something that the actor Ezra Miller and the singer Demi Lovato have also done. In this line, there are also artists who play with their nominal identity and their physical appearance: the singers Pabllo Vittar and Kevin Royk keep their masculine name, but resort to a feminine appearance for their performances.
Certainly, affective-sexual preferences are no longer at odds with the construction of a public image. Some exploit the mannerist feminism of their bodies by acknowledging themselves openly as homosexuals (such as Olly Alexander, Troye Sivan, Lil Nas X and Agoney) and build a new conception of masculinity from that gesture. But there are also heterosexual artists who are publicly constructed as alternatives to the classic macho model. Harry Styles, Charlie Puth and Damiano de Måneskin continually play with the wild image of a new masculinity, closer to that of the “soft man”. While other singers of his generation (for example, Justin Bieber and Shawn Mendes) insist on reinforcing their heterosexual masculinity and try to fit into a model that is uncomfortable for them but guarantees them some peace of mind, others highlight their more androgynous side. “We’re all a little gay, right?” Styles wondered at one of his concerts in 2018.
Where are the women in all this? They too are designing new forms of femininity and helping to relaunch relationships between men and women. The young people of this new generation do not demand “that piece of uncle” to put them in their place, as Fary claimed. They have grown up with feminist and empowered artists, from Lady Gaga to Lali Espósito, from Miley Cyrus to Rosalía, from Kristen Stewart to Billie Eilish. Women who, to face subjugation and oppression, choose freedom and autonomy, and base their careers on those values.
In this age of questioning and revision, masculinity is in dispute, to paraphrase Judith Butler. The feminist movement has been very concerned about how to deconstruct the macho, pointing with a magnifying glass at each poorly executed movement, each unfortunate expression, each act of abuse. But, on the contrary, it has offered few answers on how to affectively educate men, who are increasingly out of place and overwhelmed by seeing that the vast majority of the values with which they were educated are now in question. It is imperative to build new masculinities, less toxic, more sensitive and close, further removed from that macho model, and it seems that the answer is given by art and artists. While social movements disarm an unnecessary and stale type of man, artists opt for the alternative, offering good examples of “soft men” and thus collaborating with the cultural construction of a healthier masculinity.