Everyone arrives with something to eat and drink. They leave the food in the kitchen and prepare to talk. It could be one of those exclusive men-only meetings that took place decades ago in the casino in Aracena, a town in the southwestern Spanish province of Huelva. But it’s quite the opposite. Welcome to Aracena’s men’s feminist club: the Fresh Wind men’s group.
It’s Friday afternoon at La Solana farm, six kilometers outside of Aracena, a town that is home to 8,040 residents. The club’s seven members have lived in Aracena for decades. Gradually, they arrive at the rural property owned by Ángel Rey, a recently retired pediatrician. Alejo Durán, a licensed psychologist and anthropologist, and Pedro Martín, a retired hotel purchasing chief, have been preparing firewood at Rey’s house since 5pm. Manuel, a municipal technician who asks for his last name not to be used, is the next to arrive, followed by Juan Manuel Franco, a local business owner who everyone calls Mame, and theater director Miguel Sánchez. Psychologist Pablo García is the last to pull up to the property. All the members greet each other with hugs and kisses.
I started in the group without any idea of what I was getting myself into. Men for equality sounded like Chinese to me
Pedro Martín, group member
Once a month the group of men, who are aged between 56 and 64, meet to speak from the heart and engage in a new form of masculinity – one that rejects so-called “toxic masculinity.” Everyone speaks about their life experiences as part of a reflection activity promoted by groups such as the Men’s Association for Gender Equality (AHIGE), which they belong to. Collectives like AHIGE not only aim to inspire change from within, they also want men to fight against gender violence and support “the fair demands of women against sexism.” There is no official data on how many men’s feminist groups there are – some sources say there are hundreds – but statistics suggest they have grown with the resurgence of the women’s movement in Spain and in response to other men who feel threatened by the call for social change.
The members sit around the fireplace for two hours discussing their thoughts and feelings. In this club, all conversations are confidential and only two topics are banned: soccer and politics. The group decides ahead of time the issue they want to debate. At this meeting on Friday, February 15, they’ve decided to talk about caregiving, an invisible job that is poorly paid, if paid at all, which women do twice as much as men, according to Spain’s National Statistics Institute (INE).
Before the debate begins, Miguel Sánchez leads the group in a series of breathing exercises and neck movements. In this group, each member talks one at a time and there are no interruptions. These are some of their comments: “I have never taken care of myself or cared for anyone;” “It was very satisfying to learn how to take care of my mother;” “Women call each other when one needs help. This is frowned upon between men;” “When someone treats me with care I feel good. The lesson is worthwhile;” “Until the last second, my father didn’t allow himself to be vulnerable;” “What I fail at is tenderness;” “I heard you say tenderness. And I ask myself, when was the last time I spoke with tenderness?”
Alejo Durán, who came up with the idea of the club more than a decade ago, compares what happens at meetings to the migration of wildebeest in the Masai Mara, in Kenya. Sometimes it takes hours for the animals to move, but when the first one sets off, the entire confusion goes with it. The same waterfall effect occurs during the conversations and suddenly the men think: “I have never talked about this before.”
Experts believe that sexism has a different impact on men than it does on women, which is why they prefer men to meet alone. Women’s meetings are focused on self-empowerment, while men use the meetings to explore their feelings.
Men’s groups in Spain began to fight against gender violence after the murder of Ana Orantes, who was burned alive by her ex-husband
This group of men has talked about everything from their sons and daughters, to their mothers and fathers, a difficult topic that lasted more than one session. They’ve also spoken about the women in their lives, their sexual feelings, their friends who never discuss personal matters, and of the “masculine solitude” that many men cannot even recognize.
“I started in the group without any idea of what I had gotten myself into,” says Pedro Martín. “Men for equality sounded like Greek to me.” But Martín trusted his lifelong friend Durán and nine years later they stand among a group of men with the same values.
There have been some misunderstandings about the purpose of their group. One day, while they were holding an open door meeting at the Aracena Institute to talk about what they do, a man showed up. “We found out he was gay and that had thought our group was about sexual relationships,” says Martín.
The first men’s groups appeared in Spain in the 1980s, says Ritxar Bacete, anthropologist, writer and masculinity expert. “It had to do with democracy, women’s groups and peers.” But according to Bacete, the groups began to take a stand against gender violence after the 1997 murder of Ana Orantes, who was burned alive by her ex-husband in front of his house in Granada.
The clock strikes 9pm, and the meeting is almost over. The conversation is brought to a close with this remark: “I live alone. Sometimes I tell my parakeet, ‘Aren’t you pretty!’ And I realize that it feels really good.”
The men get up and form a circle like a rugby huddle. They hug and kiss each other. The table is set and the men bring out their containers of food. Dinner has begun, and they are now free to talk about soccer. But they don’t.
English version by Asia London Palomba.