Men have a lot to gain from a change, says Antonio (third from the left).
The Male Activists
When Antonio and the other members of the men’s group have their meetings, three subjects are banned from the conversation: football, work and women. For ten years they have been working to change their stereotypical manliness.

“Sadly, we men have learned that we are worth more than women.

Antonio Agraz
What: Works in a men’s network for equality.

“Men think that women’s demands for greater freedom will be bad for them,” says Antonio. “But it’s quite the opposite! If women become free it will ease the burden on men!”
Antonio is a slightly-built father of two, a psychologist, a man who laughs easily. The idea of a men’s network against violence was born when he started a new job at the women’s institute in Andalusia. That was the first time he came into contact with the question of men’s violence against women.
“I realised how much had to be done and, above all, that we men must change in order to understand the violence. We have a huge responsibility. Sadly, we have learned that we are worth more than women.”

At the university, he found other men who thought the same. About twenty of them met to discuss the question. Some wanted to work publicly, demonstrating and influencing people. But others, among them Antonio, decided to work with themselves.
“We met to talk about our feelings. That’s not something we men have done very often. We wanted to work with our emotions, not our intellect. One man said, “I’ve never cried.” He didn’t even know how to cry!”

They hired a masseur and did exercises involving physical contact.

The men baked together. They did relaxation exercises. They hired a masseur and did exercises involving physical contact. They still start their meetings by talking about what has happened in their lives in the last month.
“We soon began to understand what we needed to work on, namely our macho upbringing. Our relationships with our fathers. How we saw ourselves as fathers. We realised that we had been influenced, but that we can actually change the way we think and act.” 

Some of their conversations are about their observations from everyday life. How often do they take charge of the TV remote control? What exactly is dust, what does it look like, how do you see it?
“And we talk a lot about our attitudes towards our sons and daughters, about which values we pass on. And how we see women in the workplace. We’ve been brought up to see them as sexual objects.”

Antonio himself was a rebellious boy who demanded a lot of freedom and to be allowed to dress as he wanted. It is only now that he can begin to see how he learned early on what being a boy meant. Like the time he picked up a broom and was reprimanded by his father with the words: “Put that down, that’s girls’ work.”

What made you realise you were worth more than a girl?
“Yes, how did I realise that? I was allowed to stay out later than my sister, even though we had the same crowd of friends. My sister couldn’t be seen with another boy, but for me, having a girlfriend was considered an achievement. My father said, “Now you’re a man. Here, have a glass of wine.” 

My sister couldn’t be seen with another boy, but for me, having a girlfriend was considered an achievement.

While his father was still alive, Antonio tried to talk to him about the men’s group and the work they do, but he is not sure if he understood. Instead, he tries to apply his ideas to his relationship with his own son.
“We’ll have to see if he thinks he’s had a normal father, because I’m not at all authoritarian …. ”

Several more men’s groups have been started in the region. Together they form a network of ten groups which meet once a year. They also have a forum on the internet. 

Have you changed?
“Of course. I have a different idea of what it’s like to be a man, and of the demands made on men. The man is supposed to be the protector and take the initiative when it comes to sex. He’s always expected to be ready, available and interested and always able to have an erection. These are stereotypes we have to get rid of. And men have a lot to gain from this! Men seem to live for work, and not vice versa. In an equal relationship they can be relieved of a little of the burden.”

 At the same time he thinks that macho attitudes and behaviour have become worse.

Change is possible, believes Antonio, but at the same time he thinks that macho attitudes and behaviour have become worse. The abused women he meets in his work as a psychologist are getting younger, and the stories they tell are more disturbing.
“It’s clear that the violence exists among the youngest generation, and perhaps it’s become more raw. When I visit the schools to talk about it, I can hear from what the boys say that they want to have more control over their girlfriends. The girls can’t go on holiday if their boyfriend says no. The girls can’t go out and have fun by themselves. I think the media is partly responsible for this, with the message the young people’s magazines send out about how a woman should attract a man. We need a debate about the pressure put on young girls! We’re going to have difficulty combatting violence unless we put lots of resources into preventive work in the schools.” 

Are you a pessimist?
”I’m afraid I am. Politically, we’re moving towards a more conservative climate, and that means religion will play a more important role in Spain. That feels like a step backwards.”