Me, sexist (?)

Image: Karolina Grabowska


The authoritarian, militarized and masculinized hallucination is something that has never been put in its proper place


The men who today are close to completing fifty years of age, or those who have already entered the fifth decade of life, are the boys who, in the early 1970s, were taking their first steps. These boys were born in a militarized country that strongly repressed divergent thinking from authoritarian ideas imposed by the military-civilian dictatorship. The AI-5 reigned supreme and repression accumulated its dead and missing persons. The last presidential government whose cycle ended on December 31, 2022, showed us that the authoritarian, militarized and masculinized hallucination is something that was never put in its proper place.

Regarding the astonishing inequality of all kinds, Brazil at the time of the birth of these boys is not very different from Brazil in the second half of the 2023st century. Yes, we have advanced in many aspects, but the setback is something that is always lurking, waiting for opportunities to (re)place us in the past. The Marco Legal vote in the Chamber of Deputies in the last week of May XNUMX is one of the examples of how we are governed by reactionary and destructive oligarchies, in this case, commanded by a typical oligarch from the northeast region.

The Brazilian cities of the early 1970s are also not very different from the current cities when one thinks of the precariousness of the living conditions of the impoverished population, plundered by the neoliberalism that plagues us and against which it is necessary to oppose. In the cities of this second decade of the XNUMXst century, what is recurrent on a daily basis is the harrowing presence of a mass of excluded and marginalized people who are criminalized on a daily basis.

Somehow, those boys of the 1970s also faced this hard and persistent national reality. In general terms, quite generalized, by the way, we can organize, for the purposes of an equally general appreciation, that those boys would be representative of three socio-familial groups. Some were the children of typically bourgeois family structures that guaranteed them housing in noble areas of the cities, quality education in Brazil - at the same time that they were able to enjoy exchange experiences abroad -, food, health, among many other opportunities that conditions social and economic possibilities.

Others are the children of families that lived in a socioeconomic situation full of difficulties, but with some insertion of their fathers and mothers in the formal labor market. Many of their fathers and mothers did not have professional training at a higher level, in many cases, the father and/or mother did not even finish what today would be comparable to high school. Even so, this labor insertion formalized with the CLT (the one that neoliberals want to destroy at all costs) guaranteed these boys the possibility of being born and living their first years of life in housing with some quality, even in the case of housing located in neighborhoods that were built as a product of housing policies, such as those implemented at the time by the COHABs. These neighborhoods, usually located in peripheral areas, were constituted with some urban infrastructure and urban equipment such as schools, health centers and public transport.

The third group of boys lived in extreme poverty, their fathers and mothers were mostly migrants who moved largely to the southeastern region of Brazil, particularly the state of São Paulo. This process is well known: industrialization, urbanization resulting from the movement in the countryside-city direction, professional disqualification, illiteracy, unemployment, social marginalization, lack of housing access policies -exactly because, the non-formalization of work, excluded them from the financial system of the housing – and impossibility of access and right to the city.

Under these conditions, the documentaries Weekend e clandestine subdivision Produced within the scope of research carried out by Professor Ermínia Maricato from FAU-USP, they are a portrait of the very harsh reality of life to which thousands of boys and their families were subjected. Thousands of other boys continue to be subjected to the same precarious conditions, with their futures destroyed even before they are born.

Starting from these three macro-generalizations about the socioeconomic and family structures of Brazil in the second half of the XNUMXth century, it seems impossible to try to find something that would place all those boys in some condition of equality, such is the disastrous inequality in Brazil. However, unfortunately, some disastrous and harmful aspects, not only make them “equal”, but shape the structure of a whole country: prejudices of all kinds, whether social, racial or sexual, that characterize us as a society and, even more dramatically, the structuring machismo that was transferred to us and legitimized by this same society as the essence of our personalities.


Those boys, today men in their fifties, are products of a social and cultural construction forged by prejudice and the notion that the world is something that is, has always been, and should remain, under the control of men, especially men. whites, heterosexuals and heirs to capital and private property of all kinds, whether urban or rural latifundia.

If we look at the representation of the current legislature in the National Congress, we will see that this male, rich, white, prejudiced, racist, sexist hegemony is what makes us as a society. However, fortunately, we are in a moment of radical questioning and tensioning, so necessary for changes, fundamental so that, in us, who today are fifty-year-old men, a necessary and continuous dialectical movement of detachment from what we were taught as boys, which is often misunderstood by ourselves. Breaking up and breaking up with what you are will always be a difficult path, but the path has been started and it cannot go backwards.

Those boys, today adult men, are going through a deep questioning of the conditions that made them reverberate and reverberate behaviors that subdue, violate, exploit, abuse women, all of them. And it is not too much to remember, in fact, it is necessary to publicize even more, how black and poor women suffer and have suffered even more violence, because sexism is incorporated into the racism that also conforms us as a society.

At this point in the argument, I find myself obliged to formulate a structuring question, perhaps two. Were these boys born sexist and prejudiced? If they weren't born, when was this structuring condition of the male personality forged? The answers to these two questions cannot be formulated without a deep understanding of macho masculinity itself, which is why the path to be taken next is organized as a memory of the construction of one's own personality, as a critical exercise in self-analysis.

This path starts from the deep and honest effort of many men: one among others, among thousands of other boys, has been trying for some time to get rid of the sexist upbringing that made us men. One among so many other boys, like other boys, had the opportunity to face differences from a very early age. Differences of all kinds, but back in those 70s and 80s of the XNUMXth century, above all the social and economic differences that also existed within that second socio-family group mentioned above. It is at this point that that exercise of self-analytical criticism will advance as reports from memory to, then, elucidate a possible moment in which the structuring condition of the male, sexist and racist personality would have been forged.


Born in a popular housing complex built by IAPI in a city in the interior of São Paulo located in the high Mogiana region, even before his first decade of life, he already lived in the streets and squares of another popular neighborhood, this one built as part of the housing policies of the COHABs. His house in this neighborhood, like other typical neighborhoods of the various COHABs that exist in the city, for many years was just on the concrete subfloor, without any finishing, no matter how small. Gradually and with much effort from his mother and father, this house was undergoing improvements.

Life in this neighborhood – which at the time was a peripheral neighborhood of the city – was organized between going to the public school located in another neighborhood and playing and playing soccer in the streets – at that time the boys would draw the lines of a soccer field with bricks – and in the areas of free “bush” that served as “little fields”. Together with so many other boys, some poorer and others not so much, but many black and brown boys, all together, they shared a free life governed exclusively by sunlight, defining the moment to retire at home. In that neighborhood lived boys whose families survived from work in the most diverse professions, among them, car mechanics, shoemakers, firefighters, bankers, prospectors, bricklayers, shopkeepers, industrial workers, washerwomen and treadmills, craftsmen.

By chance and luckily, in that neighborhood there were also girls who played with these boys, either going down the streets in “rolimã cars” built by the boys themselves or playing “betis” (for those who don't know what that is, click here) whose clubs were molded with pieces of wood from the construction and renovation of houses in that neighborhood. These boys and girls lived their daily lives in absolute innocence, the only thing that mattered was playing, playing, having as much fun as possible every day of the week.

Evidently, none of this erases the typical social and cultural formation that, from the first moments of life, already determines the place of each one, boys and girls, in the structure of society. So much so that, as boys, those who are now men, they got their soccer balls, while the girls got dolls and those typical toy kitchens. That is, the girls received care for the “home” as part of their lives, delimiting their personal insertion exclusively in the domestic space.

In a different sense, the boys, since always, received as a determination what would place them in a position outside the same “home”, which made them understand that no responsibility should fall on them for what today is understood as the “economy of care”. ”. Her various places of insertion in the labor market have always been outside the home, after all, “home” is a woman's place, and as in the song by the Brazilian poet, “every day she always does the same thing”. This is the plot of Brazilian social samba, a samba of one note: men exercising “their rotten powers”.

These boys and girls led a life closer to boys and girls from the third socio-family group when one thinks of this “street life”, despite important differences in relation to everyday reality in terms of food, education and even access to services. health, are striking and evident. In relation to this “street life”, the future was something, at best, about what to do tomorrow. Thinking about the future in educational and professional terms was then something that was not part of everyday life.

The public school where they studied was taking its last breaths in terms of teaching quality. Soon, public education would enter into a process of absolute abandonment by the public authorities – a project of abandonment, as Darcy Ribeiro always warned – whether municipal or state. A very different situation for boys and girls in the first socio-familial group, whose fathers and mothers, with higher education and well-qualified and well-paid professional work, not only could, but wanted to offer learning possibilities, including – for this minimal portion of Brazilian society in the 1970s and 1980s, opportunity –, for example, international exchange to learn another language, usually English. That is, the abyss between those socio-family groups in relation to “cultural capital” only became deeper.

Over the years and advancing age, relationships between boys and girls began to change. The first relationships appeared, the first affectionate desires. Life with the entry into adolescence would leave behind part of that typical everyday life of children from popular neighborhoods who made intense use of the streets and squares.

And exactly at this inflection point, that condition becomes preponderant that would equal all boys in relation to their masculinized formations, structurally sexist, shaping the formation of the personality of men who are now in their fifth decade of life. As well as men of all ages, because they all received the same education, which means saying and recognizing that men continue to receive, for the most part, the same education.


And here we are, fifty years later, facing ourselves, the day of the profound challenges we have to get rid of the masculine, prejudiced and sexist condition that forged us. The principle for this, it seems to me, is the need to understand ourselves in the world that made us boys and men, after all, we are not born prejudiced or sexist. This principle must be accompanied by a practice internal to ourselves, which is not to be afraid to undress, not to feel attacked or offended by being called sexist and prejudiced by women, because we are all that, that's what we were taught.

What is, therefore, formulated as the title of this brief essay, “I, sexist” and which carries the question “?” as a doubt, it is something about which there is no doubt, there can be no doubt: yes, we are male chauvinists and we must confront ourselves. We are our own enemies or, in a deeper sense, our enemy is the education we received and that throughout our lives until now, we still haven't questioned and we haven't abolished our practices. In this confrontation, women are our most powerful allies, as they have decided to oppose and face what the absolute majority of us men have not yet faced.

So much so that the motivation for this essay was one more among countless tensions that I had with my two stepdaughters and my daughter, the last of these tensions having occurred weeks ago and which motivated me, in short, to (re)think what is naturalized and it is the structuring of one's own personality. The same, like my life partner, Denise, with whom we have always dealt, not without noise, with all these themes, which reinforces the importance of the family group in the process of deconstructing sexist practices, even the most subjective ones.

When looking at what they always told me, I have to recognize that it took me a long time to radically look at myself in the midst of this life story that made me, as it did all men. What is narrated here as a memory is my own life story, which I now expose as catharsis to try to strip myself of what made me a person.

It took me a long time to understand that we don't need to be afraid or ashamed to undress all of this, that we don't need to be afraid to recognize and accept that yes, we are what women are saying we are: sexist and prejudiced. What can no longer happen is, and this is indeed shameful, pretending that we are not what we are, as this only makes masculinized practice even stronger, so rooted and deep in our identity that it is.

I recognize that it is not an easy process, be it individually, in relation to each one of us, or as a society, but fortunately the world is moving and changing. However, it is necessary to recognize and, at the same time, regret the fact that this change will not happen to all men. Many, older and younger, will continue to chant his masculine cry.

I have been in the process of changing, including for some time, especially since the moment I was faced with the prejudice that I myself carried in relation to the LGBTQIA+ world today. I was a post-adolescent young adult who lived in a male world of young boys from popular and peripheral neighborhoods who dreamed of a professional life as soccer players. There was no way to erase this record, I was forged in it, I carried it with me, I carried it for a long time. And today, as part of the changes that I try to preserve, it is recognizing that that was the purest and absolute homophobia, even though back in those years of the 1980s, homophobia was not a topic of discussion in society as it is today. It was, on the contrary, regrettably naturalized among men.

Anyone whose cultural horizon was the television standard of programs like “Os Trapalhões” on Globo, knows perfectly well that what was most exposed in his paintings was homophobia as a “joke” – which had nothing to do with “joke” – and the diminution of women as an object eroticized by men everywhere. I didn't know any other world, it couldn't be different, I mean, for me and for us men, at the time 15-year-old boy-adolescents, we could only reproduce these practices.

Between that period in the mid-1980s and the beginning of higher education in Architecture and Urbanism in 1994, little had changed, although a theatrical experience at the Cândido Portinari Cultural Workshop in Ribeirão Preto, between 1992 and 1993, would begin to impress me. impose some change. That teenage homophobia of the 80s was confronted and questioned when having to share the scenic experiences at the Workshop with men who, fortunately, were not afraid to expose themselves in relation to their sexualities.

It was my first great and profound learning experience, it was when I started to undress, even if not everything, not machismo in its most structural and profound sense, but I was fortunate enough to start a process of change. Today, in my fifties, I was able to welcome, support and share my daughter's sexuality, because back in the early 1990s, I had the opportunity to change. How many men have had that opportunity? And among those who had, how many understood that it was necessary to initiate some change?


Regarding women, I bring with me the countless experiences, for example in the professional field, with important women with whom I shared and share challenges, projects, experiences and, most importantly, the fact that I have learned and continue to learn a lot from all of them. . My higher education work was guided by a woman. In his master's and doctoral studies, he was supervised by a woman. So far, I have held three postdoctoral fellowships, two of which are supervised by women. All my inter-institutional links in research groups are coordinated by women. They are, all of them, Ritas, Denises, Cristinas, Stellas, Josiannes, Nilces, Rosas, Varletes, Veras, Darianes, Silvanas, Joanas, Margareths, Fernandas, Carolinas, Ana Lúcias, Sarahs, Eulálias, Ana Castros, Maribels, Virgínias, Elanes , Célias, Marias, Ana Patrícias, Elisângelas, Anas Fernandes, Anas Barones, Alejandras, Gugas and many others, women with whom my professional routine has been structured since the mid-1990s.

The Brazilian reality, however, and unfortunately, presents us with a dreadful picture: very little has changed. Hate, prejudice, violence against women, homophobic violence, machismo, obscurantism, denialism, misogyny, everything is there, in front of us, inside us, inside our homes, in the public space, in the space of politics, inside the National Congress and until a few months ago, comfortably accommodated in the presidential chair inside the Planalto Palace. An explicit and unquestionable sign that we have not changed, that our fallacious cordiality is what makes us a society: prejudice and sexism are the structuring forces of this complex and contradictory country.

Should we give up following the paths of change? Not at all, and who teaches us that we cannot give up, it is the women themselves who face machismo, it is the LGBTQIA+ world that faces homophobia, transphobia, all kinds of prejudice and hatred. Unfortunately, we are not going to change what today is made up of numerous historically persistent causalities, many men, on the contrary, are deepening their masculinized practices, reinforcing their prejudices and homophobia.

A possible path, it seems to me, was launched by the script of the radically beautiful and harrowing film among women (in the original in English Women Talking), directed by Sarah Polley and based on the book of the same name by Mirian Toews. Victims of sexual crimes committed by men in the community, they organize an assembly among themselves to decide whether they would leave the community or stay and face that situation. And staying brought with it the unbearable situation of dealing with the fact that most adult men were willing to post bail for the men who committed these crimes.

As the women did not know how to read or write, a young adult male, the community teacher, the only person who could read and write, was chosen to record all discussions and deliberations. As a metaphor in reverse, this young man could not make any considerations, his role was to record decisions, in particular, the decision to leave the community, as it happens in the film.

But if, once again, women are held accountable by men in the face of the consequences of crimes committed by other men, insofar as they abandoned everything they had built, what possible path does the film present us with? The path is certainly the most profound and powerful decision that these women made in relation to the young teacher: he would not accompany them, as he would have to fulfill a role of profound relevance, namely, educating the many other boys who remained in the community. with men. His role was to educate these boys so that, unlike the boys in the 1970s, they would not receive the sexist, violent and prejudiced education that forged the adult men of the community.

And it is interesting to observe how both decisions, the one to leave the village and the one that the teacher should stay to educate the boys, are the only representation of the exercise of freedom and autonomy to decide what they, women, understood as right . The idea of ​​the “upside down metaphor” is what brings exactly the contradictions they faced in the only moment of freedom in relation to their desires and interests: entrusting the only literate man with the role of educator of future generations of men, but , above all, the freedom to decide that the best thing is to abandon the life they led when they saw themselves crushed by the reciprocity and support that the men of the village offered to the men who committed the crimes against them.

In short, the classic and structural situation in which victims of violence are held responsible for the violence they suffered. Nothing closer than what most adult men think, I mean, to sexist practices.

Even so, educating current and future children seems to me to be a possible path, perhaps not ideal, but it is a path. Until the change takes place in its entirety, there is nothing left for us to do other than, on a daily basis, confronting ourselves with what we are, because that is how we were educated and raised. Yes, “I, male chauvinist”, is what all men are, and this fight belongs to all of us who want change. The only possible interrogation is the one that questions ourselves, without fear, without shame, without apprehension.

*Rodrigo Faria Professor at the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism at the University of Brasília (FAU-UnB).

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