MAKING SENSE OF CATALAN MASCULINITY: A CHALLENGE…

Last Friday 24 I taught a group of visiting American undergrads a seminar which I called ‘Making Sense of Catalan Masculinity.’ I published a post on 12 April regarding my worries about how to organize the contents; here I offer a summary. I must say that the students were great, I enjoyed very much the ensuing debate and their intelligent questions. As it often happens, when I asked the 3 young men (and 15 young women) about their view of masculinity, they were a bit taken aback. One young man told me very candidly he had not really thought about the matter. The girls had… And, yes, they agreed that Hollywood movies reflect well American men’s fears about appearing to be ‘losers,’ ‘homos’ and ‘sissies.’ Quite different here, I think.

It seems that Catalan men have not given much thought to Catalan masculinity so far. If you Google “homes catalans” and similar variations, you’ll see that nothing comes up. I did come across a list of the 50 most influential Catalan women, and the 50 most influential Catalan media personalities, but nothing specific about Catalan men or masculinities. Well, I did learn from a Canary Islands female journalist that our men are complete morons since they have more sex on the days when local football team Barça wins matches… My academic search did not go much further, either. The two main volumes published in Barcelona and in Catalan are: Calçasses, gallines i maricons: Homes contra la masculinitat hegemònica, edited by Josep-Anton Fernàndez (Angle, 2003) and Masculinitats per al segle XXI: Contribucions als congressos de masculinitat a Barcelona, 2003-2007 edited by Josep Maria Armengol (Centre d’Estudis dels Drets Individuals i Col•lectius, 2007). In Armengol’s volume there is no specific essay on Catalan masculinity; I still need to read the other book…

Catalan men… I spoke to colleagues, friends and family and, of course, I was told that it is impossible to generalize and that once I start categorizing a particular local masculinity then I should need to map them all. This is funny, as the day before the seminar I had an interesting conversation about Basque matriarchy, whether it does exist or it is a myth (and in which way, here is the paradox, it is patriarchal). Anyway, I made a gigantic list of Catalan male icons and decided finally to choose a few, or collapse under the weight of so many popular names.

I think I am on safe ground if I claim that Barça’s football team is essential to understand Catalan men, and not only in the sense highlighted by the Canary Islands journalist. Since star Leo Messi is an Argentinean (and Neymar from Brazil), I focused, rather, on Xavi Fernández, Andrés Iniesta, and Gerard Piqué, who seem to be the most obvious poster boys–and, of course, Pep Guardiola, now coaching Bayern at Munich. This is the man who, together with Jorge Valdano in Real Madrid, taught men that football is not incompatible with personal elegance and with an education. The other Catalan male icons I showed the visitors are: Ramon Pellicer and Josep Cuní (media), Artur Mas and Oriol Junqueras (politics), Joel Joan and Andrés Velencoso (acting and fashion), Albert Rivera and Jordi Évole (Catalan men with a Spanish projection). The students deduced that Catalan men are not much concerned as regards physical attractiveness, but they saw in the photos an inclination towards idealized middle-class professionalism. Um, yes, I think so. Or was it my choice of names and photos?

In the course of preparing the seminar I came across a hilarious piece on a website, “10 Tipus d’Homes Catalans” (https://benegre.cat/2014/12/03/10-tipus-dhomes-catalans/ ). This is not intended to offer an exhaustive catalogue of all men you can find in the streets of Catalonia but it is true that you recognize the types, to which I have added two. Here they are, with my approximate translation: 1. el perroflauta (the recycled hippie, with his local okupa undertones), 2. el fucker (the sexy but tasteless guy), 3. el runner (more obsessed by sports equipment than by sports), 4. el modernillu (the hipster), 5. el cholo català (the son of Latino migrants), 6. l’extraradi (the son of Spanish migrants), 7. el pijet (the brand-obsessed son of the 1980s ‘pijo’ or trendy guy), 8. El pijipi (the posh hippie, yes…), 9. El marca blanca (the non-descript guy), 10. l’emprenedor (money matters rule…). I added l’indepe (for Independence!) and the pagesot (the country boy). I had great fun choosing the illustrations for the PowerPoint… I used Manel, everyone’s favourite Catalan pop band, to explain the ‘non-descript’, possibly the most common type right now…

Here are the main traits I came up with, in my pseudo-sociological approach:

*Catalan men are not blatantly patriarchal. My personal impression is that sexism is moderate in Catalonia but, as a friend reminded me, perhaps the truth is that patriarchy is less vocal while still keeping a firm, covert hold.

*Catalan men, I believe, are family-oriented but strictly as regards their own nuclear family, and not a more extended kind of family. I put as an example of the local fusion of patriarchy and matriarchy the Pujols: the many corruption scandals they have been involved in recently do stress that Jordi Pujol, the President of the Catalan Government for more than 20 years, is actually a tool in the hands of his power-hungry wife, Marta Ferrusola.

*Catalan masculinity is defined by a contradictory discourse which mixes professional success and political victimization. This a nation of small businessmen, perhaps still best represented by shop-owners, both the classic ‘botiguer’ and the more modern versions. Yet, this commercial success clashes with the idea that national leadership is limited because of the enmity of the Spanish Government. Catalan men appeal to this supposed victimization indeed too often, failing in the process to make more effective civil and civic contributions.

*Catalan men are not particularly emotional in social and personal contact. The whole culture tends towards limited displays of positive and negative emotion (perhaps with the exception of Barça… and the demonstrations for independence) both in public and private.

A few years ago I started a paper on Joel Joan’s TV series Porca Misèria (2004-7) as I thought that his own character, Pere Brunet, and that of his brother and antagonist, Roger Brunet (played by Roger Coma), are interesting representations of Catalan masculinity. I abandoned the paper half-way through as I am, after all, a specialist in Anglophone culture and I decided that working on Catalan texts was becoming a distraction. I feel now that, after so many years studying Anglophone masculinities, it might be time to have a good look at our local guys. Perhaps I should study the current TV3 soap La Riera, or Joel Joan’s recent El crac, or the political humour of Polònia but then I think that all this is for my Catalan Studies peers to research. The additional problem is that local Catalan Cultural Studies hardly exist as such, and sociology can provide us only with limited cultural insight.

I’ll be happy, and I really mean it, to receive proof of the opposite, so if you happen to know about any study of Catalan masculinity (or masculinities), I would very much like to read it. For next year’s seminar.

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2 thoughts on “MAKING SENSE OF CATALAN MASCULINITY: A CHALLENGE…

  1. I think a potential theme to explore in relation to masculinities and Catalan Cultural Studies is the feeling of not really knowing how to be a man any more. If I remember correctly, this is discussed in Calçasses, gallines i maricons.

    I’ve noticed it in Catalan music. Els Amics de les Arts, for example, have many songs about men feeling inadequate or whose female partners take total control of their lives and their relationships.

    But perhaps this theme is common to all cultures where there’s an ongoing transformation of gender roles.

  2. Hi Samuel,
    yes, I think this is right now a concern common to most Western cultures, which a) does not mean that being a woman is easy, b) if gender is performative then men need to re-invent the performance, and c) does this mean that gay or queer men are freer? (no judgemental girlfriend around…). I’ll certainly read ‘Calçasses…’ after your comments. Thanks!

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