Academic journal article Culture, Society and Masculinities

Partner Violence, Technologies of the Self, and Masculinity in Mexico

Academic journal article Culture, Society and Masculinities

Partner Violence, Technologies of the Self, and Masculinity in Mexico

Article excerpt


This article discusses qualitative research conducted with a group of Mexican men working against their violence toward their female partners. Using a Foucauldian analysis based on concepts of subjectivation and ethics of self, I argue that in this psycho-educational intervention a new subject is produced through these men's embodiment of the technical language of the discourse of violence against women: the violent man. In the program, adopting such an identity is regarded as the necessary condition for stopping violent behavior. From that starting point a whole technology of self is implemented in order to work with men's emotions and bodies. Pain is regarded as the true substance and antidote against all other undesirable emotions, including anger.


Since the 1979 UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Mexican government has ratified all UN international instruments regarding violence against women1 and thus committed itself to fulfill women's rights, end inequality, and eradicate genderbased violence. The struggle of the Mexican feminist movement to eliininate violence against women can also be traced back to the 1980s, when the first center to provide psychological and legal support to victims of sexual violence was opened under the supervision of women's organizations (Bedregal, 1991).2 Recently, the Mexican Congress passed the General Law for Women's Access to a Life without Violence (Ley General de Acceso de las Mujeres a una Vida sin Violencia, Diario Oficial de la Federación, 2007) in an effort to give weight to these international commitments, as information campaigns and treatment programs for victims and perpetrators have been launched.3

Although initially both government and civil society groups focused on providing attention to victims- especially victims of sexual violence4- other recent programs target partner violence by acting upon "perpetrators" or "generators" who are mostly men. Such was the case of the Colectivo de Hombres por Relaciones Igualitarias [Coñac] (Men's Collective for Egalitarian Relationships), an NGO that worked with men who were violent to their partners in Mexico City. This paper analyzes a series of interviews conducted at Coriac, by using a Foucauldian framework based on concepts of subjectivation and ethics of self (Foucault, 1988a, 1991, 1999a, 1999b). Analysis suggests that these men ambivalently try to give up a form of power through the construction of another power relationship with the group. The result is not the elimination of power, but a new process of subjectivation, of subjection to a normative discourse which feeds on feminist understandings of gender inequality. This way, the technical language of violence against women provides the basis for an educational intervention in which recognizing oneself as a violent subject- and consequentially taking up such an identity- is considered a necessary condition for stopping violent behavior. From that starting point, a whole technology of self (Foucault, 1991) is deployed in order to work with one's body and emotions, where emotional pain is seen as the antidote against undesirable emotions, especially against anger.


As part of the institutionalization of responses to violence against women, Mexican society has been increasingly exposed to government campaigns and interventions intended to raise consciousness through conveying images of men and women involved in the problem. Often, however, such images do not reflect the complexity of the relationship between structural conditions, such as gender inequality, and individual behaviors, creating a sort of "caricature of gender-based violence" projecting two opposite characters:

On one side a man, almost always poorly educated, low-income and/or unemployed, who with or without any provocation charges psychologically or physically against a woman. …

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