Envío Digital
 

Revista Envío
Edificio Nitlapán,
2do. piso
Universidad Centroamericana
UCA

Apartado A-194
Managua, Nicaragua

Telephone:
(505) 22782557

Fax:
(505) 22781402

Email:
info@envio.org.ni

Central American University - UCA  
  Number 240 | Julio 2001
Home Contact us Archive Suscriptions

Anuncio

Nicaragua

How do Nicaraguan men experience their sexuality? And Nicaraguan women? An audacious, pioneering and much needed study offers us some troubling answers and inescapable challenges.

Sofía Montenegro

What should men be like, and what should women be like? The socially constructed notion of what men and women should be like includes permissible expectations, values, behaviors and forms of relating, all of which is the stuff of gender models.

The crises, contradictions and transformations in gender models have been very complex in Nicaragua’s originally indigenous and now multiethnic society. Two different social formations have coexisted in Nicaragua for a long time: one on the Pacific side, which acquired living patterns derived mainly from Spanish domination; and another on the Caribbean side, influenced but never fully dominated by British colonization.

Nicaragua was slower than other countries to recognize women’s equal rights, a postulate of modernity. The dominant system in Nicaraguan society has readapted gender models in accord with structural changes, and the structural crisis stemming from the 1979 revolution is, in fact, what gave rise to the most important changes that have taken place in the model of gender domination. The Liberal government that came to power in 1997, however, anachronistically proposed to restore the cultural norms of the Spanish colonial period under Catholic Church doctrine, particularly regarding family, sexuality and reproduction.

We will look more closely at the now prevalent "mestizo" model that arose with that colonization on the Pacific as a way to understand the roots of such still-dominant views on these issues. This, in turn, will allow us to postulate a psychological profile of male and female sexuality and of the violence that so strongly accompanies gender relations.

Two republics: The Spanish and the Indigenous

The mestizo group began to take shape with the Conquest, as the new ethnic group born from the mass rape of indigenous women in the midst of land occupations, the stifling of indigenous languages and the imposition of another language, religion and social order. The mestizo model linked the patriarchal forms of indigenous culture with those of colonial culture.

During the Spanish Conquest, resistance coupled with epidemics and forced labor decimated Central America’s native populations. During the 17th century, the Spanish imposed a peonage system and encouraged rapid repopulation of the region in order to increase the tributes paid to the Spanish Crown. According to the chronicles, pre-Hispanic meso-American women tended to marry between the ages of 20 and 25, since they believed that if they married young they would die young. After the conquest, girls were encouraged to marry at 12-14 in order to repopulate. From the very start, "two republics" were established, one for the Spanish and one for the Indians. The state directed and protected the Spanish republic, while the natives worked and obeyed.

The indigenous peoples lived in communities during the colonial period, as they had in pre-Hispanic times. This sense of continuity clearly distinguished them from both the Spanish and the emerging group of mestizos, or children of Spanish colonizers and indigenous women, to whom community life was foreign. This Spanish-native population dichotomy was complicated by the groups of people born of other mixes among those of indigenous, Spanish and African descent. Since they belonged to neither the conquerors nor the conquered, they fell outside the legal order established in the 16th century.

Many of these children were born of "illegitimate" unions. They were clearly differentiated from the Indians because they did not live in communities, lacked collective property and rarely had land to plant, and thus escaped the obligations imposed by local authorities. Nor did they experience the subjugation imposed by the Spanish on the indigenous. Their geographical ubiquity went hand in hand with their social ubiquity, which both drew them near and pushed them away from indigenous as well as Spanish.

Machismo: A legacy of the conquistador

One might have expected that a mestizo ideology or "group consciousness" would have arisen among racially mixed people during the colonial period, but this did not happen because of the divisions among them. The mestizos did not want to be confused with mulattos and sought to integrate into the Spanish group. Women’s hypergamy favored the rise of the mestizos, not only from a demographic point of view but also from a social one: it gave rise to ethnic confusion, which some mestizos and mulattos used to their advantage as much as they could.

The mestizo rejection of their maternal indigenous ethnicity was largely to avoid the levies imposed on the native populations. Mestizo men hastened to break any kinship tie to the indigenous world, trying to prove that they were mestizo or mulatto to escape these burdens. This social evolution led the mestizos to become more Hispanic and negate their indigenous origins and maternal culture.

Given the two moral traditions—the Hispanic one based on honor and the Indian one based on the sacrosanct nature of the family—the mestizo was the living image of dishonor. As children of women who had been raped, carried off or mocked—all motives for dishonor in the indigenous culture, the humiliating price of their defeat—being "sons of the humiliated whore" was the mark of the mestizos’ social illegitimacy and bastardy.

The indigenous woman who was raped, kidnapped or forced into concubinage with a colonizer had two options: she sought either support from her community—which tended to reject her—or recognition by the white father so that the mestizo child would at least live in freedom, albeit outside the colonial legal order. This second option, which was more common, meant that the child lost identification with the mother and her culture and identified with the father’s culture. The results of this psychic operation can still be seen today in our society’s machismo with the violent humiliation of women and equally violent affirmation of the father. Over time, this macho behavior reproduced the conquistador’s arbitrary power over and indifference toward the offspring engendered, disdain towards women in general and resentment towards the mother.

Imposing Christian marriage

During the early colonial period, certain filtered elements of Spanish culture, especially from southern and western Spain, became set into the mix of colonial and indigenous society that developed in the New World. A homogenous version of Spanish society’s ethical beliefs and morality crystallized here, consolidating a single privileged social and ethnic category of "Spaniards." For most of the 16th and 17th centuries, aspirations to status, power and influence were informed by standards from Castile.

The tripartite division within colonial society—Spaniard, Native American and African—echoed the division of status in Spain between nobles, commoners and slaves. Only in the New World, however, did all Spaniards consider themselves nobles and see all native peoples as commoners and all people of African descent as slaves. Thus, without significant revision, the Spanish categories of status came to represent racial differences. What finally disrupted this system over time was the growth of intermediate racial groups: mestizos, mulattos, zambos. During the first two centuries of the Spanish colonial regime, these intermediate groups remained relatively stable and small, due mainly to the pattern of interracial sexual contact. Although sexual contacts were frequent, they far more often took place outside of marriage than within it for reasons of prejudice more than of laws prohibiting mixed marriages.

The available studies on sexuality and marriage in colonial Latin America concur that the main concern of lawyers and theologians of the age was to make indigenous society accept Christian marriage. Polygamy was hard to uproot among many groups, and great efforts were made to convince the various indigenous communities of the importance of marriage. Since it was a ceremony intimately linked to Catholic doctrine and Spanish culture, those who aspired to an ecclesiastical marriage represented the more deeply Hispanified and catechized groups. In colonial society, the very poor seldom went through a marriage ceremony. The common practice was to live together. If the parents opposed the union, the couple left the village and lived elsewhere without getting married.

During virtually the entire colonial period, the Catholic Church was the institution that ensured the various Old World Spanish traditions, both ecclesiastical and practical, related to marriage. The Church determined the minimum age, studied the level of kinship ties between partners and registered and legitimated marriages. It also altered marital regulations to a certain extent to respond to the specific needs of the recently converted indigenous population.

Free will and love in colonial times

The Catholic Church had virtual sovereignty over the Spanish Crown on questions of doctrine and beliefs, such as those related to marriage and conflicts around marital choice. The Catholic Church teachings on marriage turned on two key points: the sacred nature of marriage and the importance of personal choice in establishing marital ties. The three basic cultural attitudes inherited from Spain that shaped the course of the Church’s interventions in a couple’s relationship during the colonial period were individual will, love and honor.

In the Catholic tradition, the doctrine of free will established the limits of paternal authority, particularly condemning the use of force in this area, and emphasized the individual’s right to exercise free will in marrying. This doctrine of individual consent for marriage was of utmost importance, leading to the establishment of normative support for it that allowed the son or daughter, not the parents, to decide the issue. Will was the word that denoted individual intentions. The understanding that love was the expression of will and will was a manifestation of divine intention gave substantial normative support to young people in conflict with their parents.

People spoke of a couple’s affiliation and will to marry, because the word love was equivalent at that time to sexual abandon. The term woman in love referred to a woman who openly engaged in repeated sexual activity. Desire was disapproved of as a motive for marriage, as was any form of impulsive action. Couples who expressed their feelings had to deliberately avoid any association with the concept of love as lust. But they could freely declare a love based on affiliation and will, since it was culturally appropriate to affirm a licit emotional union. The same Spanish cultural values that supported marriage for love condemned marriage for economic, political or social interests. Social norms that condemned avarice played a prominent role in the widespread disdain towards marrying for money.

The code of honor:
Morality, virtue and appearances

Honor is perhaps the most distinctive of all Spanish cultural characteristics. From the medieval laws known as Las Partidas through the literature of the Siglo de Oro, the repeated appearance of the topic of honor suggests that it was the supreme social virtue. Two aspects of it were critical in the colonial period: the sexual honor of Spanish women and the sacred nature of a promise within the code of honor. The concept of honor, which referred to both self-esteem and social esteem, was set in a complex social code that established the criteria for respect in Spanish society. Since honor was both a public and a private question and public opinion was the ultimate judge of individual honor, one had to defend one’s reputation.

These two meanings can be summed up in the dual concepts of honor as precedence (status, rank, high birth) and as virtue (moral integrity). For men, maintaining their honor implied a willingness to fight, to use force to defend their reputation against any who impugned it. Cowardice led to a precipitous loss of honor. The concept of honor consequently had important implications for masculine behavior on the battlefield, in commerce and in other areas of life. For women, the defense of honor as virtue was linked to sexual conduct. Before marriage, honorable conduct meant chastity. Afterward, it meant fidelity. Sexual relations before or outside of marriage, if found out, would destroy a woman’s honor and reputation.

In this Spanish code, the lack of public revelation was more important than private morality. This meant that maintaining honor meant, more than anything else, maintaining appearances once virtue was lost. This explains one of the great ironies of the age: Iberian Spanish society, with its strict prohibitions against premarital sexual activity, had the highest levels of pregnancy outside of marriage in western Europe, from two to four times higher than in other European countries of the same period. Spanish women in the New World continued the pattern of their cousins in the Old World, with extraordinarily high numbers of births outside of marriage, significantly higher than their European counterparts.

The collective task of covering up
Spanish women’s loss of honor

Although sexual honor belonged to women, it also concerned men. A man could be dishonored by public revelation of the sexual activities of his wife or sister, and it was imperative for both men and women that these indiscretions not become public. Colonial society’s main response to the loss of sexual honor or virtue was to cover up or remedy this loss as quickly and quietly as possible.

Spanish society refused to subject the person who had lost honor to public shame and humiliation, since that was worse than death. Typically, loss of female honor required that the parents and families cooperate to preserve the illusion of chastity in society’s eyes. Consequently, the family, royal officials and the Church worked together to prevent the dishonor of Spanish women. The importance of preventing the loss of female honor was a powerful weapon in the hands of young men and women seeking to force their parents’ consent through the threat of seduction, flight or kidnapping.

This sense of honor facilitated the marriage of Spanish or Creoles (that is, those of pure Spanish descent born in the New World) with individuals from intermediate racial groups, which contributed to intermixing across status and wealth barriers. Also, while Spanish society emphasized the importance of sexual honor, it deeply believed that "honorable" conduct was an exclusive concern of society’s upper crust. At that level, honor was available to all, regardless of income or status, and was the characteristic that distinguished them from the racially mixed population. Thus, having honor was the ideological key that separated the Spanish from the indigenous and the slaves in the New World. The special protection granted Spanish women and their families preserved the borders between them and non-Spanish.

A royal decree reduces Church influence

Since the time of the Conquest, Spanish men were allowed to have sexual relations with non-white women outside of marriage. Women of mixed, intermediate groups felt the disgrace of public illegitimacy more commonly than did Spanish women.

Towards the end of the colonial period, marriages by Spanish men with women of these groups increased, becoming nearly as common as marriages with Spanish women. This tended to break down the perceived differences in behavior among the races upon which the code of honor implicitly depended. Honor as a virtue became honor as status, and this returned the control over marriage choice to the parents, who objected based on differences in wealth, income or social status.

In 1776, the King of Spain issued a royal decree on marriage, which required among other things the parents’ consent to the selection of a partner for all people under the age of 25. Those over 25 were required to formally notify their parents, although they did not have to seek permission. Two years later, this decree was extended to the Spanish colonies in America, the clearest expression of the Crown’s desire to maintain a social elite. Though ignored by most of those to whom the requirements could apply, the decree did serve to limit the independent authority of the Catholic Church and its ecclesiastical courts. It reflected a belief that money was an appropriate means of controlling behavior, and officially validated the desire of aristocratic families to increase their control over their children and inheritances.

Barefoot and pregnant down on the farm

The cultural model included great sexual liberty for men, frequently linked to the sexual violence that paired gender subordination with colonial domination. Despite the ideal of the monogamous family legitimated by the Catholic Church, the carrying off and exchanging of women were commonplace. In the mestizo family, men wielded virtually absolute power and women fulfilled the role of reproducing the work force, serving as domestics and selling their labor on the large plantations. The family’s patriarchal functions were thus adapted to the colonial economic model’s various needs.

With the development of agroexport capitalism, mestizo men became seasonal workers, which encouraged paternal irresponsibility and prevented the consolidation of nuclear families since men established various families as they migrated from one agricultural job to another. The mestizo family was thus characterized by a lack of masculine affection. In this situation, the women of racially mixed groups experienced their sexuality in a way quite similar to that of their indigenous grandmothers. Both were objects of intense repression and were confined to their reproductive tasks.

Reproduction within the indigenous group was aimed at reproducing the group, while in the mixed group it was aimed at increasing the work force, with the use of sexual violence. The sexual appropriation and use of mestizo women in rural areas often began with the father, not only because of living conditions that encouraged promiscuity, but also because of a "paternal right" to make use of the virgin daughter before other men, perhaps in imitation of the "derecho de pernada," or right of the manor lord. Although this ran against the grain of the Christian ideal, it was common enough to remain within the range of what was considered "normal" relations between mestizo men and women.

The conditions in colonial society encouraged people to link masculinity to fecundity and not so much to the establishment and maintenance of a family. For mestizo men, ejaculation aimed at impregnating a woman was more important than sexual satisfaction, a relationship commonly called "gallo y gallina" or "cock and hen" because of the rapidity and objective of intercourse. The relationship model was that of common-law relations interspersed with long periods of solitude conditioned by men’s labor mobility. Men were absent during pregnancy, reappeared after birth to impregnate the women again and then left again. Female subordination took its concrete form in a permanent state of gestation. The capitalist system’s agroexport boom ensured the reproduction of the labor force through women’s extraordinary efforts, colored to one degree or another by their social class.

Changing an inherited model

Following independence in the 19th century, middle-class women, especially in urban areas, gained access over time to education and better living conditions, summed up in the ideal of being a homemaker in a nuclear family. The crisis of the agroexport model led to men’s temporary or permanent unemployment, and women assumed total maintenance of their families, dedicating themselves to commerce or service activities.

The 1979 revolution and the transformations in that period led to a series of ideological changes relative to gender relations, but in various ways other phenomena—the war, the economic crisis, the political changes, the migrations—breathed new life into the model of reproductive sexuality that Nicaragua had inherited. Nonetheless, women have emerged as social subjects and become more politically active in the 1980s and 1990s, demanding changes in gender relations along with their sexual and reproductive rights.

Although Nicaragua has made some progress in changing the inherited gender model, a cultural model that subordinates women to men prevails along with the belief that women are exclusively responsible for caring for the children and doing other domestic tasks. Family relations are unequal, characterized still by paternal irresponsibility, domestic violence and a sharp restriction on women’s time. Single women head at least a quarter of Nicaraguan households and must shoulder all the economic responsibility.

Because of sexual discrimination and the dominant gender model, women have limited possibilities of controlling their reproductive capacity. This translates into high rates of fertility, demographic growth and teenage pregnancy. Abortions conducted under dubious conditions are the main cause of maternal mortality.

In the kingdom of violence,
no humanized sex education

The man, considered the "head of household," is assumed to hold all decision-making power in the family. Men are assigned the role of protecting the family, providing for its needs and enjoying its privileges. The marriage norms that have served as a model for a couple’s relationship are contained in the Civil Code, which dates from 1904—before the Nicaraguan Constitution drafted by Liberal President José Santos Zelaya—and follow the colonial royal decree on this issue. The Code establishes that the man is the family’s main representative and that the woman is subordinate to him and may represent the family only in his absence. It also establishes that a married woman must reside where her husband does, follow him wherever he goes and obey him.

Extremely unstable relationships and the struggle for sheer economic survival characterize most Nicaraguan families, in contrast to the ideal advocated in the model nuclear family. In actual practice, men have several relationships and engender many children, although it is hard enough for them to cover the needs of a single family given the poverty level and low incomes. This makes paternal irresponsibility a permanent phenomenon. Men expect their women to have many children for them, but reserve full sexual freedom and mobility for themselves. Men’s abandonment of their spouse is one of the main reasons that so many households are headed by single women. Various studies show that domestic violence is widespread, as is sexual violence inside and outside the home.

Psychological violence, which is generated and spread within the very heart of the family and permeates each and every corner of society, takes hundreds of forms and is much harder to stop because of its nature and its deep-rootedness. Verbal cruelty, lack of respect or solidarity and the devaluing of everything feminine are a few of the recurring manifestations of psychological violence.

The discourse of the Christian churches in Nicaragua continues to revolve around three basic points: women should be subordinated to men; the sole purpose of sexual relations is biological with only God’s will deciding how many children a woman should have; and a woman’s destiny is to be wife, homemaker and caretaker with anything transgressing this norm a threat to the family.

Although the educational system is supposedly secular in nature, these religious precepts and dogmas influence it, which favors spontaneous revival of the reproduction model and the continuity of cultural norms born in the depths of the colonial period. The lack of humanized liberating sex education means that people have many children and are more likely to suffer from sexual and reproductive diseases, which considerably reduces the Nicaraguan population’s quality of life.

Restoring colonial norms in the 21st century

The Liberal government that came to power in 1997 tried to impose a nuclear family model that had never fully jelled in 500 years. The law establishing the Ministry of the Family, approved on the executive branch’s initiative, introduced the concept of "natural law" into the national legal system, claiming an ideal of a family as a natural institution made up of a man and a woman whose sole mission is procreation. The law maintains that the state shall ensure obligatory fulfillment of this mission, promote formalization of common-law unions through marriage and preserve the right to life of the unborn. In effect, the law is an effort to officially regulate people’s sexuality and intervene in their private lives from an absolutist position that seeks to reinforce this old mestizo model of reproduction, with its full load of violence against women.

A supposedly democratic state with a rule of law is thus maintaining the essence of its patriarchal and oppressive nature by persistently refusing to recognize women as people with full rights, monopolizing control over their bodies and mandating their social subordination through various coercive mechanisms established in outdated laws and normative institutions. The functions of the new Ministry of the Family violate the Constitution, article 48 of which establishes "absolute equality between men and women" in the exercise and enjoyment of their political rights and fulfillment of their duties and responsibilities. This same article establishes the state’s "obligation to eliminate the obstacles that prevent equality among Nicaraguans and their effective participation in the country’s political, economic and social life."
The 1995-96 survey, Economic Assessment of the Work of Nicaraguan Women, conducted by the Foundation for Global Economic and Development Research (FIDEG), revealed seven family types in Nicaragua: single person, nuclear, single parent, extended, extended single parent, complex and complex single parent. The study, based on 6,000 surveys in urban and rural areas, found that the predominant forms are nuclear (47.7%), extended (20.7%), extended single parent (17.2%) and single parent (9.6%). This is one sign that it is impossible to build institutions and legislate on preconceived and false premises about how society is structured. The idea of a nuclear family as the only model to implant is divorced from Nicaraguan reality.

Troubling figures on reproductive risks

The idea of compulsory procreation that the state is trying to promote is also incongruent with the high reproductive risks that the Nicaraguan government itself has identified. The Social Action Ministry’s population policy document (1996) provides the following official figures:
* Nicaragua has the highest fertility rate among females aged 15-19 in Central America, with an average of 158 births per 1,000 (1990).

* 14% of unions take place with girls who are not yet 15, and 45% with those under 18 (1995).
* 12.1% of single women between 15 and 19 already have children (1993).

* A significant 72% of married woman of diverse educational levels did not want to become pregnant. Some 53% of married women with one living child did not want to have more (1992).

* 24% of married women said they were dissatisfied with their access to family planning services; 65% of them live in rural areas and 70% had either not gone to school at all or had not finished primary school (1992).

* 37% of births among the rural population and 32% among the urban population occur less than 24 months after the previous birth (1990).

* Only 33.8% of women of fertile age use contraceptives (1992-93).

* The majority of abortions occur among sexually active women who do not want to be pregnant but use either no contraceptive or a fairly ineffective method.

* Each year, the country’s public health services see over 10,000 women with complications due to abortions. Abortion was one of the main causes of maternal mortality in 1990-91, causing 24% of maternal deaths in and out of hospitals.

New sexuality discourses are urgently needed

At the beginning of the 21st century, Nicaragua finds itself with a supposedly secular state trying to take up where the Church left off and "re-Christianize" sexual and family relations, just as ecclesiastical authorities did in the Middle Ages by using the coming of the Christian year 1000 as a rallying cry. Neoliberalism is mixed with millenarianism in Nicaragua, and one manifestation of this is the de-secularizing of the state amid generalized poverty for which no one takes responsibility.

The AIDS crisis has served as a pretext for reviving gender stereotypes and sexual scripts related to virginity and chastity, rather than for organizing a preventive public health system. Sexuality is pathologized by the danger the epidemic poses, while the repeated association of sexuality with disease promotes fear, control and moralizing. This epidemic, however, cannot be addressed by reviving religious mandates and norms of behavior or by urging abstinence because, as the fertility rates show, Nicaraguans are indulgent in their sexuality and make little use of methods to prevent pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. Given this, a fundamentalist, authoritarian position on sexuality can only be counterproductive to the goal of establishing a preventive policy on sexual and reproductive health. What is needed is to create new discourses on sexuality, and to do this it is crucial to become aware of how the old discourses were created and the role institutions played in this process. Much is involved here: the introduction of education and AIDS prevention programs, changes in sexual policies, the transformation of sexual culture and gender inequalities, the democratization of society and the preservation of life. In brief, human development.

The loveless kingdom

In 1997, I did a study through focus groups and opinion surveys titled Sexual Culture in Nicaragua, to learn the sexual conduct and beliefs of Managua’s urban population between 15 and 40 years of age. The study sought to determine the sexual practices and beliefs of women and men as well as the information sources that condition the formation of our society’s sexual images. In the surveys, we statistically investigated prevailing sexual "scripts," beliefs, customs and initiation; choice of partner; patterns of sexual intercourse, discourse and conduct; sexual taboos; beliefs and values of permissiveness; frequency of intercourse and orgasm; the places where people have sexual relations; the prevalence of homosexuality; sexual dysfunction; and the use of family planning and contraceptive methods. In the focus groups we looked deeper into cultural gender mandates, different views of sexuality, people’s various sexual practices and problems between couples.

The results reveal a sexuality characterized by a sexual-affective schism among both men and women. Lack of intimacy, of shared passion and of commitment abound. The results point to dysfunctional couples, anxious and ambivalent lovers, permanent dissatisfaction and compulsiveness, and very limited female identities: to be the woman of a man, the mother of a child. They portray a kingdom without love. The link between sex and violence even makes it possible to speak of love understood as a form of terrorism.

The family: effective training in inequality

Both heterosexual and bisexual behavior in Nicaragua’s sexual system takes place within an active-passive framework, where masculinity is synonymous with an active-dominant personality and femininity with a passive-submissive one. Men affirm their masculinity, which is otherwise called into doubt, through sexual conquest of women or men.

In the family, boys are compelled to identify with an active-aggressive masculinity and negate everything defined as "feminine," especially feelings. By the age of 5-6, the basis of masculinity has already been established in boys for life. This disdain towards the feminine makes them feel an ambivalence towards women that is later expressed as resentment and aggression. Girls, on the other hand, are compelled to be passive. The family is an energetic and efficient mechanism for creating and transmitting gender inequalities. Since each socioeconomic system creates a particular kind of family, and family structure in turn plays an important role in forming social ideology, the ideology of the Nicaraguan family has a hegemonic place within society as a whole.

For men, being "masculine" implies repressing all desires and characteristics that society negatively defines as passive or resonant of passive experiences, like the desire to be protected. This repression structures what is called excessive aggressiveness, expressed through the triad of masculine violence: violence against women, violence against other men and violence against oneself. The continual conscious or unconscious blocking and negation of passivity and emotions and all feelings men associate with them—fear, pain, sadness, shame—negate a part of themselves and thus become an act of perpetual violence. Men become pressure cookers, and the lack of safety valves to express and discharge their emotions leads them to transform a whole range of emotions into anger and hostility. They aim part of this anger against themselves through feelings of guilt and self-hatred, part against women and part against other men.

Emotional misery and alcohol abuse

In Nicaragua, this psychological and behavioral clamping down on emotions is lifted with alcohol use. Emotional discharge is tolerated of drunken men; they are allowed to be sad, to cry, to show their pain, to let their erotic desires or repressed longing for intimacy come through. Thus, they can temporarily reveal their vulnerability, weakness or passivity and others suspend judgment and do not call their masculinity into doubt, because as people say, "it doesn’t count when you’re drunk." This seems to be the key to the high alcohol consumption level among Nicaraguan men and the link between alcohol and violence. With the man’s feelings at the surface and his inhibitions in regression thanks to alcohol, any rejection by a woman to his search for intimacy can quickly lead to anger, resentment and then violence. The same can happen with other men; since they tend to drink together, a certain amount of homo-social intimacy is created in which any dissension can turn the camaraderie into a fight.

A large part of the sociological analysis of violence in our society explains it as a behavior learned from witnessing and experiencing social violence: poverty, unemployment, inadequate housing… This is true, but it is also indispensable to analyze the nature of individual violence, which leads us back to the relationship between sex, gender and violence, to the construction of our masculinity and our femininity.

The results of the survey speak of a profound emotional, sexual and affective poverty. This misery of the spirit is the result partly of an absolutist historical sexual policy that sees sex as dangerous and elusive, and partly of a patriarchal morality that condemns men to lack love and women to suffer violence. Despite all this, people in Nicaragua are beginning to experience a trend towards secularized permissive ideas about sexuality, although sexual practice is still marked by emphasis on the genitals and a lack of sensuality, and gender socialization and internalized taboos strongly inhibit erotic enjoyment and affection.

There can be no development
with so much sexual impoverishment

Sexuality is linked to the development of democratic imagination. Democracy in the private realm depends on the possibility of being able to decide how to live and who to love. Developing democratic imagination depends on creating cognitive restlessness through various means and instruments in order to bring the institutionalized conflicts in the family, which have always been silenced, censured or adulterated, into the public realm. Airing prohibited issues, debating the quality of the intimate life that society leads and questioning the norms of masculinity and femininity are all part of the search for an alternative development centered around human beings. Development cannot be indifferent to men’s pain and violence or to women’s martyrdom. It cannot abandon boys and girls to their fate simply because they were born female or male. It cannot rely on the pedagogy of NO, silence or half-truths to maintain patriarchal cultural precepts.

Nicaraguan men and women have the right to a healthy, nourishing sexuality, to experience love as an opportunity for growth and renovation and not as a sentence imposed for some crime. They have the right to experience true intimacy with their partner, in which sexual expression is ego-syntonic. They have the right to enjoy a sexuality that does not harm others and in which each one feels comfortable with him/herself, a sexuality among aware, willing people in which pleasure and communion of the spirit are the principle end.

Print text   

Send text

Up
 
 
<< Previous   Next >>

Also...

Nicaragua
The Electoral Film Rolls On

Nicaragua
The Brief, Necessary and Stormy History of the FUAC

Nicaragua
Nicaragua’s Sexual Culture: A Loveless Legacy

Centroamérica
The Central American Media’s Turn On the Democratization Agenda

Internacional
The War Against Market Monotheism

Nicaragua
FUAC: Milestones on the Road

Nicaragua
Roots and Patterns of our Political Culture

Nicaragua
NICARAGUA BRIEFS
Envío a monthly magazine of analysis on Central America
GüeGüe: Web Hosting and Development