Man Seeks Help | Translation
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Translated by MC Editorial
[Daniel Alarcón]: Before we begin, a warning. This episode contains some explicit language in. Discretion is advised.
This is Radio Ambulante from NPR. I’m Daniel Alarcón.
Let’s call him Antonio. He’s 39 years old. He lives in Bogotá. And on April 21, 2022, he went out with his girlfriend to a bar they frequented. When they arrived, they ran into friends and joined them at the bar for drinks. They were chatting and laughing until Antonio turned around to look at his girlfriend.
[Antonio]: And I see that she… Other men begin asking her to dance, talking to her, and she begins to smile and look very happy with them.
[Daniel]: Antonio felt it was not the first time something like this happened. According to him, his girlfriend is one of the prettiest women he has ever dated, and he is well aware that she draws attention wherever she goes. And that made Antonio feel very insecure.
[Antonio]: I mean, I feel as if her beauty was a threat to me, as if I wasn’t up to being with her.
[Daniel]: It was a thought that consumed him all the time but that he had more or less learned to control. But that night, after some drinks, Antonio let himself be carried away by that insecurity. He got very jealous. For him, at that moment, his girlfriend was much happier talking with other men than with him.
[Antonio]: So I start to feel angry. Furious. I think she’s being, yeah, like, very happy and she’s not being happy with me. So I complained and told her, “Don’t worry, I’m leaving so you can stay with your lovers and you don’t screw up my life.”
[Daniel]: He didn’t say it in this tone. He yelled it so loudly that people nearby turned around to look at him.
[Antonio]: Then there were people who grinned and said, “Yes, poor guy.”
[Daniel]: He felt that everyone looked at him with pity. That made him angrier. His girlfriend was frozen and reproached him for his reaction. But Antonio wasn’t in the mood to reason or have any conversation. He said that she was disrespecting him and he stormed out of the bar, very agitated. He started walking and walking and walking until he reached his house, which was far away. But not even that time alone, in the fresh air, managed to calm him down.
[Antonio]: I was upset in the house. I was angry. I was restless. Pacing back and forth. And I remembered. I remembered and said, “I’m going to call and try it this way. I’m going to try and see if this works.”
Recording: Welcome to Calma, the listening line for men. We are here to listen and guide you. Your call is very important for us and for you . . .
[Daniel]: Calma. The Calma Line, an initiative of the Bogotá Mayor’s Office created in December 2020 as a channel to listen to men and accompany them. As soon as Antonio heard this recording, he quickly hung up and thought:
[Antonio]: “Why the fuck should I call, hell, just stop being a jerk and stay put in the house, keep still,” and so on.
[Daniel]: But the need to talk to someone about what he was feeling was too great.
[Antonio]: But then I said, “No, what the hell, I’m going to call, I’m screwed and when you’re screwed, you need help.”
[Daniel]: It had to be of some use.
We will be back after a short break.
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[Daniel]: We’re back with Radio Ambulante. Our senior producer Lisette Arévalo picks up the story.
[Lisette Arévalo]: Antonio heard about the Calma Line for the first time two months before that call. It was February of that same year and he was in his office at a local government agency. When he turned on his computer at work, he opened the browser and the mayor’s website appeared automatically. There he saw an announcement that said, “When you feel jealous or entusado, take it easy. Now there is a listening line for men.” Entusado is a Colombian term to refer to the feeling of spite and sadness after a breakup.
The first thing that went through his head was:
[Antonio]: “Who’s going to call that dumb thing,” right? “I mean, who’s going to call there and share those things? That’s kind of gay. It’s not like you’re going to call and cry and tell them your tragedy. No way, we don’t say anything.”
[Lisette]: The thing is that, ever since he was a child, Antonio was taught that men should not express their feelings, and they cannot speak freely about what bothers them. He grew up in Bucaramanga, in the Santander region of north-central Colombia, and he remembers a number of phrases that were said to him both at home and at school:
[Antonio]: They always told us, right? “Don’t cry, that’s for gays. You have no reason to cry, men don’t cry. Don’t cry, only girls cry.”
[Lisette]: At home, his father constantly controlled not only his games—playing with her sister’s dolls was forbidden—but also the way he spoke.
[Antonio]: My dad used to get very angry when I spoke using diminutives. When I said “pass me the little spoon,” my dad would correct me, “Say ‘spoon’ because you’re going to become a pansy.”
[Lisette]: His mother, on the other hand, was very tender with him, very affectionate. She liked to sit him on her lap and talk with him.
[Antonio]: And my dad would complain to her, right? He’d say, “Why do you hold the kid on your lap? Get down from there.”
[Lisette]: He doesn’t remember exactly how she reacted, but what he does remember is that the way he related to his father was marked by mistreatment, shouting and beatings.
[Antonio]: Like the way to educate you and to set limits was by using physical violence.
[Lisette]: His dad’s only show of affection was a pat on the head. Something he did on rare occasions.
Antonio soon learned to imitate his father’s actions and reproduce that violence in his interactions with others. At school—which was an all-boys’ school—his friends also imitated their fathers, who were not too different from Antonio’s. They got into fights with kids from other schools, swarmed everywhere, and picked on the few boys in their class who had the courage to come out as gay. When they went to parties and asked girls to go out, they would control them.
[Antonio]: Sometimes a boy would say to them, “Don’t dress that way, you’re showing too much, lengthen out that skirt or you’re not going. I’m not going to go out with you like that, because you’re showing too much skin. And I am ashamed to be seen with you like that.”
[Lisette]: They talked among them in a derogatory way about those same girls they went out with, and at 13 or 14 they started visiting the city’s brothels.
[Antonio]: At that time we considered that yes, that it was time to go to the whores to get some experience in that kind of thing, in sexual matters, and no, you shouldn’t go into marriage as a virgin, but rather, you should have some training, so to speak.
[Lisette]: They did whatever it took to fit in with what was considered quote-unquote “a real man.” Antonio knows very well what this means in his country.
[Antonio]: Well, the stereotype for a Colombian man is a party man: he likes partying, he is surrounded by friends, men or women. I think it’s like feeling that he can experience his sexuality with whoever he wants. He is a horny person, he is a fighting man, with character. And he talks tough.
[Lisette]: We will return to Antonio and his story later, but I want to dwell on that generalization he makes about how Colombian masculinity is perceived. And, well, in a certain way, Latin American masculinity as well. The way he was raised has been reproduced for centuries in different parts of the region. There are variations, sure, but that social construct of how men should behave—true machos—has been ingrained deep in our culture. You don’t have to go very far to see that these are the stereotypes. Just look at characters like Don Armando, from “Betty la Fea.”
[Betty]: But why do you do this to me, sir, what have I done to you?
[Don Armando]: Because it’s no use to me that you’re so intelligent if you are so ugly!
[Lisette]: Or the Reyes brothers, in “Pasión de Gavilanes.”
[Franco]: I wish, Sarita, there’s no way I would abuse a woman as ugly and unappealing as you. Don’t get your hopes up.
[Lisette]: Virtually all of them have these traits that Antonio mentioned. Not being able to express their emotions except by lashing out, control over the bodies and lives of the women around them.
And this has also been observed by people who are involved in gender studies in Colombia, such as philosopher Henry Murrain. He has been investigating gender and partner violence for 15 years, and one of his conclusions has been clear:
[Henry Murrain]: An important part of what would explain partner violence, domestic violence, is the poor management of emotions by men in our society.
[Lisette]: Henry is District Undersecretary of Citizen Culture and Knowledge Management of the Mayor’s Office in Bogotá. But before that, in 2005, he worked as project coordinator and executive director at Corpovisionarios, an NGO engaged in disseminating the vision of citizen culture to improve urban life.
During his time in this organization, he interviewed perpetrators of femicide who were in prison, because he wanted to understand what had led them to murder their partners. That’s where he found the relationship he just talked about.
[Henry]: We noticed that the circumstance in which the event occurred was generally due to a peak, an emotional crisis where anger, rage, and all this cultural structure of toxic masculinity generated a… certain impulses, some tremendously serious reactions.
[Lisette]: As serious as physical and psychological violence and the maximum expression of gender violence: femicide. In 2021, in Colombia, there was one victim of femicide every 41 hours. Henry told me something that caught his attention from those conversations he had: many of the men were remorseful, they did not defend themselves, nor did they seek to validate or excuse what they had done. And he also noticed something that was recurrent:
[Henry]: There were warning signs indicating risk situations in that home.
[Lisette]: That was when his work team asked themselves several questions: What would have happened if these men knew how to handle their emotions? Could these femicides have been prevented?
Henry began to think about those questions. To imagine possible scenarios and how to control them. And one day he came up with an idea:
[Henry]: And this leads me to think about how ideal it would be to have, for example, a hotline for emotional emergency situations, where men could get support in dealing with their emotional crises. And at the same time, it could be a teaching resource providing tools so that these situations do not continue to arise.
[Lisette]: He thought that the advantage of providing care through a telephone line is that during the most extreme situations, those critical moments when men can erupt in violence that they will later regret, it is difficult for other people—such as the police or family—to intervene. Men could talk about their emotions from their home, calmly and safely.
The NGO he worked for at the time had ties to the local government of Barrancabermeja, in the department of Santander, so they proposed the creation of this hotline to prevent gender-based violence. It was in operation for two years—between 2009 and 2011—and during that time something happened that confirmed Henry’s suspicion.
[Henry]: As soon as it opened, there was a permanent flow of calls. And we noticed that the incidence of intimate partner violence reported by the National Institute of Legal Medicine was decreasing.
[Lisette]: According to Henry, the rate of gender-based violence fell by one third in the first year, and by half in the second. Of course, there is no proof that this is a matter of cause and effect, but such a statistic is surprising for any Latin American city. When he saw these results, he was happy.
[Henry]: Very happy, professionally and intellectually. And all that work opened up a whole future perspective of professional work.
[Lisette]: The line in Barrancabermeja did not continue in operation beyond 2011 because another government administration came in and decided to close it down. But the experience they had there was so successful that at the beginning of 2019 the NGO worked with the vice-presidency of the Dominican Republic, advising them on the creation of a similar hotline to prevent violence. Although this one was not only for men.
That same year, Henry left the organization because the recently elected mayor of Bogotá, Claudia López, invited him to be part of her government cabinet. She wanted him to be in charge of civic culture issues and to develop initiatives to reduce intimate partner violence in the city. This was a priority issue for her because the figures had not improved in Bogotá in the last 20 years. What’s more, they had gotten worse: in 2019, for example, the rate of women who had experienced situations of intimate partner violence was above the national average.
Henry accepted the position and told her about his own experience with the hotline in Barrancabermeja. He wanted to try something similar in Bogotá. When he got the green light, they went to work.
In the first months of 2020, they decided to conduct an investigation to learn about the reality of the city, a metropolis of nearly 8 million inhabitants, and the destination of thousands of Colombians who have migrated from different parts of the country. They began by talking to survivors of violence to understand what had triggered the situation. And 58% said it had been a situation related to jealousy or infidelity.
[Henry]: What we understood is that, of course, behind the big Latino macho, there is also an insecure and tormented man, who is concerned about his partner’s freedom. So part of what sexism does is build up this idea that the partner, the woman, is the property of the man.
[Lisette]: And because of this, they do everything possible to control their partners.
The next step was to find out if men would be willing to call a hotline. So he and his team conducted surveys.
[Henry]: A vast majority of the men in Bogotá stated that they felt it was difficult, they felt awkward about handling certain emotions, they found it hard, they did not know how to do certain things.
[Lisette]: And at the end, they admitted…
[Henry]: …that if there were a channel, or a space to support this, they would use it.
[Lisette]: This gave them a lot of confidence. The investigation and the project were going well until the first case of Covid-19 was reported in Bogotá. On March 6, 2020, the process had to be suspended. Henry told me that his team had to focus on containing the spread of the virus. And by the end of that year, when there seemed to be a slightly improved control over the pandemic in the city, they were able to resume work with the hotline. They wanted to have it running by December…
[Henry]: …because we know, from statistics, that the end of December and the start of the new year are times of increased reports of domestic violence and intimate partner violence.
[Lisette]: It coincides with the holiday season, when alcohol consumption is up and when couples spend more time together. And it is no surprise that this is a trigger for violence.
They also spoke with non-governmental organizations that were in charge of hotlines for men in countries such as Costa Rica, Mexico, and Argentina. Although the latter two were set up specifically in response to the increase in gender-based violence during the lock-down.
Although they already had a study of the population they wanted to serve, Henry and his team still needed to fine-tune some important details. One of them was that the hotline for men should be connected with the other telephone lines of the mayor’s office, such as the police emergency line, the mental health crisis line and, above all, the purple line for women in situations of risk. There was also a need to design care protocols, hire psychologists, and train them in gender issues.
They finally managed to launch the line on December 17, 2020, with a press conference. This is the mayor, Claudia López:
[Claudia]: If you need help, if you want to talk, if you want to seek guidance, use the Calma Line. 018000 423614. We are going to work together to overcome machismo and unlearn machismo in Bogotá.
[Lisette]: At that event, Henry presented some results of the research they had done on gender violence and masculinity in Bogotá. Those are the findings we just heard. And he also mentioned other findings. Here is Henry, during the press conference:
[Henry]: In fact, the percentage of men who say they would be more open to receiving help from a professional or a therapist is higher than the percentage of women: men, 67%; women, 60%.
[Lisette]: A professional like the ones the Calma Line wanted to provide. And he clarified that the purpose went beyond containing gender violence.
[Henry]: We insist. But we are aware that inadequate emotional management in a macho culture produces violence against women.
[Lisette]: In addition, they announced that, depending on the case, men could have support beyond that first call, with tools for cultural change to unlearn toxic masculinity and better manage their emotions. The initial investment was approximately 700 million pesos, which at that time was about 175 thousand US dollars.
The proposal was welcomed by many people with whom Henry and his team had already had contact, including several feminist groups. But there were also questions. There was criticism from opinion leaders, academics, and some leaders of foundations.
[Henry]: Yes, there was disbelief that men would actually use this, call the line. Because this is a controversial program in many ways, you know? Why work with men? Right? When men become abusers, on so many occasions, why worry about working with them?
[Yamilé Roncancio]: The Foundation has been very critical. I have to be very honest . . .
[Lisette]: This is Yamilé Roncancio Alfonso, director and founder of the Fundación Feminicidios in Colombia—an organization created in 2018 to keep statistics on femicides, attempted femicides, and sexual exploitation, in addition to working closely with survivors and their families.
One of their main concerns focuses on how effective a helpline such as the Calma Line can be in reducing gender-based violence.
[Yamilé]: The question is: Of the group of the majority of aggressors in Bogotá, who come from all social strata and such; men who perpetrate or have a high probability of perpetrating criminal actions or victimizing acts against women—are they really going to call? I don’t think so.
[Lisette]: And if they did call…
[Yamilé]: Is it preventative enough for a man who is in an altered state to call and say, “Well, I’m very angry, I’m really mad”? And you receive the call and just try to monitor him. And how can you measure the impact, how can you measure the effectiveness of that Calma Line?
[Lisette]: Yamilé told me the problem is that she does not believe in the effectiveness of hotlines. In Colombia there are already several that try to combat gender violence but, according to her, they don’t really work well. Line 155, for example, is for women in situations of risk who require guidance about their rights. But according to the women she has worked with, it can take several hours to answer a call. And once they answer, the advice in many cases does not go beyond telling them to go to the prosecutor’s office and file a complaint.
For Yamilé, this is in addition to the fact that resources for attending to the survivors are insufficient.
[Yamilé]: We women in Colombia who have been victims of violence—and I can tell you this from my own experience—have no guarantee of psychosocial care and rehabilitation for the traumas we suffer as a consequence of the violence we have experienced, because the appointments they give you here are once a month for psychology.
[Lisette]: According to her, a survivor of gender violence should receive care at least once a week. And worse still, there are several cases in which women reported to the prosecutor’s office or called for help, but the authorities did nothing about it, and those same women ended up being victims of femicide.
[Yamilé]: So what is the priority? In other words, where are my resources going to go?
[Lisette]: Yamilé feels that the resources used for the Calma Line should be used for other needs. Like creating more shelters for survivors of violence and their children, hiring better lawyers to represent them, ensuring that health services have a gender perspective, in addition to training police and prosecutors to work with victims.
[Yamilé]: Because, at the end of the day, while all the violence that impacts us is dismantled, at least we do need to be protected and we need to have our protection systems.
[Lisette]: Henry Murrain is not unaware that these problems exist. In fact, he says it’s precisely because these measures that are in operation are not enough that the Calma Line was created.
[Henry]: We cannot simply question sexism and generate a narrative criticizing sexism. We cannot expect prison and punishment to be the only resource we use to address the problem of machismo and intimate partner violence. As a State we must also provide citizens with tools for transformation.
[Lisette]: For Henry, there is another important factor that influences the success of the hotline: it allows men to talk about what they feel with a professional, for free. They don’t have to show their faces and, because they are anonymous, they can speak openly, without fear of being judged by people they know.
It’s important to clarify that Yamilé is not opposed to working with men and the violence they go through as a form of prevention. In fact, the possibility of rethinking the meaning of masculinity is something that has been promoted by feminist groups around the world. But it is still an ongoing conversation. And that is why Yamilé considers that there are more efficient ways than a hotline. She proposes face-to-face workshops done in partnership with private and public organizations that don’t have to depend on the man picking up the phone in order to dismantle his toxic masculinity.
Despite the concerns voiced, the pilot phase of the Calma Line worked well. It lasted 6 months, operating Monday through Friday from 8 am to 8 pm. And the objective was to know how well it would be received, whether men were going to call, and to document the successes and obstacles. Psychologists treated 1,139 men. That is, about nine a day. If we take into account the population of men aged 15 and over in Bogotá… well, it isn’t a particularly impressive percentage—0.05%.
But for Henry, it was still a success.
It was the first time something like this had been done in the city. And they had encouraging results from the men who were assisted. More than 80% said they felt better after the call and 93% of those who called about situations of aggression stated that after the service, they did not behave violently again.
[Henry]: Well, it’s wonderful. I believe there is no greater reward for those of us who have a vocation for public service. There is no greater reward than being able to verify that what we do is transforming people’s lives. That—it’s worth everything.
[Lisette]: So they began to plan a new launch of the hotline. This time, it would include recommendations from the psychologists who worked on the pilot phase. Such as, for example, extending the service hours from 8 am to 10:30 pm, including weekends. They also decided to expand the psycho-educational sessions available to the men.
The second phase would start in August 2021, and for that they needed to hire more staff and do a lot of advertising on networks and the media. Psychologist Germán Monroy had seen one of the images promoting the line in December 2020. There were several, and one of them said, “When you want to talk but feel afraid, take it easy. There is now a listening line for men.”
[Germán Monroy]: When I saw it, I thought, “Either I use the line as a user or I find a way to be part of that team.”
[Daniel]: We’ll be back after a break.
[Daniel]: We’re back with Radio Ambulante. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Before the break, we learned about the Calma Line initiative, a hotline to help men manage their emotions.
After a pilot stage, the idea was to launch it officially in August 2021. An advertising campaign was set up and calls were put out to hire staff. One of the people who saw this was psychologist Germán Monroy, and they were fascinated by the idea and wanted to know more.
Lisette continues the story.
[Lisette]: When Germán saw the ads for the Calma Line, they thought not only of how innovative it was for a country like Colombia, but also how much it would have helped them to have a line like this when they were a teenager.
[Germán]: Wow, in those times of so much confusion, of really tough moments, when there was no one like that to talk soto about so many situations. I feel it should have existed a long time ago.
[Lisette]: Germán never felt part of the group of boys at school. They didn’t like to play soccer; they liked dresses, the color pink and playing with dolls. But this was not allowed, either at home or at school. There was no possibility of following a different path from all the other boys. And Germán felt terrible.
[Germán]: It meant feeling like I didn’t fit in. It was feeling that I was different. The fact of feeling that inhibition, that prohibition to touch a toy because it was labeled as being for a girl and not for a boy. Yes, it was tough.
[Lisette]: Over the years, Germán defined their identity, and little by little they felt that they were freeing themself from these roles. They now identify as non-binary, wears their hair long, and has managed to find a little more peace. It was something they achieved through years of studying psychology and gender, and learning about feminism.
So, when they saw the advertising for the Calma Line, something clicked for them.
As a psychologist, Germán had already worked at two foundations for suicide prevention, and one of them offered a hotline. They had also answered calls on Line 141 to receive reports of child abuse, sexual violence, and harassment. So they had experience dealing with people in crisis situations.
[German]: Look, before, I didn’t have much faith in the issue of… of assistance by telephone. But as I was working on the lines, I realized that a very important connection is achieved, that there is a lot that you can do from behind a computer and that with the other person on their cell phone, on their telephone, a lot can be achieved.
[Lisette]: They wanted to apply to the Calma Line everything they had learned in their previous job. And in August 2021, they did it. They hired them.
Including Germán, there were 11 psychologists. After a month of training, learning how to answer calls, workshops on masculinity and gender violence, Germán was ready to answer the phones on the line.
[Germán]: “Good morning. My name is Germán, I am a psychologist from the Calma Line and I am going to guide you during this call, so I will make some suggestions. Do you want to report an urgent or imminent situation? Are you or is someone else at risk in this moment?”
[Lisette]: After this, the calls usually followed the same format. Germán asked for their personal data to create a confidential record and then continued the call, clarifying something important:
[Germán]: ”…I have an ethical duty to report the situation to the corresponding authorities according to institutional prescriptions, in order to guarantee the safety and life of your partner or any other affected person. Please tell me loud and clear: do you agree?”
[Lisette]: Requesting all the data and stating the possibility of “reporting to the authorities” is part of the legal protocol of the Calma Line. The issue is that if a man tells them that he is committing physical violence, psychologists are obliged to report it, because of the risk that a femicide may be committed. In these cases, they contact the legal agencies that handle complaints of gender and domestic violence.
This, of course, has consequences. There have been cases of men hanging up the phone when informed of the protocol. But many other times, they stay on the line, unburden themselves and listen to what psychologists like Germán have to say.
The center from where psychologists receive calls is in an office on the ninth floor of a building in Bogotá. There, each psychologist has a desk, a computer and a headset, and at the beginning of their shift, they connect to two servers. One connects them to calls and the other is used to record people’s data. It is a place where Germán has felt comfortable doing their work. And they love the office where they spend hours, surrounded by large windows with a view over Bogotá.
[Germán]: I find it very, very nice that while I connect with the user, I can have that perspective of the city, because I can imagine him at any spot with everything he may be saying to me.
[Lisette]: In each shift, Germán took between 3 and 5 calls a day, and they were calls of all kinds.
[Germán]: Calls about domestic violence, physical, verbal and psychological aggression involving a partner, another family member, or someone at work.
[Lisette]: Others call because they’ve had problems with their children or with their ex-partners and custody. Or, for example, from men who feel they are in a crisis because they begin to question their identity and sexual orientation.
[Germán]: It is about reevaluating all that side of their manhood, that possible fear of being perceived as inferior, what it means to face a society where you are different or where you do not follow certain patterns or what is expected of you as a man.
[Lisette]: Many call the hotline during their lunch hour, during work breaks, or from their home bathrooms. They speak in a soft, low voice so that no one can hear them. And Germán has noticed a pattern in these calls:
[German]: I find that the vast majority of men who call us have difficulty recognizing the emotion they are experiencing at the moment. Why am I feeling this? I’m supposed to be the macho. I am… I am in this male role where I cannot show myself like this. So there is that confusion and that mixture of sadness, anger, resentment, frustration.
[Lisette]: They are men who, because the rule tells them to be “strong,” feel they cannot talk about their feelings, their weaknesses or anxieties with anyone in their circle. And remember that this hotline was not created only for men who are about to commit a violent act. It also exists as a way to unburden themselves.
When I was doing research for this episode, I was able to talk to some men who called the hotline. One of them was already working on his fears of not expressing himself and this was a continuation of the work he was doing on himself. Another man felt anxiety and depression. Or some simply felt they couldn’t talk to their friends for fear of being judged.
One of them asked me to call him Alejandro. He called the Calma Line after a breakup with his partner.
[Alejandro]: I had a lot of anxiety and had carried it as sadness for several months, but at that moment I felt very bad. And I thought about who would listen to me at that moment.
[Lisette]: He remembered seeing an advertisement for the Calma Line and decided to call.
[Alejandro]: Because I thought maybe they would understand me better, since it was designed for men.
[Lisette]: At first, he was shaking a bit. He was nervous. He didn’t know who was going to answer or what they were going to say. He was treated by a psychologist named Diego, who asked him several questions and listened carefully. As he was unburdening himself, he felt his anxiety decreasing.
[Alejandro]: I did not have the solution, at the end of the call I did not have the solution to all my problems, right? But I did feel calmer.
[Lisette]: When they finished, the psychologist offered a follow-up of his process in a course that Alejandro calls “learning to be a better man.” The courses are taught by the psychologists of the hotline as a way to provide support after that initial call.
At first, Alejandro agreed to do it because he wanted to work on himself in order to get his ex-girlfriend back. But also because he had had bad experiences with other psychologists, and this was the first time he felt that they were really listening to him.
[Alejandro]: And with him, and the peace he helped me find that night, I thought, well, maybe this is like a way out, you know?, something that will help me feel better later, and I said, well, I have to try it.
[Lisette]: Alejandro connected by video call with the psychologist who had worked with him the first time. They talked about how he felt about himself, how he could relate better to the women around him. It made him reflect on better ways to handle emotions like anger and jealousy.
There were eight sessions, in which he learned a lot. Although he did not manage to get back with his ex, his relationship with his mother and his female friends improved a lot. He learned not to judge them or impose his way of thinking about their lives and their decisions.
[Alejandro]: But now I am a little more aware that it is not… it is not about a competition between men and women. But rather they have it a little more… more difficult.
[Lisette]: Alejandro has called the Calma Line more times.
[Alejandro]: Well, it’s not magic. It is not like you call and… and your problems are solved. But it is a step. A step that is very helpful. We also deserve a line where we can feel at ease, calm.
[Lisette]: And talking more directly about the hotline as a way of preventing gender violence, Germán Monroy says that they have been able to identify two groups of men. The first group…
[Germán]: …is a man who has done violence, but in the middle of this type of situation he recognizes that he is not well. They recognize the consequences and seek a change.
[Lisette]: These are easier to work with. And the second group…
[Germán]: …are some men who find it much harder to recognize that they are abusive, that the role of macho man is something harmful, somehow toxic.
[Lisette]: And it is this second group that they have found more difficult to work with. Germán recalls that one of the most demanding calls they have had to handle was from a man in his 60s who had been in the Colombian Army. He had been through a breakup and he wasn’t taking it well at all. He was not calling to seek help for himself, but to ask that the Calma Line would contact his ex-girlfriend and have her reconsider.
[Germán]: He wanted us to make her realize she was losing a… a man with a lot of recognition, a man who gave her money. But together with all those good things he thought he was providing, he did not realize the abuse he committed. There were insults, there was deprivation of friendships, of places. She couldn’t go out.
[Lisette]: He said that he gave her everything, that he picked clothes in the most expensive stores and bought them for her. Also during his call, he spoke very badly about her and about women in general.
When Germán made him realize what he was doing, the man did not react well at all. He said that he had not called to be confronted, but for help getting his ex back.
[Germán]: He was very sexist, a highly authoritarian person. He questioned a lot of things, he questioned my age, he said I sounded too young to be telling him how to live his life.
[Lisette]: He was furious, and seeing that he was not going to get what he wanted, he hung up the phone. They never heard from him again.
He is not the only one who has responded badly, of course. It is not easy to question masculinity. Less so in a country like Colombia, or in a region as sexist as Latin America. But Germán and the other psychologists have several strategies so that their callers do not hang up the phone.
[German]: One thing I am very careful about in the orientation and the attention I provide is that the person does not take it as a criticism. That is, I avoid telling him that he is a male chauvinist. Instead, it is criticism of the chauvinist action.
[Lisette]: Or even sexist thinking. For example:
[German]: I have heard men who claim, “The woman has to stay at home taking care of the children,” or they say that when a woman gets married she has the obligation to satisfy her husband sexually in all circumstances.
[Lisette]: In those cases, Germán says a technique that works is to do a type of roleplay. During the call, he asks them to put themselves in the shoes of their partner, and Germán repeats the phrases so they can understand how it feels. Although men may be reluctant initially, they end up accepting. It is a simple but efficient exercise.
Germán loves their job. So much so that in early April 2022 hethey became the supervisor of the line. Now they no longer answer calls or speak directly with the men. Instead, they are in charge of monitoring the work of the other psychologists and guiding them if they receive a problematic call. And if one thing has become clear to them from all this experience, it is the importance of working with the aggressors.
[German]: It is very important to see him as a human being who has had some experiences, who has had some life circumstances that may have led him to be that way.
[Lisette]: By the beginning of 2022, the Calma Line had answered 5,000 calls, and 3,000 men had begun the psycho-educational process.
One of them is Antonio, whom we heard at the beginning of this story.
[Lisette]: Let’s recall that after lashing out at his girlfriend in a scene of jealousy, he decided to call the Calma Line. The first time he called, he hung up almost immediately, but he tried again right away.
[Antonio]: So I called, and after the third ring they answered.
[Lisette]: He was helped by a psychologist named Diana, and Antonio told me that from the beginning of the interaction with her he felt calm. She asked for his information and told him about the agreements in order to receive care from the Calma Line. All the protocol that Germán told us about.
[Antonio]: And then she asked me, “Why are you calling here?”
[Lisette]: Antonio told her everything that had happened that night. The fight, the jealousy, the insults. The psychologist listened to him and asked him some follow-up questions.
[Antonio]: She never labeled me. She never called me sexist, so to speak. But she did tell me, “But that’s not right. I mean, you don’t own her, she doesn’t belong to you and you have to learn to build that kind of relationships.”
[Lisette]: She also told him that alcohol consumption worsens any scenario, because it can generate violence and states of overexcitement. They talked about the best way to handle emotions.
[Antonio]: She told me,: “You have the right to be angry. Anger is a human feeling, but when you go on to aggression, well, now you are being violent and you are violating the rights of other people.” I liked that she said that. Although it may seem very obvious, although it may seem very simple, I think that you don’t always have it so clear.
[Lisette]: They talked for about two and a half hours, more or less. A record for Antonio because he says he doesn’t like to chat on the phone with anyone for more than five or ten minutes. But that day he felt that he had to get it all out. He talked about his past, about his mother, about his sister, about his relationship with his girlfriend… about everything that, for years, he had been unable to express.
[Antonio]: I mean, I talked and talked and needed to talk. And I think that’s the first step. Talking, right? In a society that… that silences us. I felt as if they were giving me… they were revealing the light to me, the path—I don’t know.
[Lisette]: Although he confessed something to me: he is not sure that he would have stayed talking for so long that night if it had been a man who answered the phone.
[Antonio]: I don’t open my heart to a man the way I opened it to that girl, that is, sharing with her everything that was happening to me.
[Lisette]: That same night, after they hung up the phone, the psychologist emailed him all the resources to follow up on his case. Among them was a list of psychology practices affiliated with universities, and informational brochures on how to manage emotions and have better conversations with his partner. And with anyone. For him, it was a first step to start changing things.
[Antonio]: Sometimes you also have to recognize, well, yes, you could be a potential femicide, and if you don’t work on that, if you don’t work on the issue of violence, anger, then in… in a… in a moment of rage you could be killing someone. You have to become aware of your own violence in order to prevent aggression.
[Lisette]: The next day, he talked to his girlfriend. She objected to the way he had treated her, how he made her feel by yelling at her in front of all their friends. He told her that he had called the Calma Line, he assured her that he would work on himself with the help of specialists to improve. And he apologized…
[Antonio]: I had treated her like an object. I had gone off and left her behind. She accepted my apology. And she said, “Well, you have to work, you have to work on that, because if we want to be together, it can’t behappen that every time we go out this happens all over again.”
[Lisette]: Antonio began to attend therapy and used the resources that the Calma Line psychologist had given him. Instead of reacting violently when he got mad at his girlfriend, he would leave the apartment and go for a walk to clear his head. He remembered the advice the psychologist had given him, to learn to recognize when he was jealous, and to process his emotions before reacting.
And in May 2022, a month after calling the line, he no longer reacted the same way when he went out with his girlfriend to a bar. Even though the circumstances could be the same.
[Antonio]: There she was saying hello, talking to her male friends and all that, and I was calm. And people came up to me and said, “Hey, how cool, right? What a great attitude you have.” And I would say, “Yes, man, I’m… I recognize the problems I have and I want to be with her, and I have to learn to be with her, but I also have to learn many things about myself.”
[Lisette]: Antonio is one of several men who say they have changed their behavior thanks to the support of the Calma Line.
Now, he keeps telling his friends to call the line every time they have a problem. And although they tell him that he’s crazy, that they would never call, he doesn’t miss a chance to insist.
[Antonio]: I am about to print a t-shirt. “I called the Calma Line and you should, too,” just like that.
[Lisette]: That’s why he also decided to share his story in this episode. Although he isn’t using his real name, he wants you to know the impact it can have.
When I asked him how he would define that Antonio before the call to the hotline, he said that he was a man who poisoned himself with his own anger. But now he feels he is no longer like that.
[Antonio]: He is an Antonio who is trying to take the poison out of his anger and turn it into something that doesn’t bring suffering on himself and on the other people he loves. It is a first step, because I still have to change. In other words, to say that I’m no longer… I’m no longer sexist, I’m now the new man, the deconstructed man? No, that’s a lie. I am still screwed up. I am still screwed. But I have begun to work on letting myself be a little less fucked up.
[Lisette]: To achieve this, he wants to continue reflecting on his emotions, his toxic masculinity, and the damage he has caused and can cause due to the way he was raised. He feels this is necessary in order to live a calmer life, away from that anger that led him to violence. Especially because this is the life he wants for his 12-year-old son from a first marriage.
[Antonio]: And I see him so happy, so beautiful, in touch with his emotions. If he wants to cry, he cries. He talks the way he wants to talk and I don’t correct him like my dad did. I see him growing up in a different world from the one I grew up in.
[Lisette]: It’s a world where your child doesn’t have to worry about saying “little spoon” instead of “spoon.” One that looks for colors to just be colors. Toys are just toys. And where children learn that being another type of man, far removed from sexism, is possible.
[Daniel]: Lisette Arévalo is a senior producer for Radio Ambulante; she lives in Quito, Ecuador. This story was edited by Camila Segura, Natalia Sánchez Loayza and me. Bruno Scelza did the fact-checking. The sound design is by Andrés Azpiri with original music by Ana Tuirán.
The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes Paola Alean, Nicolás Alonso, Aneris Casassus, Diego Corzo, Emilia Erbetta, Fernanda Guzmán, Camilo Jiménez Santofimio, Rémy Lozano, Juan David Naranjo, Ana Pais, Laura Rojas Aponte, Barbara Sawhill, David Trujillo, Elsa Liliana Ulloa and Luis Fernando Vargas.
Selene Mazón is our production intern.
Carolina Guerrero is the CEO.
Radio Ambulante is produced and mixed on the Hindenburg PRO program.
If you’re a podcaster interested in Hindenburg Pro, go to hindenburg.com/radioambulante and take a free 90-day trial.
Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin America. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Thanks for listening.