Bogota’s “Calm Line” is confronting machismo, one call at a time

The city launched the pilot program last December as part of its battle against domestic violence

Today's expression: Root cause
Explore more: Lesson #415
November 11, 2021:

Bogota launched an anti-machismo “Calm Line” hotline to help men manage feelings that can lead to abuse. The pilot program launched last December, and 2,000 men have already taken advantage of the program. Bogota’s city government has a long tradition of using creative initiatives to solve societal problems. Plus, learn “root cause.”

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Bogota’s “Calm Line” is confronting machismo, one call at a time.

Lesson summary

Hi there everyone, I’m Jeff and this is Plain English, where we help you upgrade your English with current events and trending topics. This is lesson number 415 of Plain English, 415 is easy to remember. It’s the telephone area code of San Francisco, California. JR is the producer—he has produced every one of our 415 lessons, believe it or not—and he has uploaded all of today’s materials to PlainEnglish.com/415.

Coming up today… a hotline to help men manage the feelings that can lead to abuse. It’s the newest idea in the battle against domestic violence. Bogota’s “Calm Line” has already helped thousands of callers control their feelings of jealousy. In today’s lesson, you’ll hear about why the Colombian capital introduced this helpline and what callers can expect when they dial it up.

Later in the lesson, we’ll talk about the English expression “root cause.” And it’s Thursday, so JR has selected a song of the week for us. Let’s get going.

Confronting ‘machismo’, one call at a time

“Machismo” is a Spanish word that roughly translates to exaggerated masculine behavior, strong masculine pride, or the idea that men must be the dominant gender. It’s an attitude shared by many men around the world, certainly not just in Latin America. According to this attitude, men are providers, protectors, strong, and self-sufficient. Very well. But all too often, this mindset mutates into uncontrollable jealously and rage on the inside and leads to physical, sexual, emotional, and verbal abuse toward women.

Most efforts at solving the problem of domestic abuse focus on the victims, who, in all cultures, are overwhelmingly women. But the city of Bogota, the capital of Colombia, is adding another tactic: counseling the men who feel overcome by emotions of jealousy and rage in their relationships. The objective is to help prevent domestic violence in the first place by helping men understand and address the root causes of abuse.

In many places, domestic violence is more prevalent in more rural areas. But in Colombia, the problem is worse in the capital city, home to about eight million people. A recent study found that in Bogota, two-thirds of family violence was within a couple and over half of those cases were due to jealousy. What’s more, three-quarters of those incidents could have been prevented if the man had known how to manage his emotions. That same study also found that half of the boys in Bogota grow up without their father at home. One official added grimly that often when a father is present, he’s violent.

These findings are one reason why Claudia López, the first woman and openly gay mayor of Bogota, made confronting machismo culture a priority of her administration. Her administration launched the Calm Line as a pilot program in December and began promoting it with a YouTube series called “Calm,” in which four friends struggle with masculine attitudes and domestic life. Public awareness campaigns urge men to call the line when they’re feeling overcome with emotion.

If you suspect that jealous men, men prone to abuse, wouldn’t call a hotline, you have company. Even one of the psychologists at the Calm Line doubted anyone would call. After the line opened, though, he was surprised. Since the program started at the beginning of this year, over 2,000 men have called.

Most of them call in moments of distress, such as when they feel overcome with jealousy. All have gotten some initial counseling, but about 200 have taken advantage of the ten one-on-one telephone counseling sessions, which are free to anyone who calls. The only requirement is that the callers must be willing to examine their emotions, thoughts, and attitudes.

When they first call the local number, callers are greeted by a man’s voice saying, “Welcome to Calm, the support line for men. We’re here to listen and to give you guidance.” A few moments later, callers are connected to a trained psychologist. The staffers are both men and women.

A local government official said that after an initial pilot program, the line showed positive results among the people who called. He said that the men who call feel better, learn to express themselves constructively, and have even adjusted their behavior to prevent further incidents of violence.

One 31-year-old caller explained it this way to the BBC. He said, “I was turning into a man that I never wanted to be.” But after talking to a psychologist on the Calm Line, he learned that jealousy was a normal emotion that everyone feels. The key is to be able to manage it.

Bogota’s city government has a long tradition of using creative initiatives to solve societal problems. Previous efforts have focused on getting people to cross the street using a crosswalk, wear seatbelts, and conserve water at home. The Calm Line, which costs just $300,000 per year, continues that tradition of creative public services. Plus, soon Bogota will open a new kind of school called “Men in Care,” designed to show men how to appropriately take care of their homes, their children, and their partners.

Skeptical no more

I like this idea. I would have been one of the skeptics. This sounds like the sort of counseling that would be given because of a court order as punishment. But thousands of people have called, which is great progress. The quote that really stood out to me was the caller who said he was turning into someone he never wanted to be. And now in Bogota, they have created a way to help individuals course correct. Good for them.

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Expression: Root cause