“Black men struggle with masculinity so much. The idea that we must always be strong really presses us all down- it keeps us from growing”. –Donald Glover
Historically, the male gender has been privileged, not only in Jamaica but also on a global scale. According to Mark Figueroa, in the book, Interrogating Caribbean Masculinities: Theoretical and Empirical Analyses, “The male gender has had access to a broader social space; it has had greater control over a wider range of resources and has been more able to enjoy that it has controlled”. The privileging afforded to the male gender has significantly contributed to what some may view as the unhealthy and undesirable state of masculinity in the Jamaican society. Additionally, the notions of masculinity and manhood are deeply entrenched and associated with the sexual objectification of women. It can be argued that all men at some point in their lives struggle with society’s standards regarding the unrealistic benchmark surrounding masculinity and manhood. As men, we are faced with a plethora of don’ts; from the silly, such as real men don’t cry, to real men don’t wear pink to the culturally popular and accepted saying that a real man should be involved in multiple relationships “gallist”. Defining masculinity and manhood is rather subjective and fluid. However, Linden Lewis, defines masculinity as a socially constructed set of gendered behaviours and practices of men, which are not frozen in time or culture and which are mediated by notions of race, class, ethnicity, religion, age and sexual orientation. Men rarely speak about their insecurities, it is not a manly thing to do, however, if truth be told, a significant number of men are made to feel less than by the ideals of manhood society portrays. A less than or feeling inadequate can emerge from not being able to provide for one’s family, measuring one’s phallic member to what one perceive it should be, comparing and contrasting body image. There is unending list of factors which men measure themselves against in defining and re-defining their manhood. In most societies there is a clear and distinct division as it relates to the meaning of gender and sex. Doing gender is a classic sociological concept developed by Candace West and Don Zimmerman. According to West and Zimmerman gender is not something we are not born with, and not something we have, but something we do. Sex, on the other hand relates to the biology of an individual, based primarily on the reproductive prospective of the human being. The period of adolescence if often described as a most turbulent period, one characterized by experimentation, pain, failures and success and paves the way for adulthood. Traditionally, the male was seen as the protector, warrior, and hunter within the family whose primary responsibility was to ensure the safety of the family. However, the dynamics as it to relate to gender roles and responsibilities have changed over time and continue to do so. This change has undoubtedly emasculate many men and they try to define what masculinity means in their social space. The intersection of misogyny, gender-based violence, patriarchy and cultures has impacted on the development of masculinity and manhood in all societies.
The Development of Masculinity
As human beings we imitated others. Outside of the fancy theories which are put forward to explain masculinity boys are socialized to mimic the role and traits of their fathers or men in their village, tribe and or communities in order to become a real man. The pathway was clear then and there was no need to interrogate and explain away differences in the society. However, over the years there have been many theories which have tried to explain the evolution in the development process of childhood. One of the more popular among the theories is that of Object Relations Theory. This theory posits that every infant has an initial primary attachment to its mother. It is argued that after an extended period of being merged with the mother, the infant begins to separate and takes on its own identity.
Greenson and Stoller propose that a boy, as he gradually realizes that his biological sex is different from his mother’s feels compelled to give up his attachment to her and to disindentify with her as he establishes a male identity that corresponds with his biological sex.
Another theory which speaks to identity is the Gender Differentiation Theory. Irene Fast, author of Gender Identity: A Differentiation Model, argues, that boys and girls differentiates themselves from one another as masculine and feminine in areas that correspond to societal models that may have little to do with actual biological difference. “It is the social meaning of the anatomical differences that is determinative, not the differences themselves”. It bears thought that gender is chiefly based on the performance associated with the biological sex one feels most connected to.
Indicators of Manhood
The construction of Jamaican masculinity is deeply rooted in the cultural trappings of the society which differentiate between masculine and unmasculine domains. It can be argued that the indicators of manhood are personal as much as they are diverse. Unfortunately, since there is no official Rite of Passage from boy to manhood, it is rather difficult to gauge at one point a boy becomes a man. It can be argued that this transitionary phase is rather private and gradual. The standards by which maleness and masculinity are measured have their genesis in the aggression and tough exterior by which men are socialized. An older colleague revealed that for him manhood began at age 13. This was the age he discovered masturbation and at that point realized he had become a man. Yet, another colleague informed me that being put out of the family home at 18 by his strep-dad, was that point in his life when manhood was trusted upon him. A third colleague in his 30’s laughed when asked the question and replied that he did not know. A college batch mate said he became a man at age 19 when he stopped seeking approval from his parents about some issues in his life and started sleeping out. A friend for over 12 years said, manhood hit him at age 18. He added the laws of the land designate 18 as the age when one is responsible for themselves.
A church brother, who is married and the father of 3 boys said manhood was trusted upon him at age 12. At that age he had passed the Common Entrance to high school and given the distance to school, he had to leave his parents home to live with a cousin. However, the cousin was hardly ever in Jamaica and the he assumed the daily responsibility of getting himself prepared for school. The construction of manhood and masculinity must also be viewed in terms of pluralizing the term masculinity.
Professor of Sociology, R. William Connell’s theory of multiple masculinities speaks of a hegemonic masculinity to which most men adhere, however, Connell also make reference to subordinate masculinities, which some men subscribe to. The realization that there are multiple masculinities and that this will have a profound impact on how a male come to the acceptance and realization that he is a man cannot be overstated. Among the popular indicators of Jamaican manhood especially rooted in the “street culture” are the smoking of marijuana, commonly called ganja, the consumption of alcoholic drinks and early sexual initiation. The reference point of manhood differs for every man. The involvement in sports is often another indicator of manhood which serves as a bridge from boyhood to manhood for a significant number of males. Another indicator of manhood in the society is grounded in graduating from high school. For a significant number of boys, school has been and continues to be viewed as a site of effeminacy and runs counter to the toxic brand of masculinity which is prevalent in the society. The situation of boys’ education is even worst at the primary level where it is not uncommon to have a male teacher.
Odette Parry, is of the opinion that education is decried as effeminate, a view which culminates in, an anti-academic ethos celebrated by the version of masculinity which informs classroom responses. Parry adds that education is not seen as “macho”, and a real man is therefore defined out of education and as such pursues other interests.
There are many elements one has to consider in analyzing and interrogating the construction of Jamaican masculinity. Research done in Australia by Wayne Martino found that boys are uninterested in English because of what it might say about their masculinity. This issue of gender endangerment adds yet another layer of burden to our boys whereby they are forced to give up on speaking Standard English, since “good” speech is often associated with queer masculinity, outside of the dominant version of masculinity. Academic underperformance can be viewed as one component of maleness in the Jamaican society. Mark Figueroa posits the view that there is an association between male academic underperformance and gender socialization practices which are rooted in male privileging. Boys are treated in a different manner than from girls from the beginning. In the homes, boys are expected to misbehave and given privileges to socialize with their friends outside of the home. Girls on the other hand are anticipated to stay at home and assist with chores as well as conform to the rules of the home. “The different requirements of female versus male grooming has been given as one example of how differential socialization impacts on skills learnt that are later useful in school (Sobo 1993, 156). This gendered approach to parenting and child rearing often serves as a stumbling block for many boys during the period of schooling and formal education. Disturbingly, boys who display school smarts are often ridiculed as effeminate by peers and even adults in areas where academic excellence by males is typically devalued. It is almost as if manhood and masculinity have been hijacked by a thug culture far removed from education. It is very clear that there is no one size fits all surrounding manhood.
Pornography and Masculinity
Pornography is everywhere. It is estimated that there are over 420 million adult web pages online. Excessive watching of pornography can and does contribute to a flawed sense of masculinity and manhood. A real man sees a woman for who she is. He respects her as well as her individuality. Pornography on the other hand, objectifies women, turning women into “things” which are there to satisfy a man’s sexual desires. The overindulgence of pornography, especially among young men who are still navigating their sexuality has added a distorted view of masculinity and manhood which sadly, a growing number of men fall into. According to research done by Dr. Heather Rupp, pornography solves a primal problem for men: It offers easy access to commitment-free sex with multiple partners. Research indicates that the average boy watches approximately two hours of porn weekly becoming common by age 15. In a 2014 study, Dr. Foresta found that sixteen (16%) percent of high school seniors who used online porn more than once per week reported abnormally low sex desire, while none of those who did not use it reported abnormally low sexual desire. In recent studies there has been an association between erectile dysfunction and online porn use. In general terms we are what we consume. In explaining the impact of pornography on the brain, psychologist, William M. Strutters, said, “Men seem to be wired in such a way that pornography hijacks the proper functioning of their brains and have a long-lasting effect of their thoughts and lives”. He adds that pornography acts as a polydrug. According to Struthers the male and female brain are wired differently. “A man’s brain is a sexual mosaic influenced by hormone levels in the womb and in puberty and molded by his psychological experience”.
Without a general purpose for our lives we will be swept away by the strong current of social media and alternative cultural norms and mores. As men we need to be grounded in who we are and in terms of the purpose God has for our lives and our families. Without that spiritual and intimate connection to God we too will fall short of our purpose.
Masculinity and Men’s Health
It can be argued that gender socialization regarding how men are supposed to behave and conform to masculine norms is probably one of the biggest hurdles for men not accessing health care services. Men on average die younger than women. According to a World Health Organization (WHO) 2015 survey, the life expectancy for females in Jamaica is 78.6 years compared to 73.9 years. Among the twenty causes for death listed by the same survey are prostate cancer, lung disease, breast cancer, stroke, violence, obesity, lung cancer, HIV/AIDS, diabetes and coronary heart attack. Men are socialized and cultured to bare pain and not to seek medical attention at the beginning of a state of unwellness, to do otherwise is an attack on one’s manhood. In many instances by the time a man is no longer to manage the pain or is forced to the doctor his medical condition might be far advanced. Additionally, the cultural fear many men have about having a Digital Rectal Examination (DRE) is a contributing factor to the increase incidents of prostate cancer among the male population. According to the WHO data published in May 2014, prostate cancer deaths in Jamaica reached 649 or 3.63% of total deaths. The age adjusted Death Rate is 52.12 per 100, 000 of population ranks Jamaica at number 5 in the world. It is also said that a larger percentage of men have no insurance or in fact do not use their health insurance. More men than women smoke and drink excessively and die from motor vehicle accidents. Men are less likely to go to the dentist or visit the ophthalmologist. As the male gets older his propensity to visit access medical care increases. Interestingly, as the male grows older the notions of masculine norms, gender role expectations and masculinity seems to take a back seat to wanting to survive. The health behaviours of men clearly put men more at risk for many non-communicable diseases (NCD’s) and a way must be found to chance this narrative. A renewed effort must be made to encourage men on a broader scale to access the available health care services which are available.
Conversation about the State of Masculinity in Jamaica
In spite of all that has been said it is becoming increasingly necessary to switch between competing masculinities depending on the social circumstances and cultural space one occupies. The defining indicators of manhood two decades ago are not the same in 2017. Growing into manhood in the 1980’s was clearly linked to a heighten sense of personal responsibility, juxtaposed to manhood in the 21st century, where young men wear their pants below their waist exposing their under garments. This 21st century re-construction of masculinity is accepting of young men bleaching their skin. The under-performance of boys in scholarly pursuits has been common and problematic. Another questionable indicator of manhood is the power and influence of popular culture, especially dancehall music on the construction of masculinity and manhood. It is time for us to reclaim our manhood? It was therefore refreshing to see the Back2Life Foundation rising to the occasion to stage a conversation about the state of masculinity in Jamaica, which was held on Thursday, October 12, 2017. Back2Life is a male youth transformation organization in which professional and otherwise accomplished young men complete the only accredited mentorship course in Jamaica enabling them to mentor male “youth at risk” towards productive, positive, personal and social conduct. Back2Life offers positive guidance and leadership not ordinarily available to this cadre of unattached youth. The project was launched in July of 2012 and the major project of the Rotary Club of Kingston. The project has over 50 trained mentors who have mentored over 120 boys. The Foundation’s flagship project operates at the Rio Cobre Juvenile Correctional Centre which houses around 50 juvenile boys. As a society the time has come for us to embrace and foster a culture of mentoring and mentorship. As the construction of family and family types turn more to one of single parent female headed households there is an urgent need for our boys to have positive male role model and influence. Interestingly, for some boys the acceptance of their manhood and masculinity is closely linked to their mother’s influence given the high absence of fathers in the house. As men we need to do better!
While the turnout of men to the Back2Life public forum was encouraging, the lack of sponsorship from corporate Jamaica for such a critical area of human development speaks volume regarding the significance of lack thereof that issues related to men are afforded. Perhaps now is a right time to enquire what has become of the Male Desk at the Bureau of Gender Affairs. We all have a stake in ensuring Jamaica becomes a better place. It is only through mentoring and mentorship by providing positive male influence that Jamaica will realize Vision 20/30 by becoming the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business. It is call to action. In the powerful words of Malcolm X, a man who stands for nothing will fall for anything.
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.
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