I sometimes pessimistically think of women working with men on gender equality as a high risk endeavor, akin to walking on the verge of a precipice or a high tension wire. Similarly in our personal lives, you going good, good and then out of nowhere, a sexist joke and some man friend telling you, ‘ like you cyah take a joke?”
We know that to make change in our personal and public lives, both men and women have to reject patriarchy, to reject rigid gender roles, harmful stereotypes and inequality. For women this is hard too. We breathe the same cultural air as men and are subject to the Mr. Darcy Syndrome, looking for the Benign Patriarch who will take care financially and protect. And more negatively, some construct an opportunistic image of men as the walking wallet.
Giving up dependency is difficult when it is perceived as an entitlement. Like when the woman in Big B Supermarket sighed in regret and said aloud in my direction, “There was a time I could bring a man here to pay my grocery bills”. The sexual economic exchange does have benefits for women and men that go both ways, though arguably, the benefits are more secure for men as this exchange reinforces power dynamics.
The journey for men is even harder because men know, really understand, that accepting equality means relinquishing privilege, power and accepting more work in the private sphere. In the long run, there are advantages to be gained, but in the short run, who can doubt that many men question the cost benefit of rejecting entitlement to women’s labour and bodies? Who can doubt that some lack the courage and moral clarity required to share power and influence? Recent events in the Anglican church bring this latter to mind.
And so for these reasons, men’s advocacy for equality is crucial, not only because men listen to men, but let’s be real, men control the levers of most influencing powers- whether as priests, parliamentarians, popular artists or private sector mavens.
Caribbean women have been attempting to engage with men in the emancipation project for quite a while. We have done so as active participants in ending slavery, in the colonial and independence struggles and we do not even complain when the accolades go to men as the architects of Caribbean emancipation.
And in the private sphere, women as disproportionate champions of men and boys is most apparent, if only because too many Caribbean men are not actively involved in children’s lives, reject commitment to family stability and reject responsibility for boy and girl children.
Are women saints? Well no. Many rage at a society that exploits, demeans and devalues their worth and work. And then in any normal distribution of humanity, some women will lack emotional intelligence, be neglectful, will be indifferent, will be more or less compassionate, more or less responsible. And because children go with women in Caribbean societies as a matched set, some children bear the brunt of these deficits, deficits that are not compensated by the presence of a another parent, because guess what? The fathers are absent.
And so today, looking at what appears as an affirmatory (if only because there is no accompanying comment) CARIMAN posting of Jamaica Gleaner article entitled “Anthropologist says societal neglect of J’can males breeds rapists”, I felt like I had been pushed off that precipice.
Could this be where we have arrived after two decades of working on ending violence against women? That the continuing violations of women’s bodies are to explained not by patriarchy, not by the experiences of multiple inequalities (which indeed are globally manifested) but by this notion that men who rape are victims of society’s indifference and more to the point of women’s inadequacies as mothers?
To be clear. For sure, the education system fails Caribbean boys, as it does Caribbean girls, especially of low income communities and families. And masculinity and traditional masculine privilege fail some boys who are not given an unequivocal message of self-discipline, respect for women and girls and for self.
And yes, some women also fail boys as inadequate socialisers, whether as mothers or as teachers in the schools.
And these are important discussions to have. But then we also need to talk about the elephant in the Caribbean room. The persistence of cultural patriarchy. I wonder at the co-existence of the hardest notions of masculinity and the incidence of sexual assault.
Maybe CARIMAN’s posting on Facebook is intended to provoke this discussion and not as an endorsement of mother blaming. I hope so because we do need CARIMAN’s insights and challenges to push us all forward.