Positively male: Leveraging Jamaican masculinities for effective role modelling

By Dr Natasha Mortley

Monday, November 19, 2018

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STUDIES of masculinities in the Caribbean have evolved from developments in feminist and gender studies within the region. Professor of Gender Studies Rhoda Reddock in 2004 stated that in many ways the study of masculinities is a response to the challenges posed by the second wave of feminism, which has had a significant impact on the region since the 1970s. Whereas some men have sought simply to fight back against the women's movement, others have seized the opportunity to reflect upon their experiences of masculinity and manhood. What better occasion for this reflection than on the annual International Men's Day (IMD)?

This year's theme for IMD focuses on positive male role models, and calls for awareness around the positive impacts that men have had in their families, communities and the world. Yet much of the scholarship on manhood and masculinities in the Anglophone Caribbean and Jamaica specifically, has centred around marginalisation of men in education, violence and sexuality. Likewise, Caribbean discourse today is replete with negative views of Caribbean maleness such as 'toxic masculinity', 'at risk', 'drop out' and 'egotistical'. These all point to the need for an expansion of research and scholarship on masculinities, an effort that would further advance reflection and provide much needed evidence for policy development and inclusive growth in Jamaica.

Last year the Institute for Gender and Development Studies, Regional Coordinating Office (IGDS-RCO) conducted a pilot study on Males, Crime and Community in Jamaica. The pilot was part of a broader regional project on Contemporary Caribbean Masculinities that the IGDS-RCO launched in 2013. While a pilot study on masculinities and crime might seem like much of the same narrative described above, the approach taken by the IGDS-RCO was different in many ways.

In the first place, the project launch invited an all-male panel to share their views on what such a programme of research would mean for advancing scholarship and Caribbean gender relations. Secondly, the pilot study aimed to deconstruct previous labels, while reaching a more balanced understanding of what it means to be a Jamaican man today. The research deliberately left out definitions of manhood and masculinity in order to identify contemporary perspectives and understandings of what those concepts mean for Jamaican males from various communities. Finally in terms of findings and actions coming out of the study, several positives can be highlighted.

Despite the glaring statistics of male violence and crime in Jamaica, the research also found cases of men (both of their own volition and with support from NGOs and international agencies) working within communities to reverse this problem. The focus group discussions conducted throughout the research were characterised by reflection and sometimes rigorous introspection among male participants. In addition, the study identified cases of men who had overcome the worst and were now successful in their fields today. The research allowed for the male experiences and voices to be heard and therefore presented authentic and grounded knowledge that informed future research and action by the IGDS-RCO. It allowed for us to redesign our broader regional project to make it more relevant to the needs and concerns of Caribbean men. It advanced the conversation with men, created interest from funding agencies expressing interest in continuing the research. For instance, the UNESCO National Commission has since funded a joint project between the IGDS-RCO and the Bureau of Gender Affairs on “Positive Fathering: A bridge to enhancing family unity and cohesive communities in Jamaica.” And finally, the research findings have facilitated activism as the IGDS-RCO has now sponsored training for some of the young men from the inner city who participated in the pilot study.

I believe that it is critical that we as Caribbean scholars continue to produce indigenous knowledge and not duplicate paradigms and theoretical frameworks produced by others. What this means is situating research within our sociopolitical and cultural contexts, as well as engaging all groups of men as agents of knowledge. Professor Opal Palmer Adisa, the university director at the IGDS-RCO, calls for us to first reflect on our past, then shift our gaze to see how men too are victims, but given the patriarchal dictates are not permitted space to share their pain and vulnerability. This year the IGDS celebrates IMD with an exhibition on positive role models through art and storytelling. This project recognises and celebrates the different modalities of Jamaican manhood and how these manifest in alternative forms of role modelling and mentorship. We hope that our stakeholders and community will take the time to immerse and engage with the pieces and continue to support our research and activism.

Dr Natasha Mortley is a lecturer and research specialist at the Regional Coordinating Office of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies.

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