Columns

Are we reversing gender roles in Jamaica?

By Michael Burke

Thursday, September 13, 2012    

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Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe recently made some remarks about Jamaicans. True, they are all generalisations. The usual way of reacting will be to state that he should not be the one to talk, given his own faults and his style of leading Zimbabwe.

Mugabe certainly has been accused of all sorts of human rights abuses ever since he took power in Zimbabwe in 1980, all of which we will no doubt be reminded of. But Mugabe is not the first person to stereotype Jamaicans in this way.

Prior to the Morant Bay Rebellion in 1865 when a petition was sent to Queen Victoria about the plight of the peasants, The Queen asked the governor about it by letter. The tyrannical governor, Sir Edward John Eyre, responded to The Queen to the effect that the Jamaican peasants were lazy.

In my lifetime, we Jamaicans have been stereotyped as people who simply sat under coconut trees all day long and did nothing. Many American tourists came here and said that they were under that impression. It does appear that Mugabe might have read material about Jamaicans, particularly some of which has come out of England and the USA.

Indeed, Mugabe has not said anything that we Jamaicans - some quite prominent - have not said about ourselves. I do not know if Robert Mugabe knows that during slavery in Jamaica family life was not encouraged at all and as a result of that, most Jamaicans grew up without fathers to this day.

Most Jamaican men, having been brought up by their mothers and grandmothers, emulate women rather than men. But Mugabe is wrong when he says all Jamaican men smoke marijuana, that all Jamaican men are drunk, that all Jamaican men are lazy and that all Jamaican men do is to sing.

And while it does appear that in Jamaica the women are taking over, Mugabe is wrong in his observation. Women's rights are one thing. It is good that women have advanced way beyond the stage where they were treated as slaves.

But should a woman have to act like a man to be recognised as "smaddy"? This is a question that I have asked many times in my columns throughout the years. So women have the right to be truck drivers, engineers and do any job - manual or otherwise - that is normally associated with men.

Women today play football. Many women who do things normally associated with men are as muscular as men, and indeed look like men. There are policewomen and women soldiers who are rougher than the men. Is this a desirable state of affairs?

Can natural men be attracted to women who are muscular? Can natural women be attracted to effeminate men? I know that this leaves room for much debate.

Robert Mugabe, at age 88, perhaps cannot fathom the extremely powerful influence of the internet and its largely North American emphasis. He might not consider the close proximity of Jamaica to the United States of America which makes travel to the USA less difficult from Jamaica than from Africa, notwithstanding visa restrictions.

Is it possible that Mugabe sees some things happening among young men in Zimbabwe (perhaps due to the influence of the internet), that resemble the way in which Jamaicans are stereotyped and therefore a cause for concern? Have you noticed that Mugabe's remarks are focused on Jamaican men? In 2006 I wrote a song called Man fi look like man which has been played on radio from time to time.

Is the rising acceptance of homosexuality in Jamaica related to much of what is on the internet and on television? The pornography is one thing but many parents complain about cartoons with direct and indirect homosexual messages which their young children watch on TV during their leisure time. Has this caused some of us to ask if gender roles are being reversed in Jamaica? Have such questions reached the ears of Robert Mugabe?

When sugar was Jamaica's economic mainstay, the crop would be reaped for three months and then for nine months many had nothing to do. This attitude has not been totally eliminated from the Jamaican psyche.

In this new era, men are often "house-husbands" while their wives go out to work. Has this served to perpetuate the attitude that the man should sit down while the women work? Is this why Mugabe said that the women are taking over in Jamaica, even if he has the wrong reasons?

Let us be fair to Mugabe. He was issuing a battle cry to university graduates in his country and perhaps wants the young people of Zimbabwe to have the work ethic of countries like Singapore or Cuba. He is not trying to start a cold war.

What conclusions would you draw about Jamaica from 10,000 miles away if you read all sorts of negative things about Jamaica from crime to whatever? And we should take into account that women occupy some of the highest offices in Jamaica - which Africans find very strange although their culture is matriarchal.

ekrubm765@yahoo.com

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