Letters to the Editor

Many Jamaican men have not shaken off historical sexual conditioning

Tuesday, October 09, 2012    

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Dear Editor,

I read with interest Dr Henley Morgan's article, "Our men are killing us", in the Jamaica Observer of October 3. I agree that our politics have spawned a generation of failing men, but I think our history, culture and attitude to sexuality have also played a great role.

Orlando Patterson observed in Rituals of Blood that slavery as an institution was an assault on the African male's role of husband and father. A slave man could not exercise the role of husband -- exclusive intimate partner -- as he could not protect his partner from the sexual predations of slave owners, nor could he exercise control over their offspring as they could be sold without his consent. The slave man could make material provision neither for his offspring nor for his partner. Patterson does not state this, but I believe that the fact that slave man could be forced to perform sexually under threat of the whip had adverse effects on slave men's sense of self, which persists today.

From what I see in my family law practice, many Jamaican men still have not shaken off this ghastly historical conditioning insofar as their desire to have children is not necessarily linked to their desire or ability to provide for a family, but rather as proof of manhood. As soon as the child begins to grow and its material needs for the following 18 years become apparent, many Jamaican men abandon their children as they feel "trapped" by the commitment of fatherhood. According to Patterson, the rate of father abandonment among African Americans is 70 per cent. I imagine that the rate is not dissimilar in Jamaica. That absentee fatherhood is linked to criminal conduct in the abandoned children is axiomatic.

As to male academic underachievement, I have two theories about this:

* The first is the fact that our men become very macho at a very early age, where their self-image is linked to being tough, hard, large and in charge. Such a macho stance does not admit to the humility required to ask questions (of mostly female authority figures) in class if lessons are not being understood. Moreover, they risk the disapproval of their peers as academic conscientiousness is often seen as "soft" and valued less than the ability to be and act tough. This macho attitude permeates all classes in society, though it is most evident where there is poverty.

* The second is that the majority of our men become oversexualised at an early age from the socialisation process (attitudes of caregivers, examples of other males, dancehall music and peer expectation). When young men become interested in the pursuit of sexual relationships at an early age, before the maturing of the frontal lobe, there is a greater risk that the sheer pleasurable aspect of sex will eclipse the desire to set and achieve long-term objectives.

Many boys begin to feel that they are men because they are sexually active and become a law onto themselves within the school system, where instead of being concerned with academic achievement, they spend their high school career chasing girls (some of whom they will impregnate), engaging in idle chatter, listening to the latest dancehall obscenity, gambling, truancy and other destructive activity. If they come from single-mother homes where they are allowed to act as "man of the house" without a positive male figure with whom they can ally themselves in the natural process of separation of boy from mother, they are even more dysfunctional. The end result is that they graduate from high school without the qualifications required for tertiary level education.

Having failed in their academic life, and not having developed any marketable skills, these young men decry the legitimate pursuit of employment and/or wealth as a waste of time and begin to pursue criminal get-rich quick schemes, with a mindset that ridicules the "hard road to success".

To address these failures, we need to change our cultural norms around raising boys - for example, our mothers do allow their boys to roam the streets without supervision where they cultivate anti-social attitudes and deepen their sense of machismo. Our men need to learn how to be good husbands and fathers so as to create fewer at risk boys. I am hoping the National Parenting Commission will help in this regard.

Martha Brae




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