Patriachy, religion, and Ja's toxic masculinity

Patriachy, religion, and Ja's toxic masculinity

BY Carolyn Graham

Friday, January 24, 2020

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One of my master's dissertations looked at male victims of domestic abuse. Its focus was Jamaican men. It was a qualitative study that explored, through in-depth interviews, the experiences of men who suffered abuse at the hands of their female spouses. As I recall, the literature had no explanations for female abusers as we are seeing for these men who murder their intimate partners. Also, there were no explanations of women not being able to control their emotions or that it was their fathers' fault why they abused men.

I did the research because I came from an abusive household with my father as the perpetrator and my mother and us children as the victims of severe physical abuse. I witnessed my father holding a knife to my mother's neck on one occasion. She left, taking us with her, but he found us. On this occasion a machete was brought into the altercation as she attempted to fight back. Neighbours got involved and chased him off. She moved. He found us again. This time my brother was of age, and he and some men in the community chased him off. I believed that was the last time he came back.

He would snap for the least infraction — like us children making noise. He would attack my mother for defending us from his abuse, for daring to ask for money to support us or to buy our back-to-school items. We went to school without books. We had little food. But, my mother was very resourceful. She would remake our uniforms turning them inside out. She would cut up old clothes and make school bags for us. Most of my meals were porridge, as that could 'stretch'. She was a housewife and did not work outside the 'home'. She lived the myth of the male breadwinner; she being the married woman in the church subjecting herself to her husband.

When I did the research, I was in the midst of helping a female friend who was being psychologically abused by her husband. I took her to the Women's Crisis Centre. I began to learn about men, power, and control more than I had learnt before, as I was now an adult and it had raised its head again in my life. That case and others I was reading about sent me back to my childhood; to my father who physically abused me and the men who attempted to molest me. To my early adult years and the men whom I thought were role models, who offered me help but only did so because they wanted something in return. I quickly learned how to tell them to fly off and leave me alone. I was learning to be afraid of men. So I did the research.

I was attempting to understand men, perhaps to cure my fear. I knew a few men who were having difficulties at home and I decided to explore domestic abuse from their perspective in order to develop an understanding of that type of intimate partner abuse.

I crafted my response to domestic abuse as a human rights issue. I knew good men. I have more nephews than I have nieces. I was seeking understanding so that I could engage men in a balanced way. But I also found in the literature — which no research needed to have shown — that men were the main perpetrators, and their abuse tended to be more deadly, as we see playing out in this country.

A prominent explanation in the literature on domestic abuse was power and control linked to patriarchy. Power and control stemming from historical notions of women and children and their place in relation to men is still relevant. Men have crafted a discourse of superiority and entitlement, power and ownership over that which they possess. As a Christian country, this religion has taught men and women that their wives must subject themselves to their husbands. Wedding vows would teach women to love, honour, and obey their husbands; that was the era in which my mother got married. I don't know how many still subscribe to this, but this is a religion, like others with historical roots, that took its cues from powerful men — men like Henry VIII, who manipulated Christianity to allow him the freedom to dispense with his wives at the drop of a hat (or head, in his case).

The bottom line is there are deep-seated issues impacting intimate relationships that people do not understand or wish to acknowledge. We tend to be very superficial and, indeed, irresponsible in our commentary on domestic abuse in Jamaica and the crisis of interpersonal relationships. Something is drastically wrong with Jamaican masculinity. It is a toxic masculinity that thinks it is okay to catcall women and verbally abuse them when they don't respond, or when they respond in a manner that is not pleasing to the catcaller. A masculinity that is angry at any thought of creating a gentler, more inclusive society; one that is afraid of laws that will limit what they think is their right and methods of 'looking' women. A society where some people believe even little girls can tempt a man into sexually abusing her. A society that still believes having sex with a virgin can cure diseases. And then we have resistant and resentful men in powerful positions who we ask to make laws to protect children from sexual abuse.

Something is wrong, and this recent spate of men killing women is a continuation of the symptoms of a sick society.

The response of Minister of Gender Olivia “Babsy” Grange was lacklustre and disappointing, to say the least. Someone else has commented on that. A stronger position by the Government is needed. Although there is a gap in the literature on the prevalence and dynamics of interpersonal violence and violence against women in Jamaica, enough evidence exists to guide policy. For example, Smith (2016) has outlined the prevalence of intimate partner violence in Jamaica. She pointed to the fact that rates of abuse are higher among women whose husbands were abused as children or who witnessed their mothers being abused. This is contrary to the singular narrative blaming women for abusing boys. It points to the complexity of the issue versus the narratives of convenience that permeate our national discourse. Smith also noted that Jamaica lags behind many countries in taking action against violence against women. She also highlighted a 2010 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development study that indicated that Jamaica has no laws addressing sexual harassment, despite its prevalence in our workplaces. And, while there are laws on discrimination for some characteristics, none exists on gender discrimination.

Likewise, Jamaica was not found among the countries currently taking steps to address the matter. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime 2018 Global Study on Homicide – Gender-Related Killing of Women and Girls showed that women worldwide were more likely to be killed by those closest to them. For Jamaica, homicide rates among women are 9.3 in 100,000 and 0.9 in 100,000 for those who were exclusively killed by an intimate partner.

It is time we create a society in which people are comfortable to speak out about their abuse. We need to develop the kind of mindset that the victims are not the ones to be shamed and blamed, and so crawl away to lick her wounds and leave the perpetrator to continue his abuse. We need to show national support and take steps to say to those victimised, and to potential victims, that we are here for you, the country will support you. We have to put laws, policies, and institutions in place and train our responders to be more knowledgeable and sensitive to the plight of victims so that they are treated with dignity and not retraumatised. We must listen and act appropriately.

Carolyn A E Graham, PhD, is Sasakawa Fellow, Nippon Foundation Fellow, Seafarers International Research Centre Associate Fellow, Cardiff University, Wales, UK. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or carolynaeg@gmail.com.


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