Time to confront toxic masculinity

Time to confront toxic masculinity

Alando Terrelonge

Monday, February 10, 2020

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I am horrified and angry.

Since New Year's Eve we have seen a number of headlines of male partners having inflicted severe violence on their female partners, often ending in the murder of the women. Violent and heartbreaking incidents such as these, including the horrific death of young Galen Buchanan, have unfortunately become the tragic end to plots played out in the drama of abusive relationships in our country. Sadly, these incidents have become too frequent and we run the risk of becoming desensitised to the real horror of such heinous and horrible crimes.

Stories such as these are not just mere headlines. Behind the emboldened fonts are ruined lives and families left in unspeakable anguish which does not disappear when the headlines change. As a nation, we must do better. We must tackle the elephant in the room and call a spade a spade. It is time for us to confront the reality of toxic masculinity which dictates that emotions are a weakness. This way of thinking renders our men and boys prone to aggressive or violent behaviour, and helpless when faced with the tough and often emotionally fraught realities of our humanity, including dealing with break-ups and rejection.

I am aware that the term toxic masculinity provokes very strong emotions and reactions in Jamaica; however, it is time for us to pierce the veil behind our collective refusal to confront and deal with this cultural and social issue. Whatever the case, confronting toxic masculinity requires careful contextualisation.

No insult or injury meant

Of utmost importance, we must first understand that the term is not an attack on masculinity itself. Neither is it saying that men are bad or evil, nor does it make the assertion that men are naturally violent. Rather, toxic masculinity describes a form of aggressive or violent behaviour that results when a culture or society accepts certain behavioural traits as being “manly” and come to expect this behavioural reality as the standard definition of what it means to be a man within that sociocultural context.

As defined by the Good Men Project, “Toxic masculinity is a narrow and repressive description of manhood, designating manhood as defined by violence, sex, status, and aggression. It's the cultural ideal of manliness, where strength is everything while emotions are a weakness; where sex and brutality are yardsticks by which men are measured, while supposedly 'feminine' traits — which can range from emotional vulnerability to simply not being hypersexual — are the means by which your status as man can be taken away.”

As a society, if we are being honest, this definition certainly holds a mirror to our faces. The question is whether we are going to genuinely reflect on, and examine our behaviour and take the necessary steps to change our society, or we are going to look away in denial, “ 'cause a suh it stay and a suh di ting set”.

Alarming statistics

According to the National Women's Health Survey (2016) on gender-based violence in Jamaica, there is a high prevalence rate of 27.8 per cent, with one in every four women in Jamaica suffering some form of sexual or physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner. This is directly related to how, as a nation, we raise our boys and socialise them as men. The toxicity in intimate partner relationships has become so normalised that there are some partners who perceive aggression, and even violence, as signs of male dominance and the man asserting himself in the relationship.

It is completely horrific that there are some men who consider it a sign of weakness if a woman — believed to be their property — cheats on them or wishes to leave a relationship and they do not respond by physically asserting themselves and 'roughing' her up, or beating her. Unfortunately, these Neanderthals have been conditioned to believe that a woman has “dissed” — more like bruised their fragile ego — which warrants some form of 'discipline'.

As a people, we must condemn all acts of violence against our women and children. We must raise our boys to become kind, caring, respectable, and emotionally stable men who understand and respect the fact that women are not their property, neither are their children to be used as pawns to be beaten, kidnapped, or killed as vengeance against women for leaving relationships.

Our men and boys must understand that there is absolutely no justification for violence against women and children. We owe this much to all the women, and children, like Galen, whose lives have been lost at the hands of vicious cowards incapable of accepting that the relationship has ended. Emotionally violent men refuse to comprehend that a woman is not the property of her man, and that she has the right and freedom to end the relationship, abusive or otherwise, and move on with her life without the fear of threats, abuse, violence, or death.

Building a non-toxic Jamaica

Notwithstanding our history of enslavement and colonialism — which might have laid the foundation for a society steeped in violence — we must never allow this to define us. I refuse to believe this is who we are. As such, we must take responsibility for creating a new Jamaica — one that reflects our higher ideals and values of love, compassion, tolerance, and respect for all.

In building a non-toxic Jamaica, it therefore behoves us to confront that aspect of our culture which equates masculinity with toughness, roughness, aggression, sexual prowess, and violence, and which sees emotions and emotional vulnerability as signs of weakness amongst our men and boys.

If we fail to so recognise, then we create a vacuum in the lives of some of our men and boys who do not exude certain toxic traits. This leaves them to resort to acts of violence, abuse their women and children, join gangs, disrespect proper values and attitudes, or seek out other maladaptive behavioural traits that some have equated with manhood.

We must also address that part of our culture that negatively 'genderises' emotions and tells our boys that showing emotions makes them a “girl” – because toxic masculinity has so eroded any sense of logic that to be a girl is a curse to be avoided.

As a nation, it is time we wholeheartedly commit to rid our culture of the toxicity that causes us to repeatedly record one more Jamaican woman murdered, or one more Jamaican child gone forever, at the hands of one more toxic Jamaican man.

For Galen: A young king now sleeps amidst the stars. Violently ripped from his mother's loving arms. A young king now plays at the feet of God. May grace soon grant peace to his mom amidst emotional scars. Amen.

Alando N Terrelonge, MA, is a Member of Parliament and minister of state in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or @terrelonge2016 and alando.terrelonge@moey.gov.jm.

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