Society’s demanding expectations help fuel male anger
THE benchmarks by which society determines success, particularly among men, are contributing to the type of behaviour that can fuel gender-based violence, according to prominent performing artiste and member of advocacy group Caribbean Male Action Network, Owen “Blakka” Ellis.
Ellis made the assessment at a men and boys forum last Thursday, arguing that men who are not able to live up to the societal standards set for them find other ways of asserting dominance so as to feel a sense of power.
“We measure men a lot in society based on some things like money, appearance, — if you don’t have a certain appearance, if you nah dangle a car key, some girl nah look your way,” Ellis told the forum hosted by United Nations (UN) Women Multi-Country Office – Caribbean at ROK Hotel in downtown Kingston.
“We measure men in many ways that some men can’t fill, can’t live up to. Society tells you that, ‘Yu a wutlis man,’ and sometimes that power comes out in boxing his girlfriend. A man who wouldn’t box a next man but [he does that] to the woman, who him have to show say him have power,” Ellis said.
He argued that healthy masculinity is being able to admit that you are not able to meet every societal expectation of masculinity.
“I’ve never heard in my 60-odd years a woman being told to ‘woman up’ but man has to get up everyday and ‘man up’, and it’s hard. And to be able to admit that it’s hard… we have to admit that men need help — from women and from other men,” he said.
Hykel Nunes, youth programme officer at Project STAR, agreed, saying there are criteria that men are expected to follow.
After his contribution Nunes, in an interview with the Jamaica Observer, said “men are expected to not show emotions; once we say something, then it’s final. Men are supposed to dress in a particular way when they go out, and they’re expected to spend a particular amount — there are just these social criteria that change over time”.
Tonni Ann Brodber — a representative of UN Women Multi-Country Office – Caribbean which is an organisation dedicated to empowering women — said healthy masculinity is about being a human being.
“There is a point that men are told these are the two emotions you have — brooding or angry, that’s it. Healthy masculinity allows men to let go of their feelings; it’s not that you don’t feel the emotions… but if you don’t, you blow up. The reason men get so angry is the feelings that human beings have and that you feel you can’t express,” Brodber told the forum.
The event was supported by the Men’s Unit of the Bureau of Gender Affairs in the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, under the European Union-UN Spotlight Initiative.
It brought together men, boys, government agencies, advocacy groups and organisations.
The spotlight initiative seeks to engage men in conversations which challenge unhealthy stereotypes, discuss root causes of violence against women and girls, and which focus on gender-based violence. It also aims to contribute to transforming the society to a place where women and girls feel safe and free from violence.
During the forum motivational speaker and transformational coach Kevin Wallen admitted that men have trouble channelling their bottled-up emotions.
He shared that for many years he has worked in the prison system and has found that a lot of inmates have anger issues, but there are no outlets for them to channel that anger.
Having such outlets would help, he suggested.
“At least when you hear the story out full, then we can have a decent conversation. But mos’ a di tings dem is like di ting just bottle up inside and wi angry, so [we have] to create a space where men want to speak. And as soon as wi voice get a little passionate and one or two badword cuss, everybody start get ‘fraid — but we need those moments because we are bottled up right now,” Wallen said.
Ellis argued that getting men to deal with their emotions in healthy ways lies in allowing them to express themselves in the ways they know how.
“This thing about being overly correct is overdone — mek di man dem talk how dem talk so you can at least hear what they think and [are] feeling. And sometimes we don’t have to let men feel like they’re being talked down to, condemned, and judged but [rather that we] just want to hear what the youth think, how the youth think, how the youth feel,” he said.