Masculinity – Rethinking the ‘crisis’

David A.B. Murray is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Graduate Programme in Women’s Studies at York University. This project is sponsored by the UNIFEM Caribbean Office.

By David A.B. Murray

There is much talk about Caribbean men ‘falling behind’, whether in school, the workplace or at home. Some even label this a ‘crisis’, arguing for drastic interventions to help young boys learn appropriate models of masculinity and develop into healthy, productive men who respect themselves and others. There are many causes given for this ‘crisis’: the influence of the African-American ‘thug’ lifestyle; too much attention given to empowering women at the expense of men; young men are spoilt or expect too much without putting in proper effort.

No doubt, the content and character of masculinity is changing throughout the Caribbean. However, the causes and effects of these changes are complex, and related to a variety of social, economic and political factors. Furthermore, these changes do not affect all Caribbean men in the same way.  Ethnicity, race, class, age, sexual and religious orientation represent some of the important influences on how one learns what it is to ‘be a man’.  Barry Chevannes, researching the socialization of young men in five Caribbean communities in Jamaica, Dominica and Guyana, found that the four Afro-Caribbean communities emphasized independence while the Indo-Guyanese community emphasized collective responsibility.  Taking these influences into account, we might want to rethink this ‘crisis’ by first acknowledging that there is more than one model of masculinity in the Caribbean. Some groups of men continue to enjoy privilege and power, while others are facing increasing levels of marginalization due to their socio-economic position, age, sexual orientation, race, and/or ethnic identity.

Odette Parry, from research on male underachievement in high schools in Jamaica, Barbados and St Vincent, offers an example of differing levels of privilege and power in male students from middle class families whose access to resources allows them to opt for a model of masculinity that does not devalue education.
If we recognise variations in masculinity in the Caribbean, influenced by social, cultural and economic factors, which privilege some men and marginalize others, then we must also recognize that change to any model requires simultaneous change in some or all of these influential factors. Mark Padilla, in research on male sex workers in the Dominican Republic, observes how the government’s increasing dependence on tourism as the mainstay of the national economy is based on a large pool of cheap local labour. When men (and women) cannot find work or aren’t paid enough to support themselves and their families, they look for other ways, such as hustling foreign male tourists, to make ends meet. Engaged in work that is against the law and/or disliked by most people in their communities, it is difficult for these men to develop relationships based on respect, honesty and trust. To put it succinctly: severe socio-economic deprivation creates conditions for problematic practices of masculinity.

We must also think carefully about what components of Caribbean masculinities are problematic. How do ‘we’ decide what needs to be fixed or changed? If ‘we’ is a Caribbean government responsible for developing and enforcing social policy that serves the interests of the people, then how do ‘we’ decide which of these models of masculinity is best?  There is much talk of the ‘absent father’ and an epidemic of fatherless families producing boys likely to go off track without a proper father figure at home. These arguments presuppose the ‘nuclear family’ model – father, mother, children – just one of many possible ways of defining kin and arranging a household. Across the Caribbean, as in many other parts of the world, boys are raised in a variety of household and kin arrangements with male role models who may or may not be the biological father – uncle, grandfather, mother’s lover, neighbour, teacher – and who help them grow into successful, caring individuals, earning the respect of the community.

Perhaps less debatable are the consequences of certain models of Caribbean masculinity premised upon antagonistic relations with women and aggressive homophobia.  There can be little debate over the numerous negative effects of relationships invested with hostility, violence, and distrust, ranging from emotional trauma to health risks, where dishonesty and secrecy can have life-threatening consequences. Yet once again, the challenge lies not just in identifying what is problematic, but why it is and how it came to be ‘valued’ as a feature of masculinity.

Understanding the social, cultural and economic factors that contribute to violence between men and towards women, while simultaneously embracing the diversity of models of masculinity, must be the first step in any programme for change.

More in Daily, Features

future notes1

Unifying general and technical education

I argued last week that the physical and institutional infrastructure and processes within the education system have changed significantly in recent times.

Latin View

Trump’s coronation was like that of a ‘maximum leader’

I learned in journalism school that what you see often is more important than what you hear, so I decided to turn off the television volume during much of the Republican National Convention that proclaimed Donald Trump as the Republican’s presidential candidate, and to take notes.

default placeholder

Three welcome developments: The appointment of the Tax Chief, the Head of FIU, and the Bid Protest Committee

Three important appointments were recently announced, namely the Commissioner-General of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA), the Director of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) and members of the three-person Bid Protest Committee.

20160725Dave Chadee

Caribbean chases Zika preparedness, after death of mosquito expert

By Gerard Best   Gerard Best is a researcher and writer covering social issues across the Caribbean and Latin America. Based in Trinidad and Tobago, he is the former New Media Editor at Guardian Media Limited and the Caribbean Communications Network, the country’s largest media companies.

default placeholder

The good, the bad and the ugly of social media

Most of us are locked into Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or other social media platforms. Many of us are constantly checking updates, seeking new links, posting pictures, being fully engaged in likes, comments and gossip.

default placeholder

TVET and education reform

The editorial ‘Vocational education’ (SN 15/07/2016) has rightly called upon the government to give greater priority to technical and vocational education and training  (TVET).


About these comments

The comments section is intended to provide a forum for reasoned and reasonable debate on the newspaper's content and is an extension of the newspaper and what it has become well known for over its history: accuracy, balance and fairness. We reserve the right to edit or delete comments which contain attacks on other users, slander, coarse language and profanity, and gratuitous and incendiary references to race and ethnicity.

Stay updated! Follow Stabroek News on Facebook or Twitter.

Get the day's headlines from SN in your inbox every morning: