In the gallery of the Stabroek News website October 20, is a picture of one of our country’s top performers at the recent CSEC examinations- a beaming, neatly attired young lady, collecting an equally gleaming trophy from Minister of Education, Mr. Shaik Baksh. About a week ago, another young female was featured in the same gallery. At 22, she was admitted to the bar, and around her her loved ones stood justifiably proud. These are images and stories which undoubtedly win our tributes and appreciation; young women, and more importantly young individuals intent on improving their lives and that of the society they inhabit.
In the more distant past, another young female was featured, this time not in the gallery, but as a headline: Indranie “Cynthia” Basdeo was 14 when she was murdered in a school corridor by a deranged admirer. Cynthia’s life and aspirations were eliminated before she could even have the opportunity to collect an award of academic achievement, or even before she could be flanked by her family following a career leap.
For feminists this would be yet another incident of male barbarity against females, yet we must see this tragedy as a consequence of certain prevalent psychological and socio- political dysfunctions within our society, sometimes occasioned by women themselves. This is not an attempt to minimize the cruelty of this act or exonerate the killer, but it explains one of the root causes of domestic abuse, spousal deaths and child killings we have sadly experienced.
In this grisly incident is an assailant who may have suffered from low self esteem possibly stemming from betrayal and abandonment trauma in his childhood. His profound rage might have resulted from this psychic injury, and thus, he sought to normalize it, by controlling what Cynthia wore, to whom she spoke, and ultimately, how her fate would be decided. So overwhelming was this killer’s anger that he even attempted slitting his own wrists and ingesting poison. If we review most of instances of female abuse and death at the hands of a male perpetrator in Guyana, we would find an imperious and insecure male struggling to control every circumstance around him, failing which he becomes either ferocious or homicidal. As Dr. Terrence Real highlights in his book, *I Don’t Want To Talk About I*t, these are the reactions of the covertly depressed male who silently endures sagging self esteem and strives to compensate by manipulating circumstances and people.
We must certainly condemn this brutality and feel the deepest remorse at this young lady’s demise, but we need to see how as a society we collude to spawn these circumstances. Boys are socialized to amputate their feelings, because to be a man is to practice ruggedness and stoicism. Men are not supposed to cry when faced with hardships or tragedies, because nothing is more effeminate than a weeping “sissy”. Just listen to mothers telling their sons to “be a man” after a breakup with some girlfriend- it is a call to take control both of oneself and the situation rather than to submit to one’s human weakness. In essence, we acculturate males to excise their vulnerabilities, their softer side in favour of a more macho, dominant disposition. Ultimately, when the male represses his more vulnerable side, he is unable to cultivate meaningful relationships, not only with women, but more importantly, with himself. He does not know how to express feel his feelings, and so when anger confronts him, he will erupt, and as we all know, a depressed male will usually express his anger, whereas a depressed female will typically internalize it.
The accused’s encounters with Cynthia were all based on a display of “I am boss; I am THE man”, and while masculinity is interpreted differently for some men, is there any doubt that such tyrannical, despotic attitudes afflict so many men in our midst? Political superiority in Guyana is largely premised on one-upmanship: if you can shame the other guy, decimate his ego and sense of male pride, then you are the alpha male. The world of business in Guyana also operates on male triumphalism- he with the most ruthless sense of capitalism will crush his competitors and assume market dominance. This attitude then filters down among most where the guy with the slickest car, pounding Mavado’s “Man a long distance stulla (incidentally a reference to a male with extreme sexual stamina)” is likely to be revered and maybe even win a few choice ladies. If there is any doubt about this, then we can perhaps scout the elitist nightclubs in Guyana to get a first hand display.
Or, if we have ever sat in the company of an individual who has amassed a large fortune from the socio- political networks in this country, we might witness such haughtiness.
Regardless of the manifestation of unhealthy male dominance, we are all, including women, contributing to these dysfunctional attitudes. When the mother nurtures her three year old son, and decides he should not be playing with dolls like his sister, she is already instilling, out of fear, her definition of masculinity. When the teenage girl on Facebook uses “I own X” (X being her boyfriend) as her welcome message, then she is unwittingly encouraging male possessiveness under the guise of affection. Then, of course, when a father or male friend advocates control of one’s female spouse or girlfriend, he is no less a perpetrator of this dysfunction. As a matter of fact, the cycle of male aggression and supremacy often times becomes linked from father to son (not necessarily always gender- specific) across generations: the father through his mode of authoritarian parenting (adopted from his father) controls his children with a steely grip, and the children in turn impose the same parenting on their own. Eventually, all these forces combine to create a male who carries a psychic injury and knows only to regulate his self esteem through external elements: owning cars, possessing wealth, controlling large sums of money, imposing influence on others, and if it all becomes overwhelming, he can eliminate obstacles in his way, including objects of his affection.
It is time we take cognizance of the suffering males in Guyana. Too many of them are walking around with self esteem deficits which they try to mask with external possessions, social status and control of others. Too many of them lack a healthy relationship with self and so are unable to broker meaningful relationships with friends and family. Too many of them are gradually slipping into an abyss of self- destruction and destructiveness without receiving any attention other than chastisement.
When our daughters, sisters and wives become victims of this darkness we are rightly aggrieved and we might clamor for capital punishment. But can we truthfully escape our responsibility to our sons, brothers, and husbands?
Can we continue to raise them to repress their vulnerabilities? Must we continue to shower praise on them for their unhealthy assertiveness? Most importantly, when will we teach them that manhood is not lost when one accepts his human frailty?
Men will support “feminition” and advocate equal rights for women, even as they, men, are tormented inside. Please, let us find ways of extending grace to them also. Let us start by teaching them that one’s inherent value lies within and without. Let us teach them that human life is not devalued in the absence of a person or possession. Let us teach them that a human is a dichotomy of male and female attributes and that to embrace both is to make oneself whole. If that were to happen, we would have fewer insecure, controlling men, so intent on savagery. If that had happened, maybe today, Cynthia would not only have been alive, but project a few years into the future, and she might have been the proud recipient of accolades and awards- another daughter of acclamation.
(Name and address provided)