The views and opinions expressed by the author(s) do not represent the official position of Barbados TODAY.
by John Goddard
Men have taken a battering in Barbados for quite a few years, now, and in some respects, we deserve it because too many of us have failed to accept our responsibilities as partner, father and citizen.
Of course, there have always been men who have tried hard to meet their obligations, and have conducted themselves in ways which bring credit to themselves, families and their society.
The lives of such men should be emulated and serve to inspire the increasing number of young males who engage in negative behaviours.
In this article, I wish to examine the issue of authentic masculinity, with the hope of correcting the misguided notion of what a real man is. I start by defining what I consider to be an authentic male.
a) An authentic man recognises the need for God, whoever he conceives him to be, and spends time worshipping Him. He prays with and for his family and tries to set morally correct examples. Even if he is an atheist or agnostic, he still has values and morals which he imparts to his children.
b) He values education and training and works hard.
c) He respects his partner and children as well as all other persons with whom he comes into contact, because he accepts that all people have inherent worth and dignity. He most certainly does not abuse his partner or anyone else.
d) He sees sex as a gift from God and as a mutually satisfying experience between man and woman.
e) An authentic man contributes to the upliftment of his society, and tries not to bring discredit to himself, family or community.
f) He participates in democratic living by being a well-informed citizen; by jealously guarding the freedoms we enjoy and by exercising his right to vote.
g) He renders service to others through community organisations and in one to one situations.
h) A real man does not become angry and cop out because women are progressing. Rather, he pursues his own career with vigour and does not feel inferior or superior to his womenfolk. In short, he has confidence in himself and can look anyone straight in the eye.
i) An authentic man affirms other men rather than ridicule those who have lost their wives, girlfriends or otherwise fallen on hard times.
Now, I know that these are challenging criteria, but men need to strive for the ideal. Men in Barbados have always been under attack for neglecting their families and spending inordinate periods of time in rum shops, gambling and womanising. At least, though, the men of my generation and before worked hard, were, for the most part, peaceful and did not look for hand-outs.
Today, an unacceptably large number of men are on the blocks wasting their lives away on drugs and in other destructive activities. Increasingly, boys are failing miserably in school, and considered unemployable because of the lack of qualifications or poor attitudes to work. For the first time in our history, the statistics reveal that more women than men in Barbados are working and every day the media report on shootings and stabbings perpetrated by men on men and on their wives and girlfriends.
To be fair, the vast majority of males are still engaged in productive activity and are not given to lawlessness. Nevertheless, the number of deviants is rising, and that is cause for grave concern. The question which we need to ask is what factors have contributed to the present state of malaise? I start with the home. Raised mainly by their mothers, owing to absentee fathers, too many of our young males have been brought up in dysfunctional homes where tired, disillusioned and frustrated mothers struggle to feed, clothe, educate and discipline them.
When I was growing up, boys had the extended family of uncles, step fathers, and grandfathers to keep them in line. Those efforts were supported by the teacher, priest, pastor and even the village men.
Our present crop of youngsters have only their mothers who, with the best will in the world, cannot teach boys how to become real men. Quite a few boys have to endure the abuse of mothers who hate the children’s fathers and constantly tell the boys that they will turn out just like their “worthless fathers”.
I doubt whether such mothers are conscious of the negative impact their words can have on their sons. A couple years ago, MESA reported that a survey done among boys showed that forty three percent of them believe that their sisters are treated better than they are, and that their mothers are abusive.
The absence of fathers hurts all, but it can have a devastating effect on boys. I well recall teaching “To Kill a Mockingbird” to a fourth form at a secondary school. We were into a discussion on family relationships when I noticed that quite a few of the students were crying.
I enquired whether I had said something which hurt them. Their responses revealed that the vast majority of the class did not have a relationship with their fathers
The point I am trying to make is that children are the products of their upbringing, and as Plastic Bag reminds us, “If you plant potato, you will reap potato. That’s what is meant when they say you will reap whatever you sow”. Adults have the power to influence children positively or negatively and should take the responsibility seriously.
Another key factor affecting the development of men is the school. Having been exposed at home to a woman only, boys find that, particularly at primary level, they are, in many cases, under the control of female head teachers and, most definitely, female class teachers. Thus up to age 11, some of our boys have had their lives shaped by women. How can they learn what authentic masculinity is?
Even at secondary school, chances are that they are going to be exposed to a disproportionate number of women. So, they are left to learn what it is to be a man from their peers, who do not know themselves; village men, incapable of modelling real masculinity, or television characters who may be drop outs from society.
Furthermore, the school system alienates many males who are turned off from education at an early age, and who leave school without the tools needed for gainful employment and productive lives.
The Common Entrance Examination, which many feel is the fairest system for transferring children from Primary to Secondary School, is, in fact, a major cause of the problem of frustrated and delinquent men. How can we continue to support a system which allocates the high flyers to the so-called prestigious schools and places the struggling majority into less regarded schools?
Don’t we realise the damage done to the psyche of those pupils who are sent to the schools which Barbadians regard as institutions for “duncey”children? No wonder these schools produce so many disenchanted and violent young men.
After leaving school, the marginalised youth, who feel that they have no stake in the society, gravitate to the blocks where they can, at least, feel appreciated. Their youthful energies are often channelled into destructive behaviour.
While an increasing number of girls go to the university, BCC, S.J. I.T and other educational institutions, too many young men have no use for further formal education.
My English classes at BCC typically comprise 80 per cent females. By the way, have you realised that the traditionally male dominated areas of masonry, carpentry, tiling and plumbing are attracting larger numbers of females but a fast declining number of males?
The Church which, previously influenced the development of Barbadians is now largely ignored. Most parents do not bother to take or send their children to church. So, where do they get their moral and spiritual training from? Parents do not insist on their offspring saying prayers, and certainly, our young people do not listen to devotions on Q 100 or VOB 92.9. Many of our boys are growing up without being touched by religion. Their world is focused on drugs, sex and feting until they drop. Increasingly, girls are heading in a similar direction, so even as this article deals with men, we should note that our girls are also in crisis.
There has been a marked change in our value system; no longer do we teach that “a little with content is great gain”, “honesty is the best policy” or “Manners maketh man”. In a materialistic society, only money counts and short cuts to success are the norm.
Why sweat when young women (girls) can depend on “sugar daddies”, and their male counterparts can sell dope, rob and, of rising popularity, sell themselves to men with money. In any case, they witness or hear of corrupt practices by those in positions of power and authority.
Politicians have contributed to the breakdown in discipline; they use young people at election time, attracting them to meetings by inviting calypsonians and dub artists to provide entertainment.
Hardly any effort is made to discuss youth challenges and there is no coherent plan by either of the two major parties to address the issues affecting youth, generally, and males in particular.
Fewer and fewer men are voting, and they have no interest in politics or government. What they have is a mendicancy mentality which encourages them to seek hand- outs rather than productive employment. And if reports are to be believed, some are prepared to sell their votes to the highest bidder. Authentic masculinity cannot be built in these ways.
And what about the media? Globalised television presents imagery of men as thugs and drug pushers with powerful guns and enough cash to buy anything including pretty women. Our young men are attracted to such images.
The Rev. Leslie Lett, writing in the Nation newspaper a few years ago, put it this way, “We are a society adrift and are fast becoming a people who know the dollar price of everything but the value of nothing. Success is judged by wealth or promise of wealth.” Should we be surprised, then, that our young men reject hard work which does not bring the quick financial returns necessary for them to live the life of glamour?
Where do we go from here? It is clear that we need to find solutions and fast. We have to urgently set about the task of rescuing our young males as well as females.
John Goddard, retired but always an educator.