Content Warning: suicide, transphobia, homophobia, sexism, abuse, mental health issues
Yesterday was International Men’s Day and I wanted to write a post addressing men’s issues but not in the way that you think. As someone who has called herself a feminist for years and been in many “arguments” about feminist issues, one of the common derailments to women discussing the social issues that affect them is, “What about the men?!”
So what about men?
Why are women responsible for solving all the social issues that affect their lives as well as the social issues that impact men as well? The truth of the matter is, men who derail with this kind of statement don’t actually care about the social issues affecting men. It’s simply an affront to them that women would dare question the status quo or would dare defy the existing social hierarchy in any way. It’s the weak attack of a threatened animal but luckily for you, there are ways to disarm this…
[[Before you read onwards… I encourage you to read ALL the posts linked in this blog post. Most of them I link for a reason and I want you to check them out to further your learning. — MGMT]]
Men are responsible for handling the social issues that primarily affect them. And there are issues that affect men. So when a man tries to derail your discussion about feminism in the Caribbean by asking about men’s issues… You should ask him what he’s done to help men’s communities in the Caribbean solve these pressing issues:
Cis-het Caribbean men perpetrate massive amounts of homophobia and transphobia in the Caribbean community. Gay, bisexual and transgender men suffer the most from their violence. The Caribbean is almost reknowned for its homophobia yet in these conversations, we rarely acknowledge the fact that the LGBTQ+ community here belongs here. Their liberation should be at the forefront of our struggle. If men are interested in tackling issues that plague their community, they can start by making the Caribbean a safe place for their brothers… their gay brothers, their bisexual brothers and their trans brothers.
Men can learn how to empathize with other men and can work with the LGBTQ+ community to meet their needs. What needs to happen for homophobia and transphobia to stop amongst men in the Caribbean? What can they do to solve this issue of discrimination? How can the prejudicial lies spread by fundamentalist Christians be replaced with a more empathetic view of the different experiences that gay and straight men have?
These are not questions for women to answer. What about the men? Good question. What about the gay men in the region who fear for their lives? What about the bisexual men who fear the same? What about the transmen?
2) High Suicide Rates
Men are 3-5 times more likely to die by suicide than women. Guyana has the highest suicide rate in the world. Researchers seem to agree that poverty and poor mental health contribute to a higher rate of suicide overall in third world countries. So death by suicide is a pretty big men’s issue in the Caribbean and one men could stand to tackle.
Communities of men in the Caribbean could (and should) work together to destigmatize the mental health issues that lead to suicide as well as promoting mental health overall. An attachment to patriarchal machismo need not take priority over proper mental and emotional health. Also, proper mental health doesn’t mean maintaining your dominant and oppressive status in society. It involves learning healthy, non-violent communication. Proper mental health involves correctly processing emotions. Proper mental health may also involve medical treatment of addiction, depression, high anxiety or bipolar disorder.
Instead of derailing a conversation about women’s liberation, I advise you to point Caribbean men towards an issue like this one that is literally costing lives!
3) Men’s Experiences of Abuse In Childhood
As boys, the majority of men in the Caribbean experience heavy abuse. If this isn’t physical abuse, it’s emotional abuse or severe emotional neglect. These early childhood experiences have a long lasting impact on mental health, what’s socially acceptable and how our culture develops. Caribbean boys are often times abused by both parents (so no, don’t run away from this blaming mothers. It’s lazy and sexist.)
Despite receiving preferential treatment in certain aspects of their upbringing, many Caribbean boys are also subjected to harsher punishments. A big part of it stems from racist mythology that has been engrained in our culture in the wake of colonialism; this racist mythology has many believing that black people can and should endure more pain, including violent physical beatings.
Communities of Caribbean men have the urgent need to stop perpetuating these cycles of abuse within their families and their interpersonal relationships. Men’s communities also need to work on dealing with the aftermath of abuse amongst themselves. Whether they have experienced childhood abuse or IPV, there should be discussions about healing and recovery that handle the specific issues that men face.
4)The Negative Impact Patriarchy Has On Men
Patriarchal masculinity requires a suppression of your normal human emotions (pretending that an unnatural suppression is innate) and thus has a negative impact on mental health. (Recall point #2). Patriarchal masculinity states that all men are stoic, unfeeling, inherently predatory and violent. Thus, their “superiority” is maintained by buying into this vision of manhood and perpetuating this violence to maintain a “superior” social status. This harms men as individuals, but it also harms our community by encouraging men’s exploitation of others as well as their violence towards others.
For more on this issue, I really recommend reading this blog post: CLICK HERE.
Patriarchal masculinity also has a negative impact on gay, bisexual and transmen. “Masculinity” is constructed specifically to exclude, exploit and marginalize men who are not cisgender or straight. When thinking about the negative impact of patriarchy, it’s imperative for us to remember that the impact is more severe on gay, bisexual and transgender men. I can’t speak to these experiences myself, so I won’t say too much more on the topic, other than to urge men to listen to the needs of their own community.
There are other social issues that impact men. Gender, sexuality, disability, poverty, violence and abuse only give you a broad view of what needs to be addressed here. But the responsibility of dissecting these issues and building a strong community on a foundation of non-violence and emotional health is not the responsibility of women who are already working towards their own liberation. Caring about women’s issues primarily is not something that women should apologize for.
And when you’re tempted to ask me, or another woman, or yourself, “What about the men?”, you should think twice about doing so. Turn your questions to the communities of men in the Caribbean and ask them what they’re doing to challenge damaging patriarchal masculinity.