Fri | Sep 22, 2017

Cheap shot to blame mothers

Published:Wednesday | November 25, 2015 | 11:00 AMLisa Tomlinson

Dr Herbert Gayle's claim that the brutal beating of boys by their mothers facilitates the creation of killers is quite alarming on a number of grounds.

This proposition should not be relied on to explain the cause(s) of pervasive violence in the Jamaican society, as well as to come up with solutions to address this social problem. Gayle's claim ignores a number of crucial factors that need to be taken into consideration in any discussion of violence committed by men in society.

Dr Gayle's claim has overlooked the negative effects of a patriarchal structure that cultivates hypermasculine behaviour in boys. The social construction of masculinity begins at birth and is carried into the rest of their lives. By the time boys and girls are able to speak, they are already in a position to identify gender differences. As children learn the language and norms of society, they also learn the expected gender-roles and behaviours that should be performed.

Thus, in a hypermasculine society like Jamaica, with its strict, compulsory heterosexuality codes, boys are encouraged to be tough and assertive, and discouraged from expressing emotions that might be perceived as feminine.

Unfortunately, these gender-specific roles are manifested in many different ways - the exercise of violence being one of the primary ones. As such, negative reinforcers such as name-calling - 'maama man', 'sissy' and other colourful terms - are used to keep boys in line and prevent them from departing too far from what is expected of them as gendered beings.

Toys are markers of gender, so oftentimes one of the first gifts given to many boys are toy guns. In an age of technology, little boys are exposed to violent video games, many of which encourage the killing of their opponents in order to win. Even sports that are seen as overly masculine often take on violent forms, such as boxing, American football, mixed martial arts, and wrestling. And, of course, the heroes in many box-office films are usually men, and violence is typically used to resolve conflicts or to attain their goals.

According to sociologist David Baxter, by the time boys become teenagers, a great number of them have already become very skilful at suppressing and concealing behavioural traits or emotive expressions that are identified with girls.

The outcome of the preceding state of affairs leads to them no longer being in possession of the vocabulary to identify or describe the relevant feelings or emotional states - even to themselves. The exception is anger - the one 'acceptable' male emotive trait that too often gets channelled through aggressive behaviour as represented in popular culture and violence against women.

Given the fact that there was no mention in the article of the impact of structural factors such as poverty, class exploitation, limited economic opportunities, racial oppression or marginalisation, the militarisation of Jamaican politics, the creation of garrison communities and the use of force or violence to settle disputes by state institutions as they relate to male violent behaviour, a few questions have come to mind as to how Dr Gayle arrived at his conclusions.

First, what methodology was used to reach this conclusion? Were studies carried out on households with fathers and mothers, single fathers and single mothers in order to determine their propensity to create serial killers, dawg-heart men or murders?

Second, Jamaican police, as a group, are known for their reputation as killers of members of the African-Jamaican working class. Are these legal gunmen (police officers with multiple kills in disputed or questionable situations) likely to be the products of women-headed households where the rod was amply administered with reckless abandon to the bodies of (working-class?) boys?

Last, what role does social class or the experience of class oppression play in the development of violent actions of dawg heart men whose murderous ways are of national concern?

Social behaviour is generally not shaped by a single factor. Dr Gayle might simply be peddling a gender-ideology agenda instead of pursuing a sound social-science research project that is reflective of the complexity found in society or human behaviour.

Unfortunately, Dr Gayle's claim entirely missed the opportunity to open up constructive dialogue around male violence and to challenge patriarchal structure that has been at the root of male violence and antisocial tendencies. Surely, his dismissal of the myth that mothers cannot rear boys is a good step in challenging notions around gender socialisation.

Therefore, Dr Gayle needs to take a more holistic approach. Singling out mothers as the perpetrator of male violent behaviour does very little in engendering the transformation of oppressive patriarchy.

- Dr Lisa Tomlinson is a lecturer in literature and Caribbean studies. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and Lisa_Tomlinson@edu.yorku.ca.