Jhanille Brooks | What about the men?
However, we will be hard-pressed to achieve this in its totality unless the mindset of our men changes as well. Men who advocate for women's rights and gender equality add a well-needed component, and their voices are powerful when they, too, speak out against violence against women and girls.
I have always told people that I'm passionate about at-risk boys and men because I do not see women out there shooting guns, robbing people, or molesting children.
There is a major problem with how we socialise our men and boys, which allows them to attack each other and then attack us. Our men have been under attack for years, yet I have not seen any hashtags about that.
You see, in order to #saveher we have to #savehim too! Please do not misunderstand my sentiment, I am totally in agreement with woman empowerment, and I believe that the aggressors of violence must be dealt with the full force of the law. I also believe that interventions must be conducted with our young boys and men in order to stave off this scourge of violence against women and children and violence overall.
With a one-sided approach to empowerment, we will be left with a country full of strong, independent women who, at the very least, will have no potential spouses from which to choose.
Many people will argue that there is no need for a focus on men's issues in light of hundreds of years of women's oppression and abuse by the hands of men.
Men are often painted as the aggressors and the villains, but could it be possible that men are also victims, In a society where male bravado is celebrated and utterances of 'man a man' echo in almost every sphere, how dare I suggest that men could be victims in need of empowerment? I ask you to take an objective view of the matter.
What about the men and the many issues they face, some of which they are unaware that they have in the first place? The perpetrators of violence are men, men have higher rates of successful suicide and lower rates of health-seeking behaviour.
As it relates to mental issues and illnesses, men are more likely to externalise emotions, which leads to aggressive, impulsive, coercive and non-compliant behaviour. Dr Herbert Gayle recently reported that the harsh disciplinary methods used by mothers can contribute to men choosing to engage in a life of crime. The average Jamaican man grows up in female-headed household, and as soon as he hits puberty, he is expected to step up and be a man even though he has not been taught what that means; he is taught from early not to cry or express 'girly' emotions to grow up and have "nuff gyal ina bungle", prove his masculinity by 'getting a yute', provide for his "babymother" and be a father to said 'yute' all while being a stallion in the bedroom. After all this, he often experiences an existential crisis when he realises that he has not really been taught how to meet these false expectations which may be in opposition to what he really wants for himself.
I was recently invited to be a part of a panel discussion at one of our prestigious university campuses. This discussion was open to all but focused on men's issues. I was excited that a group of young men took it upon themselves to organise such a forum, I was even more excited that there were so many questions surrounding mental and emotional health. Halfway through the programme, a young lady stood up and began her statement by saying "As a feminist...", immediately half the men in the room rolled their eyes while the other half braced themselves for what was to come. After she spoke, a young man whispered to me "Yuh see that's why I told them to let it just be men alone enuh, because when the woman dem come, dem tek ova". I laughed to myself because there were only 5 women out of an audience of about 30 and she managed to momentarily turn a discussion on men's issues to one about women's issues. When men join together to discuss issues affecting them this is success enough. We women need to allow this to be so and encourage more of these discussions to take place.
In this same discussion, I asked how many persons were aware of the International Men's Day commemorated on November 19. Only three persons knew of this.
As a self-proclaimed masculinist, or 'meninist', I believe it is time for more men to stand up in a room to advocate for men's issues.
Men's empowerment does not seek to further widen the gender gap, but to allow men to fully actualise in a wholesome way so that they see women as equals and that violence in any form is not seen as an option.
I implore men and the women who love them to advocate for men's health, discuss issues affecting them and seek to empower their peers.
- Jhanille A. Brooks is chairperson of the Jamaica Mental Health Advocacy Network. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.