Carolyn Graham | Getting to the root of gender violence
Years ago, I did a small study exploring the experiences of male victims of domestic abuse in Jamaica. As I recall, the literature had no explanations for female abusers not being able to control their emotions, or that it was their fathers’ fault why they abused men. One of the most common explanations between men and women who abuse was power and control and its various dimensions.
Domestic abuse is a complex issue and the best way to speak to the matter competently is to read and do the research. That might help with reducing the narratives of blaming the victim and flogging the horse of transactional relationships when women are killed.
I did the piece of research because I came from an abusive household with my father as the perpetrator and my mother and us children as the victims of severe physical abuse. Later, I was helping a female friend who was being psychologically abused by her husband. I took her to the Women’s Crisis Centre and from there, developed an academic interest in the topic.
In attempting to understand domestic abuse, I thought at that point to combine two issues and examine the topic from the male perspective, as I knew a few men who were having difficulties at home, but also I did not want to be caught up in blaming men. I have never been comfortable with the song “sometimes a man fi get cuff”.
I crafted my response to domestic abuse as a human-rights issue. I knew good men. I have more nephews than I have nieces. I was seeking understanding so that I could engage with the issues of domestic abuse from a balanced and informed perspective.
The studies showed that men were the main perpetrators of violence against women and their abuse tended to be more deadly.
Power and control in these situations stemmed from historical notions of women and children and their place in relation to men, and is still relevant. Men have crafted a discourse of superiority and entitlement, power and ownership over that which they possess.
ROLE OF RELIGION
Such views are also supported by religion, which has taught men and women that wives must subject themselves to their husbands. Wedding vows would teach women to love, honour and obey their husbands. That was the era in which my mother got married. I don’t know how many still subscribe to this. But religion, and in our case Christianity, has historical roots, that took its cues from powerful men. Men like Henry the VIII who manipulated the religion to allow him the freedom to dispense with his wives at the drop of a hat (or head, in his case).
There are deep-seated issues impacting intimate relationships that persons do not understand or wish to acknowledge. We tend to be superficial and indeed irresponsible in our commentary on domestic abuse in Jamaica and the crisis of interpersonal relationships.
We seem to be espousing:
n A toxic masculinity that thinks it is ok to catcall women and verbally abuse them when they don’t respond in a manner that pleases the catcaller.
n A masculinity that is angry at any thought of creating a gentler, more inclusive society.
n A society of resistant and resentful men in powerful positions who we ask to make laws to protect children from sexual abuse.
n A society where some believe even little girls can tempt a man into sexually abusing her.
n A society where some still believe having sex with a virgin can cure STDs.
Something is wrong, and this recent spate of men murdering women is a continuation of the symptoms of this illness. This is what is meant by gender-based violence, whether the perpetrator is male or female. It is violence (physical, emotional, psychological) perpetuated on another, which is rooted in gender differences – real or imagined.
The response of the minister of culture, gender, entertainment and sport to the recent domestic murders was lacklustre and disappointing, to say the least. A stronger position by the government is needed.
Although there is a gap in the literature on the prevalence and dynamics of interpersonal violence and violence against women in Jamaica, some evidence exists to guide a more thoughtful discussion.
For example, Smith (2016) has outlined the prevalence of intimate-partner violence in Jamaica with some extrapolation. She pointed to the fact that rates of abuse are higher among women whose husbands were abused as children or who witnessed their mothers being abused.
This is contrary to the singular narrative blaming women only for abusing boys. It points to the complexity of the issue versus the narratives of convenience that permeate our national discourse.
Smith also noted that Jamaica lags behind many countries in taking action against violence against women. She highlighted a 2010 OECD study that indicated that Jamaica has no laws addressing sexual harassment, despite its prevalence in our workplaces, and while there are laws on discrimination for some characteristics, none exists on gender discrimination.
Likewise, Jamaica was not found among the countries currently taking steps to address the matter. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime 2018 Global Study on Homicide – Gender-Related Killing of Women and Girls – showed that women worldwide were more likely to be killed by those closest to them.
For Jamaica, the homicide rate is 9.3 for every 100,000 women in the population that were killed by someone known to them, and 0.9 exclusively by an intimate partner. While men had higher figures for homicides, these were mostly committed by persons unknown to them.
If we intend to find solutions, it is time to create a society where persons are comfortable to speak out about their abuse. We need to develop the kind of mindset where the victims are not the ones shamed and blamed and so crawl away to lick her wounds and leave the perpetrator to continue his abuse.
We need to show national support and take steps to say to those victimised and to potential victims: “We are here for you, the country will support you. We have put laws, policies and institutions in place, we will train our responders to be more knowledgeable and sensitive to your plight. We will ensure you are treated with dignity and you are not retraumatised. We will listen and we will act appropriately.”