Mon | Nov 29, 2021

Peter Espeut | Beware of special-interest groups

Published:Friday | April 30, 2021 | 12:05 AM

Two weeks ago in this column I asked: “Why are we more concerned about violence against women than violence against men? … Is it because women are more important than men? If so, then we should stop preaching equality of the sexes.” I was reacting to the false claims of some women who call themselves gender activists (but who are really women’s activists) that Jamaica has a particular problem with violence against women and girls.

I was pleased that MP Juliet Holness echoed my point in Parliament, stating that:

“We need to stop seeing acts of violence in a partisan or a gender-specific way so we can address the root of our problem, which continues to affect every class, race, gender, political or sexual orientation.”

These suggestions have – predictably – produced howls of protest from women whose life’s work has been to claim and emphasise that women are specially and comprehensively oppressed in every way. Dr Dalea Bean, graduate coordinator at the Institute for Gender & Development Studies, University of the West Indies, in an article in The Sunday Gleaner, made it clear that she felt wounded and insulted by the remarks by MP Holness.

“In one fell swoop, Mrs Holness has undermined … the work of hundreds of local activists and scholars who have spent numerous lifetimes waging war against GBV (gender-based violence) … these insults, which though wounding, were probably unintentional …”.

When the academic discipline of ‘Women’s Studies’ was renamed ‘Gender Studies’ the rationale was that liberation for women cannot come without a corresponding liberation for men. The men who are abusive towards women were more than likely abused by their mothers; women embody the wombs from which all humankind emerges, and women have the greater role in socialising (positively or negatively) their boy and girl children.

Engaging in an academic discipline requires honesty; a true scientist goes where the data leads him or her. You don’t start with a conclusion (e.g., women are specially and comprehensively oppressed in every way) and then look for the data to back that up. That is not science: that is politics!

How often have I heard that Jamaica’s education system disadvantages women. This is the imported feminist propaganda parroted by Jamaican women’s activists.

The fact is that Jamaica’s education system disadvantages black men. Errol Miller has argued that Jamaican society has a status hierarchy ordered by race and gender: white men at the top, followed by white women, black women, and then with black men at the bottom (read his book The Marginalization of the Black Male).

This is why in any primary school classroom (usually presided over by a female teacher) the girls are seated in the front and the boys are relegated to the back. That is why we require boys and girls to sit the Grade Six Achievement Test/Primary Exit Profile examination at age 11 when girls are so much more conceptually developed than boys. This is why Jamaica has 14 high schools for girls, and only seven for boys, and why girls’ high schools – on average – are so much larger than boys’ high schools; and why co-ed traditional high schools have so many more girls than boys. About twice as many girls go to high schools than boys. Jamaica’s education system favours girls, but you won’t hear any gender activists criticise that travesty.

ACADEMIC DISCIPLINE

As an academic discipline, gender studies is loose in its terminology: they use the terms “intimate partner violence”, “gender-based violence” and “violence against women” interchangeably, when the first two terms also include violence against men. “Matey violence” perpetrated by women against women does not come up.

In her article titled ‘What’s the matter with all violence matters?’ Dr Bean justifies her focus on violence against women by comparing it with the #BlackLivesMatter movement in the United States. She says (correctly) that “black people’s lives are relatively undervalued in the US and they are more likely to be ended by police”.

Her self-serving argument is fundamentally flawed because, as I pointed out two weeks ago, the percentage of women murdered in Jamaica has been stable at about 10 per cent over the last decade. Globally, the average is about 19 per cent. Jamaica, then, is safer for women than most other places in the world. The comparison fails!

These activists believe that women’s lives are worth more than men’s lives. I abhor violence against women – and also against men – and I work for a Jamaica where all are equal. We must be careful of special-interest groups that push their interests ahead of the interests of others.

Peter Espeut is a sociologist and development scientist. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com