This article was originally published in Promundo, about “/ masc: conversations about modern masculinity”. We publish an edited version with permission.
“Be a man!” The policeman said when he felt my friend was not answering his questions loud enough. The policeman was asking about a fight that he learned was going to happen that Friday afternoon near my school. Meanwhile, a little further up the road and on the sidewalk, boys in their school uniforms watched expectantly, ready to fight with iron bars, wooden planks, dog chains, bottles from the village store, and knives. Those were the guys who, at 15 or 16 years of age, were busy “acting like men.”
Language is fun. Formal education taught us to handle standard English. In literature and English classes, we were encouraged to be “postcolonial, educated, middle-class men” through corrections and recitations in prose, but the kids who were good with “criollo” (national language) ignored the They spoke only standard English; and they demanded that we all be men “of this culture and this soil.”
The change of registration depended on the social situation and the person to whom you were addressing. On one occasion, two policemen lined up a group of boys on the street to search them because they were acting “in a suspicious way.” They were then told to put their hands on their heads and kneel, while pointing the gun at their adolescent faces. One of the boys communicated each action in English to show that he was diligently following orders. The answer he received was: “Why do you talk like that? Do you like boys or what? The Englishman, who supposedly distinguished him from the poor, illiterate and those who were victims of government violence, did not save him.
I have never sat down to write what exactly being a man meant to me. I did not know there was a word – “masculinity” – that summarized the arbitrary meanings and definitions of manhood and that it varied from person to person, depending on time and context. The shout exhorting us to “be men” assumed that there was an innate DNA of masculinity within us waiting to be activated.
Being a man meant being tough, confident, and domineering. But masculinity was an idea that they tried to fit us like a pair of jeans. Those masculine jeans that I was given over the years. The concept of time, especially the fear of “lost time”, is important to man. The patriarchal culture requires men to become men as soon as possible.
Guys seek acceptance from their peers and older men to continually reaffirm their “manhood.” In part, this leads to animosity in public discourse about single-parent households headed by women. Children in these homes grow up blaming their mothers for not leading them down the path of masculinity at what is perceived as the right time. Some of the “mama's boys” who identified with female care and example may later repudiate it, which is another way of blaming women in society.
Women also help perpetuate patriarchy, which is very harmful to them and their children. However, lately women do not raise children as macho as the dominant society does through conflict and violence, sexual abuse of women and girls, and violent regulation of heterosexual culture in social and institutional spaces that are not led by women. At the center of this dilemma, men enjoy experiences and social spaces that are contrary to the dominant patriarchal culture, but fear that they will become more vulnerable by participating in these environments and, as a consequence, feel less able to deal with patriarchal environments.
In the last two years, there were 500 homicides in Trinidad and Tobago. Of course, no government wants to deal with crime, but the state's response is always to blame the people for their lack of morals and the careless upbringing that is supposedly engendered by transnational arms and drugs trafficking, corporate corruption with respect to management of contracts, gang formation in low-income urban communities, and the growing development of “gated communities” to maintain social distance between classes and opportunities. As a sign of political dysfunction and the weak capacity of the State to guarantee public safety; murders, rapes, police brutality and social “evil” are generally ignored or go unpunished. The least we can do as people is commemorate our dead and refocus the value of human life, while exposing the incomplete work of the Government.
Many men have murdered their partners. In one of the January cases, after a woman tried to end a toxic relationship, her ex-partner went to work after months of virtually harassing her, shot her twice, and then committed suicide. It was around 8 am, when some are finishing their cup of coffee, or heading to work, and some students examine the faces of taxi drivers before deciding which car to get into: “Who looks less threatening?” I've seen him before ”,“ Just because he's old doesn't mean he can't rape me ”. Around 8 a.m., he would drive to class, honk at a woman who looked attractive, twice if he was “stunning” and if he felt like he had to bombard his ears and peace with the noise of bullying. If you cannot see how these everyday attitudes end in murdered women then it means that you have decided to ignore what being “a man” hides and represents.
That is why when women march so that the State and members of society guarantee and recognize their rights, they ask: “Where are the men?” The comrades, protesters and the public demonstration of solidarity are too few for us to believe in the phrase: “Not all men are bad.” Some men are “on the right track” – they love their daughters and are “present” in their homes. And indeed, not all men are bad, but there are too many who keep quiet, and very few can be trusted in the fight for gender equality.
Perhaps those who must express themselves and act are too busy being careful, trying to put on the wrong jeans or staying calm, ignoring the permanent flaws in this wardrobe ritual, thinking that masculinity was an immovable inheritance through time, like this as the inevitable and immutable truths of the universe are deadly to humanity. We must choose, personally and politically. We can ditch our jeans at any time, especially if they are too small for you. And that – like masculinity – is our responsibility and, ultimately, our freedom.