When will we save our young men?
Last week, I was lamenting to a friend about some of the issues facing (young) men in this Barbadian society. Now, we are on the other side of two suspected suicides by young Barbadian men.
Perhaps two suspected suicides in the young male population are not enough in themselves to raise alarm about the state of (young) men. However, add the loss of those two young men to the six or so who are remanded daily and to the dozens others negotiating society on or outside the periphery; and then the question may be asked: what is going on with the young Barbadian male?
I feel like I am about to be repetitive in this space, because I have addressed this issue already; but perhaps repetition is the stage before national attention and solution building. It is no secret I support the womanist agenda; and some people believe that when you are supportive of a feminist or a womanist agenda, it is because you hate men or wish to see their demise.
This cliché is simplistic and ill-informed. Every society needs well-adjusted men and women in order to construct strong and functional family units. As much as I fight to be a voice for the advancement of women, issues that affect the Caribbean/Barbadian man also engage my attention.
I have lamented before that the evolution of both the Barbadian male and female is happening without the benefit of regulated state input from agencies such as the Bureau of Gender Affairs or others established to assist families.
This has left the individuals who need the most scaffolding without agencies they can depend on for assistance. Our concept of assistance also must change. Where there is need for monetary aid to a person, family or community, there is a higher likelihood that there is also need for other support services such as counselling and capacity development. Our penal work programmes must be strong and well organized. Our welfare work mechanisms must be well executed.
These things, more than a weekly cheque, are what will create hope and long-term changes in human lives.
Barbadian men, in many instances, have low to no self-esteem. While I have not seen any published studies on the matter, I believe there are at least three basic causes. Firstly, Barbadian boys lack strong parental input in their lives. Most are raised in female single-headed households. They do not have the benefit of their father as a role model or supporter.
This means that many are poor in negotiating their own roles as father and partner when the time comes. Their mothers are often working poor and the need to make a living also impacts on the amount of the parental input they can afford.
Secondly, our system of co-education seems to be generally problematic. The creation of more opportunities for girls in the educational system is obviously a desirable and progressive achievement. Perhaps, however, we have not been discerning enough about the effects
on our boys.
I saw a simple but instructive meme recently on social media that posited black men and women were not raised to be compatible. The women, it suggested, were raised to be overly strong and aggressive, because we historically have no men
to depend on, and the men were raised to be weak because they have to depend on strong mothers.
That is perpetuated by a system of co-education where the majority of teachers are female and boys have to navigate strong-willed, outwardly aggressive girls from the onset of schooling.
We need to find ways of rebalancing the interaction between boys and girls, and how the school environment is made safe for them both, if boys are to achieve in school. There is something wrong with the current system because, from my observation, even the boys we are producing from the “higher secondary schools” are socially awkward and not generally well adjusted men.
The third factor that severely affects Barbadian men’s self-esteem is a spin-off of the said inability of the school system to cater to the needs of boys. Many boys in Barbados live with unidentified learning impediments and reading difficulties, which are never addressed in the 13 compulsory years of schooling.
This opens them up to teasing and ridicule at various points in their lives. The result of these unaddressed issues in young boys continue into malehood; and many of these Barbadian men become underemployed, or altogether unemployed.
On top of all of that, we do not teach our boys emotional intelligence. Many Barbadian men do not like to talk; they cannot easily express feelings; and several of them walk around with a full trunk of childhood baggage. Many Barbadian men are emotionally unstable, and the numbers of them addicted to substances are truly staggering.
There is benefit in conducting a behavioural study about the patterns of drug use in the adult male population. Where the drug of choice was once alcohol, it has shifted over the years to become marijuana. There are some men who spend as much as 50 per cent of what they work for to facilitate their marijuana habits.
Many of them are of the view that because marijuana has medicinal and health benefits that there can never be such a thing as overuse or abuse of marijuana. Any substance used in excess, including basic things such as food, can cease to be good and create health and other problems.
I am alarmed by some of the trends I see in the male population of Barbados. We are losing our men at an unacceptable rate. We have to create safe spaces again for men, where they can fellowship and support each other.
We need to stop assuming that our men are born with knowledge of how to be emotionally stable and strong, and teach them mechanisms for coping. We need to ensure there is affordable help for men who feel overwhelmed, as well as stigma-free environments where they can
access services such as counselling.
We need to separate detox services from mental health services in order to encourage more men to want to deal with their addictions. We also need to realize that sex can be an addiction, and that many of our Barbadian men do in fact seek to prop up their feelings of insecurity
by having multiple sexual partners and multiple relationships.
Are we as a society happy with the progress of the Barbadian male? If the answer to that question is not yes, how and when do we intend to fix it?
(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and part-time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies.