Public discourse on gendered relations is always fascinating because it revels people’s deeply held beliefs about men and women and they ways in which they are valued or devalued.
Recent comments reported in the Tribune 242 blame women for men’s involvement in crime. Women are blamed in three ways:
1) For being at the source of arguments between men:
“Many of the murders that we recorded to date are as a result of arguments. I am ashamed to tell you, arguments over women – females, where young men are feuding over females,” [the Police Commissioner] is reported to have said.
2) For being materialistic and mercenary, thus forcing men to turn to crime in order to to provide material goods:
Women who are not satisfied with what they have can in some instances push men to get extra cash by committing robberies or becoming a “king pin”, just to satisfy their material desires.
“Sometimes women have to settle with what they have. If you are with a man and he does not work, and you see things that you want but you cannot afford it, he may feel pressured to do all that he can to get you what you want, even if it means breaking the law. So we must teach our men to work for the things they want,” [police Press Liaison Officer is reported to have said].
3) By passively refusing to be a positive influence in the lives of men around them:
“As women we have the power of influence. We can in our own way cause a man to make a good or a bad choice. Women must use that power to help the men in their lives make the right choice to stay away from criminal activities.”
Within this analysis where men are feuding with each other over women (relationships which the Police Commissioner points out are not even marriages!), taking to crime in order to satisfy the material demands of women and unable to have women act as positive influences in their lives, men are rendered passive. Men are not seen as agents in their violence against other men and against women. Women, not men, are the ones with desires for material goods. Women benefit from the crimes men commit, men do not. These are old, tired arguments heard over and over again across the Caribbean. They also fail to recognise that far from women causing men’s violence they are often on the receiving end of it. Speaking of Trinidad & Tobago, Senator St. Rose-Greaves pointed out that homicides due to domestic violence are second only to gang murders. In Barbados, “domestic violence”, typically intimate partner violence accounts for about half of all murders.
The Police Commissioner does not consider that what it means to be a man could be part of the reason why men compete with each other, sometimes until death, or why they perceive that a wider range of income-generating options are open to them both within and outside the law. Singling out women as at the root of men’s over-representation in prison furthers a gendered devaluing and scapegoating of women. It is also not at all helpful in understanding and reducing crime.
Caribbean states have identified men’s violence and involvement in gangs and the drug trade as key security issues. They have a responsibility to deal with these issues adequately. That burden cannot and should not be shifted to women. Not even rhetorically. We will come close to addressing these issues if we take a simplistic approach of blaming women for all that is wrong in men’s lives.
Less blaming, more action to create the kind of Caribbean where women, men and everyone else claiming an identity between and beyond the binary can flourish. We all have a right to a good life.