A Jamaican anthropologist blamed poor Jamaican mothers for failing to breast feed their sons and the social neglect which leaves them marginalised and prone to violence. Many Caribbean boys and men face limited options, an education system which reinforces class stratification, marginalisation and lack of a social safety net. Blaming their mothers who face the same conditions does nothing to assist the young men recruited by criminal gangs and forced onto the margins of society. Mother-blame completely misdiagnoses the problem. It lets governments off the hook for ensuring that their policies promote justice and social equality. It lets government off the hook for treating these young men as expendable. It also colludes with the worse of misogynist ideology. In the context of very brutal rapes of women and girls, arguing that women created the rapists by neglecting their sons is such perverse victim-blaming. To argue that Caribbean mothers protect their girls at the expense of their boys is, of course, to ignore the harms which girls face too. (And to ignore men’s responsibilities as parents!) We can call attention to the harms facing boys and men without dismissing and denigrating women and girls.
This article came to my attention via Caribbean feminist, Roberta Clarke’s blog post about the need for reliable allies:
I sometimes pessimistically think of women working with men on gender equality as a high risk endeavor, akin to walking on the verge of a precipice or a high tension wire. Similarly in our personal lives, you going good, good and then out of nowhere, a sexist joke and some man friend telling you, ‘ like you cyah take a joke?”
I don’t share her pessimism when it comes to working with men because we do have feminist men working with CODE RED. YAY! (In fact, we have a very exciting project in the pipeline which will see young men and women working together). I do share her concerns, however, about the new men’s organisations which have emerged in the region since the late 90s and some gender scholars and practitioners who are decidedly anti-woman. Many who are talking the gender talk are attracting legitimacy and funding but are not at all interested in gender equality. Thinking through gender is hard, hard work. You’ve got to be willing to think, to hurt your head, to be introspective, to question everything, to examine your own privileges and to live the talk everyday. It’s hard work. And at a minimum, its work that potential allies have to commit to doing.
On a related note, Philip Cohen of the US, who blogs at Family Inequality uses data to show that single moms can’t be scapegoated for the murder rate any more.