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HIV and Caribbean Masculinities

HIV and Caribbean Masculinities

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Published by: Egbert Alejandro Martina on Feb 20, 2014
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HIV and Caribbean Masculinities David Plummer Commonwealth/UNESCO Professor in HIV Education Joel Simpson UNESCO Human

Rights Researcher HIV Education Unit School of Education University of the West Indies Trinidad & Tobago Abstract Gender roles are the engine that drives the epidemic of HIV. This paper examines the relationships between gender and HIV and draws conclusions about gender and the complex issue of HIV prevention in particular. While it has been argued by many analysts that the role of women in HIV has been downplayed because they lack power; we argue that it has also been possible to conceal the role of men for the opposite reason – exposing the central role of male sexuality in driving the epidemic would put pressure on powerful socially-sanctioned male gender roles. We will examine the taboos and obligations that gender roles impose on men; how Caribbean masculinities are defined by taking risks; and how masculine reputations are made through demonstrating sexual prowess. We will also examine the arguments about women and poverty and argue that HIV is driven by economic activity rather than poverty per se, and largely by the money of men (for example by financing the sex industry). Finally we will look at the phenomenon of ‘social embedding’ - where risks become deeply embedded in the social fabric through gender roles, peer dynamics, sexual taboos, economics etc. We argue that engaging with this phenomenon of ‘social embedding’ in order to bring about social change (with embedded behavioural outcomes) will be essential if we are to make progress in HIV prevention. Introduction Gender roles drive the HIV epidemic. However because gender is so normalised in everyday life, the far-reaching impact of gender roles is easily overlooked and widely underestimated. Recently however, there have been a number of initiatives to address the role of gender in HIV, including by the Commonwealth and by UNIFEM. These initiatives have identified a gap in addressing women’s issues in relationship to HIV. We agree that adequate gender-specific initiatives have been lacking in this area. However, the problem runs deeper: when one half of a binary (in this case, women) is overlooked, then the other (men) need not be problematised either (or even noticed) despite it being the frame-of-reference or ‘default’ position. It is our contention that, apart from certain classic stereotypes (prostitute, unsuspecting victim), women have not been accommodated because they are powerless, while the role of men has been absent for the opposite reason: exposing the central role of male sexuality in driving the epidemic would put pressure on powerful socially-sanctioned gender roles (who particularly do not

However. Men and sexual risk Male gender roles have central significance for HIV control. (Brown & Chevannes 1998: 23) Clearly young people are teaching themselves about sexual practice and the gender roles that should accompany that practice. Currently around 70% of graduates from the University of the West Indies are women. On the contrary their environment is saturated with sexual references. The combination of adults being largely absent from sex education and of ceding sex education to young people has important implications for this achievement. Those roles that relate to sexual risk-taking directly determine the epidemiology of HIV. physical strength and sexual dominance.seek association with an epidemic with homosexual connotations). parents and teachers are notable for their silence on these issues: Boys are expected to obtain virtually all their sexual preparation on the street and secondarily from school. and the Caribbean is no exception. were expected of them (Bailey. all features of traditional masculinity. Men are subject to comprehensive social pressures to conform to these roles. Sexuality and gender are tightly intertwined. Similarly girls are succeeding at school as are women in university in record numbers. Masculinity is highly valued and male dominance is the norm. this taboo does not extend to young people. McGarrity & Stuart 1998: 29) By way of contrast. particularly the age group just older than themselves. gay men in particular. while it is commonly claimed that there are taboos against speaking about sexuality. McGarrity & Stuart 1998: 53) Moreover. Gender plays a central role in all world cultures. largely with inputs from older peers and popular culture. In the words of Bailey and colleagues: By the age of 10… boys began to realise that toughness. The exception of course is certain scapegoat stereotypes. Sex then was very much in the environment of the young boys and girls… they did pick up a great deal of information from observing their environment and from listening to “people”. These issues raise important questions for gender in the context of HIV in the Caribbean. (Bailey. All societies attach paramount importance to achieving an appropriately gendered identity. the last 25 years has witnessed important shifts in gender dynamics in the Caribbean as elsewhere. Boys learn very early about complex codes of gender-based obligations and taboos that they are subjected to. Branche. Women have made important advances in education and employment and there has never been a time in the English-speaking Caribbean when women were more likely to be chief breadwinners and heads of household. and accomplishing a . Branche.

Contrary to popular opinion boys do not become emotionless as they mature. (Crichlow 2004: 206) The quality of men’s relationships Gendered youth cultures shared by Caribbean young people. gender taboos configure how men ought to interact as Wesley Crichlow notes: Our fights usually indicated an “overt disdain for anything that might appear soft or wet – more a taboo on tenderness than a celebration of violence” (Crichlow 2004: 200 quoting Morgan 1987: 48) These taboos extend to how men express their feelings in acceptable ways. These taboos impact on relationships between men themselves and between men and women. In the case of interpersonal relationships between males.the equivalent in the United States is “faggot”. the importance attached to having multiple sexual relationships for one’s reputation is tied to one of the deepest male social taboos. (Bailey. Branche. even being faithful to a single partner can be the source of scorn and loss-of-face. glee in the face of triumph etc). at least in the Englishspeaking Caribbean. “suspected as a buller” 1 or not “the average young black male”. The term ‘one burner’ applied to a faithful male in some Jamaican communities was a phrase of derision. multiple partnerships could become also a matter of status… (p 65). but there certainly are some emotions which are taboo (typically those that denote weakness) and others which are actively cultivated (typically those that affirm strength – anger. homophobia. In Barry Chevannes words: Manhood is demonstrated by sexual prowess… it is usually measured… by the number of female sexual partners (Brown & Chevannes 1998: 23) Under these circumstances. as the following quotation from Wesley Crichlow suggests: Someone who did not have as many women as they did was “sick”. 1 . a consequence of which is the creation of taboos around weakness. For males. McGarrity & Stuart 1998: 66) Indeed. Here is the view of Brown and Chevannes: “Buller” is the term in the South-Eastern Caribbean for homosexual . where having multiple partners is integral to asserting one’s masculine status. have consequences that go far beyond sexual practice: a combination of obligation and taboo imposed by gender codes profoundly configures the quality of young people’s relationships too – often adversely so. The basis for this impact on relationships stems from equating successful masculinity with physical and emotional strength and social dominance. peer group dynamics and sexual accomplishments.masculine (gendered) reputation is tightly linked to adolescent discourses. tenderness and commitment.

(Respondent quoted by Parry 2004: 176) These penalties are aggressively policed and enforced by peer groups to the point that boys who are gentle. Branche. there is the expectation that the boys will take risks while girls are encouraged to be passive… (Bailey. Risk taking is integral to masculine identity in many modern cultures. McGarrity & Stuart 1998: 82) The pressures to restrict one’s emotions and signs of vulnerability and to project strength contribute significantly to valorising male physicality. and often use other forms of aggression to express their feelings. The converse is also true: that a man that backs away from a physical confrontation risks his reputation as a man. Young boys knew that if they performed outside the expected. there are penalties for transgressing: Boys have a real macho image to live up to. (Brown & Chevannes 1998: 30) Furthermore. (Bailey. deep misogynistic and homophobic taboos start to reveal themselves as underpinning gender identity formation.Boys greet each other with clenched fists and backslaps. McGarrity & Stuart 1998: 17) . In the previous quote and in the following. (Bailey. Most boys want to avoid that fate and work hard to conform to the rigorous demands of hard masculinity. The culture demanded physical responses from boys and made toughness the hallmark of the real male. we can see how these taboos can stunt the formation of relationships with girls: The inner-city youngsters felt that love was likely to make a person vulnerable in a relationship. for example men are more likely to use physical means to resolve disputes. If you loved someone and expressed it… it became a weakness which could be exploited. traditional roles they would be ridiculed and labelled ‘sissy’ by boys and girls. thoughtful or who prefer to abstain from sex can end up being severely bullied. The emphasis on physicality also has consequences for relationships. Branche & Henry-Lee 2002: 8) Although these taboos have their origins in misogynistic and homophobic prejudices. Branche. If a boy acts in an effeminate way he will be targeted and teased by the other students. as with all taboos. as evidenced in the following finding: From early. Physicality is particularly important in contemporary life because it is an important way that men can differentiate themselves from the ‘opposite’ sex and is therefore central to modern gender identity formation. In the following example from the work of Bailey and others. their influence underwrites a vast range of what is considered to be acceptable and unacceptable masculinity for all men.

considerate and gentle. (Chevannes 1999: 29) Jamaican research has identified young men are at the centre of a tug-of-war between the peer group and the influence of parents and teachers. (Chevannes 1999: 29) Notice the sexualized gender allusion in the above quote when power is physical and is literally held and the point of a gun. Note also the close linkage between male gender identity. our research shows that perhaps the most influential social group to enforce and police male gender roles is the male peer group. sexuality and power. as Barry Chevannes describes: The so-called inner-city don is a role model not only because of his ability to command and dispense largesse. However. a common word for penis was rifle. This is the dilemma that modern-day Jamaica has found itself in. deep social taboos on tenderness puts pressure on men to embrace hard masculinities and these will supplant other styles of masculinity to become the dominant (hegemonic) standards against which all men are measured. As Parry says: … gender-related responses [in education] have less to do with natural differences than they do with cultural expectations about how Caribbean males and females are supposed to respond. the ultimate man… Among the youth. (Chevannes 1999: 24) Barry Chevannes goes on to say: . …it is often the case that the peer group or the wider community or society exert influences that are not only greater than the influence of parents. Wesley Crichlow noted a similar eroticization of power in Trinidad: For many of us these forms of hyper-masculinity were like walking with a permanent “hard-on” (Crichlow 2004: 200) Policing manhood The question arises as to where these prevalent male gender codes arise from and how they are enforced? There is no doubt that the pressure for boys to embrace hard masculinities is widely present in Caribbean society and is reinforced by schooling and parenting. masculine identity can instead emphasize being responsible. but also because he is a living source of power the power over life and death. As the boy approaches pre-pubescent years… the peer group begins to exercise its magnetic pull. (Parry 2000: 58) In contrast.But it should be noted that the emphasis on physicality and risk taking is a social construct of masculinity and is neither inevitable nor necessary. Providing the culture supports it. but which contradict those nurtured within the family.

often in the context of tension with the outside (adult) world. they are not simply passive victims of the American media. Loyalty to those codes is both policed and enforced: An adolescent boy’s friends exact an affinity and a loyalty as sacred as the bond of kinship as strong as the sentiment of religion. the older members of the group acting as the transmitters of what passes as knowledge. HIV has spread rapidly in tandem with greater economic freedom. meeting the demands of a male identity is a far greater moral imperative than the virtues of honesty and respect for property and even life.The peer group virtually replaces mother and father as the controlling agents or. peer based masculinities frequently entail the valorisation of risk and embrace sexual conquest as definitive of manhood. Clearly the relationship between HIV and poverty is not a simple one. Branche. a countervailing force. McGarrity & Stuart 1998: 82) The obligations on members to conform to peer group standards are potent and the penalties for transgressing the codes of group masculinity can be harsh. They socialise one another. . These cultures are actively created by the groups themselves. the [prevailing] male gender ideology. Boys’ aspirations to achieving masculine identity are encoded into peer group cultures and those aspirations can over-ride many of the expectations of wider society as the following quote graphically describes: For many men. if not entirely a substitute. As we have seen. Moreover. it appears that there is a fine line between a peer group and a gang and in some cases the peer group takes on an organized and dangerous personality where hypermasculinity is refined to its dangerous extreme. (Bailey. The influence of the peer group over a boy’s behaviour ought not to be underestimated. but closer scrutiny reveals that this statement really doesn’t accord neatly with the facts. The codes are passed from older members to younger ones. in the most uncompromising way. In China. (Chevannes 1999: 30) The preceding quote also alerts us to another important issue: peer groups have their own living culture. Around the globe it has been observed that HIV is typically concentrated along trucking routes. relatively rich countries like Trinidad are more severely affected by HIV than are many of the poorer neighbouring islands. around military bases and in the vicinity of logging camps. in the Caribbean. invent new values and meanings. (Chevannes 1999: 11) Men and their economic power It is often said that HIV is related to poverty. (Chevannes 1999: 30) Indeed. India and Eastern Europe. It appeared as if the younger teenaged boys had embraced.

It is in fact us males and our economic power that are centre stage in driving the epidemic. but a richer picture emerges when men are written in to the story too. (Brown & Chevannes 1998: 33) This material emphasis has its impact on sexual risks and on the quality of relationships as Bailey and others have shown: Money was seen as an absolutely vital resource for a male in relationships. Clearly we don’t want to minimize the difficulties caused by poverty for women in particular. with an emphasis on material possessions as defining successful manhood but a lack of education to provide the means to achieve material wealth. Of course. HIV is generally found at higher levels wherever there are clusters of young males with significant disposable income. loyalty and sex. The emphasis on physicality also has implications for boys’ education because academic achievement also appears to have become increasingly taboo for Caribbean boys. A key finding is that homophobia harms all men – not just gay men as is commonly assumed. faithful masculinities) are rendered stigmatised and taboo. caring. (Bailey. as in the case of the mines. while subordinate masculinities (including gentle. But there is reason for optimism. Thus. HIV is actually associated with economic activity. This paper finds that gender roles create a trap that disadvantages both men and women. it emerges from this research that homophobia is very much a gender prejudice more so than a sexual prejudice which it is also often assumed primarily to be. McGarrity & Stuart 1998: 77) Conclusions Gender roles drive HIV. the military bases and the logging camps. dangerous. Instead. Much of his status was given in the equation where money was exchanged for respect. including sexual risks have become resiliently embedded in the social fabric and are therefore highly resistant to change. Moreover. To better prevent HIV and to manage the consequences of the epidemic we have no choice but to engage with these roles at fundamental levels and in a sophisticated manner. Men are caught in a double bind: there are heavy social pressures that obligate men to embrace dominant masculinity (which more often than not extend to hard. risk-taking. Historians have shown that gender roles are in a constant state of flux and . Through the twin mechanisms of obligation and taboo. anti-social hypermasculinities). at least in certain modern social settings. The taboos that are most influential here are homophobia and misogyny and our research has shown that the male peer group is the principal means of policing and enforcing these codes. physical power is pre-eminent above intellectual achievements in what defines a real man. thoughtful.So how do we make sense of these observations? By revisiting the same data with the aid of a gender lens another conclusion starts to emerge: that in the context of poverty. What is particularly interesting when we view the data in this way is that the previously hidden gender dimensions start to emerge. Branche. a wide range of risks. some men are increasingly resorting to crime as a way of enriching themselves: Education as a route to economic and personal achievement is devalued and new role models emerge from the DJ/Dancehall and donman/drug cultures where big money is highly visible.

McGarrity G. Reddock RE (ed) (2004). Mona. Bailey W. Chevannes B (1999). masculinities can and do change and to overcome HIV. Interrogating Caribbean masculinities. Masculinities. Mona. Henry-Lee A (2002). Parry O (2000). . Parry O (2004). Kennedy Foundation. References Bailey W (ed) (1998). Brown J. Family and the quality of gender relations in the Caribbean. Gender and the family in the Caribbean. Therefore. Jamaica: University of the West Indies Press. Mona. Why man stay so – tie the Heifer and loose the bull: an examination of gender socialisation in the Caribbean. Mona. Crichlow WEA (2004). Jamaica: SALISES. Mona. testimony and biomythography: charting a buller man’s Trinidadian past. the task at hand will be to achieve social change that remodels dominant masculinities to move them away from the harder risky versions that have become so valorised in popular culture in the 20th and 21st centuries. Mona. Figueroa M (2004). Jamaica: University of the West Indies Press. Stuart S (1998). Male privileging and male ‘academic underperformance’ in Jamaica. Chevannes B (1998). Interrogating Caribbean masculinities. Jamaica: University of the West Indies Press. In: Reddock RE (ed). Mona. Kingston. Jamaica: Institute of Social and Economic Research. Male underachievement in high school education. In: Reddock RE (ed). Barbados and St Vincent and the Grenadines. Mona: University of the West Indies. contest and conflict in the Caribbean. Mona. Branche C.dominant masculinities have evolved radically over time and across cultures. Jamaica: Institute of Social and Economic Research. Branche C. What we sow and what we reap – problems in the cultivation of male identity in Jamaica. (re)memory. Interrogating Caribbean masculinities. History. Jamaica: Canoe Press. myths and educational underachievement: Jamaica. Gender. Bailey W. Interrogating Caribbean masculinities. In: Reddock RE (ed). Jamaica: University of the West Indies Press. Jamaica: Grace.

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