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An answer for Fitzyto

Published: 
Monday, January 8, 2018

I’d met the member just once, at a church panel that had made news, where he’d disagreed with the hosting pastor, insisting he would shame and coerce his child away from homosexuality. As our shaking hands touched, I instantly understood.

Already tapped to contest a safe seat, it was a matter of months, I knew, before he was a Cabinet minister, when he strode into the St Vincent Street copyshop where I was scrambling to salvage reproduction of my mother’s memorial service programme.

He placed his order, and addressed me by name. That was my name, my surprised pause prompted him to ask.

What did I think were the core issues facing the nation?

(Was he just asking everyone he could? Or was he singling me out?) I stumbled to give the right answer. And nothing useful came out.

It’s a new year, the third since, and as many Cabinet portfolios for him. But, after a few moments of dangerous driving, writing down my urgent rush of inspiration (the old-fashioned way), I finally have an answer for Fitzy.

Parenting boys—It’s hard to think how we could be doing a worse job. At anything. Caribbean men are miserable in masculinity’s straitjacket. Masculinity offers so much privilege, yet it is leaving poor men behind, with only the power of their fists and guns.

The Prime Minister understands something, every time he blames parenting following a particularly gruesome crime.

He misses one thing, though: all but a handful in the surge of violent crimes that have transformed the nation’s mental health and political stakes have one thing in common: they’re committed by boys we’ve raised; not girls.

Not just the subset police categorise as domestic. As for those, just as we say that it’s men who are responsible for preventing sexual assault, and not women who ought to be more modest; it isn’t women and their choice in men that prevent gender-based killings. Women who leave relationships are precisely the ones men kill.

Perhaps we need to move men and boys more to the centre of our policy solutions to domestic violence.

It’s hard to listen to the leader of the noisiest men’s rights organisation, when woman get killed and he talks about men’s needs. But if he’s screaming that men need help, perhaps we ought to.

Plus boys miss all the good stuff: learning self-care and independent living skills; to practise mindfulness and nurturance towards others; to influence and ask for help; clues what to do with deep feelings, with intimacy, with vulnerability, with pain; to enjoy life without winning. The road to gender justice is a journey to raise different kinds of men.

Girls need better parenting, too, part of a national transformation to 21st-century parenting, and away from the plantation authority and whipping that we were bequeathed by the people who raised us with the tools they had, tools as rusty and ill-suited now as a typewriter or mimeograph.

Tools of violence and abuse Fitzy’s colleagues Jenny and Nicole have wrapped in such nostalgia on the chamber’s floor.

Modern parenting—especially with the family forms we have in the Caribbean, which less and less include capable adults outside the wage economy; and our service economy where mothers work low-wage night shifts—also demands having safe, quality childcare that is affordable and round-the-clock, an area where state and corporate leadership are desperately needed.

In columns over the coming months, I’ll return to and think through my dangerous-driving list.

Next on it is What Schools Do. How we build human rights into the fibre of the nation. Environmental sustainability. Police investigative capacity.

Representative government and political financing. Social insurance. Policy think-tanks and capacitating leaders.

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