N Touch
Friday 21 September 2018
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Give a boy a doll

A poster reads Give a boy a doll--in an anti-domestic violence message.

Colin Robinson


It was the Chief Justice’s day – the Attorney General rubbed it in – smiling through the scandals, behind him a large quote from Frederick Douglass emblazoned on the wall of the Children & Family Court he’d just ceremonially opened:

“It is better to raise strong children than to repair broken men.”

Chief Justice Gobin might not have chosen that one.

Sipping tea with one of a significant complement of social-service workers hired for the new court, we were chatting about men. I recalled the stand-up comedy routine about sooting women that closed Jerry Seinfeld’s first television episode: “We have no idea. This is why you see men honking car horns, yelling from construction sites. These are the best ideas we’ve had so far.”

Lots of us in TT are searching for new ideas, due to the uselessness or failure of so many old ones. I just joined an advisory board for the Interamerican Development Bank where, wrapped around its building, across from Keith Rowley’s office, is a banner for its UnFollow campaign: Same never made a difference.

We’ve just closed over a week of commemorations of International Women’s Day (IWD) – overloaded with blue-ribbon panels and worship services, hashtags and launches, and multiple mass gatherings – promoting, in both traditional and newfangled ways, the old idea that women’s worth is equal to men’s, and gender justice is everyone’s business and to everyone’s benefit. Especially joyous for me, were the week’s opportunities to celebrate girlhood; to commit to creating a society in which the bold and vulnerable young women participating in and leading it would thrive.

That this is unfinished work manifests most painfully when men share their stories about why they’ve killed women. They are stories usually dismissed as intolerable. But they are very real. I hear my own stories in them.

I boldly trumpeted last week about my conversion to the uselessness of regret; but it was a lyrical cheat. I no longer regret things I cannot change. Bereaving things I held dear or hoped for is another matter. Like men who kill women, I am hopeless at coping with loss.

Men are drawn into IWD with a call to display allyship, through campaigns promoting how #CaribbeanMenCan ensure gender equity. Men’s movement groups like CariMAN receive funding from entities like UN Women.

But my solidarity and fatherly instincts aren’t enough; and I want, as a man, to have investments in gender justice that are not scripted for me. Men must have a vision of gender justice rooted in our own futures.

Every time a woman is brutally murdered by a tabanca-toting man now, Rhondall Feeles calls attention to the needs of broken men and for the state to repair them. There’s significant agreement that we men are emotional incompetents. Some of our best ideas are to say, “I’m sorry,” to those we’ve hurt – sometimes brutally – without a clue that it is not even nearly enough to atone, and begging pardon is not accountability.

I hope I hold authority, as an intimate partner of men, about some things. But when a man was breathtakingly cruel to me, I turned in pain to a married friend who had successfully raised two teenagers – a boy and a girl – and asked: How do we raise men to be more loving? Her answer was immediate: Give them dolls.

Frederick Douglass was right. And I want to raise stronger children. Like the young gays and lesbians in the Silver Lining Foundation who did the crappy work of collecting sentinel data about school bullying which they launched in a report last week. Young people for whom I want to create a world that doesn’t keep repeating that their homeland is a hopelessly homophobic place of buggery laws and death threats and victimhood—the strategy my generation learned to tackle LGBTQI inequality — but a world that allows them to imagine the future they will realise. Young people who’ve developed counselling interventions to repair their families’ homophobia.

So yesterday at the IWD walk around the Savannah, I carried a doll. Can we start a national campaign to give a boy a doll? It’s cheap, it’s prevention, and partnering with the Emancipation Support Committee it could be cultural for so.

No, they won’t. All turn gay, I mean: I know where your minds went.

Masculinity, by virtually everyone’s admission, is pretty useless at protecting boys from violence. Further, can you think of a simpler idea for socialising boys from infancy to be nurturers and to welcome and manage loving feelings?

#CaribbeanMenCan play with dolls.

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