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Thursday 21 March 2019
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Wanted: A cultural shift to end 'toxic' masculinity

#LetsTalkTT is the initiative of the European Union and the British High Commission to draw attention to the issues of gender-based violence and gender inequality. In this edition, Men Speak, activists are addressing the roles and responsibilities of men to rein in the culture of male on male violence as well as male-female violence in TT. The following is a contribution from Jeremy Steffan Edwards of The Silver Lining Foundation.

Young men are often both the perpetrators and victims, of the estimated 500 murders recorded annually in TT. This burgeoning crime rate and its effects have commandeered the nation’s attention for the past 15 years, yet the bloody headlines are often met with feigned interest to how this impacts on boys.

So, what are we teaching young men that make them engage in violent acts where the result is either loss of life or incarceration? It’s a problem that isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon, unless we create a cultural shift that ends "toxic" masculinity, – that narrow perception of what it means to be a "man" related to exaggerated masculine traits such as violence, emotional unavailability and sexually-aggressive behaviour. It is this concept that pressures young boys to act out as a means of establishing themselves as a “man”.

Failure to adequately address this now will only exacerbate the situation. It is already being witnessed in schools, for example, that 73 per cent of students reported being victims of verbal bullying where the victims’ sexual orientation and gender expression were the two major focuses of the bullies’ attacks, according to a report published by the Silver Lining Foundation addressing bullying and violence within the framework of sexual diversity.

It’s worth noting that the taunts used are the ones we hear every day from the schoolyard to the adult lunchroom – “b....man”, “battyboy”, “he real gay”, with the damnation that men who are perceived to go against societal standards of masculinity are less of a man and warrant physical, verbal, and emotional assault.

Furthermore, the study also identified that 47 males reported having been molested or raped, with 28 of them being unsure what constitutes rape or molestation.

Males were more likely to engage in bullying behaviours than female students, and experienced verbal and physical acts of bullying at slightly higher rates than female students.

What these data reveal is that society is failing boys and men. We have given them near impossible standards to achieve what it means to be a man, so we idolise and idealise males who sometimes exhibit the most destructive stereotypes and ridicule those who don’t.

The result of it is that boys feel the shame and stigma of sexual assault where the majority of them don’t know if they can consider themselves victims. And if they do, they more than likely will not report it out of fear, embarrassment and a lack of resources to assist them. The result also shows boys’ inability to find constructive ways to deal with disputes where they resort to physical and verbal bullying as a means to conflict resolution.

How then, can we expect these boys to function as mature, emotional and social beings when we have robbed them of the right to learn it in the first place?

If we are to really address violence, we need to create language, spaces and resources that remind men that it is empowering to express their feelings and emotions, and that strength and courage are solely defined by their willingness to seek help. Otherwise, if we ignore this approach we might as well be prepared to build more prisons and cemeteries.

Jeremy Steffan Edwards is executive director of The Silver Lining Foundation

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