Professor Patricia Anderson shines a light on Masculinity and Fathering with implications for Reimagining Gender RelationsRead Now
Patricia Anderson Masculinity and Fathering in Jamaica
The University of the West Indies Press, Jamaica, 2021
This is a groundbreaking study of fathering in Jamaica but with importance for understanding the essence of gender relations in the Caribbean. It draws on the classic works and approaches advanced by leading sociologists and anthropologists including Raymond Smith (1956), George Roberts (1957), Edith Clarke (1957), Lloyd Brathwaite (1960), Michael Smith (1962). It also builds on the more recent work of Christine Barrow (1996) among others. Most important is the prominence it gives to pioneering unpublished and unfinished work of Professor Barry Chevannes and a study, Contribution of Caribbean men to the Family (1991) by Janet Brown, two excerpts from which are included in this book. This study carefully documents the range of the literature on the Afro-Caribbean family structure and gender relations in the Caribbean, the historical experiences rooted in slavery and the colonial system. It sets the scene for comprehending some key areas of research including sexuality, family building, outside children, domestic roles, conflict and violence, gender relations, men’s family bonds, their attachment to peer groups and the overall impact of these factors on the essential component of fathering. It highlights how fathering opens the rocky experience of being fathered, not fathered, or not very well fathered. These may joyous or painful.
Focus on Fathering
This book fills a void by drawing attention to patterns of fathering that hitherto have been scanty. It faithfully conveys the social worlds of fathers by illustrations of their unfiltered sentiments and views. In so doing, Professor Anderson produces material that is rich with fathering and parenting Identities. They challenge the anecdotal interpretations of the social worlds of Jamaican fathers. For example, they shatter the overwhelming opinion of male dominance that has often overshadowed the need to explore the factors shaping male behavior. It does this through community surveys and qualitative research that explore issues such as the essence of gender socialization of the average Jamaican father; and the failure to question the validity or cause of male absence from the "domestic sphere”. It seeks answers to questions such as: Can men be good fathers and bad husbands? How do men feel about their children, about women, their partners, their daughters, their own mothers and their fathering activities?
It is intriguing to note the methodology used in this study that relates fathering to gender relations by measuring two sets of values: fathering identity and macho identity. In this respect, the values of fathering depend on (a) whether they themselves were well or poorly fathered; (b) relations with their partners or “baby mothers" and (c) interactions with their children. There are other views that contribute to understanding what men contribute to their communities that make their lives and success as fathers?. These include their views of women, childbearing and gender roles.
The authenticity of this study is bolstered by its choice of locating its survey of men’s attitudes and values in four communities based on a range social class differences, with variations in family structure and implications for gender relations. What is fascinating from my understanding of the results of this survey is that:
The Intrigues of Masculinity
Another intriguing element of this study is its focus on masculinity. The construct here is: what it means to be a man against which to be judged by the community and which pressures men and boys to engage in conduct that reproduces social inequalities? The conclusion is that there is no single ideal but there are some common traits like breadwinner, control of emotions, being respected, avoiding feminism, risk taking, toughness, violence, heterosexuality and heterosexism. Masculinity also displays an expressed aversion to homosexuality and direct relations to homophobia. It is, in addition associated with a range of behaviors from sexual harassment to domestic and sexual violence and non-relational sex (without emotional involvement).
Convergence and Contradictions
What therefore emerges is the reality that Jamaican men cling to two sets of values —Fathering and Masculinity — which are inherently contradictory. In the former, the attributes of 'fathering identity' include involvement in parenting styles among which are challenges of discipline, time and talking together, teaching and nurturing. The macho identity is aligned to liming or drinking spots and the streets represent a sense of being in control, so essential to men. It is a form of social organization that is informal and not kinship based. While masculinity defines gender distinction and power relations between men and women, fathering focuses on the power relations with the husband-father role. But it is important to note that these distinctions tend to break down as more women enter the workforce and fathers take more responsibilities in the socialization of their children.
Professor Patricia Anderson must be congratulated for this outstanding work. It is essential reading especially as we contemplate further challenges to family life and gender relations in the persistent COVID-19 era and beyond. We are grateful for the wisdom portrayed in this book. It tells us that the main dimensions which fathers identified as being central to their role are responsibility, economic maintenance, love and emotional support, nurturing and setting an example. It identifies the consistency with which Jamaican fathers representing a range of social classes articulated their understanding of fatherhood. It establishes clearly that these values represent a common cultural core. What in addition this study brings to the fore is the impact of harsh economic conditions in unmistakable limiting the ability of Jamaican men to translate their fathering commitment into active and continuing involvement. This socioeconomic indicator is perhaps an important pivot in the reimagining of gender studies in the Caribbean which is the subject for a follow up discussion. Professor Anderson’s summary carried on the cover of the book provides the most sanguine conclusion:
“Across the social class Jamaican men share a common cultural conception of what is required to be a good father. However they are also tied to definitions of hegemonic masculinity which emphasize male dominance and virility so that domestic conflict maybe inevitable and men’s aspirations to be good fathers may become imperiled. Given these countervailing values there is a struggle to find a reasonable fit. The study concludes that it is possible for Jamaican men to be good fathers but bad husbands”
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.