By Dr Ian Bethell-Bennett
We have had a spate of violent acts. We have also had a spate of acts of public bad behaviour.
At the same time, professional sports have been coming under fire for the bad behaviour of their managers as well as its players. In the world of sport, nothing is more blatant than the scandal around FIFA and its management. These men, who are seen as upstanding pillars of their communities, are charged with stealing money from the public through various schemes to enrich themselves using their positions with FIFA. The scandal is not shocking, sadly. In fact, many people are understanding of these men’s illegal activity. At least, this is how media displays it. This is the price of having men in positions of absolute power where there are no mechanisms to stop or control them. They can do as they wish and the world seems to bow down to them. They feel themselves to be untouchable, almost omnipotent, such is the power of male privilege and patriarchal rule!
Interestingly, the same kind of behaviour has been played out on the local stage. Members of Parliament have been speaking their minds no matter the impact of their words. They publicly chastise people who are invited to the country to invest their money. They scathingly and crassly undermine the national wellbeing because of their presumed power and their ability to dominate because they see themselves as the rulers in a small place. Worse, no one tells them that they cannot say these things. They are allowed to get away with publicly embarrassing an entire country without any consequence. Then they claim that the government, of which they are a part, is not doing its job to combat crime and violence.
Why would anyone behave any differently when they set the tone? These two groups of patriarchal leaders, be they men or women, who rely on their position of relative power to exploit the public, do damage and wreak havoc, are in no small measure complicit in creating the criminals they talk so derisively about.
Male privilege assumes that all men can behave without consideration for their actions. They can cuss, swear, slap and belittle people and fear no consequence. They can undermine the democratic running, as oligarchic as it may be, of a small country and think that they are entitled to their behaviour and that they are in no way responsible for the violence and anger on the streets. Much like politicians, we all know that athletes are huge public role models, so too are their managers and those who run sport. The public behaviour of these men transcends all national boundaries and borders to become a transnational affair. The FIFA scandal is an example of that. The behaviour of FIFA leaders is now global; it goes beyond small Caribbean countries into large governments and other governing bodies and shows how corrupt and rotten so many layers of international leadership are. However, even more than that, it reaches every home that has television or radio. Their behaviour and their arrogance have become a global public discussion. They show that anyone can do anything and get away with it, so why should young men and women think any differently? What do they have to fear? They can live of the spoils at least for a good few years.
While many may offer that these men in high positions demonstrating the power of their place, their class and their gender, are less condemnable than the murderers and rapists on the street, they are in fact worse. These are the people who encourage youngsters to see that they can get away with murder. The lesson is such: You can commit murder, but once you have a good lawyer you can get away with it. You can gang a young man on campus because he was ‘bad’ and it can be called retaliation and you can be sent to a school because you are underage, but at the same time you are well aware of the consequences of your actions. You know that if you kill someone you are committing a crime punishable by life imprisonment or, according to the statute books, hanging, but you also know that you may spend a day or so in lock up and somehow you will be set ‘free’ on bail. In the meantime, you can carry on as normal, and no one will stop you. The system has created this callous attitude. The system is broken and there is no will to fix it.
At the same time, we continue to debate back and forth about getting tough on crime, but everyone knows that this is all pie-in-the-sky talk that will never touch down because government is too broke, too broken and too corrupt, not to mention empty of any real humanity or ethics to make this a reality. Beyond that, the problem is not about punishment, which can only come after the crime, the problem begins in a society that has become dehumanised, desensitised and absolutely void of empathy or scruples. The problem is worsened by men and women who behave like tyrants and lawless criminals but claim to work in the best interest of the people. They have taught the youth how to be what they are and we are now enjoying our desserts.
As athletes and politicians demonstrate their prowess on television and in other public fora, they must become more aware of the impact of their actions and their words. Their bullying words and actions speak far louder than their kind pretences. These officials can and do undo any charitable act through one ‘unconsidered tongue lashing’. They can destroy years of nation building with one nasty comment. However, they is man and man can do these things, according to them.
Politicians, athletes and managers, when next you open your mouth, when next you steal a million dollars from the bank when you take a loan that you know you cannot or will not pay back, when next you embezzle money from the government of any country with which you are working, or any company that wishes to sell you out-dated, harmful, environmentally destructive equipment, when next you accept a small sum of money to win a case of a known-ten-count murder and you are a leader of government be cognizant of what you are doing and what you are saying to the world.
Your actions are speaking far louder than your ‘speechifying’ words. You can decry the crimes of irresponsible young men who are destroying the social fabric of the country, but your little details are actually setting the entire game in motion. Your hypermasculine, patriarchal role model and big man prowess undermines an entire society; the ripples reach far and wide.