By DR IAN BETHELL-BENNETT
Is there a difference between violence and good love? The Bahamas remains trapped in the social construct of outdated stereotypes of masculinity and femininity that inflict violence on both men and women. Sadly, we like these stereotypes because they seem to empower people. The state also plays a large role in establishing normal and acceptable behaviour and, as its actions and policies displace working-class and some middle-class people further into poverty through denying social and spatial justice, the problem worsens. In reality these stereotypes are destructive, damaging and violent.
An irony of postcolonialism is that black nationalist masculinity needed to demonstrate that it was now capable of ruling, which is to say, it needed to demonstrate moral rectitude, particularly on questions of paternity. This required distancing itself from irresponsible black working-class masculinity that spawned the ‘bastard’, the ‘illegitimate’, and that thus had to be criminalised for irresponsible fatherhood by the British.
Yet the stereotypes hark back to that behaviour. We hardly if ever look at the social patterns that emerge from them. This piece draws on research conducted on gender as well as on the prisoners in the prisons here. It is rare that the researchers locally ever link teenage and multi-baby father households with the incidence of rape and HIV or other sexually transmitted infections.
When we encourage people to be promiscuous through stereotypical behaviour and socially empowered norms that promote masculine exploitation of women, we are creating these same social problems we so often condemn. The structure continues to do violence to black men, and that means that black women are equally negatively impacted by state-sanctioned violence and damaged, or negative stereotyping. Simultaneously, we talk about empowering Bahamians, yet as M Jacqui Alexander, one of the leading theorists of transnational feminism, states:
“But a rescued masculinity is simultaneously an injured masculinity; a masculinity that does not emerge from the inherited conditions of class and race privilege. And it is injured in a space most vulnerable to colonial constructions of incivility. At one time subordinated, that masculinity now has to be earned, and then appropriately conferred. Acting through this psychic residue, Black masculinity continues the policing of sexualised bodies, drawing out the colonial fiction of locating subjectivity in the body (as a way of denying it), as if the colonial masters were still looking on, as if to convey legitimate claims to being civilised. Not having dismantled the underlying presuppositions of British law, Black nationalist men, now with some modicum of control over the state apparatus, continue to preside over and administer the same fiction.”
The country has focused on the bad things certain men do, they shoot, kill and rob, but it hasn’t paid attention to why these things happen. (However, white-collar crimes are ignored or celebrated, ironically, we also celebrate hypermasculinity that encourages violence). It has focused on policing and making sure that ‘bad men’ are imprisoned. It also boasts that if we use corporal punishment, they won’t commit violent crimes anymore. Research has proven that most of these scenarios are wrong.
Criminals will not be deterred by corporal punishment; they will not be changed by policing. Crime results because of socio-cultural, normative behaviour that posits men as aggressive and badly behaved, but who give good loving – as thugs. Bad behaviour is encouraged for men, while women are usually left violated. These attitudes continue to promote normalised and stereotyped gang violence. It is consistent with bad behaviour that we encourage irresponsible paternity or indiscriminate ‘baby faddering’ as a marker of manliness. This is known as irresponsible masculinity. However, we celebrate it. We do not see this as violence, though it is. It is significant that data gathered from the prison reveal a serious problem.
The information below is gathered from tables prepared by William Fielding with data gathered by “IDB/University of the Bahamas project at the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services facility, Fox Hill in 2016 reported by W Fielding and E’Thregra Symonette in the “Our Prisoners: A Symposium”, on October 4.
According to stereotypes, then, being a ‘baby fadder’ to multiple women is empowering. And we wonder why it is that the damaging stereotypes and the ‘bad’ behaviour that is so empowering and empowered are persistent.
Overall the mean number of children per male prisoner in his lifetime to date was 1.67.
Of the 314 male inmates, 36 per cent had no children. The remaining 201 males had 524 children between them, or 2.6 children each. Around 14 per cent of fathers were responsible for around 49 per cent of the children. This shows that relatively few fathers are responsible for most of the children. Possible reasons for this could include the attitudes of masculinity held by some men.
One must note, as pointed out in the US, and in some cases with focus groups locally, whenever a ‘baby fadder’ goes to jail, the chances are his children, especially his sons, will also be incarcerated because of the power of role models and the repetition of family dynamics. Fielding summarises thus:
“While these paternity figures only refer to the prison population, they demonstrate the increased number of children arising from men having multiple partners. This also suggest that these men are engaging in unprotected sex with various partners, and so highlights a behaviour which is a risk factor in the transmission of sexual diseases. With 51 per cent of 206 fathers having multiple partners, this starts to highlight the extent of the risk.”
The fault for criminality and compulsory promiscuity and rampant STI transmission is usually, if not always, placed on irresponsible/criminal young men. Meanwhile, society cries out for corporal punishment. It is significant again that economics and social justice and spatial justice run in tandem with the effectiveness of state ‘othering’ of working-class black men. Ms Alexander states:
“Although the Bahamas has not formalised ‘structural adjustment’ programmes (SAP), the continued subordination of its economy to the political and economic imperatives of the United States of North America has resulted in an economic infrastructure that bears all the marks of a country that has actually adopted structural adjustment. The most dramatic shift is evident in the displacement of capital and labour forces from agrarian production to service which now employs more than 50 per cent of the workforce, massive increases in the size of the food import bill (people are no longer able to feed themselves), the consolidation of foreign transnational capital in the tourist industry (hotels, airlines, services and tour operators, international finance capital, real estate), and the expansion of off-shore companies.
“Ultimately, as society works to inculcate in males (and females) the need to seed the world (the need to be seeded) and the state inflicts structural violence on society, damaged stereotypes and violent behaviour continue to resonate with increasing numbers of males as well as females. We teach them that this is how a particular social group should behave. Simultaneously, state officials’ ‘justified’ bad behaviour encourages the irresponsible masculinity leaders arguably distance themselves from. But is this violence or simply good love? Good loving that encourages structural violence, gender-based violence and a dysfunctional social situation is violence, not love.”