By DR IAN BETHELL-BENNETT
Why is it that so many people celebrate violence against women? Why do we define masculinity as a man’s ability to sire children and abuse women? Why do we see it as imperative that men perform violence to control their women?
I was driving along an Over-the-Hill road recently and came upon a scene from a movie. Traffic was blocked up and people were standing around in the middle of the street and on the sides. A man was beating a woman who was returning the favour in the middle of a yard, people egging them on and commentating, jesting and joking as if this were a national pastime. At the same time, a man stopped his car and got out to watch. Also, a man clad in jeans with a diaper over them was pulling a rope attached to a shopping trolly loaded with paraphernalia. He was weaving his way down the middle of the road, avoiding traffic as he went, obviously quite entertained by something unseen by everyone else.
The violence continued as the man and woman fought. No one intervened. No one said anything to help. People just laughed and and shouted, “Hit him back!” Ankle-biters in underpants and some in T-shirts were unsure of exactly what was being “played” nearby. The scene was a complete work of fiction, only it was not fiction. The violence was a dose of daily life. It illustrates what many children grow up with in their homes and schools in the capital. Just one minute down the road is the University of the Bahamas, the national promise for young men and women wanting to succeed.
This glimpse of “paradise” was unscripted and raw, yet it clearly showed the violence that continues onto the university campus as police draw guns on young male students who have parked their cars in the wrong places. Security has called the national police for an infraction that somehow warrants extreme violence as a response. Pulling long guns on anyone, including young men studying at the University of the Bahamas, is extreme violence. The violence of the everyday surrounds us. Shots are fired in the same neighbourhood, police cars swarm in and stop a few “rough looking” young, dark-skinned men, hair in locks, pants falling down; obviously these are “bad hombres”. Most students carry on as if this kind of life is normal. Violence has become normalised.
These “criminal” young men are probably products of this same yard scene where the man was yucking at the woman’s weave and she was biting his shoulder. The vicious attack debases humanity. Yet we observe. The outsider cannot stop the violence because the crowd will protest and the violence will grow. This is the kind of violence that cannot be policed. Policing does nothing for this but delay what will come again. Re-education, real interventions are needed to change cultural attitudes.
We are numbed by the repeated and continual use of violence to calm us down, to control us, be it through overzealous use of the law or extrajudicial killings spilling out of gang and regional disputes based on poverty, power and mannishness. This is how the nation defines masculinity. It has determined that men are rough, tough, violent, or they are not real men. Men are taught constantly to reproduce violence because it is what they see; it is what they experience in their intimate lives. Even when there may be sexual interest, it is usually accompanied by a slap. When love is demonstrated it usually follows blows and is in turn followed by violence. Domestic violence and intimate partner violence pave the way to greater violence.
We are experiencing that greater violence. Little care is taken of the men who are taken into police custody and beaten to get them to say that their mothers are not their mothers. No care is given to using violence within the system; it is justified because “these boys too bad”. No response is given when police are challenged for their abuse of a man coming in to report his son’s abduction, apparently not demonstrating sufficient worry. Yet they know that man don’t show no emotion.
As I walk into class, after the event, and explain what I have just witnessed, students seem unconcerned. They are used to these kinds of violent eruptions. Men must control their women! They are, though, concerned by police being called on their classmates and using their guns to calm the situation. Yet many students are unwilling to speak out because they fear reprisal. Silence breeds deeper violence. All the while, others argue that security calls the wrecker and police to gain economic benefit. Yet no one knows anything about anything. This demonstrates a level of corruption and complacency as well as cynical detachment. Violence has been beaten into or fed to our young people. When one goes to bed and wakes up with violence against women every night and day, it becomes a normalised thing to do. Das what a man does!
Casting males as violent, debased and uncivilised means that women should be the subjects of violence. A study conducted by The Crisis Centre and COB reveals that violence is learned and attitudes to it are also learned. Yet we do nothing to unlearn our children of these ideas.
The performance of violence against women in the streets and structural violence against men through armed police has worsened. In the years of teaching at the college, the violence in the area has worsened. Cross-referencing work I have done with work others have done shows how much we have willingly embraced the use of violence to control violence.
We argue that the drive-by shootings and the murders are the result of normal gang violence. People will talk, but they sure ain’t going to talk to the police or the men in charge. Meanwhile, the men leading are blissfully unconcerned by the descent into deep trauma and violence worsened by many young people feeling they have few if any options and the very options open to them only reinforcing the class and spatial differences they live with.
Violence is creating a class of people who have no empathy and are afraid to speak out for fear they will lose what little they have. Their fear is reinforced by a threat of systemic violence through legal channels when the same violence is put in the hands of thugs who carry legal guns yet disregard the law because these people “too criminal and need to be taught a lesson”. Violence at all levels has become pervasive and leads to deepening trauma. An MP can lash out violently against his colleague, yet not suffer any remorse or disciplinary action, but let a woman stand up for herself or a young working-class male try to better himself, and the weight of the structure falls heavily on them.
Violence against women and the legalised violence against young men is as damning as the systemic racialised violence used to criminalise blacks in the United States. Whatever we condone and transfer from generation to generation only grows. We must rethink how we approach violence against women and how we violently criminalise young working-class men. We are going to end up with far more males pulling trolleys around the roads clad in diapers or responding violently to women and other men. The power of violence is frightening and it unequally performs itself over those more vulnerable in the community.