Misogynist violence

Violence against women by men in our society continues unabated: molestations, beatings, rapes, maimings and murders of women of all ages, social strata, and races are now practically daily staples of our media. That the same pattern exists in other societies does not in any way make the phenomenon any less reprehensible but, as a matter of fact, suggests that its causes may lie deep in the male psyche itself.
The commendable efforts by our authorities to deal with the problem of male-against-female violence – either in domestic settings or in more anonymous random and brutal encounters – unfortunately, confront the consequences and not the deeper causes of the acts. The result is bound to be frustrating for the powers that be while deepening the cynicism of women that anything can be done to resolve the situation. There are, of course, several theories as to why men on the whole are more violent than women and these are all essentially variants of the “nature and nurture” arguments.
Since it does not appear likely that genetic reengineering of the male human is on the near horizon, we will have to revisit the “nurture” arguments – how the male psyche is formed and why it is so violence-prone and misogynic. In other words, we will have to re-examine and hopefully, come up with initiatives to alter our conceptions of what “manhood” ought to be.
Going back to the hoary theories about the early specialisation of the stronger male in the violent art of hunting other animals for food, we continue to inculcate in men the belief that they need to be tough, to prove their physical strength and never show emotions. This is the “macho man” ideal. In our own Caribbean setting, this ideal was exacerbated in the brutal world of slavery and bonded labour.
In the post-emancipation milieu, the best that we accomplished in modifying this image was to define “manhood” as a description of a man who was capable, managed his household, and had a strong sense of respect and respectability. Men were expected to be the providers and protectors and who were self-sufficient. This orientation was most inculcated in the middle classes, but of recent, the scions of these classes have made a U-turn and rejoined the underclass outlook that ‘manhood’ means someone who is tough; a player; competitive, acting as a protector and a virile male.
Men learn to deny their emotions and focus all their needs regarding physical affection and nurturing into the sex act. It is not surprising that, in the words of one researcher, they become “both emotionally incompetent and emotionally constipated”. “Manhood”, however, is still associated with power which, because of our oppressive past, is seen as capacity to dominate, to control; capacity to act in “masterful” ways – especially with women. The bequeathed image of “woman”, unfortunately, was that of a concubine, dedicated to serving the whims of the “master” – especially bearing and rearing his children.
Any variance by the woman from her perceived role in this scheme of things historically brought down the “rod of correction” by the man. Very sadly, most women also inculcated this perspective and accepted their abuse as proper – some even saw it as an expression of “love”! In Miguel Street, Naipaul recounted the story of the woman who oiled the cricket bat from which she received her weekly Saturday beating.
As a society influenced by the patriarchal structure, we still unrealistically hang on to the traditional definition of what it means to be a man irrespective of the high unemployment rate and weakened traditional values, compounded by the increase in the number of women who are educated. Men turn to violence against women as their sense of “manhood” is threatened by changes in the status quo – and the latter process is occurring at an ever-increasing pace.
In addition to redefining what “manhood” means in our society, especially as it relates to women, we will, however, have to devise positive ways for men to maintain their masculinity and to sustain their self-esteem.