Being a male feminist in this disastrously patriarchal society we live in can sometimes feel like navigating a minefield. When I first wrote Manhood a year ago, I wrote it with not much knowledge of how to write extended prose (so you will have to excuse the pedantic writing and sorry that you have to navigate tedious Jamaican creole). I wrote it because I was emotionally stirred by the happenings in my country. I wrote it because there was not much else I could do at the time in a country where being a man and a feminist isn’t legitimised in any quarter of social life.
I hope that after reading you can see my attempt to make understandable the complexity of issues having to do with gender relations and the greater issue of normalised rape that we face in Jamaica.
WARNING: This post focuses on the important topic of sexual violence and may contain content that is upsetting to some. Please make your own decision about whether or not to keep reading.
All I’ve ever wanted in life is to grow up to be a real man, or at least die trying. But the universe had this way of punishing me all through my childhood. Better at book work than football; politer than strong; more useful in the kitchen than in the workshop; and sometimes I even cry.
“Men don’t cry,” he believes. Not even six (6) year olds on their first day of school. The pungent overbearing mist of machismo threatening to soak up all your sun and watch while your individuality withers away. There is no resisting, you must conform. Else, as the unwritten rule would have it, your father, brother, uncle, or any male of your acquaintance for that matter, must ensure you do. There isn’t much time; it must be done quickly to save the young man in training from irreversible damage. You can hear the time ticking away; tick-tock-tick-tock-tick.
The first time I heard the ticking was that first day of primary school. That day I grappled with the evil of fear; another emotion that threatens the successful transition of a boy into manhood. The days leading up to it weren’t bad. In fact, they were great. New clothes, new experiences, everything was going to be great! “You turn big man now, gone a school,” they said. The praises were the best part. Then the stomach butterflies came bursting from their cocoons, leaving me a crying mess. What if no one likes me? I just want to get everything right the first time. Is that too much to ask? I’m willing to try very hard. What if people laugh? These are all very serious things to think about. Do people not know this?
“Shut up, you’re going to school!” says my mother. She doesn’t understand much of anything, especially children. Exactly why most of her conversations with me include “Shut up!” Ironically, he does the shutting up. He never says a word unless of course it has something to do with him or, god forbid, his pride.
I remember holding on to my mother’s leg like it was the only way to stay afloat. That was until she’d had enough, pried me off her leg and sailed out the door like a speedboat, leaving me to drown. But not before mouthing the words, “Wait until I tell your father.” My heart fell, she won again, I was subdued.
Picture me, standing in a puddle of tears and a sea of unfamiliar faces, just staring at me while I scream, “I want to go home, please take me home”. Surrounded by unfriendly concrete-coloured walls with no personality and no comfort.
The rest of that day is mostly like looking through a smudged mirror. Maybe we introduced ourselves, maybe we ate snacks maybe we napped, maybe we learned ABC’s, but what happened later is as sharp in my memory as the wire he beat me with. Then he told me why I deserved it. I deserved it not because I refused to go to school, I deserved it not because I didn’t behave myself, I deserved it because I cried. It was simple, men don’t cry. That’s when I heard it for the first time; tick-tock-tick-tock-tick.
Ten years later, I’m 16 and things have changed. The ticking has become faint and distant; I can almost ignore it now. Boyhood days are gone. I’m the most confident benchwarmer on the football team, king jester in all my classes, been in enough fights to have a reputation and the, best part, I have a girl – Dana. Cute with a nice body, big breasts and long legs, she is the full package. She’s in love with me, she talks about me all the time, and everyone tells me that. The only thing left was for me to seal the deal and I made sure take care of that last week.
The problem now is since last week she’s become distant. Together for a whole year and now she hardly wants to talk. Something must be wrong. I text her.
Patrick [11:06 p.m.]: Wah a gwaan?
Dana [11:11 p.m.]: Hi.
Patrick [11:11 p.m.]: WYD?
Dana [11:13 p.m.]: NTN.
Patrick [11:13 p.m.]: Wah dat mean?
Patrick [11:16 p.m.]: Weh u gone?
Dana [11:16 p.m.]: Yes. Still here.
Patrick [11:16 p.m.]: But u naw ansa me
Dana [11:17 p.m.]: I’m not doing anything. Just sleepy and in bed.
Patrick [11:17 p.m.]: Alrite, kool.
Patrick [11:18 p.m.]: Yuh know last week did bad, we need fi repeat dat soon.
Dana [11:18 p.m.]: *sigh*
Patrick [11:19 p.m.]: Wuz dat 4? U neva like it?
Dana [11:21 p.m.]: No.
Patrick [11:21 p.m.]: Huh?
Dana [11:22 p.m.]: NTN. Forget it.
Patrick [11:23 p.m.]: From odda day yuh a move a way, a wah’pen?
Dana [11:25 p.m.]: Just drop it nuh.
Patrick [11:26 p.m.]: When we done mi ask you if yuh alright and you said yes. So what now? Your parents find out or something?
Dana [11:30 p.m.]: I feel like you forced me into it.
What? Forced? What she mean by forced? As in rape?!. How do you force your girlfriend?!
Patrick [11:33 p.m.]: What?
Dana [11:34 p.m.]: Finish with the argument.
Patrick [11:35 p.m.]: If you never waan do it we coulda just split.
Almost one whole year worth of relationship and this is how she wants to treat me? I should drop her like a bad habit. Father always say ‘woman equal trouble’, especially with these new “empowered” women who just go ‘round hating every man them see. Try give a girl a compliment and see if she don’t get upset and try tell you off. But still, what could she mean by forced? After real man don’t rape. I bring her out all the time, buy her things and treat her good. How many guys she knows still do that kinda thing nowadays? I deserved to have sex with her at least one time. How could I rape her?
Dana [11:37 p.m.]: I didn’t wanna break up. I loved you.
Patrick [11:38 p.m.]: What, so now you don’t love me anymore because we had sex.
Patrick [11:39 p.m.]: Now you accusing me of rape. Who’s going to believe that? Look how me treat you good. You really stupid you know that?!
Dana [11:40 p.m.]: I didn’t say rape, I said I feel as if you forced me.
Patrick [11:41 p.m.]: It sound like you saying rape.
Dana [11:41 p.m.]: My head is hurting me. Let’s just finish with the argument.
Patrick [11:42 p.m.]: You head nuh must hurt yuh if you have to think so hard fi come up wid lies.
Dana [11:44 p.m.]: I’m sorry.
Girls like this make men harbor evil things in their hearts. She wouldn’t even understand what I go through because of her. The amount of jeering I have to withstand for her. One whole year and still couldn’t seal it with my girlfriend. People must start think is some cover story dealings that. Every time they make a joke or a snide remark I can hear the faint ticking; tick-tock-tick-tock-tick.
“Yute yaw board man. Look how long you and the girl a talk,” strikes one.
“Mi just a give her time. She nuh ready yet,” I defend weakly.
“The girl tek yuh fi clown yute,” strikes another.
“Mi a tell you mi can get that anytime,” I strike back.
“You nuh seh har mada nuh deh home tonight,” says a third with a lethal jab and a face that says I dare you.
“No dawg,” I passively retort. The ticking starts in the distance.
“See, yuh a p****,” he says and I’m cornered. “Man dem soon start call yuh fishini,” he completes with a finishing attack.
“Yow nuh run dem joke deh wid me. Who can call man fish?” I say with a voice laced with more anger than I intended.
“Prove it nuh!” I’m dared.
I text her.
Patrick [4:21 p.m.]: Babes, mi can keep your company tonight.
Dana [4:22 p.m.]: Could use the company for true but mi already reach home.
Patrick [4:22 p.m.]: No worry. I’ll find my way up there.
Dana [4:22 p.m.]: I smell trouble. Why are you so eager? No bother come harass me with your rough ramping self innuh.
Patrick [4:23 p.m.]: We can cuddle likkle.
Dana [4:23 p.m.]: Yes, cuz mi stupid like that. What happens at the end of a cuddle? Think me nuh know what’s on your mind.
Patrick [4:24 p.m.]: What, you nuh want me come? Somebody up there with you already?
Dana [4:24 p.m.]: Stop that.
Patrick [4:24 p.m.]: Why mi caan come then?
Dana [2:25 p.m.]: You, sir, are a troublemaker.
Patrick [2:25 p.m.]: Nuh dat why me waan come trouble you. But you still not answering my question. Who up there with you?
Dana [4:26 p.m.]: Nobody.
Patrick [4:26 p.m.]: So…?
Dana [4:26 p.m.]: Alright, come. But you better behave yourself innuh.
Patrick [4:27 p.m.]: Soon reach.