Masculinity and Fathering in Jamaica
- Published: March 2021
Why do many Jamaican men acknowledge the importance of love, but also believe that men have the right to physically discipline their partners? How far does fathering become a journey of personal self-development? What happens to “outside children” when the father also has children at home? Why do fathers believe that they must toughen their sons? These are some of the questions which are carefully explored in this groundbreaking study of Jamaican fathers. The study departs from the tradition of Caribbean family research in which the focus has usually been placed on women and on households and instead gives men the opportunity to speak for themselves. Unlike the familiar emphasis on low-income households, this new study interviewed men across a range of social classes and within different community contexts. As a result, the impact of harsh economic conditions is unmistakable in limiting the ability of Jamaican men to translate their fathering commitment into active and continuing involvement.
Across social classes and communities, Jamaican men share a common cultural conception of what is required to be a good father. However, they are also tied to definitions of hegemonic masculinity which emphasize male dominance and virility, so that domestic conflict may be inevitable, and men’s aspirations to be good fathers may become imperilled. Given the existence of these countervailing values, there is a struggle to find a reasonable fit. The study concludes that it is possible for Jamaican men to be good fathers but bad husbands.
List of Tables / x
Acknowledgements / xv
Introduction / xvii
1. Afro-Caribbean Family Structure and Gender Relations / 1
2. Masculinity: Concepts, Frameworks and Measurement / 34
3. Fathering: Concepts, Frameworks and Measurement / 69
4. Masculinity and Fathering in the Caribbean / 91
5. Methodology / 118
6. Community Profiles / 133
Excerpt: The Voices of Jamaican Men and Women in the 1990s: Procreation and Fathering / 160
Contributed by Janet Brown
7. Social Structure, Masculinity and Fathering / 171
8. Fatherhood and Child-Rearing / 199
9. Outside Children, Stepchildren and Social Fathering / 232
10. Fatherhood as Role Change / 250
Excerpt: The Voices of Jamaican Men and Women in the 1990s: Sexuality, Family and Domestic Life / 273
Contributed by Janet Brown
11. Men, Women and Domestic Conflict / 288
12. Finding the Fit: Masculinity and Fathering / 322
Notes / 333
References / 337
Index / 369
Despite the position of dominance which men enjoy in Jamaican society, there has been little examination of the situation of men in Jamaican families, and particularly of men’s own perspectives on their roles. This apparent invisibility is itself related to the societal acceptance of male dominance in several spheres, so there has been limited recognition of the need to explore the factors shaping male behaviour, and to examine gendered ways of acting. A further constraint derives from the fact that in research on the Afro-Jamaican family, the analytic focus has usually been on the household or on women, with a failure to question the extent or the character of the imputed male absence from the domestic sphere.
Over the last two decades, research on the attitudes and behaviour of Jamaican males has greatly expanded, in so far as they are related to their involvement in crime and violence (Harriott 2003), sexual risk-taking (Chevannes 1992, 2002; W. Bailey et al. 1998) and educational underachievement (Leo-Rhynie 1996; B. Bailey 1997; Figueroa 2004; Gayle and Bryan 2019). These studies have looked at the socialization patterns of males, as well as the community influences which lead to negative or destructive behaviour (O. Gray 2004; Gayle et al. 2004). However, the so-called average Jamaican father has received little scholarly attention, although his actions are argued to have wide repercussions which include poor socialization and neglect of children, leading to a spiral of social breakdown.
The present work seeks to build on the slim but growing body of research on Jamaican fathers which began in the mid-1980s, and which shifted the lens to explore directly with men their own systems of meaning and their behaviour. This undertaking represents an attempt to replicate and expand an earlier study of fathers conducted in 1991 in four Jamaican communities by the Carib- bean Child Development Centre at the University of the West Indies, with the support of the International Development Research Centre in Canada. The report from this early research undertaking by Janet Brown, Anderson and Chevannes (1993) was never published, and the findings became partially disseminated only by incorporation into edited collections on the Caribbean family or on children. The current study also extends the research on gender socialization in the Caribbean conducted since the early 1990s (Chevannes and Mitchell-Kernan 1992; Janet Brown and Chevannes 1998; W. Bailey, Branche and Le Franc 1998; Chevannes 2001).
The findings from the first investigation of Jamaican fathers were faithful to the body of information which had been accumulated on the Afro-Jamaican family since the foundation period of Caribbean sociology in the 1950s. Based on men’s testimony, this study, which was entitled The Contribution of Caribbean Men to the Family, documented the continuing pattern in which men had different sets of children linked to the cycle of conjugal unions in which they had engaged. It further showed that the degree of interaction between fathers and their children varied according to whether these children lived with them, or whether they lived separately. Where this first Fathers Study broke new ground was in the unmistakable finding that men identified strongly with their father role, and this commitment tended to be part of a developmental pattern, with childbearing having different meanings as men moved from young adult- hood into maturity. The research project utilized both qualitative and quantitative techniques to explore gender relations, and it established that both men and women had gender-differentiated goals in rearing their boys and girls, so that many adult male characteristics could be traced to the expectations and practices of parents.
This early research project provided the impetus for the subsequent study of gender socialization conducted in three Caribbean countries in 1995 with support from UNICEF; the findings of this study were published by Janet Brown and Barry Chevannes (Janet Brown and Chevannes 1998; Chevannes 2001). Other researchers contributed to the development of this important subfield by delineating the attitudinal changes which emerged as boys moved into puberty (Branche 1998, 2001), and by focusing on the impact of early fatherhood on young males (W. Bailey et al. 1999b). However, there has been little further analysis of the role of fatherhood in male identity, apart from the popular observation that today’s fathers appeared to be doing more in several spheres of child-rearing, which had previously been the domain of women.
While the evidence of increasing male involvement in parenting was generally considered to be an encouraging societal trend, it left unanswered the question of the contradiction between men’s endorsement of fathering and their apparent stubborn resistance to total incorporation into a nuclear-type model of the family. The adoption of the husband-father role inherent in the Western nuclear family structure seemed to be an uneven process, and in general, a norm of manhood which emphasized virility and sexual freedom continued to be celebrated in practice and in popular culture (Hope 2006).
In undertaking this new study of men’s gender attitudes and family roles, it was necessary to address this apparent contradiction and to question whether it was possible for men to be good fathers but bad husbands. In other words, if fathering is central to the male identity, analysis should not start by assuming the existence of the husband-father nexus, but rather must examine these dimensions separately. It was recognized that in asking men to speak for them- selves, the study should explore how they felt about children, how they felt about women – their partners, their daughters and their own mothers – and what they sought to achieve through their fathering activity. This recognition served to establish the framework for the current study, which assigns a central role to exploring definitions of masculinity among Jamaican men and seeks to relate fathering activity to these self-definitions.
The present study proposes a methodology for measuring two key dimensions of masculinity. These relate to fathering and to gender relations and are measured by two new scales: the father identity scale and the macho scale. The analysis traces the convergence of beliefs and attitudes across social classes, as well as the variations, and examines the extent to which these attitudes are articulated with individual assessments of fathering success and personal change. The study was designed around a survey of fathers in four Jamaican communities, which were selected in order to provide a range of socio-economic levels and community environments. Three communities were urban and one was semi-urban, situated in the hills of St Andrew above the main urban centre of Kingston. The low-income urban community is generally classified as an inner-city “garrison” community.1 The semi-urban community and one of the urban communities had been previously surveyed in the 1991 Fathers Project.
A central plank in the present study is the finding that Jamaican men demonstrate attachment to two sets of masculinity values, which are described as fatherhood values and macho values. The fatherhood values centre on fathering identification and nurturing, and are measured by the Mandad Father Identity Scale (the mandad scale). The definitions of a good father which men advance, and which shape their own self-assessments, together with the principles and practices which they endorse with regard to child-rearing, provide the background to understanding how they measure their success in this area of social reproduction. The extent to which the experience of parenting has been a personal journey of self-development becomes clear from the self-reflections of fathers in these communities, as well as the links which they make with their own experiences of being fathered, whether well fathered or not very well fathered. While the process of fathering entails direct interaction with children, this may be strengthened, mediated or blocked by men’s relations with their partners and baby-mothers. The study therefore examined men’s general views on women, childbearing and gender roles, as encapsulated by the macho scale. Men’s endorsement of multiple sexual relationships and the expressed need to beget children, their views on the domestic division of labour, and the acknowledged sources of domestic conflict are all factors that contribute to the assessments which, in the final analysis, the men in these communities make of their lives and their success as fathers.
Given that the four communities in which the surveys were conducted were selected for the purpose of examining social class differences, this book seeks to first establish the wider context for understanding Jamaican family structure by providing an overview of the existing body of literature on the Afro- Caribbean family and gender relations. This is supplemented by recent data on national indicators, revealing the changes that have been observed over time. Readers may recognize similarities to the patterns which have been documented for African American communities, and in reflection, they may revisit the debates and causal explanations centring on the African inheritance, the destructive effects of slavery, and prolonged racial oppression and marginalization. The differences that may be observed within the Caribbean between Afro- Caribbean and Indo-Caribbean families should also be acknowledged.
Explorations of fathering involvement are derived from a newer stream of research, which takes as its starting point the question of fathering identity. Much of this burgeoning literature originated in the United States and Britain, and it linked the work of historians, social psychologists and sociologists. It is also closely tied to research on masculinity, which expanded beginning in the 1980s, as men’s studies carved out a field of its own. Chapter 2 provides an overview of masculinity research, while in chapter 3, an overview of research on fathering is provided. This is accompanied by a description of the measures which researchers have used to assess fathering identification and involvement. Chapter 4 summarizes the current body of Caribbean research on masculinity and fathering. The new Jamaican macho scale and the fatherhood scale (that is, the mandad scale), situated within these wider contexts, are described in chapter 5. This chapter also outlines the methodology guiding the Fathers Study, which combined community surveys with qualitative research. These chapters are followed by a description of the four Jamaican communities (chapter 6), as a backdrop to discussing the lives of our research participants. The substantive findings from the study are presented in chapters 7 through 11. The empirical findings are presented first, followed by a brief discussion of the wider literature, in an effort to situate the significant findings from this Jamaican study.
I also take the opportunity to share two excerpts from the first Fathers Study (The Contribution of Caribbean Men to the Family), which was conducted in 1991 and which has not seen the benefit of earlier publication. These two excerpts are contributed by Janet Brown, who was the project director, as well as a co-author of the report (1993). They describe some of the findings from the extensive community discussions which were central to that earlier research project, serving to further illuminate the topics pursued in the present study.
The concluding chapter seeks to pull together the threads of the argument, which is that Jamaican men cling to two sets of values which are inherently contradictory. Finding a fit is not readily predicted, and therefore, positive fathering is an uncertain outcome in this context.