BY KLIEON JOHN — In Jamaica, men are subject to a damning pressure to constantly present themselves as virile, woman-hungry alpha males. Popular songs by both male and female DJs never fail to challenge masculinity, often asserting that a man’s worth is judged by his sexual prowess. The rampant institutionalized homophobia  in Jamaica and indeed the wider Caribbean is no secret, but what many don’t realize is that homophobia and its related discourse affects heterosexual males just as much as homosexuals.

Constant pressure to assert your manhood and conform to prescribed sexuality is often reflected in the most ridiculous ways. Men find it uncomfortable to sit beside each other on public buses, as if the choice of a seat next to a perfect stranger somehow suggests a sexual attraction.

Often, if a group of men decide to go out, there is an implied expectation to invite some females in order to satisfy some prerequisite balance of gender, so as to avoid suspicions of homosexuality.  I can personally attest to a number of scenarios like these, including many operators of public transport who refuse to drive unless there is an acceptable number of females on board.

 Jamaican men are under these ludicrous pressures and expectations to constantly assert their sexuality, even in totally irrelevant situations. Men are walking around terrified of each other and desperately avoiding the possibility of being labeled gay by some inflated reasoning or another. It makes them insecure, biddable and therefore weak.

One of these harmful ideologies has recently surfaced, surprisingly in an article published by famed literary scholar and commentator on gender-related issues, Professor Carolyn Cooper. Now, let me state at this point that I am a former student of Cooper, and still one of her biggest fans. I continue to have an enormous deal of respect for her, and admittedly wanted very much to find some reason to agree with her when I saw the headline, “KC Old Boys Desire Male Sex”. But after reading the article several times and carefully processing the situation, I have to say ‘mi luv yuh Coops but mi cyan join da line wid yuh’.

In her article, she scathingly and cleverly – as is her way – asserts that the Kingston College Old Boys have indicated a desire for male sex in their refusal to allow women to join this year’s annual dinner. She goes on to suggest that this is unsurprising, considering they spent a crucial part of their sexual development mostly in the company of other boys. She claims that “It must be quite difficult for these old boys to adjust and learn to enjoy the company of women – their natural inferiors.”

Even more concerning is her contention that ‘Some of these old boys may eventually get married to women. But it now seems as if they don’t really enjoy associating with the female sex. It’s just not to their taste.” All this because of a dinner? Effectively what Cooper is suggesting is that the men of an all-male school are closeted homosexuals because they have an annual dinner for all men. It doesn’t take a scholar to see the fault in this reasoning. What does having dinner with a large group of people have to do with your sexual attraction?

If we are to follow this reasoning, she must think that Jamaican football team The Reggae Boys, all desire male sex since they are a boys-only team. Perhaps the ladies of American talk show The View, desire female sex because they have no male hosts. And Cooper, herself may desire female sex as well, since she spent her own crucial stage of sexual development in the company of other girls at St. Hugh’s High School for Girls, the sister school to Kingston College.

She must know that this one act of perceived exclusion (she only references this one act) does not logically constitute a sexual preference. She has to be aware that growing up around all boys doesn’t mean you won’t learn to enjoy the company of women as she suggests in the article. Throughout the piece, Cooper goes into detail about the complications and difficulties of male sexual arousal when not attracted to a female counterpart, being more interested instead with members of their own sex. I trust she is aware that her implication that the KC Old Boys prefer to be with men because they exclude women on this one night of the year is an embarrassingly hasty conclusion.

Now, I understand that Cooper is being satirical in her claims and is seemingly writing to embarrass the KC Old Boy’s Association for what she possibly feels is a misogynistic slight against women. She, as an intelligent and highly accomplished scholar, cannot really believe what she is claiming.

I have to call her out on what I see as a (perhaps unintentional) perpetuation of a harmful rhetoric that contributes to the insecurity that drives Jamaican men to adopt their damaging rites of machismo. There’s a much bigger picture here than a satirical article.

My mother often told me as a child that “joke to the butcher is death to the cow” and as a member of the Caribbean literati, she is expected to understand the effect that this sort of speech has on less organized minds.

One of the most incensing lines is “All the same, several old boys don’t approve of that backward move to exclude women from the annual dinner. These are the real big men who have definitely grown up.”

This whole notion that ‘real big men’ are the ones who take their female counterparts to a dinner while the others who prefer to spend the evening with their old schoolmates are “just little boys dressed up in adult clothing” smacks of the same ignorant pressures placed on men daily to parade women around as trophies to their masculinity. It’s because of similar ideas that somehow, if you don’t have a huge member you’re not a man; if you don’t have several different baby-mothers you’re not a man; if you don’t play sports and act like a hooligan you’re gay, or “soft”; if you’re not aggressive and want to fight every time breeze blows you fall short of the proverbial pull-up bar set by society.

Additionally – and I’m probably going to suffer some backlash for this one –  Cooper is indirectly asserting that if, as a man you do happen to be a homosexual, you deserve to be chastised and made fun of in newspaper columns. I wonder if she is also channelling those bus drivers and taxi men who refuse to drive with only men due to fear that their vehicles will be magically transformed into a mobile gay bar. Perhaps if those drivers take off without the requisite trophy woman they too aren’t real men.

cl1In this instance, Cooper has become like popular cartoonist, Clovis, the resident bigot of rival newspaper, The Observer, who ironically happens to be one of her sworn enemies in the media. In fact, the similarity between the two is stark, since they are both using strong satirical imagery to make subtle points that perpetuate harmful stereotypes. Clovis himself is known for his portrayal of homosexual males as bleached faced, cross-dressing deviant humanoids and often sensationalizes issues relating to gay rights.

The effect of Clovis’ unfair depictions of gay men is that many Jamaicans walk away with the totally incorrect perception that gay men are all aggressive, flamboyant, deviant, and effeminate, and are therefore people to be feared, hated and eradicated.

Similarly, Cooper’s playful implication that men choosing a singular occasion to associate only with other men is an indication of same-sex desires is sensational, and continues the school yard discourse that men must consistently display their females as a public assurance of their sexuality and a declaration of their sexual prowess.

Furthermore, one has to question Cooper’s motive for writing such a piece. As she herself makes a point of saying, her high school alma mater, St. Hugh’s (KC’s sister school), is having their annual dinner, to which men are invited. Great job. Also, women were for the first time invited to KC’s annual dinner in 2012 and 2013, and they have now chosen to revert to their boy’s only tradition.

Perhaps Cooper has taken the rejection from her brothers personally and is choosing to now embarrass them the best way she knows. It may explain why she chose not her personal blog but her column in the region’s most popular and respected newspaper to publish an article that has no logical merit whatsoever; a surprising diversion from her usual contributions. This curious misplacement has to be examined. My speculation is that she chose to use her most powerful means of public attention to hit the KC Boys where they’d feel it the most.

Now, Carolyn may have used her power irresponsibly. However, one has to consider that whether intentionally or not, and in a strange twist, she may have actually done something remarkably useful. Professor Cooper, in publishing such a controversial satire, has unearthed the underlying threads of masculine pressure and pushed the debate on male identity and sexuality to the front of the public agenda. She has now invited people to write 2,000 word articles challenging our beliefs on masculinity and pointing out the negative effects of our typical and unexamined discourses.

This latent public service may or may not be enough to redeem Cooper’s folly, but her actions have illustrated the importance of examining the effect of our rhetoric when discussing masculinity in Caribbean society. It has never been more crucial to be mindful of the power of our words and recognize that even playful satire can add to a harmful Zeitgeist that perpetuates toxic views on gender identity and translates ultimately to our behaviour.

Members of Caribbean intelligentsia like Professor Cooper are charged with upholding the ever-shrinking reasoned discourse in the region and will be called on to demonstrate a greater sensitivity to this condition than the average person.

And Carolyn, I still love you to bits.

Views expressed above are not necessarily those of the Antillean Media Group.

How sexual rhetoric cripples Caribbean manhood

Klieon John

Klieon John is a journalist and digital marketing consultant living on St. Kitts. He is a graduate of the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication (CARIMAC) at The University of the West Indies, Mona.

Category: Argument & Insight
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15 comments

  • Good points. I still cannot get over the fact that she is a PROFESSOR . As a ‘teacher’ I would have thought she would have been more concerned with Jamaica and its carelessness and ignorance regarding any form of sexuality but sadly she claims to write only a satire , blinded by her folly and questioned why others are incensed by ‘just an article. When a fool cannot see the folly of their ignorance it is like administering medicine to the dead.

    • Well, you just have to get over it. She is a PROFESSOR because she is brilliant. She’s up there with the best of them in any part of the world. If you failed to notice, read again. While Kleion does damn her, he does so reluctantly because he still respects her and recognizes that she is a great teacher and PROFESSOR. News Flash: writing one bad piece doesn’t disqualify a person as a professor.

  • Klieon, thanks for your carefully-considered response. My mischievous headline deliberately encodes a scandalous double-entendre on both ‘desire’ and ‘male sex’. KC old boys wanted (desired) only men (the male sex) at their dinner. Homosexuality is such a delicate subject in Jamaica that my subversive affirmation of the ‘coming out’ of the KC old boys simply could not be acknowledged. I’ve touched a very sensitive nerve and, as a result, death threats have been issued on social media. Thanks for making the point that the provocative column “has pushed the debate on male identity and sexuality to the front of the public agenda.” It also raises issues of male exclusivity and patriarchal privilege. That’s what the column was really about.

    • @CarolynCooper Not only was your article irresponsible and devious, but it was an attack on every gathering where men decide to have a lyme. You mentioned that your article was satirical, but it was actually the vent of a bitter woman steaming in misandry. Can you also imagine the violenc that can be perpetuated against a KC school boy or any all male school boy because of your irresponsible rant?

      Your point about “It also raises issues of male exclusivity and patriarchal privilege” was totally irrelevant and reeks of double standards, when in our society, in particular western society it is the men who are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to education, health, security, family court etc. It is quite common for women to have their women only meetings, clubs, UN for Women and so many opportunities not extended to men. Femi-Nazis need to understand that the world needs balance for both men and women to make it whole and skewing it in favor of women does not mean equality.

  • @CarolynCooper
    No matter how good in Literature and culture you may be you will never understand the aesthetics of being a “KC boy” it’s a feeling that must be felt through a first person perspective…. As a fellow Jamaican you should be helping to uplift one of the few institution responsible for producing great Jamaican men …….what if I was to go around branding all feminists, female clubs and societies such the famous Kiwanis or the Red Hats as lesbian pedophiles I would be deemed a trouble maker……..every man is responsible for his actions,but has no control over the consequences.
    Lady next time you write have a conscience and always know that boys will be boys especially KC boys…… As a KC boy your article was a sore to my eyes

    -förtis cadere cadere non potest

  • I am not Jamaican. I am a long married(35 yrs) heterosexual male, living in Canada. I have many friends who are alumnae of KC., many of whom are among the finest and most worthy gentlemen I know. To suggest that their annual gathering of fraternal association is anything other than such is offensive to me, and, I am sure to any rational citizen of this sad world. Please give no credence to the ramblings of this delusional woman.

  • Klieon! I’m very proud of you fir writing this. It’s great to have a well thought out response to this. I agree that the jamaican society puts a lot if pressure on heterosexual men as well. I remember that gender ratio being a very important issue to balance. I always laughed at these things but kudos to view for expressing your views.

  • Thank you Mr. John for a well written and needed article. I had tried hard to not comment publicly on Cooper’s piece but you have managed to draw me out. The one point I would add is the observation that in our society there is hardly an instance of men clamoring whenever an all female event is planned. I see it so often in my circles where an event is planned for all males so that men can get a chance to just be with men and have iron sharpening iron, so that men can experience the power that comes from a safe space to just be with each other. The ladies begin to protest loudly. Yet when they plan their tea parties and other ‘girly’ events us as men are quite fine with that, nor do others look on with suspicion on such plans. We really need to redeem this aspect of our culture.

  • Thank you Mr John for the brilliant response to ms. cooper’s attack on Kingston College, my alma mater. However, one small point needs to be addressed: the recent affair by the KCOBA was a Reunion Dinner for former KC students, it was not advertised as a Dinner/Dance fund-raising event when other guests are invited to participate.

    Of greater concern to me is the fact that ms. cooper is the confirmed guest speaker at the
    Founder’s Day celebrations at Kingston College in 2015. This information she verified in a recent radio broadcast. I now wonder if she still views this as an honour or a threat against her life.

  • Dr. Cooper, congratulations, you have won! Your only motivation for crafting such a provocative piece in the Jamaica Daily Gleaner was to invite attention to yourself. I earnestly hope and pray that this impulse is not one brought on by that sudden fear and panic which greets many people at a certain age and stage in life, mostly when one feels that sense of becoming outmoded. Reading some of the comments in response to your article indicates that you are/were held in much higher esteem before this piece and you might have just now ran the risk of losing total credibility. Colloquially speaking now, shame on you, you know way better than that! Cho man!

    • I think Dr. Cooper will be just fine. She won’t suffer too much for having written one ill-thought out piece. Nor should she. If all of us were to be permanently ostracized from society for one or two or three mistakes, then society would be a lonely place indeed. All of us have erred and if we live long enough we will err again. But our errors ought not to become excuses to exclude from participation in the civic and social lives of our societies. I think Dr. Cooper is quite busy writing and traveling and teaching. I can’t see how or why her entire life’s work or her contribution to Jamaican scholarship should be obliterated because of her harangue against KC Old Boys and their exclusionary parties and practices. Women should critique her point of view but they should stand with her on the role of the patriarchal forces in our country.

  • Kleion, I am struggling with what to say to this column.

    Tell me something, in all your time at UWI did you ever take a Gender Studies course? Because if you did, and actually understood what you were reading, you would never have penned this column.

    According to you, Carolyn Cooper, by being “member of Caribbean intelligentsia” and what not, is expected to endorse and support men’s exclusionary behavior as well as to help heterosexual Jamaican men feel more secure in their sexual orientation so they can continue to be act like “big men”. It’s bad enough that people at that very university seemed to have forgotten that they are expected to open up discourse in a productive way, not butter up individuals and structures just because they benefit from it.

    But you, I think you need to go do some research (Carolyn did hers; that’s why she could write this albeit uneven satire). You should have some skills left over from your CARIMAC days. One of the first things you are going to look up is the term “homosociality”. Next, you are going to go and and look at what scholars (even more learned than Carolyn Cooper) have to say about the term, and what it has meant historically and contemporarily for men. Then come back and read what you wrote, and you will see how utterly wrong you have gotten it. Don’t forget to come back and tell us what you learned. We want to learn something too.

    • Instead of being so insolent, you should have taken a page from Kleion. You can critique his piece without calling into question his cognitive capacity. Do you (k)nowtice that even in his critique of Carolyn, while scathing, he maintains an appropriate level of respect? I appreciate you pointing out where Kleion fails. I had thought that he failed to engage with her on her legitimate point about the corrosive effects of concentrated male power too. But let’s critique each other with respect.

  • Kleion, this piece of writing is the bomb. It is a valiant attack on the rampant homophobia that gets reproduced (even in Carolyn?). And I’m sure Carolyn is no bigot. It is true that Carolyn kinda mis-wrote her piece and ended up (unconsciously?) endorsing homophobia or so it seems. This is not to say that your piece is perfect. No article ever is. For example, you didn’t identify who places the pressure on men to act ridiculously to avoid the stigma of homosexuality. You made it seem as is some unknown force is robbing men of their agency to behave or act with some sense. I imagine men (and some women?) help to reproduce these idiotic ideologies that reduce the freedom of men to be themselves.
    Nor did you engage with Carolyn’s derailed legitimate point: the exclusionary practices of men who get together and make deals with each other that have the possibility of negatively impacting women in their day to day lives. Women in other countries have fought against their exclusion from male gatherings because unintentionally or not, patriarchal societies have a long history of oppressing women, denying them of social and economic opportunities and the right and freedom to participate in the social and economic spaces in which they too live and breathe.
    Now in a perfect world, men ought to be able to have their gatherings and conferences without being attacked whether in terms of their sexuality or their historic powerful role in society. We do not live in a perfect world however. And I think Carolyn meant to go after their power but her means were not quite legitimate. In any event, her larger point got lost. Her piece really should have been grounded in feminism, not soft homophobia.

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