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The concerns and perceptions of Prime Minister Basdeo Panday and Minister Walters, evident in the news articles (excerpted at right), are increasingly shared by some policy makers throughout the region. These concerns inform a controversial discourse over the indicators of gender equity and the significance of formal education in facilitating women s and men s economic empowerment.
Errol Miller, Professor of Teacher Education at the University of the West Indies, Jamaica, coined the terms ?male marginalization' and ?men at risk', in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In his book "Men at Risk" he stated:
"The description of Caribbean societies points to lower-strata men's marginal positions in the family, role reversal in a small but increasing number of households, boys' declining participation and performance in the educational system, the greater prospect of men inheriting their fathers' position in the social structure, the decline in the proportions of men in the highest-paying and most prestigious occupations and the decrease in men's earning power relative to women's especially in white collar occupations" (Miller, 1991:97).
?How does one measure male marginalization?' is the question posed by Dr. Eudine Barriteau in her paper on "Re-examining Issues of Male Marginalization and Masculinity in the Caribbean: The Need for a New Policy Approach" which was presented at the Sixth Meeting of the Commonwealth Ministers Responsible for Women's Affairs.
Dr. Barriteau, Head of the Centre for Gender Studies, UWI, Cave Hill Campus, argues that answering this question is essential to the proper analysis of the hypothesis that is forwarded by Miller. She posits that very important to the concept of marginalization is the lack of conditions of justice. In an unjust gender system there is unequal access to and distribution of material resources and power. Accordingly, the thesis of male marginalization implies that Caribbean gender systems are unjust for men.
In her examination of the discourse on male marginalization, Dr. Barriteau focuses on two dimensions of the gender system. These are:
The material dimension which exposes how men or women gain access to or are allocated material and non-material resources within a state system or society; and
The ideological dimension, which indicates how Caribbean societies construct and maintain notions of masculinity and femininity. Her analysis of gender indicate that there are no State policies or legislation that currently deny or previously denied men access; there are no State- sponsored types of discrimination against men and men, like women, have equality of access to the educational resources of the State.
Barriteau argues that much of the anxiety associated with ?men in crisis' and ?marginalization of the black male' emerged due to fear that Caribbean States had gone too far and had surrendered too much to the interests of women at the expense of men. So strong is the ideology of male dominance and privilege in the Caribbean, Barriteau argues, that Miller's own thesis implicitly supports this ideology. He attributes the emergence of the women's movement to the process that marginalizes the black male, rather than as a genuine and legitimate response to the adverse circumstances of their lives. In so doing, she argues that Miller's underlying assumption is that men have an a priori right to the resources of the State above women and, by necessary implication, any attempt to correct the inequalities that presently deny women access is really designed to punish men. Miller's arguments have therefore been construed in popular discussion to mean that women are to blame for all the problems that men are facing.
Barriteau reviews the critiques of Miller's theory by Mark Figueroa, Keisha Lindsay, Barry Chevannes and Marlene Hamilton which challenge his understanding of the reality of the Caribbean male. For Mark Figueroa, the problem that men currently face is related to the history of male privilege that fosters gender inequalities and results in negative outcomes for men and women, boys and girls. Keisha Lindsay, also argues that by using inadequate and selective data, Miller's thesis systematically invalidates women and women's experiences. Barry Chevannes, also rejects the hypothesis of marginalization of the black or any other male and points to the continued dominance of men in positions of power and authority throughout most institutions.
This conclusion by Chevannes is supported by Marlene Hamilton who concludes in her study of women's access to the University of the West Indies as academic and administrative staff, that during the academic year 1998/1999, there were no female deans. She also pointed out that in the 50-year history of the University, of the 68 heads of department, seven are women, and of the 115 professors, 12 were women.
Responding to the popular beliefs about male performance and underachievement in education, Barriteau cites findings from Chevannes which reveal that while more females than males sat the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) exams in 1997, young men performed slightly or clearly better than young women in 19 out of 35 subjects at the grades 1 and 2 levels. These were primarily science and technology type subjects. Chevannes also reports that in the 1990s, "men have been graduating with consistently higher rates of first-class honours but consistently lower rates of upper and lower second class honours". The Chevannes study shows that deeply rooted gender biases observed in subject selection at the secondary level continue at the tertiary level, where males pursue the more technologically and vocationally based subjects, while women pursue those in liberal arts and the humanities.
Barriteau therefore warns that we should be careful about moving from particular disadvantages and prejudices that may exist, to a generalized position that boys and men are doomed to conditions of marginality and irrelevance in Caribbean societies. She argues that there are no State policies that deny men access to resources or opportunities for economic and social advancement. In this regard she points out that there are proportionately more unemployed young women than there are unemployed young men. Unemployed young women however, do not hang out on the block or town squares, neither do young men spend free time working in their yards or around the homes in which they live.
She explains that males receive many conflicting messages in constructing masculinity and gender identity. It is therefore not surprising that "while many public commentators bemoan the fact that girls are taking over academic performance, none of them say to young men that they need to put in 100% effort in school." Also, because the prevailing gender ideologies define femininity as less valuable than masculinity, then the popular perception is that women have everything to gain by acquiring characteristics associated with the masculine, while men have everything to lose. These beliefs are significant because there are material outcomes which cumulatively either impede or facilitate societal change. After centuries of denial and exclusion, Caribbean women are gaining entry into the public sphere and are acquiring skills that were once legally or culturally out of bounds. As a group, women already have the skills to perform effectively in the domestic sphere. Boys and men must now learn to value those skills and to see them as necessary for the organization of life.