Mastering masculinity & mental health - Professor Donna Hope says toxic ideal about male identity and depression must be dismantled
For too long, Jamaica has swept the necessary conversation of masculinity and mental health under the rug. As a society, discussions surrounding anxiety and depression have been largely ignored, and the consequences of avoiding such dialogue have been drastic. As the monster of gender-based violence rears its head once more, it has become obvious that these issues cannot be overlooked much longer. Professor Donna Hope believes that in order to effect positive changes to what may be described as one of the country’s biggest problems, toxic ideals of masculinity and mental health conversations must be dismantled.
“The definitions of hard-core Jamaican masculinity suggest that a man must not show any emotions. Our men have developed this notion based on socialisation that ‘man a wall and man must strong’. That kind of train of thought has led our men to believe that they must not talk about certain issues. Our society does not give men permission to be ‘soft’. Men need a chance to vent and feel safe doing so. In the current scheme of things, when yuh too soft as a man, dem label yuh all kinds of things – ‘gyal clown, maama man, sissy, very derogatory terms – and this must change,” she said. “Jamaican working-class men face a lot more challenges with their self-identities because of the very unrealistic expectations placed on them. Being provider, protector, the strong one, is a lot, and many of our men don’t have the support they need to be all these things and more. Men need comfort and, most times, I find that is not available for most of our men.”
Hope went on to say that these feelings of inadequacy, if not addressed in healthy ways, can result in ‘snap’ episodes where men end up dealing with their issues in violence. “I’m not saying that it was right for the men to do what they do, but I think a discussion needs to be had about how these men end up getting to the place where violence is the answer for them. The men are the ones conducting the acts because of something in their heads that’s bothering them. We need to get to those reasons and fix those thoughts before they snap,” she said.
Dancehall artiste, AceGawd agreed. The entertainer, who has admitted to his own struggles with depression, says that men are often only seen as the perpetrators, and people rarely try to figure out what led them to commit these heinous acts of violence.
“This all leads down to masculinity. Yuh nah go wah your friend see yah bawl over no woman or nothing, so nuff man keep things inside and pree negative. And the reason dem a pree negative is because dem nah talk bout it, and a dat a lead to weh yuh see a gwaan right now,” he continued.
The professor believes the latter is something male entertainers can assist with. Highlighting that in recent times, more entertainers have been coming out to share their own struggles with depression, Hope believes that their voice is necessary in any discussion about the issue. “We need to have a public education forum where people open up about their struggles with depression and say they’ve had to seek counselling. One or two of the artistes need to be a part of the discussions. For an artiste to come out and say he’s broken up and that he’s not whole, it’s something that may tamper with his celebrity status. And so him making that kind of revelation, not caring what people will think and what they will say speaks volumes,” Hope said. “Kalado came out and let it be known that he was hurting and him just never care what people would say, and he gained a lot of respect for it and probably gave courage to other people looking on to come out and say, ‘Hey, I’m going through these things’. It’s not just about coming out and singing songs and pretending like everything is OK. It’s not just about showcasing how much woman yuh have and how yuh run things. It’s talking about how yuh feel about certain things.”
“Even Kartel’s new album, To Tanesha, is a whole heap a feelings itch up inna dat album, innu, and it’s about real things, real emotions. It’s not about the picture-perfect artiste world wid di girls and money. People will look at you and they’ll see that you’re human and you feel,” she continued.