Does Manhood Need to Change to Create Healthier Societies?

Gwen Emmons, Guest Contributor

For something we see and experience day in and day out, masculinity sure is a tricky business. In a collection of essays that span various countries and cultures, Global Masculinities and Manhood considers how communities around the world have been shaped by what it means to "be a man" -- and rebel against unhealthy gender expectations in order to make change.

For many, rightly or wrongly, being a man in Jamaica means acting in ways that dominate women and being violence-prone. Boys learn that in order to be powerful, they must act tough and cocky. But many contemporary public figures are shifting the representations of Jamaican masculinity.

Former Prime Minister Michael Manley and reggae musician Bob Marley contributed to changing those expectations by refusing to put on a tough guise. Although Manley and Marley came from strikingly different backgrounds -- Marley was the son of an impoverished Black mother and an absent White father while Manley was raised in an elite Jamaican family -- both recognized the ways masculinity was destroying poor and working class families and used their political and cultural influence to speak out against gender inequity.

Peru is also struggling with gender-related challenges that impact the country's economy. Women's contributions to building a thriving society have long been ignored and undervalued. Recently, as Peruvian women leave the domestic sphere to join the workforce in larger numbers, they are demanding a voice in civic and political participation. Still, struggles remain to be overcome.

Traditional gender roles in intimate relationships and families have allowed men's behavior to go unquestioned and unchecked. While society looks away when men have extramarital affairs, women are expected to maintain honor and chastity by remaining loyal to their partner. This can put their sexual health in jeopardy, particularly given the effect it's had on the growing HIV prevalence among women in the country.

Global Masculinities and Manhood provides a critical perspective for questioning gender and pushes for new ways of expressing masculinity that create healthier societies.

Gwen Emmons is a writer, activist, and graduate student living in Philadelphia.

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