Editorial — 15 February 2017
Hard as nails, soft as marshmallows

The Northside/Southside model was never a precise analytical tool. That is because, in the first instance, there are a few Northside Belize City neighborhoods which are as Southside as can be. The Northside/Southside model has also become controversial in some quarters, including personal and political ones, but there are still situations where the model serves a valuable analytical purpose.

The history of the different non-governmental organizations and funding agencies which have become active in Belize over the past four decades, say, and especially since our political independence in 1981, organizations and agencies which have as their stated goal the upliftment of Belizean girls and women, would be an interesting study. Simultaneously, a scholar would be pushed to investigate the fact that there has not appeared to be a balance, where foreign organizations and funds are concerned, with respect to attention to the problems and needs of Belizean boys and men. We’re just saying.

The gender issue is probably a more controversial one than the Northside/Southside model, but we’re not going gender, as such, in this essay. What we want to do is look at a phenomenon which has implications for both roughneck young males and the overprotected ones. That phenomenon involves the significant and growing socio-economic gap between our Southside boys and our Northside boys, for lack of any better description. Generally speaking, our Southside boys are growing up hard as nails, while our Northside boys are being reared to be soft as marshmallows. In academic papers, generalizations are totally taboo, because generalizations are imprecise and inaccurate, but this is not an academic paper: all we are trying to do is to get your attention. Con permiso.

Strictly speaking, inside the physical Southside itself there are many parents, especially single mothers, who are at their wit’s end trying to figure out how to socialize their growing boys. These are parents who live in neighborhoods which are controlled by gang elements. It is perhaps needless to say that there are more such neighborhoods on the Southside than on the Northside.

The question is on the Southside: how do you protect your boy children from drugs, alcohol, crime, violence and so on without turning your boy into a sissy? The prevailing male culture in gang neighborhoods is tough and bitter. That male culture is not focused on academics, which is the direction where all responsible parents would like for their boys to go. Some parents, especially solicitous single mothers, try to keep their boys away from their roughneck neighborhood contemporaries and counterparts, in the hope that their boys will get an education and the skills training necessary to make a living and become the head of a nuclear family. Parents in tough neighborhoods have a difficult task on their hands, because boys will be boys, boys want to be boys, boys have to be boys. In a neighborhood situation where most of the boys are doomed to jail or early death before they even become adults, earnest, responsible parents of boys are, to repeat, at their wit’s end.

Now, when you look at the larger picture and study the growing socio-economic gap we referred to in our third paragraph, you see where there are undesirable implications, apart from the obvious ones for the doomed boys. There are more subtly undesirable implications for the boys we would describe as privileged. Our feeling is that boys should not be raised to be too soft. You should raise boys to have manners, of course, but if you raise them soft as marshmallows, at some point they will get their butts kicked by other boys who have grown up hard as nails. Soft boys get “punked” by hard boys. Cold talk. Perhaps more interesting than that, and whether you know it or not, girls don’t like soft boys. So now, there you have it. There you have that.

As in most matters, this being a sociological one, one should wish to seek and achieve balance. While all the non-governmental organizations and funding agencies were focusing on our young girls and young women over the last four decades, our young boys and young men were being lost. That is why they are the ones who have been massacred over the last quarter century and that is why they are the ones who fill the Kolbe prison facility. The undesirable consequence of this is that our young ladies have sought older men or have become lesbians. But, that’s another story.

Let’s now consider an even larger picture. For the purposes of British colonial administration, in line with the mahogany and chicle export industries, and as part of the overall business and banking landscape in British Honduras, Belize City had dominated almost all aspects of Belizean life until the opening of Belmopan in 1970. The Belizean economy was becoming more agriculturally-oriented in the second half of the twentieth century, and Belize City, though it remained the population, financial, educational, and media center of the country, was being de-emphasized socio-politically. In addition, after Hurricane Hattie in 1961, it was from Belize City that the largest proportion of migration to the United States took place over the next few decades. Today, it is Belize City where the most blood is being shed amongst young males, and it is where our “hard as nails, soft as marshmallows” model would be most in evidence. From our vantage point on Partridge Street, this is what we are seeing on an almost daily basis in the old capital.

All we are hoping to do is initiate a conversation. In the modern era, girls and women are allowed to be “hard as nails” if this is what they prefer. But in the Belize City in which we work, boys and men are not allowed to be soft as marshmallows. Let’s revise that. There is a gay element around and about, so let’s say that boys and men are not encouraged to be soft as marshmallows. If that were to become the case, how would Belize look and fare on the regional and international stage when we compete against the region and the world?

There is a place for manhood training in the modern Belize. The vast majority of parents want their boys to grow up to become he-men. From an early age, boys begin to test each other in different ways. This is how masculine socialization begins. There should be interaction and competition across socio-economic lines. That is how we move towards the building of a strong Belize, a unified Belize, a nationalistic Belize. We’re just saying. What say you?

Power to the people.

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Eden Cruz

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