Part IV: The Caribbean

Chapter 14: Jamaican Realities of Masculinities and Sexualities: “How Far Have We Come since Michel Foucault?”

Natasha Kay Mortley and Keino T. Senior

In this chapter, the authors apply a gendered perspective to analyze views of masculinity among men from various socioeconomic groups in Jamaica. Using Michel Foucault’s ideas of sexuality, they explain how the act of sexual intercourse is seen as more than the act itself but an essential part of one’s identity. For Jamaican males, their sexualities are closely tied to their masculinities and what it means to be a Jamaican man. In this context, sexualities are both shaped by and influence power dynamics, not only between men and women but also among various groups of men.

Learning Objectives
  • Explain the link between masculinities, sexualities, and the gendered relations of power.
  • Situate masculinity studies within feminist scholarship.
  • Describe Jamaican realities around manhood and sexualities.


Masculinities scholarship within the Caribbean, and Jamaica specifically, has traditionally centered on family life (Chevannes 2001; Senior 2015), education (Miller 1991; Figueroa 1997), sexual violence, and violent crime (Mortley 2017). Discourse and understanding of male sexuality have been integral to the concept of and research on masculinities; in many ways, the concern with masculinities in the Caribbean has been fueled by the prevalence of sexual violence and the ineffectiveness of strategies to deal with it (Reddock 2004). Our chapter examines Jamaican masculinities and sexualities and seeks both a comprehensive understanding of as well as a move beyond the stereotypical Jamaican male sexuality with aggressive masculinities and issues of violence. This chapter is based on research we conducted in 2016 and 2017. Both studies were qualitative, using interviews and focus group studies with groups of men across various communities in Jamaica. The participants were urban and rural males of different ages and different socioeconomic and educational backgrounds. During the course of our research, we explored various identities, diverse expressions of manhood, power dynamics within the private and public spheres, and how these shaped sexualities. We explored how manhood and sexualities and power dynamics play out within gender relations and ask the question: to what extent is male sexuality constructed as a result of various gendered relations of power? Further, by examining Foucault’s thesis on sexuality and its relevance to contemporary realities, we explored perceptions of male sexuality, how male sexualities manifest in various spaces, and the extent to which these perceptions and manifestations are contoured first by gendered power dynamics, as well as broader systems of power within society.

We begin with an overview of the Jamaican sociopolitical landscape, then we discuss how sexualities are situated within masculinities as well as Caribbean feminist scholarship. The key terms masculinities and sexualities have already been defined in the introductory chapter of this book, but we want to emphasize that both notions are embedded in historical, political, and sociocultural conditions of a particular society. In the 1990s scholarship shifted from the term “masculinity” (singular) toward the concept of “masculinities” (Connell 2005), which acknowledges that there are many forms of masculinity and that gender stratification also exists among men, not just between men and women. This shift in scholarship and discourse to acknowledging multiple “masculinities” recognizes that there are men who may or may not aspire to or fulfill local expectations of masculine performance (Connell 2016). Likewise, as it relates to the notion of sexuality, Weeks (1995) contends that sexuality is not given but is rather a product of negotiation, struggle, and human agency. He believes that sexuality only exists through its social forms and social organizations. In keeping with this conceptualization, we are of the view, like Kempadoo (2009), that for sexuality to be a viable springboard for research, its complexities need to be acknowledged, especially as it relates in this instance to Jamaican men’s varied realities. For this reason, and in the same vein that we speak of “masculinities,” we use the term “sexualities” in this paper, reflecting its complexity, diversity, and negotiated nature.

Positionality: Masculinities and Sexualities Research as Part of Our Feminist Agenda

Feminism is not a singular or static notion, and the feminist movement and accompanying feminist research have evolved and expanded to explore wide-ranging issues that both directly and indirectly impact women’s lives. Caribbean feminists today have generally adopted the Gender and Development (GAD) approach and contend that gender is both central and relevant to all social relations, institutions, and processes. They argue further that gender relations are characterized by patterns of domination, inequality, and oppression and that gender relations are the product of sociocultural and historic conditions. This GAD approach, which we apply to both our research and scholarship, has succeeded in improving understanding of gender and identifying new developmental challenges that require urgent attention from a gender perspective. In order for feminist scholarship to be truly feminist it cannot remain confined inside the walls of academia. It must be directed to influencing change as it relates to economic, political, and social developmental issues of the region and be integrated into related policies and programs designed to improve the lives of men and women for the betterment of Caribbean communities.

Masculinities research emerged out of feminist and gender studies in the Caribbean, and as Reddock (2004) reminds us, while some men took the opportunity to simply push back against the women’s movement, for others it signaled a time for reflection on manifestations of manhood and masculinity in the Caribbean. Mohammed (2004) argues further that not only did masculinities studies come out of the feminist movement, but constructions of masculinity are interdependent with constructions of femininity. In keeping with this view posited by Mohammed, we believe that our feminist agenda should not only be concerned with femininities but should also seek to deconstruct masculinities and how these coalesce with and impact women’s lives. Our positionality is that of feminist academics and scholars working within a gendered space. Natasha is a St. Lucian woman who has been residing and working in Jamaica for the past fifteen years, and Keino is a Jamaican man. We both teach and mentor young men and women within the Institute of Gender and Development Studies, and thus our concern is with how masculinities interact with femininities. When studying male sexualities, we seek to engage Jamaican males in order to better understand power relations not only among men but also between men and women. We understand that male sexualities exist within a gender system, which comprises relations between women and men, and men and men. Not only is masculinity part of this gender system, but positive masculinities contribute to better gender systems. As stated in the introductory chapter of this text, rather than focusing on defining masculinity as an object, we want to focus on the processes and relationships through which men and women conduct gendered lives. We agree with Barriteau (2019), who contends that the ongoing narrative on relations between men and women should seek to understand and not blame.

The Jamaican Context

Jamaica is the largest of the English-speaking Caribbean islands and the third-largest island in the Caribbean. The country is divided into fourteen parishes, and Kingston, the capital, is located on the southeast coast. Jamaica’s population was approximately 2.7 million at the end of 2018 (STATIN 2019). The vast majority of Jamaicans are of African descent (92.1 percent as of the 2011 census). The 2011 census also revealed that the majority of Jamaican males are single or have never been married (over 50 percent), while the second-largest group was married men. While relationship status of males within the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community was not captured in the census, a survey conducted in 2016 among 316 persons from the LGBT community revealed that for males, 45 percent indicated that they were not in a relationship, 33 percent had a visiting partner and 15 percent lived with a partner (McFee and Galbraith 2016).

Jamaica is a patriarchal country where, along with the family, the state is historically and contemporaneously the most crucial purveyor of patriarchy. According to Thame and Thakur (2014) patriarchy of the Jamaican state is most concerned with domination by a specific group of men—that is, middle-class, heterosexual men—over society. They go on to state that “from its inception, the postcolonial state was captured by the Jamaican middle class and brown male, and control over it was later extended to the black middle-class male. In Jamaica, brown and black are used to distinguish between light skin and dark skin persons of African descent. Middle-class masculinity imposed itself as the legitimate power base within the state through symbolic manipulation and violence when it deemed necessary” (Thame and Thakur 2014, 12). This is still prevalent today in Jamaica, as we will discuss later in this chapter.

In 2011 the Jamaican government approved the National Policy for Gender Equality (NPGE). The policy sets a vision for gender equality and equity across all aspects of public and private life. Such policies recognize the unequal socioeconomic status of men and women, which are influenced by notions of masculinity and femininity that sustain patriarchy. Despite a long-standing tradition of activism in Jamaica and the establishment of strong policy frameworks, discussions around human rights and social justice remain controversial because of the lack of political will and a failure to actually implement a mechanism of protection for all. The extent to which policies have overcome or reduced inequalities and injustices in Jamaica thus remains questionable. In order to effectively overcome challenges, policies must be grounded in the specific sociocultural realities of gender in the countries where they are pursued. Studies such as ours are thus critical to providing authentic and contextualized knowledge that can inform planning, policies, and practices.

Jamaican Male Sexualities in Popular Culture and Scholarship

Attitudes around sexuality in Jamaica are historically rooted in Victorian ideologies. Suzanne Lafont’s 2001 study is one of the few that examine the colonial history of attitudes toward sexuality as they were expressed in Jamaica. She traces the development of Jamaica’s sexual mores to slavery and British imposed Christianity. This Eurocentric view of sexuality forced an ideology of social respectability upon slaves and the belief that they were immoral and licentious individuals whose sexual appetites had to be tamed. Lafont’s study tackled controversial issues such as attitudes toward female prostitution and male homosexuality in Jamaica, arguing that sexual intolerance in Jamaica is manifested in homophobia and public condemnation of heterosexual sodomy (such as oral sex). This sexual intolerance, she argues, stems from the slave era, which was characterized by a complex dialectic between colonial elites and Afro-Jamaicans. Historically, respectability and rectitude evolved as an Afro-Jamaican response to the slave experience.

McFee and Galbraith (2016) also contend that homophobia today is a legacy of the plantation system and reinforced by Jamaica’s strong Christian faith. Homophobic sentiment persists as a source of national pride while also functioning to distance Afro-Jamaicans from their colonial past (Lafont 2001). The sentiment has been popularized through music and the arts. Scholars have noted that the sexual themes in Jamaican reggae for instance, often reflect homophobic views and identify the genre as a contributor to homophobia (Cooper 1994; Hope 2006; Sharpe and Pinto 2006). The literature has identified certain homophobic slurs such as “batty bwoy” or “chi chi man” and encouragement of violent acts that include murdering and burning gay men. There is no denying that the narrative has been overly negative.

On one hand, Jamaican culture is saturated with sexuality. Jamaican music, dance, and media feature implicit and explicit references to sexual behavior and practices. On the other hand, acceptable sexualities are narrowly defined, and Jamaicans themselves seem intolerant of sexual expressions that fall outside a strictly constructed paradigm of heteronormative activity. Brown middle-class males, who have the highest social status, manifest their masculinity through heterosexuality, respectability, and reproductive sexual activity. The popular dancehall genre of music in Jamaica, which has been one of the main outlets for expressing sexuality, has been characterized as policing the borders of Jamaican masculinity, encouraging heterosexuality and polygamy while discouraging cunnilingus, anal sex, and homosexuality (Sharpe and Pinto 2006).

In this area of scholarship, there has historically been a dearth of studies on Caribbean sexualities. While family dynamics including household and parenting dynamics in the Caribbean and Jamaica (Clarke 1957; Smith 1962) have long received attention from scholars, issues of sexualities (and male sexualities, specifically) have been understudied. Part of the forbidden nature of the subject according to Sharpe and Pinto (2006) had to do with a fear of reproducing the negative stereotyping of Black hypersexuality that emerged from a history of slavery and colonialism.

Recent work on gender roles and Caribbean masculinities has explored issues around sexuality (Chevannes 2001; Lewis 2003; Reddock 2004), and recent scholarship on sexuality has explored a broader range of sexualities (de Moya and Garcia 1996; Kimmel 1996; de Albuquerque 1998; Chin 1999; Phillips 1999; Mohammed 2004). The Spanish and French Caribbean countries have done prominent studies of male sexualities (Chanel 1994; Cabezas 1999). Gray et al. (2015) explored sexuality among fathers of newborns in Jamaica, where they assess sexual behaviors such as intercourse, as well as other facets of sexuality such as sexual desire and sexual satisfaction. They also explore relationship dynamics (e.g., relationship quality and availability of alternative partners) seen as important elements in contextualizing men’s sexuality. Mark Figueroa is currently engaged in an in-depth examination of what sexuality means and how it manifests along a continuum. He contends that there is a need to extend the discussion in a way that considers the full range of what he refers to as the dimensions of human sexuality, thereby giving due regard to the complexity of the phenomenon. This work is important for Jamaica in terms of extending the discussion and analyses of male sexualities beyond the heterosexual mold.

Our work therefore emerges out of this context of burgeoning scholarship and public policy work around sexualities, as well as the need to engage men and give them a space to speak and reflect on their manhood and sexualities. We believe that this can help facilitate healthier relationships, foster better attitudes, and reduce gender-based violence within our communities. Our work aims to give men a space where they feel comfortable to unpack and perhaps unlearn all of those things that have been harmful and damaging to themselves, their families, and others. Our chapter, first and foremost, brings a more comprehensive understanding of masculinities and sexualities but also calls for a more nuanced understanding of Jamaican male realities. Our research goes beyond simple binaries, and we view sexuality on a continuum that recognizes and reflects the different modalities of manhood and masculinities.

Foucault and the Context of Sexuality and Power

Michel Foucault was a French historian and philosopher whose academic work came to prominence during the 1960s. We draw on Foucault’s History of Sexuality, first published in 1976, in our analysis. His book’s central argument is that sexuality is closely associated with structures of power in modern society. His work delves into an examination of sexual repression, sexual discourse, and societal power in the context of sexuality. For Foucault (1978) sexuality is not an obscure domain seeking to discover human beings, rather it is constructed historically, where there is an interrelationship between knowledge, power, body, and pleasure. Foucault describes this in his repression hypothesis, which is based on the widely held belief that during the Victorian era sex and sexuality were deliberately and systematically suppressed by unchallenged mechanisms of power within the state. As discussed earlier, the same applied in Jamaica during the slave era, where the planter class, as a matter of economic necessity and influenced by Victorian ideals, used power and force toward this suppression. This legacy continued during the colonial and postcolonial periods in Jamaica, where the elite class used various state machineries of power toward the same end. Foucault’s writing on the repressive hypothesis raises some important questions still relevant today. These included whether power in society is really expressed mainly through repression and secondly whether our contemporary discourse on sexualities is a break with this history of repression or a part of that same history.

By the nineteenth century there was a shift from repression to an exploration of the “truth” of sexuality through confession and scientific inquiry. Part of this shift had to do with political necessity where the “truth” about sexuality had to be unearthed in order to deal with other ills plaguing society at the time. Knowledge of and discourse on sexualities thus remained under state influence, control, and power to the extent that the state exercised power over the construction of sexuality. The same can be said for Jamaica where a growing body of research and scholarship on toxic masculinities and sexualities responded to the need to address social ills such as gender-based violence, alcohol, drug abuse, the spread and impact of HIV/AIDS, and other sexually transmitted infections (Barker and Ricardo 2005). These same issues contribute to male sexualities being situated within gendered relations of power.

The Jamaican situation on male sexualities and power remains much the same as Foucault described it but with more nuance. Jamaican popular culture has never been repressed or silent. The dancehall space, as our respondents reminded us, has always been a space of free expressions of sexuality. The men that we interviewed spoke on the extent to which dancehall culture has been a main agent through which socialization on manhood and male sexualities has taken place in Jamaica. However, this freedom of expression has been related to only certain masculinities and sexualities. While the state has never really been able to police dancehall music and the dancehall space, dancehall culture has had its own internal mechanisms for policing the boundaries of male sexualities. Male sexualities are viewed as part of the everyday reality of being a Jamaican man—heterosexual, with the power to initiate and dictate the terms of sex.

Foucault explores how the idea of sexuality operates and is maintained within a system of power. He describes sexuality as not being a stubborn drive but a “transfer point for relations of power: between men and women” (Foucault 1978, 105). Ramirez (2004) agrees that masculinity is a multidimensional construct where power and sexuality interact in the construction of masculine identities. This means that while men collectively have power, as individuals that power is not experienced in the same way. Though not addressed by Foucault, when it comes to sexualities the Jamaican realities show us that power and the dynamics of power among men as a group can be analyzed through what Foucault terms “power relations.” In our findings some men are powerless compared to other men and thus evaluate themselves differently. Thus, in order to understand how men express masculinities and sexualities, it is necessary to analyze broader inequalities and power dynamics within society. The differential access of men to power also entails hypothesizing in the existence of multiple masculinities, in which the margins of the representations of sexuality and gender identities are constantly being erased and redrawn (Ramirez 2004).

Our focus group discussions with males within the inner city reflected this association between power dynamics among males and their sexualities. The young men spoke about male police officers who had intimate sexual relations with the women who were also involved with them. “Police sleep with women here, these are our women, to find out more about our dealings in the community,” said one male inner-city Kingston resident in his twenties. Our respondents believed that male officers who had positions of power and authority used sex to wield further power over the males and as a form of crime control within the communities. Our respondents thus spoke of feelings of powerlessness because of these sexual relations exercised by other men who represented “the system” and measured their sexual prowess against that of the policemen. This is reminiscent of Beckles (2004) who locates the early construction of Afro-Caribbean masculinity in the competitive and exploitative relationship between European and African males during slavery. He argues that the masculinity of Black slaves was constructed through its interaction with hegemonic structures of white masculinity, where white male power was based on control of property, including Black women.

Our respondents also spoke about the firearm as a symbol of Jamaican masculinities and sexualities. Carrying a firearm is commonplace and desirable among Jamaica men because they believe it gives them greater status. Carrying a firearm was also linked to sexualities because it was believed that women in Jamaica were attracted to men who carried firearms and that a man with a firearm could use it to get more women. “Having a gun, a licensed firearm is a way of displaying power. If you have one you are now elevated to a different level,” said one professional male in his thirties. The firearm thus represented that link between power and sexualities in the Jamaican space.

Sex and Violence

Though Foucault seldom delved into the concepts of sex and violence, when he did, he made reference to power and violence, adding that both are connected. For Foucault violence can be a drastic change or resistant to change, depending on historical and political agendas. He adds that violence can be harsh in an attempt to control individuals and their bodies. In Jamaica, men’s sexualities are generally characterized as incorporating sex and violence. Kempadoo points to “stabbing in dancehall songs,” whereby “the penis becomes a metaphorical dagger, stabbing pleasure into and out of the woman” (Cooper 2004, 13). Among Jamaican men, sexuality is perceived as being a site of pleasure for men and danger for women. As Kempadoo (2009) concludes, sexuality is powerful and violent and frequently acts as an economic resource, sustains polygamy, multiple partnerships, and polyamory, and is mediated by constructions of racism and ethnicity.

Hope (2006) indicates that men express their sexuality in dancehall culture within the confines of patriarchal, heterosexist, and elitist restrictions. Pieces of music played in dancehall reduce women to mere body parts, whereas men are celebrated for being promiscuous and aggressive. One of our interviewees, a Jamaican male academic in his forties, indicated that “men would be branded if they do not show aggressive masculinity, even without any proof of being man to avoid being branded as a homosexual.” This is supported by Hope’s (2004) argument that men who are unable to attain these attributes of masculinity are stereotyped as being gay. The Caribbean man still grapples with issues of emasculation he copes with through the medium of violence meted out especially on loved ones and in particular in the form of sexual violence (Marshall and Hallam 1993). During discussions in one of our mixed focus groups, participants indicated that

males [are] always physically beating up the females and the females I guess most of them typically never physically fight back and so other females growing up sort of learned that as a behavior; and there is a thing though that a few females say dem [them] no want a man weh [who is] soft. So that’s something to think about cause even though they are assertive they don’t want a man they can bully. They tell you, if I feel like I can railroad you it’s not going to work out; the typical Jamaican man is seen as bold and confident and aggressive so it is supposed to be one of many challenges. (Anonymous, focus group discussion by author)

The above illustrates that some men feel pressured to demonstrate violent sexuality, first by other men who will brand them as gay if they don’t and secondly by women who will deem them “soft” if they don’t.

One respondent lamented that homosexuality in Jamaica is characterized by “a special type of violence, where the batty man dem beat up and kill each other.” In reference to cases of homosexuals being murdered in Jamaica, some respondents who agreed with the above statement were of the view that they were killed by their male partners who were driven by personal shame and rage brought on by pressures from having to cope with a homophobic sociocultural environment.

Sex as Pleasure and Sex with Multiple Partners

Our findings corroborate Foucault’s (1978) explanation that sexuality for men incorporates pleasure, and for our respondents such pleasure meant having multiple sexual partners. Our respondents were of the view that Jamaican males at an early age are pressured into engaging in sexual intercourse. In fact, a boy child is taught that he should have power over his female partner and should have several children to demonstrate his masculinity. Embedded in this, too, is an unwritten sexual and reproductive health law that every young Jamaican male must grapple with: “that he must have a steady girlfriend which makes him a man . . . and engaging in bareback sex—sex without a condom—is fine.” (Anonymous, Focus group discussion by author). Furthermore, respondents believed that early sexual intercourse for males was influenced by lessons instilled in them as early as five years old. Males are taught from childhood that they are superior to women and should prove their manhood by engaging in sexual intercourse with multiple sexual partners. One respondent stated, “From man a youngster we are told to have plenty girlfriend,” and a second respondent claimed, “the earlier the better:” (Anonymous, focus group discussion by author). These findings support Chevannes and Brown (1998), which concluded that men are expected to demonstrate sexual prowess and have serial or concurrent sexual partners and have several children. Also, our respondents measured their manhood by the number of children they are willing to bring into the world and also the number of women that they have those children with, to provide for their family, and also to ensure that their children are raised in such a way that they will become citizens who will contribute to society.

While our respondents believed this to be the way that young men are generally socialized, some made it clear that they did not subscribe to this behavior and that their personal experiences did not reflect this. One respondent explained: “I came from the ghetto where I saw that kind of behavior, with my father, my grandfather, my uncle . . . but now I don’t live my life like that, and I don’t want that for my son. Everything mi see mi father do, I try to do the complete opposite” (Anonymous, focus group discussion by author). This, we believe, indicates that not all Jamaican men subscribe to or perform the same masculinities. There are men who will publicly speak out against promiscuity among Jamaican males.

When respondents were asked whether young men generally have multiple sexual partners, one respondent answered, “It is the norm for men to have more than one sex partner, you can have many sex partners.” In the inner city, young men believed that the ideal was seven women to one man: “Yes miss seven is de ideal, but due to economic hardships now it may be reduced to three women per man,” said one inner-city resident in his twenties. Among men of middle to upper socioeconomic status, there was a general perception, even among women from other islands, that the Jamaican male is more promiscuous than men from other islands. This is reinforced through the popular culture, for example, in the dancehall. The lyrics of songs are usually laced with tunes explicitly suggesting that a man must have more than one woman, as this will help to identify him as a real man. This is similar to what Foucault refers to as the psychiatrization of perverse pleasure. This is referred to as the sexual instinct that “is biologically and physically distinct afflictions for which treatments could be sought” (Foucault 1978, 104). For example, one respondent stated that “sex is everything . . . if you don’t have sex, you are a clown or other men will hate you.” Another respondent stated that “sex is pleasurable, it is how you lose your oil and show a woman you rule.” Yet another respondent stated that “when you have sex, you feel like a super king and you show a woman who is in charge . . . it makes you feel like a man.” While another stated that “I have to prove that I am a girl’s man . . . more woman the sweeter the sex is.”

Respondents believed that these sexual acts were not only very pleasurable but also symbolized what makes one a man and forms his masculinity. This for respondents demonstrates strength and the “ability to stick to one’s code of honor.” However, a different view of masculinity surfaced during our group discussions. One respondent believed that “to be a man is not only to portray a masculine nature, homosexual men have strong[er] trait of masculinities than some heterosexual males.” While this was not the shared view of most respondents, they all agreed that masculinity linked to sexuality was a part of their culture and history, which informs them about what is ideal for them as males. Our findings thus revealed that male sexualities with multiple partners represented both pleasure within relationships with women, as well as power vis-à-vis other men.

Sexuality and Gender Relations

Jamaican men are socialized about sexualities along gender lines, which are rooted in a deeply entrenched gender system. The popular saying “loose the bull and tie the heifer” symbolizes this gender stereotype related to sexuality where boys are socialized differently than girls. All of the male participants irrespective of background subscribed to this view. According to Barriteau (2003) the material system is how the power dynamics between men and women are maintained and accepted socially, which affects how they gain access to material resources. While the nonmaterial system is how the ideological effects of said gender relations impact how women access material resources, status, and power. These paradigms reflect a clear interdependent relationship between ideology and resources of a social system, on the one hand, and sex stratification and status based on differential access to material and nonmaterial rewards on the other. This impacts the power construction of sexualities, directly or indirectly, in Foucault’s (1978) discourse on sexuality and power specifically.

This power is manifested in the ways men are socialized to be protectors of their family, providers, and by extension have control over bodies, including women’s (and other men’s) bodies. Lessons that are instilled from an early age usually translate into sexuality and power in adulthood. Foucault describes sexuality as not being a stubborn drive but a “transfer point for relations of power: between men and women” (Foucault 1978, 103). On the other hand, one aspect of power for Foucault is conceived as performing a negative function, particularly in relation to sex. Jamaican men’s realities corroborate Foucault’s hysterization of women’s bodies. He explains the hysterization of women’s bodies as belonging to men in three relevant ways: medically/socially in the sense that the woman’s body had the potential to produce many children, secondly in a family setting the woman had to play a substantial/main role, and thirdly the female had to be mother to the children that she produced as a matter of biological-moral responsibility (Foucault 1978). Some respondents in the study believed that women were expected to play the role of good mothers, as that was a part of their biology. One male respondent in his forties from rural Jamaica stated that “women are to stay home and take care of the family that is what they were born to do.” These findings support Foucault’s socialization of procreative behavior phenomena. For Foucault, this means treating the body or bodies of couples as somewhat belonging to the state and promoting social responsibility in the form of birth control practices. Not all respondents agreed with this, however. Our respondents in their twenties to late thirties believed that gender roles in Jamaica had changed and that women were no longer expected to be seen in this way. University-educated males particularly stressed this view.

While respondents thought it was wrong to force women to have sex with them, they also stated that they did not expect women to refuse sex with them. One respondent stated clearly that “women [should] not to hold off on a guy when him want sex from her . . . I don’t mean he is to rape her, but she must just go along with having sex with him” (Anonymous, focus group discussions by author). This is in keeping with Foucault’s belief that sex and sexuality were closely linked to unchallenged power mechanisms of male domination. This also plays out in some spaces in Jamaica as it relates to suppressing homosexuality in response to power mechanisms of male domination.

Our respondents believed that the state supports and reinforces many of the messages related to male sexuality. One respondent stated that “men’s roles and what they do sexually is not only taught in the family, but government and society teach and reward us about what we are to do from a sexuality stance.” This is in keeping with Foucault’s suggestion that sexuality is used as a device of power within broader systems of power within society. The personages that Foucault mentioned as growing out of psychiatry are broad generalizations, some resonating and others a tad questionable, especially in a Jamaican context. Foucault speaks of everything as being about power and power being everywhere; but in a Jamaican context there is not much power in the margins, as heterosexuality is the dominant power construct. One respondent postulated that “sexual freedom is important because you get to express how you feel and what is it that you find pleasurable sexually . . . I think I have about 45 percent sexual freedom as a heterosexual man, but if me was homosexual I wouldn’t have that freedom.” Yet another respondent echoed similar sentiments that “as a straight male [heterosexual male] I have power and sexual freedom but only to do straight stuff [heterosexual sexual activities].”

Toward a Conclusion without End

Foucault’s writings have been instrumental in creating the atmosphere of intrigue and interest around sex and sexuality and related dynamics of power. Foucault argued that while repression and prohibition of sex prior to the nineteenth century may have been real, discourses around sex were always present, albeit in diverse ways. In Jamaica, while popular culture always spoke about male sexualities, there has been some repression by confining it within certain gendered norms and expectations. It is only in recent years that scholarship and discourse have begun to push beyond those boundaries in exploring different male sexualities. Likewise, men today are more open in voicing alternative views on masculinities and sexualities, as seen through our research.

Foucault expands the development and impact of power from the limited sovereign aspects to more phenomenological application, through “population” synergistic with the spread of social relations. Power, Foucault argues, is not simply concerned with domination by law, but it is also exercised through the social and physical body. This may have been a controversial and considerable shift in thought, and it is the deployment of sexuality, Foucault writes, that was crucial to this modification. Sexuality can be seen as an axis or transfer point of relations of power and one with great agency “useful for the greatest number of maneuvers and capable of serving as a point of support, as a linchpin, for the most varied strategies” (Foucault 1978, 103). Foucault’s explanation of sexuality makes the act of sexual intercourse into not only the act itself but an essential part of one’s being or identity. For Jamaican males, their sexualities are closely tied to their masculinities and their everyday realities of what it means to be a Jamaican man. Further, sexualities are both shaped by and influence power dynamics, not only between men and women but also among various groups of men.

Foucault’s explanation that sexuality is in every facet of human social existence is useful. However, in the application of Foucault’s thesis to the Jamaican context, it is important to understand the context of his writing, his own race and citizenship (a white French man), and the political, economic, and social biases of his society toward colonized countries like Jamaica. The use of his thesis as a point of reference to Jamaican realities impacts the ways we consciously or unconsciously experience, understand, and explain sexualities. It also provides a reference point for the deconstruction of and reflection on the sexualities of Jamaican males. In our research it helped us to think more fully about constructions of male sexualities and to explore various ways and spaces within which power manifests and contours issues around male sexualities. In this way his work remains relevant today.

Resources for Further Exploration

Review Questions

  • What is your understanding of Jamaican masculinities and sexualities?
  • What is the relationship between sexualities and gendered power relations in Jamaica? Can you use an intersectional analysis to think about them?
  • Discuss the ways in which Foucault’s sexuality thesis is or isn’t relevant to realities of Jamaican males today?

Key Terms

Gender and Development (GAD) approach: originated in the 1980s and has been adopted by feminists who place gender at the center of development processes. It focuses on how social roles, reproductive roles, and economic roles are linked to gender inequalities of masculinity and femininity (Mortley 2017).


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About the authors

Natasha Kay Mortley has a bachelor’s in sociology and MPhil in sociology of development from the University of the West Indies (UWI), Trinidad, and a PhD in migration and development studies from the UWI, Jamaica. Dr. Mortley is currently a lecturer at the Institute for Gender and Development Studies, Regional Coordinating Office, at the UWI, Jamaica. She has extensive experience in the field of development studies, and over the past fifteen years she has been dedicated to integrating a gender perspective to Caribbean social development and policy issues. She therefore considers herself a social developmentalist working in the area of gender and development studies, as well as an advocate for gender equality, social justice, and female empowerment. Her recent research work includes Caribbean masculinities. In 2017 Dr. Mortley conducted a study on “males, masculinities and crime in Jamaica,” and in 2019 completed a “masculinities and positive fathering” study also for Jamaica.


Keino T. Senior is the dean of the School of Arts Management and Humanities (SAMH) and the Gender Focal Point at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts (EMCVPA) in Jamaica. He is chairperson and coeditor of the Jonkonnu Arts Journal, and founder and chair of the Annual Gender and Development Lecture.

Dr. Senior received his PhD (with high commendation) in gender and development studies from the University of the West Indies (UWI) in the area of masculinities, fatherhood, and abortion. His scholarly research and publications focus on masculinities, fatherhood, culture, the arts, men against violence, climate change and disaster risk management, sexual and reproductive health rights, and sexuality. He is currently engaged in a research project on masculinity and fathering and lectures in Caribbean sexualities at the Regional Office of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies at the University of the West Indies.



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Gendered Lives Copyright © by Natasha Kay Mortley and Keino T. Senior is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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