You’ll overhear the laments at a restaurant or a party, when one Haitian woman gripes to another, “gason se chyen” (men are dogs) or “gason pa ka rete san fi” (men can’t live without women). They are usually dishing about their husbands or boyfriends, and the complaints are almost always followed by warnings to younger women to watch out for Haitian men because they are all “vakabons” (street hoodlums and freeloaders).
“First and foremost they are cheaters,” says Ivena Viciere, a mother of two who emigrated to the United States 25 years ago and, like many Haitian mothers, instructs her daughter to not date Haitian men. If arried men find a woman willing to live as a mistress, the men will not hesitate to cheat, Viciere tells her daughter.
Nearly 50 percent of Haitian men over age 50 and living in rural areas admitted to being polygamous at one point in their lives, according to Timothy Schwartz, author of “Fewer Men, More Babies; Sex, Family, and Fertility in Haiti.” In his book, Schwartz examines the relationships between men and women in raditional Haitian communities. Such statistics give way to the belief that Haitian men are promiscuous and unfaithful.
Perhaps surprisingly, 95 percent of Haitian men questioned from a random sample could not name benefits to being involved with more than one woman, according to Schwartz’s research. In fact, the majority of Haitian men found polygamy to be immoral. In an instance where a wife learns her husband has a mistress, the majority of Haitian men recommend the woman leave her husband.
So why all the infidelity?
It’s simple, explains Schwartz. If a man is quarrelling with his wife, he can visit his mistress’s home to eat and relax. Men involved in numerous relationships say having more than one woman serves as a sort of compensation for what one wife may be lacking, Schwartz says.
Viciere agrees. “If there is something they want you to do, and you don’t want to, they’ll tell you outright ‘I can find someone else to do it,’” she says.
Schwartz further explains, “In cases where they don’t get along, [the wife] may be very happy that he spends his time elsewhere. She may encourage it.” Schwartz even blames Haitian women for tolerating extramarital unions for financial gain. “Women in Haiti tolerate, if not encourage, [polygamy],” he says.
Because men in rural areas are often impoverished, women do not have many relationship options. “They have to compete for those few males who have money and wealth. This means accepting men who have other lovers, spouses. It doesn’t mean they like it,” he says. “Family members, particularly mothers, control, manipulate and guide daughters into making practical decisions. That means accepting men who have other spouses.”
Although not legal, polygamy is practiced in Haiti, mostly in rural areas, says Schwartz. He argues that although some perceive these relationships to be extramarital affairs, he says the unions are more like marriages, with a man’s several “wives” recognized by the community. There are even proactive efforts to bear children in these unions, and the men are financially responsible for each wife. In turn, each wife is typically expected to be sexually faithful to her “husband,” Schwartz explains. Even the daughters of first wives often find themselves compelled to take advantage of resources only available from a man who already has a wife, Schwartz writes in his book.
Divorce is rarely an option in traditional Haitian communities because entering into marriage is a hefty investment. Therefore, when a man is experiencing hardship in his marriage, he “may take another wife and spend more time with her,” Schwartz says. “Meanwhile, the women tolerate it.”
Because of this cultural acceptance, women who immigrate to America suggest their daughters don’t seek relationships with Haitian men.“What’s happening, I think, is that Haitian parents think that ‘blan’ ascribes to a higher morality and are more monogamous,” says Schwartz. Many Haitians use “blan,” which is derived from the French word “blanc” meaning “white,” to refer to foreigners. There is a general feeling that relationships with men outside of the Haitian community will be monogamous because they are raised in a culture where monogamy is reinforced by law, said Schwartz, so there is a misperception perception that American men do not cheat .
Many Haitian mothers living in the United States often also believe their daughters will achieve financial independence and won’t need to settle for an unfaithful husband, says Schwartz. “Women … can supply the money in relationships and don’t need a man’s money,” he says.
“I would never tell my daughters not to date Haitian men because that is generalizing,” said Jean Luc Bigord, a father of three children who was born in Haiti and feels much of the infidelity has to do with bragging rights. But he also believes monogamy exists in Haitian marriages. “It is possible to find that one person in your culture that agrees with your values.”
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