Archive for the ‘Gender Relations’ Category

ImageToday, still in the West it is IWD. I woke up in the East with some resignation, accustomed as I am to experiencing this day as one in which the sisters gather in small groups and say the things that we say to each other on every other day.

But on facebook, reflections from the wise and committed much larger community:

Svenn: It’s Inter/Outer-national Women’s Day! Ask yourself… Can she take a walk at night? Does she get equal pay for equal work? Can she access  the best reproductive and sexual health services no matter her income? Add more questions here… If the answers aren’t looking so good, just work on it. I am sure we can all find a few organisations working these issues and more.

Keshan: I love my feminist sisters ….who are working towards ending all forms of violence and oppression against women and girls! Let’s celebrate our feminists in society who are the ones in the struggle to end such oppression! They are working toward a positive and beautiful society to live in!

Liana: International Women’s Day is not so much happy as bittersweet. It is a day to help bring awareness to a cause that doesn’t often have a voice, because it is about a group of people, who don’t often have the chance to speak out. Today is about the women who don’t have access to education, reproductive rights, rights to their own opinions. It can be trivialized due to the fact that many people treat it like a big ol’ girls only valentine’s day, but in reality we should be focusing on the women who got us where we are, being grateful for how far we have come, and thinking about how we can be like those women who gained us our rights.

Michelle:  ..economic empowerment for our women, means less starvation for the world love and light

CARIMAN:CariMAN takes this opportunity to call on all the governments of the Caribbean to take a stand for improving women’s access to sexual and reproductive health services as well as respecting the rights of women to safely control their reproductive lives. CariMAN further urges our governments to protect women from the unequal treatment they receive in the economies of the Caribbean. …CariMAN remains committed to working in partnership with men, women and all groups who share a deep concern for ensuring the full recognition of women’s rights in the region

Vashty: It’s International Women’s Day! What have you done to to aid in changing the country or the world or your little part of the world (family, friends, fb friends) to help them understand that women and men must have equal rights and equal access? Or that women are not just boobs and butts and pretty faces but thinking, doing, achieving, amazing people who have equal rights to rule the world!

Jacqueline: When all women can believe that we are connect, can you imagine what an awesome world this will be?

Yao: My wish is that we carry International Womens’ Day beyond today, to every day after, into perpetuity. I love you mum.

 Aja: While not dwelling on the negative today, particular concern for me is the continual escalation of violence against women and girls around the world – the majority of times by their spouses – by the men in their lives. I plea, therefore, on this day that the World commits to eliminating violence against women and girls.

Alex: Women’s Day you say? Hoorah! For the young women of Barbados I say BE YOURSELF and KNOW YOUR VALUE at all times.

Crystal: Feliz dia internacional de mujer…en solidaridad! And for those who continue to bemoan the need for the day; please educate yourself on its origins and evolution. IWD shines a spotlight on the achievements of women and girls globally, contributes to invaluable discussion and spurs action which advances the agenda of empowerment and equality and facilitates opportunities for sourcing critical funds for those of us working to defend and preserve the rights of women and girls. CLARO???

Gregory: To the Women – Peace & Love

 Peter: ….. and wouldn’t it be great if men didn’t have to be reminded of their mothers and sisters and wives in order to be aware of and care about women!

Amina Mama quote


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Actions and Voices

In  “The Surprised Silence on Rape Cases” ,  Rickey Singh laments the failure of national and regional women’s organisations to make statements on two current cases of rape, including the tragedy (what an inadequate description) of the gang rape of the young woman in India. Is this  censure justified?

For the last twenty years, at least, women’s organisations have been making statements about the epidemic of violence against women and the impunity for perpetrators. Every year, gender justice activists accompany women victims to hospitals and courts, provide safe housing, organise trainings for the criminal justice system, launch  advocacy campaigns, hold candlelight vigils, demonstrations and go on radio programmes. And this happens in every country of the Caribbean, routinely.

As a result, there is domestic violence legislation and thousands of police have and continue to receive training to ensure a more profound access to justice. In some countries specialised police units are established and mandatory reporting of child abuse is required. These are identifiable achievements because of women’s rights advocacy.

But the culture changes much more slowly and in the face of  a Caribbean popular culture that promotes a model of aggressive masculinity, the challenge to reboot socialisation towards equitable and respect-based norms is enormously complicated.

Would it not  be something for trade unions, sports clubs, chambers of commerce, religious organisations to join in, making the condemnatory statements,  formulating campaigns, demanding of communities and states enhanced protection, justice and prevention of violence against women by men?

Ending violence against women  requires that men as individuals and in their collectives, accept the responsibility for making change, not because as a man yesterday in the street said as he stepped towards the traffic to give way for me  “women must be protected always”, but because women are equally entitled to safety and freedom.

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I sometimes pessimistically think of women working with men on gender equality as a high risk endeavor, akin to walking on the verge of a precipice or a high tension wire. Similarly in our personal lives, you going good, good and then out of nowhere, a sexist joke and  some man friend telling you, ‘ like  you cyah take a joke?”

We know that to make change in our personal and public lives, both men and women have to reject patriarchy, to reject rigid gender roles, harmful stereotypes and inequality. For women this is hard too.  We breathe the same cultural air as men and are subject to the Mr. Darcy Syndrome, looking for the Benign Patriarch who will take care financially and protect. And more negatively, some construct an opportunistic image of men as the walking wallet.

Giving up dependency is difficult when it is perceived as an entitlement. Like when the woman in Big B Supermarket sighed in regret and said aloud in my direction, “There was a time I could bring a man here to pay my grocery bills”. The sexual economic exchange does have benefits for women and men that go both ways, though arguably, the benefits are more secure for men as this exchange reinforces power dynamics.

The journey for men is even harder because men know, really understand, that accepting equality means relinquishing privilege, power and accepting more work in the private sphere. In the long run, there are advantages to be gained, but in the short run, who can doubt that many men question the cost benefit of rejecting entitlement to women’s labour and bodies? Who can doubt that some lack the courage and moral clarity required to share power and influence? Recent events in the Anglican church bring this latter to mind.

And so for these reasons, men’s advocacy for equality is crucial, not only because men listen to men, but let’s be real, men control the levers of most influencing powers- whether as priests, parliamentarians, popular artists or private sector mavens.

Caribbean women have been attempting to engage with men in the emancipation project for quite a while. We have done so as active participants in ending slavery, in the colonial and independence struggles and we do not even complain when the accolades go to men as the architects of Caribbean emancipation.

And in the private sphere, women as disproportionate champions of men and boys is most apparent, if only because too many Caribbean men are not actively involved in children’s lives, reject commitment to family stability and reject responsibility for boy and girl children.

Are women saints? Well no. Many rage at a society that exploits, demeans and devalues their worth and work. And then in any normal distribution of humanity, some women will lack emotional intelligence, be neglectful, will be indifferent, will be more or less compassionate, more or less responsible. And because children go with women in Caribbean societies as a matched set, some children bear the brunt of these deficits, deficits that are not compensated by the presence of a another parent, because guess what? The fathers are absent.

And so today, looking at what appears as an affirmatory (if only because there is no accompanying comment) CARIMAN posting of Jamaica Gleaner article entitled “Anthropologist says societal neglect of J’can males breeds rapists”, I felt like I had been pushed off that precipice.

Could this be where we have arrived after two decades of working on ending violence against women? That the continuing violations of women’s bodies are to explained not by patriarchy, not by the experiences of multiple inequalities (which indeed are globally manifested) but by this notion that men who rape are victims of society’s indifference and more to the point of women’s inadequacies as mothers?

To be clear. For sure, the education system fails Caribbean boys, as it does Caribbean girls, especially of low income communities and families. And masculinity and traditional masculine privilege fail some boys who are not given an unequivocal message of self-discipline, respect for women and girls and for self.

And yes, some women also fail boys as inadequate socialisers, whether as mothers or as teachers in the schools.

And these are important discussions to have. But then we also need to talk about the elephant in the Caribbean room. The persistence of cultural patriarchy. I wonder at the co-existence of the hardest notions of masculinity and the incidence of sexual assault.

Maybe CARIMAN’s posting on Facebook is intended to provoke this discussion and not as an endorsement of mother blaming.  I hope so because we do need CARIMAN’s insights and challenges to push us all forward.

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Calypso Rose from all appearances is rambunctious, full of brio and with the spirit of the extrovert. “Fire, fire, in me wire, wire”, we can see her in our mind’s eye, the personification of the carefree Trini. Though I think she is from Tobago.

The trailer for a movie (see last post) celebrates her ‘doh hold me back’ attitudiness which Rose must have cultivated in her time. A time when women calypsonians were a novelty in the land of the sagaboy.  In 2011, Rose looks good and strong, vital as ever.

And then towards the end of the trailer, Rose informs us all that she has not had sex since that time when she was raped.

That she could speak to the horror in this celebratory video says a lot about achievement of the women’s movement to claim for women their voice, to overcome shame for being made a victim.

For Rose is not a victim in life or in the video. Rather she is triumphant in her resilience and insistence on accomplishment.

They say living well is the best revenge. But most women who are sexually violated cannot just get on with life. Whether they be in the Congo, on a beach in St.Lucia, in a hotel in New York, women need  accountable justice systems. And all of us need to work harder and talk louder to change misogynistic culture.


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Do have a look at this short promo for a movie on Calypso Rose. (Thanks Svenn).

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The revolutionarily named Code Red for Gender Justice posted a link and commented on a youtube video entitled Big Sexxxy Get On. In the wake of Trinidad’s carnival, predictably it was a video tale of wining. The woman  at the centre of this video  would have been hard to  miss.  She wore see-through red tights over a dark red briefs on which something was written across the expanse of the bottom. Looked like Sexy Thing.  All of this is relevant information, bear with me.

Her face was for the most part expressionless as she “found some ting, any ting”, to wine on. Could be the music truck, a van, a man’s groin, the road. It is not so evident that she was experiencing  joy or lightness of being or carnival transcendence, that moment when the endorphins and/or the alcohol kicks in and you could care less where you are or where the friends and dem gone, when you become one with the music and the moment . 

Looking on I wondered whether women’s movements work for autonomy, equality and empowerment had gone  awry. Or whether the work had penetrated into the recesses of unequal gendered culture. For this video clip presented a femininity so reduced. The performance seemed  distortive and one-dimensional; less ritual abandon and release.

And wondering about the who, what and why of this wining, I clicked on the Code Red analysis.

In response to people who may have found the video embarrassing, Code Red launched a defense. They interpreted this embarrassment as unease with this ‘fat, black woman’ embodying the notional space of the Trini carnival woman. They suggest that the performance captured on video is a political act and that those who find the video disturbing are in fact ideologically discomforted by the unruly and disruptive (and implicitly political) Afro-Trinidadian winer woman.

Really? Yes I do understand the analysis of carnival as an annual emancipative event for women ordinarily living the strictures of the ‘not overtly sexual, Madonna-like nice girl’ gender role. I understand the jamette can be a symbol of women’s sexual self-determination. Does it apply here? Can one reasonably describe this performance as an act of liberation? From what? What does it disrupt?

There is, I believe, a rooted caricature of Caribbean women as sexually available and as the sum of sexuality. And it can have troubling class nuances. See all the popular culture images of Caribbean women. In what way does wining at carnival time challenge or disrupt the stereotype?

Rather than querying the why of this woman’s (and many others) decision to present in this way in the public space,  Code Red made a victim out of her. But not a victim of unequal gender culture and politics, but rather a victim of perceived class and colour double standards.

I would have liked an analysis of how this performance and all the others like it, (no matter the size, colour, ethnicity of the winers involved), relate to women’s empowerment and to more functional and respectful relationships between women and men. Frankly, I do not see it.

What are you views?

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The sociologists and them speak about gender identity as socially constructed and as a performance.

By socially constructed what the academics are saying is that added to biology and body chemistry is a wide but rather specific range of expectations, requirements, compulsions and judgements about behaviour which we associate with girls/women and boys/men.

These expectations start from first breath, in fact start in the womb when people are thinking about names, about clothing colours and about the futures of their children. And these expectations and judgments lead and follow us throughout our whole lives, right to the funeral rites. Think of the eulogies given for women and men.

We act out and fulfil these expectations everyday. And because women and men relate to each other and the roles they perform tend to have an inbuilt complementarity, a certain recognisable sort of relations between individual women and men and society are reinforced.

Now it is true that social expectations are no way as rigid or as binary anymore, not with 40 years of active feminist politics and social justice movements. Women and men, but particularly women, are putting up strong resistance to gender stereotypes. There are many more ways to be an ‘acceptable woman” which were not available to our mothers and grandmothers.

And there are also more ways, to be manly, not available to our fathers and certainly not grandfathers. Still, most of us think of the ideal type man as being strong, assured, powerful, self-determined, protective and providing. All of those are positive attributes except when acted out in relationships of inequality. They can quickly go from beneficially benign to terribly toxic.

And when men are in situations of relative powerlessness, which many are because of poverty or other inequalities, then being a man, acting the part, is frustrated and this inability is a source of inner tension and harmful or counter-productive choices.

Apropos of that, just this morning driving through a low income area where men congregate as early as 7.30 in the week day apparently not preparing to do anything, over 20 empty bottles of  Hennessey brandy were lined up neatly on display at the side of the road. A statement of a  masculine value system. Think  for a second of the possible downstream consequences of that for the women and children in these men’s lives.

Playing yourself as stereotypical man and woman, (gender performing) leads to a certain kind of relations in which men have privilege even though individual women and men are fighting and carving out more equitable relationships,. This system of masculine privilege is what we know as ‘patriarchy’.

 Of course this is a simplification because not all men are powerful and not all women are powerless. And women wield their own kind of power over men as well. And also have very debilitating expectations of men.

Still. While there has been a whole sea change in gender relations, there is no denying  patriarchy’s persistence, its ability to press reset and refresh.

Yes all of this analysis can feel tiresome, very 70s and dated. But you know, every day I am (we are) confronted with gender performance that reminds of the larger world of inequality even though I am not living personally in that zone.

Like when a self-assured and once influential older gentleman joins a group of men and me and proceeds to tell jokes which predictably morph into misogyny humour- the smelly vagina kind of jokes. Offensive jokes can be funny but I was wondering how many of us would look forward to jokes by Europeans which are prefaced with “black people do not like this joke, but….”

Things female, things bodily feminine are a source of discomfort.  Why do cashiers in the grocery reach under the counter for the black bag in which to wrap packs of sanitary pads? What about menstruation is embarrassing?  I do not want a black bag. In fact I will walk with the damn thing without a bag, much in the same way that I would walk with toilet paper or with eggs for that matter.

More recently I have come to know of a trend of female pubic hair nullification- Brazilian waxing and all of that. Why? Well women’s pubic hair is now unhygienic and perhaps sexually unappealing. A friend relates this trend to the burgeoning porn industry which represents unhaired women as more sexy and alluring.

There is something unsettling about this. Especially when juxtaposed with the only rather recently won battle against gynaecologists’ insistence that women should shave to facilitate child birth.

Well OK, I agree that it is much same as shaving legs and underarms. Yet, yet, it also seems like a step further in the direction of female self-mortification. What about “You make me feel like a natural woman”! If we are going to do all these things, let us be clear that we are not making purely ‘individual choices’ but rather performing gender identity. And all identities are not equally self-affirming. That’s all.

Mostly, men do not have to deal with those things. Man is man. Take them or leave them. Masculine privilege ensures security at least about their bodies. Of course there is a growing study of the creation of the metrosexual man by consumerist capitalism, getting men to buy into grooming products and services. Stand firm men! We like you just so. Hairy chests and all.

These examples here are but minor matters particularly when you think of the big issues of women’s burden of care, poverty and women’s and men’s experiences of violence. Yet small gender performances are the building blocks for the edifice of inequality. The challenge is interrogating ourselves about the meaning of personal choices. 

No, I do not want to come back as man in the next life. Rather in this life, I want men to understand what it is like to be a woman here and now. And to fight up with equality and to engage critically with gender politics. This would of course be easier if the messages women were sending were less mixed and ambiguous not only about who we are but how we want to relate to men.

It is complicated.   


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