Jamaican women accused of creating rapists by failing to breastfeed

A Jamaican anthropologist blamed poor Jamaican mothers for failing to breast feed their sons and the social neglect which leaves them marginalised and prone to violence.  Many Caribbean boys and men face limited options, an education system which reinforces class stratification, marginalisation and lack of a social safety net.  Blaming their mothers who face the same conditions does nothing to assist the young men recruited by criminal gangs and forced onto the margins of society.  Mother-blame completely misdiagnoses the problem.  It lets governments off the hook for ensuring that their policies promote justice and social equality.  It lets government off the hook for treating these young men as expendable.  It also colludes with the worse of misogynist ideology.  In the context of very brutal rapes of women and girls, arguing that women created the rapists by neglecting their sons is such perverse victim-blaming.  To argue that Caribbean mothers protect their girls at the expense of their boys is, of course, to ignore the harms which girls face too.  (And to ignore men’s responsibilities as parents!) We can call attention to the harms facing boys and men without dismissing and denigrating women and girls.

This article came to my attention via Caribbean feminist, Roberta Clarke’s blog post about the need for reliable allies:

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?”

I don’t share her pessimism when it comes to working with men because we do have feminist men working with CODE RED.  YAY! (In fact, we have a very exciting project in the pipeline which will see young men and women working together). I do share her concerns, however, about the new men’s organisations which have emerged in the region since the late 90s and some gender scholars and practitioners who are decidedly anti-woman.  Many who are talking the gender talk are attracting legitimacy and funding but are not at all interested in gender equality.  Thinking through gender is hard, hard work. You’ve got to be willing to think, to hurt your head, to be introspective, to question everything, to examine your own privileges and to live the talk everyday.  It’s hard work. And at a minimum, its work that potential allies have to commit to doing.

On a related note, Philip Cohen of the US, who blogs at Family Inequality uses data to show that single moms can’t be scapegoated for the murder rate any more. 

Rum & Rape Culture

Earlier this month we highlighted the use of sexist, racialised images of women (or rather parts of their bodies) in Caribbean advertising.

Via Caribbean feminist blogger & creative writer, Creative Commess, I came across this advertisement for rum which basically endorses date rape.

“Avoid the friend zone.  Offer her a real drink,” says Angostura, a Trinidad & Tobago rum distillery.

Edited to add: After posting this image on our tumblr (yes, we’re on tumblr too!) some people responded that we had misinterpreted the ad, that it is in fact NOT a nod to rape culture.  The other interpretation is that if a young man offers a woman a good quality drink she will be impressed with his “good taste” and want to have a sexual relationship with him rather than just be friends.  (Apparently friendship is not what men are supposed to be after.) There is still a lot to be unpacked in even that interpretation of the ad. The message remains problematic and draws on gendered ideologies about men and women and sexual-economic exchange.

 

Barbados Media Treats Mental Health Issues With lack of Compassion, Understanding

Dear Editor:

I read with sorrow the news you carried of the woman who was hospitalised after walking naked in Broad Street.  But before I go further, perhaps I can first entreat that you not accompany this letter with her image as you did the story you carried.  And may I say that I understand your need to be current with the news.

As someone who lives with the occasional ill health that accompanies bi-polar disorder, I appreciate your image’s predicament.  The sense of judgement that most of you at Barbados Today and most of your readers take for granted is sometimes lost in the moments of crisis suffered by we who are diagnosed with mental ill health.

Nevertheless, we the diagnosed mentally ill live among you.  Most of us even live well as no doubt you do.  Our error is in thinking that you view us as one of you, and could depend on your empathy to shelter our moments of self harm.

Might I genuinely wish that none of you, including the many who will tout our images of nakedness on facebook and blackberries, ever share our shame and social neglect.

Guidance,

Margaret D. (Kawamuinyo) Gill

Letter to the Editor published here with permission.

No thanks, Banks!

So Banks Beer, which markets itself as the national beer of Barbados, recently launched an ad with the tag line, “My Brown Ting, My Banks.  Brown never looked so tasty.”
Yup, a racist, sexist colonial throwback which draws on a long history of the sexualisation, commodification and thingification of the brown woman’s body. Very, very original and imaginative, Banks.
Banks joins a long list of other Caribbean advertisers who drawn on worn-out racialised and sexualized images of women to sell anything from alcohol to cellphones.

Vidyaratha Kissoon of Guyana has publicly denounced the objectification of women’s bodies in advertising, especially light of the persistently high levels of violence against women in the region:

The use of women’s bodies in advertising and marketing in Guyana has increased in proportion to the intense levels of violence that many women and girls face. Around the world, many advocates against violence campaign against the objectification of women in the media.

When we wrote about the Banks ad on our facebook page, one reader responded that we were focusing on non-issues to the exclusion of other more important ones, that for that reason no one takes feminists seriously and that alcohol advertising must use sexualized and racialised images of parts of women’s bodies because their target audience is men:

rrrriiiiiggghttt, when you all are done you will turn alcohol ads into what? milk ads? these products are mainly marketed at MEN hence the sexy images, instead of flustering over a beer commercial why not campaign for real issues affecting women, such as the right to choose and abortion rights.
This is why women’s rights movements are now viewed as nuisance groups.

This perception of feminists as “nuisances” is as old as the sexist, racialised images Caribbean marketers trade in. So too is the old trick of accusing us of failing to understand what the real issues are and of being selective in acknowledging our activism.

Another reader had this to say:
this frankly sad but strange logic is more common than not from your average Caribbean woman. A function of how much out popular culture of hypersexualising not just thoughts, but songs, slang, our festivals like Carnival and Chutney fetes in T&T…Its really disturbing to read someone say its aimed at men so must be OK. Where’s the subtlety? Nobody’s saying wear a sack but whatever happened to commercials where companies never felt the need to tell us that brown never looked so tasty.

Her comment highlights the fact that since these racialised, sexist images are EVERYWHERE they have become normalized.
Well, a few flustered nuisances will be doing what we can to highlight to contextualize and historicize these images. Join us! CODE RED has started its own campaign asking our readers and members to send us sexist ads from across the Caribbean. You can email us too at redforgender [at] gmail [dot] com.