Carnival is woman. What if women refused to show up for carnival?

I have written previously about being a 16-year-old girl at a school fair when a grown-ass man burnt me with his cigarette because I refused to dance with him.

I my teens I watched the colour drain from a friend’s face as we walked along Spring Garden in the thick Kadooment Day crowd. A man had sexually assaulted her as he casually walked by.

In my early twenties I was stung on the buttocks multiple time by a popular-for-the-season calypsonian in full view of security who only told him to “cool out” after I pleaded with them to do something.

Security at fetes is meant to keep men safe.  Security guards will break up fights between men.  I’m yet to see them intervene when women are being obviously harassed or assaulted.

There is a video of a fat, black Caribbean woman being sexually assaulted and stripped by a group of men whom she unsuccessfully fights off and attempts to run away from.  No one intervened.  Someone(s) recorded the video and it was viewed 1.4 million times when I saw it. Hypersexualized in Caribbean popular culture, male performers often engage with fat black women in ways that border on ridicule.  In the video, that ridicule escalated to physical and sexual violence. I felt such powerless rage and sadness at the utter contempt for that woman displayed by the men who assaulted her and the crowd which looked on.

The carnivals, dubs, fetes that we consider key spaces for the production of Caribbean popular culture and emblematic of Caribbean identity are grossly hostile and violent to women.  These are value producing, income generating activities from which men disproportionately benefit and where women are collectively unsafe.  Women risk harassment, coerced interactions, physical and sexual assault and even death in order to participate in Caribbean culture.  And now in our social media-saturated times our bodies, stripped bare but still fighting back can be viewed over and over again. Most viewers utterly and completely unable to fathom that what they are viewing is a sexual violation that no woman should have to experience.  Male sexual entitlement and the objectification and (hetero)sexualization of women is so commonplace that assaults on us are understood culture.

Carnival is woman.  What if women refused to show up for carnival?


EDITED TO ADD Carla Moore’s vlog about the assault below:


Do Caribbean courts discriminate against fathers?

The European Union Delegation to the Caribbean recently announced that it has awarded 55,000 euro to Trinidad and Tobago’s Single Fathers Association to further its work on gender equality.

Loop T&T reported that a representative from the EU stated:

“Some eighty percent of child custody cases in Trinidad (and Tobago) are judged in favour of the woman. So the reality is that many willing fathers are deprived of the opportunity, pushed aside and not allowed to play a meaning full rolled in the lives of their children.”

I was taken aback by this rhetoric from the EU representative. First it seemed profoundly ignorant of the fact that the majority of women with custody of and primary care for children were not awarded such by any court. It also seemed to suggest that either women themselves or the state deprived men of a relationship with their children. Lastly, there was no mention of a research report from which this figure was drawn.

Hazel Thompson-Ahye, who conducted research on gender bias in courts in T&T, found that fathers were awarded custody in 50% of cases where custody was contested. However, fathers were unlikely to contest custody.

We do not know why fathers are unlikely to contest custody.  Perhaps they feel that the children are better off with their mothers, perhaps they think that to contest custody would be vindictive, perhaps they recognise that sole custody and primary care for children entail very hard work, perhaps they assume, incorrectly,  that they would lose in court. Perhaps they subscribe to gender norms that see mothering as a natural, everyday 24/7 non-negotiable activity and fathering as an activity that is negotiable, awarded special status and which doesn’t require 24/7 engagement.

Recently, a Barbadian father who is facing charges after leaving his two-year-old and four-year-old children at home alone while he went to the shop to buy bread and rum was quoted as saying:

 “I now realise how hard women does got it.” 

A very honest admission of both the gendered nature of caring work and the difficulty of it.

Thompson-Ahye goes on to state:

What I found a bit curious during my research was that in every case where the father was granted custody, the judge had made mention of a mother figure in the father’s life — his own mother, his second wife, sister or nanny — as though the father needed some female to assist him in his parenting role.

Women do a disproportionate share of unpaid care work.  This responsibility for care has adverse economic consequences for women. Women also do a lot of gendered kin-keeping work that facilitates men’s fathering. And should they choose not to, this cannot be viewed as an act of discrimination against men.

I hope that despite this very shaky start the Single Fathers Association of Trinidad and Tobago will do some genuine work towards greater gender justice within families, more equitable distribution of caring labour and a greater valuing of that labour.

Run out the mayor and root out misogyny

We live with such casual and everyday misogyny that public officials have to be especially crass to get called out.

Trinidadians are demanding the removal of the Mayor of Port of Spain Raymond Tim Kee after he effectively blamed  pannist and Japanese national, Asami Nagakiya, for her own murder:

Before Carnival, I did make a comment about vulgarity and lewdness in conduct.

I spoke of some of the things that I see women do, assisted by men of course. But women have a responsibility to ensure they are not abused. I call it ‘abuse’. My argument was that you could enjoy Carnival without going through that routine. […] When I saw that news this morning, I know that tourists will come here and may not be aware of all the risks of doing certain things or behaving in a certain manner.

Was there any evidence of resistance? Was it alcohol-controlled and therefore (were) involuntary actions engaged in? I could well imagine (when she is identified) what will be said by the country from which she came, about one of their people coming here to participate in our Carnival and end up dead. It is not an accident from any vehicle…no truck bounced anybody. It is a matter that she was jumping up in a costume.

So, let your imagination flow.

My comment is that this is rather embarrassing for us in the City and it’s embarrassing for Carnival. I feel that many more advisories should go out to the public, especially for people (tourists) coming here who don’t really understand a lot of the culture.

The above comments were attributed to the Mayor by Trinidad and Tobago Newsday who also described Nagakiya as a “light-skinned woman — possibly an Asian tourist”. It is unclear if this racialised description is editorial or reflects the comments of Tim Kee himself.

Meanwhile in Barbados, the National HIV/AIDS Commission is hosting a Men’s Health event and since such events don’t exactly sell themselves, the promise of “body painted ladies” is offered up as attraction.

The sexism in that advertisement, the mayor’s disproved and dehumanising assumption that respectability protects women from men’s violence against us and the misogyny reflected in the fatal violence against Asami are ALL connected.

For the record,  women have a right to be.  We have a right to be in our bodies however we please.  We have a right to be in public.  We have a right to be in the streets on carnival Tuesday, bikinied, blinged out and pelting waist. We have a right to do that without fear or threat of violence. Men do not have rights to our bodies. Men do not have rights to our bodies, dressed or undressed, in private or public, light-skinned or dark, tourist or local. Men do not have rights to women’s bodies.  Men’s violence is men’s violence and women are not responsible for it. Men’s desires, men’s health, men’s sexual prerogative are not some greater good for which women are to be sacrificed.

Run out the mayor and root out misogyny. Our lives depend on it.


Edited to add: The POS Mayor has issued an apology:

He agrees that his comments could have been considered out of line, but despite the anger being expressed from many quarters including feminist groups and activists, he has also received calls of support from several women agreeing with him on the lack of modesty displayed by some women and girls on the streets during the Carnival Celebrations.


Diary of a mothering worker. January 12, 2016.


Post 221.

The failure rate in my most effective first year course was the highest in ten years. There’s something going on in our education system, before students get to UWI, which has led them to check out of an investment in their own learning. I don’t think this deterioration is slowing down.

In 2006, students were assigned four readings per week, and mostly completed them in time for class. By this year, we were down to two readings per week, and even then, by mid-semester, the majority had stopped reading both or even one in entirety.

The course explicitly includes multiple learning opportunities, levels and styles. It asks students to do their own internet research and to present what they have learned about concepts and definitions to their peers to compare what I teach with their own findings. Assignments also require students to read newspapers or scan on-line media…

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My maternal grandmother died at age 79, owning her own home but not the land on which it still sits. A place of her own meant a lot to her as her childhood and early adulthood were filled with violence. Coming from a long line of women with very little resources, the overriding lesson I was taught was that independence (or at the very least ingenuity in service of it) was the single defining marker of womanhood.

My upbringing did not include any preparation to be a man’s wife as I’ve heard other Afro-Caribbean women express. I came to the conviction that I should live life radically on my own terms.   I learnt from women who dealt in complexities, not in ideals that set you up for a spectacular set of disappointments.

I’d plait my paternal grandmother’s hair as she shared stories of pretending to cry after her lover had beat her only to break a bottle over his head when he came to comfort her. Womanhood meant toughness, an ability to decode sexism and skillfully negotiate it with wits or fists. I did not inherit this grandmother’s toughness. Easily moved to tears, they wrote in my first report from school. That’s still true.

In the historical denial of black womanhood there is of course the denial of black humanity but there is also a freedom from a hetero/sexist scripting of womanhood to be claimed.  The denial of femininity offers not just the opportunity to intentionally create femme identities of our own making but to reject what Toni Cade Bambara has called the “madness of masculinity and femininity”. That which was denied you can create a space of freedom not just a space of yearning.

Academic scholarship and creative work alike celebrate black Caribbean women’s abilities to work economic miracles:

She could work miracles, she would make a garment from a square of cloth
in a span that defied time. Or feed twenty people on a stew made from
fallen-from-the-head cabbage leaves and a carrot and a cho-cho and a palmful of meat.

–from For My Mother (May I Inherit Half Her Strength) by Lorna Goodison)

Less is said about the other kinds of magic we make (other than that we make it in exile or in Suriname😉

Who knows how my grandmothers would feel about my decision to make love and life with a defiant, self-defined dyke whose emotions are always on the surface, just as my maternal grandmother’s were, and who makes my soul sing? But I can’t help but connect my homemaking to theirs. Home is the magic my love and I conjure together across multiple differences, across oceans and time zones and stubborn similarities that could undo us.   Loving her makes me feel free.

Ladies Not So Free

A young woman was recently refused free entry at a Trinidad and Tobago nightclub because she was “dressed like a man,” according to the person working the door, and therefore did not meet the criteria of hyperfeminine gender presentation required for “ladies free”.

Nightclubs that advertise “ladies free” are actually using women as part of the experience they are selling to (heterosexual) men whom they perceive as their legitimate customers.  This is the reason men are expected to pay and “ladies” are admitted “free”. It is neither an act of feminist benevolence nor discrimination against men that club owners have such policies.  Such policies aid in heterosexualizing public spaces and reinforcing the notion that ALL women should be sexually available to men. These clubs with their dress codes, including the requirement that women wear heels, seek to reinforce a heterosexualised femininity, regulating gender and sexuality and often discriminating based on class, colour and size. Women can collectively challenge this hetero/sexism and classism by refusing to patronize such clubs and organising our own forms of entertainment and community building.

That said, sometimes you just want to be out in public like everyone else without being misgendered, discriminated against or otherwise subjected to somebody else’s ignorance or worse.

For some of the chatter about the incident see also:

Country Clubbing aka Discriminating Tastes

Live Wire finds real victims of Aria’s discrimination policy

The Problems of Gender Identity

Aria Lounge Rell Outta Timing

Shoes, Gender-based Violence and the Trini Club Scene

Women’s Rights Group Plans to Protest Against Aria Lounge

Aria Lounge Policies Under Fire

Diary of a Mothering Worker


Caribbean Gender Institute Participants Mark Human Rights Day with Photo Series

537During Human Rights Day, the final day of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence Campaign, the 11th Caribbean Institute in Gender and Development- CIGAD wants you to remember that “Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status. We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.”

View the entire photo series here.