Fictions of the Past, Visions of the Future

The Nation (Barbados) posted the following to its facebook page on Friday:

Research shows that there are more independent women today. Easy magazine wants to know if you agree with this statement, or if you think women are still financially and emotionally dependent on men.

One commenter replied that, “Women are always looking for hand-outs, most women are takers, and not givers.”


I responded with a bit of quick and dirty Barbadian history:

The question assumes that at some point women generally were dependent on men. Let’s break this down a bit for the Caribbean. Most of us in the region are descendants of women and men who came here as either indentured or enslaved labour. So that’s both men and women working under conditions of unfreedom. Fast forward to the “free” years where racial segregation persisted and Barbados of the 1940s had one of the highest mortality rates in the Caribbean. Add to that massive waves of migration of which men made up a significant number of migrants. Women end up responsibility for the care of children, emotional and financial. With the support of men and without it. They end up with a sex-segregated labour market where men as a group out earn women as a group, where women’s unemployment rate outstripped men’s, where the caring work they provide was not valued as work and where they were many overtly discriminatory policies and laws. Writing in the early 80s, sociologist Christine Barrow identified independence and dependence and complementary strategies which women used in order to fulfill their responsibility for running the household. What was the question again? Are women still emotionally and financially dependent on men? Doesn’t it sound a little ridiculous and reductionist when put in perspective? Doesn’t the assumption that a man is always independent and a woman dependent seem like rubbish now??? Women who work, who take care of their children with or without a partner, often with the help of extended families, have a long, long history in the Caribbean. At no point were masses of women sitting at home with their feet up waiting for men to bring home the bacon.

Then I directed them to this post by a Caribbean sista who does a much better job of breaking down the whole independent ladies BS meme:

An extension of that idea is that financially independent women who remain commodities or commodified in men’s eyes are a huge turn-on. It is the Holy Grail of the whole ordeal. It is the reason a man will boast of his sexual conquest of a woman and qualify it with “and I didn’t spend a cent.” So all those independent ladies in the fête who are still willing to scream on command? Oh man. That in itself is an orgasm. Because it means that as financially independent as you are, you still require my penis to be ultimately satisfied. You still take orders and I’m still in control. (via The Mongoose Chronicles)

But this is not about independent ladies.  It’s about how in the Caribbean we are constantly inventing a fictive past in order to ensure that inequities persist in the present.

After UK Prime Minister David Cameron threatened to withdraw aid from those countries which maintain anti-homosexual legislation the predictable happened.  Even countries not receiving bilateral aid from Britain stood up to defend their sovereignty and the mass and social media were awash with renewed anti-homosexual sentiment.  A few brave souls spoke up to say that yes, it was about time Caribbean governments repealed laws which criminalise same-sex sexual relations.

Then there were the usual religious pronouncements. One Nation columnist argued that:

Traditionally, we have been a country that recognized, promoted and practised the moral principles of the Christian Bible and we can see some of those represented in our laws.  […] If we allow others to force us away from the foundational values that this country was built on, we will inevitably have to change the lyrics of our National Anthem, since the Lord will cease to be our guide.

Say what????

Well, I don’t know exactly which Barbados he was talking about but traditionally we have been a plantation under 300 years of uninterrupted British rule.  A regime so  all-encompassing that even today stereotypes persist about the “passive Bajan.”

Historian Mary Chamberlain notes that:

In 1955, infant mortality [in Barbados] significantly higher than its European or North American counterparts, and almost double that prevailing in other parts of the British West Indies. […]

The underlying causes of the poverty lay in the racial divisions which structured Barbadian society. Unlike other British West Indian territories which benefited from the paternalism of Crown Colony (in effect, direct British) government, the legislature in Barbados was elected locally and responsible for taxation and domestic policy.  Those qualified to vote represented a tiny, landowning minority. As a result, the Barbadian government and its economy was in the hands of a small, white and wealthy oligarchy – known as the ‘plantocracy’ – renowned for their racism, their reactionary views and their pride in an unbroken three hundred year tradition of local rule.

Turns out the plantocracy may have had a greater hand in guiding the affairs of this island than did “the moral principles of the Christian Bible.”

Why waste so much energy re-inventing the past when the future is ours to imagine, to invent, in ways that are freer, fairer and more equitable?


One thought on “Fictions of the Past, Visions of the Future

  1. John Hunte says:

    In our historical narrative it is difficult to calculate the financial contributions of women to Caribbean economies in the immediate post-emancipation since a lot of these contributions were informal and undocumented. Since it would have been difficult forfamilies could survive solely on the documented income coming in from the males of the various units. How did our families thrive? This question begs us to consider the utility that matrifocality in families play out in Barbados and across the Caribbean, and implies that sigifiicant contributions were made to the survival of families during this period by women.
    Clearly in the early 20th century women, as wives, sisters, and daughters of migrant workers, not only birthed and raised children, but did other things to keep the families together until the men and the money came home. In my own geneology, I have one great-grandmother who ran a bus company. another who was a butcher while raising her eleven children: both were faithful wives of migrant workers. I also have a grandmother, 10 years older than her husband, who successfullyraised her own and her sisters children while running three generations of her family in St. John.
    Evidence suggests that while, in each case the deed on family properties acquired identify the husbands, it was the woman;s father, uncles, or brother’s who were supportive in securing the land, disturbing the suggested silence that each woman played in securing her location and that of her family.
    We need to continue to interrogate the information presented to us as fact, and unveil the silences that perpetuate certain stereotypes.


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