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.


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.

Red Round-up

We post almost-daily updates of Caribbean news and commentary on issues related to gender, sexuality, Caribbean development and environment on facebook.  Facebook now requires that you pay to promote individual posts which makes the awareness-building, consciousness-raising work we do online a little more difficult since our annual budget is 0.  We’ve watched our page views fall after this policy was implemented. That just means we’ve gotta do more red-round-ups where we highlight key stories and happenings in the region.  So here goes:

Homophobic Violence at Jamaican University

Viral video of security guard in homophobic attack against Jamaica University of Technology students . J-Flag has responded to offer support to the young men who were victimised and have condemned the violence as “evidence of the malignant level of homophobia, which continues to pervade all levels of Jamaican society and ravage lives.”

1.8M Haitians affected by Hurricane Sandy

The United Nations reports that 1.8 million people have been affected by Hurricane Sandy in Haiti. Food security has been severely affected with up to two million people at risk of malnutrition.

T&T Police Tell Women Not to Get Raped

Women who exercise on Lady Chancellor Hill in Trinidad & Tobago have been advised by police to exercise caution in order to avoid rape.

CODE RED Builds Caribbean feminist online database

CODE RED is building a digital archive of Caribbean feminist online spaces. Contribute by telling us about your favourite Caribbean feminist blogs, forums, groups, pages etc.

T&T Community College Blazes Trail by offering Daycare on Campus

YAY! Here’s to other Caribbean colleges and universities following their lead!

Video: Young feminist activist from Trinidad & Tobago, Stephanie Leitch, talks about feminism in the Caribbean.

How awesome is it to know that feminism is alive and well in the region.

Barbados Launches Child Support Fund

Barbados government to provide $50 per week (USD$25) for children whose fathers have been ordered to pay child support but who have not. Fathers who are primary caregivers will also be able to apply to the fund. The Maintenance Act will also be amended to ensure that fathers could apply for child maintenance at the Magistrates’ Court (at present only mothers can apply for maintenance at the Magistrates Court).

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Caribbean Feminist Digital Activism in a Post-Feminist Age

Trinidad & Tobago’s College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts of T&T will be offering daycare facilities to it’s students soon. YAY!  At the time of making this announcement, one of the College’s administrators insisted that they did not want to be seen as “the one championing everything for the woman in the classroom.” They insisted that the daycare facilities would be to the benefit of both women and men.  And of course they should be.  I highlight that comment, however, because it demonstrates how difficult articulating anything that would be to the benefit of women is in the region.  The strategy around the pervasive anti-feminist backlash has been to couch all gender in/equality issues in gender neutral, post-feminist language.

The purpose of this post is to highlight the Caribbean online spaces where feminism is not a dirty word:

Online Groups & Pages

WOMANTRA: This group has been created for all womyn who are interested in sharing experiences, links, ideas … ANYTHING. We hope that this space is utilized not only as a networking tool but also to share, spread and gain from the knowledge that sisters have taken time and initiative to put forward. WE hope that posts will create discussion among members around the issues that affect us.

WomenSpeak Project: The WomenSpeak Project encourages women in Trinidad and Tobago and throughout the Caribbean Region to tell their stories of discrimination – in the home, in the workplace and in the public domain.

Speak Up & Out: The facebook page of a Poster/Photography Exhibition on intimate partner violence running from 24th Oct – 10th Dec in Grenada.  The page provides daily updates on domestic violence and gender equality issues in the region.

Walking into Walls is for every Caribbean woman who had to explain her beatings and bruises by claiming that she walked into a wall. This social media campaign has its roots in a 2012 regional meeting organised by the Caribbean Institute for Women in Leadership (CIWiL). It was developed by four passionate, committed Caribbean women who are tired of the walls that are routinely hit in the struggle to end violence against women. There are awesome and super active, updating the page constantly!

Guyanese Sisters is a closed facebook group for women only.

On-the-Ground Feminist Orgs 

Many other Caribbean feminist organisations with long histories of hard work on the ground also have online spaces, usually facebook pages.  I am concerned about the survival of these Caribbean feminist online spaces as facebook’s ever-changing policies seek to monetise every aspect of the facebook experience.  These organisations cannot afford to pay to promote their content.

Here are the facebook pages of notable Caribbean women’s/feminist organisations:

Women’s Media Watch of Jamaica

Haiti’s KOFAVIV which was selected as a top 10 CNN Hero.

Sistren Theatre Collective of Jamaica

Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (Trinidad & Tobago)

Feminist Blogs

There are also feminist blogs from the region like Add Fyah and Stir (Antigua & Barbuda, St. Kitts, T&T), Paula Lindo’s blog and Creative Commess (T&T) and And Still I Rise (St. Vincent & the Grenadines). Diary of a Mothering Worker by T&T feminist-mommy-worker-academic, Gabrielle Hosein, is now also published in the mainstream press.  Carolyn Cooper’s Jamaica Woman Tongue tackles race, language and everyday life in Jamaica and beyond.

Feminism in the Mainstream

Of course, Caribbean feminist voices are also found in mainstream digital spaces such as newspapers and magazines. Outlish magazine has been doing an excellent job of opening up spaces for both young women and men to discuss gender issues.  Stabroek News’ In the Diaspora Column edited by Toronto-based Guyanese scholar-activist, Alissa Trotz, gives a wide, mainstream audience to a range of social, political and development issues including state violence, violence against women, homophobia, masculinity and feminism in the region.

Feminist Twitterati 

You can also follow feminists from the region on twitter: @kennibay is Head of St. Lucia’s only LGBT rights organisation, United and Strong, and was recently profiled as one of St. Lucia’s top 10 women in the public eye.  There’s the wildly popular @mooremayhem who brings her critical eye and comedic wit to a range of issues (she’s on youtube, facebook and blogs on wordpress as well, just google Carla Moore). @fridafund is a young feminist fund coordinated by a twentysomething activist with roots in many places including the Caribbean.

LGBT Rights Activism
Trinidad and Tobago’s Coalition for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO) and Jamaica’s Forum for Lesbian’s All Sexuals and Gays are both very active online and off. Barbados GLAD is a very recent LGBT online space and of course, there are many other private groups.

Theorising Homophobias in the Caribbean is a multimedia collection offering up everything from art, activist reports and academic articles.

And there’s us!
A team of five (women and men) keeps our facebook page updated and diverse in its range of issues covered. Sometimes we wonder if anybody’s listening and if we will survive facebook policies which threaten zero-budget organisations like ours.  Nonetheless, we’re still active and growing on twitter. Earlier this year we held our first regional feminist meet-up and intend to follow up with on-the-ground in country activities. You can sign on to the CatchAFyah Caribbean feminist network here.

Please drop us a line in the comments and tell us about other digital Caribbean feminist and LGBT spaces we should know about!  (We want to know about men’s groups too!) We’ll update this page with all your suggestions!  Let’s grow this digital feminist archive!