Diary of a mothering worker. January 12, 2016.

grrlscene

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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Home

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

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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.

Are Caribbean feminisms trans* inclusive?

The conversation below is reproduced from WOMANTRA with the permission of the participants. It represents an attempt by participants to process, dialogue, negotiate and learn about trans* inclusive reproductive justice movements. It is perverse to debate into abstraction what are literally matters of life and death for some. It is healthy to admit the need to think in community and for spaces where you can share, learn and grow.

@Mod_Charissa:

What do you think of the idea that it’s offensive/transphobic to say reproductive rights is a woman’s issue?And that ‘uterus havers’ is the only appropriate term.
While I fully understand the intentions of inclusion with this term, I’m not comfortable with terms that seem to divorce womanhood/femininity away from issues that are decidedly due to women’s oppression.
If uteri were perceived as a masculine trait, the rights of “uterus havers” would not be under attack. Lack of reproductive access has everything to do with the devaluing/control of femininity.
So while various genders stand to benefit from reproductive access, I don’t think it’s inappropriate to call reproductive rights a “woman’s issue”. Reproductive rights are not being denied because some people have uteri. They’re being denied because uteri is associated with womanhood.

@battymamzelle:

I don’t know that it’s “offensive” so much as (intentionally?) not as inclusive as it could be. Reproductive rights ARE a women’s issue, but they’re not ONLY a woman’s issue, and in the quest to secure them, we are generally speaking about people who have uteri, not just people who identify as women. Not all cis women have a uterus. That doesn’t mean that they don’t get a say in the discussion.

I think it’s fine for cis women to want to talk about reproductive experiences that they specifically face, but I also don’t think it means they should have free reign to speak over or exclude other people who have uteri in all venues. Because when we talk about reproductive rights, we have been basically saying that “women should the right to decide what happens to their own bodies” but as with everything else in the feminist movement, our understanding of who needs access to those rights has expanded and when we use language that isn’t inclusive we imply that only women with uteri deserve these rights. It’s a very TERF argument to make that a small semantic change is too much of a burden imo. Unless of course, the stated goal is reproductive rights for cis women only.

@battymamzelle:

Also this. I guess you can sub in “abortion” for “reproductive rights.”

http://everydayfeminism.com/…/gender-inclusive…/

@Mod_Charissa:

A Woman’s Right to Choose,” “Women’s Health,” and “Women’s Access” are all phrases that erase me and others like me.”

Well I’ve been told it’s inherently offensive and transphobic to say reproductive rights is a “women’s” issue rather than “uterus haver” issue.

I don’t understand why the semantic change is “small” and “not a burden” when pushing to exclude the term woman. But “erasure” when including it. Do semantics matter or not? If it does matter, how do we choose which to go with? Why do we have to choose one. anyway?

Sorry, I think “uterus havers” is a fine term for someone to use in conjunction with any other term but to say it’s inappropriate to mention specifically women when speaking about reproductive rights is silly. As I said, people aren’t discriminating against women because they have uteri. The main problem transmen and other non-binary people have right now is that their uteri is associated with womanhood and femininity. Arguably if that association were to cease, so would their struggle for reproductive rights.

The “uterus haver” term does not encapsulate that reality. The devaluing of womanhood/femininity is at the center of lack of access to reproductive health imo.

I understand how it validates someone’s identity, but it is short sighted and careless to dogmatically enforce that term and only that term.

@battymamzelle:

I personally think “uterus haver” is a weird and clunky phrase but it doesn’t “erase women” it includes people who don’t identify as women who also have a stake in these issues because women are not the only people whose rights are being threatened here.

And I disagree that our oppression isn’t related to us having a uterus. Historically the withholding of rights to women has specifically been about the possession of a uterus. Whether it was “hysteria,” thought to be a case of the uterus wandering about the body, menstrual cycles that make us hormonal and too emotional to make rational decisions surrounding enfranchisement, or infertility that rendered a woman incapable of producing the requisite “heir and a spare” how are these prejudices not things that would also apply to trans and non-binary people who also have a uterus? Women have historically been thought to be the weaker, fairer sex BECAUSE we have a uterus, but women were also historically DEFINED as being any person in possession of a uterus. If one definition can change, why can’t the other? Why is this the one time when it’s okay to define womanhood by our physical bodies when we’ve worked long and hard to divorce the idea that sex and gender are correlated?

I don’t think anyone is saying we should ban the word women, but as I said before, our understanding of feminism has grown, and now we see that not just women have a stake in reproductive rights. And it just strikes me as really exclusive to ask trans and non-binary people to “just assume” that they are included in a struggle that refuses to name them. Isn’t that the same issue that black feminism had with white feminism? Why should we expect solidarity from people we refuse to acknowledge? And if the issue is the symbolic removal of the word “women” then why not simply phrase it to include both? “women and other people with uteri” is longer sure, but it satisfies both complaints, so it’s really up to everyone to decide which battle is more important. A knowingly exclusive name? Or the actual fight for reproductive rights?

Cis people have a very specific privilege over trans and non-binary people and the fact that we are also women does not prevent us from engaging in oppressive behaviors towards them. It’s our duty to help and protect THEM from the discrimination that they face because we are the ones with more privilege, not whine because they aren’t centering us, or demand semantic solidarity. Either we’re breaking the gender binary or we’re not.

@Mod_Charissa:

“Women have historically been thought to be the weaker, fairer sex BECAUSE we have a uterus”

I do not agree with this analysis of the root cause of terms like “hysteria” to describe women. As you so rightly put it, at the time only women were deemed to have uteri. Women were not called crazy and mentally weak because they have uteri.They were called so because they were women. The hysteria diagnoses was just one of many medically spurious justifications for women’s mental and physical inferiority. The pathologizing of anything associated with femininity was rampant. The association with womanhood is what made people suspect uteri make people crazy, not the anatomical part itself.

It does not make sense to me to apply that analysis in 2015 to people who have chosen indentities away from womanhood. Any prejudice trans or non-binary people face because of their uteri is specifically due to it’s association with womanhood.

“Why should we expect solidarity from people we refuse to acknowledge?”

See, the problem is in many trans-activists circles is that it’s increasingly not good enough to merely acknowledge a RANGE of experiences. One is acceptable. And that choice must be gender neutral. I’m not against the term uterus haver. I’m against it being the only acceptable term. Womanhood being divorced from female biological experiences is necessary in their definition of inclusion. I think that should be challenged because there is merit in keeping women associated with biological prejudices that stem from their womanhood.

Shari Inniss-Grant

@Mod_Charissa, I see what you’re saying about the need for a taxonomy that’s more incisive, but I think we’re seeing an intersection of prejudices. And the experience of trans and gender nonconforming people in relation to reproductive rights will help us better understand that intersection.

While reproductive rights is rooted in women’s historical (and ongoing) struggle for self-autonomy and agency, I think we’re going to see a range of ways in which that struggle affects others at the margins. The denial of access to reproductive rights is just one manifestation of an oppressive system’s control; control it will seek to maintain and exercise over every body it can–whether that body has a uterus, desires to have a uterus (I honestly wonder where science can go) or doesn’t have a uterus.
And I think women’s experience of that as a group has had manifestations that is specific to them as women, but also stems from stereotypes and expectations around gender. I disagree when you say “It does not make sense to me to apply that analysis in 2015 to people who have chosen identities away from womanhood. Any prejudice trans or non-binary people face because of their uteri is specifically due to it’s association with womanhood.” I actually think they can face a range of prejudices based on association with their womanhood, being seen as transgressing manhood or masculinity and something that’s uniquely at the intersection.

I agree with @battymamazelle that we need to listen to them when they raise issues like these, in the same way I want white or straight allies to listen to the truths my experiences have helped me to discern. This is an instance where, whether I feel uncomfortable or unsure, I’m not the expert. And if we discover later on there’s a better term, I think that will come as a result of listening and becoming invested in trans and gender variant individual’s perspective. Now, if only I knew how to put in paragraphs.

@redforgender:

I know i’m on dangerous ground here but it is also worth mentioning that trans* identities in the region do not map easily on to the dominant understanding of being transgender that circulates in and is exported from the US. Many persons who may be read as trans* in that context are often using other terms to describe themselves and have worked to organise and build coalitions with groups other than traditional women’s organisations in the region which often are ethno and class-centric and view their constituency as heterosexual (non-transgender) women who have children. So while many forms of feminist organizing have not done enough to unpack “woman” as a category, it is also important to acknowledge the organising of trans* and gender non-conforming people where their perspectives and concerns are centred. Trans people are not just on the margins of some forms of feminist organising but at the centre of some of the most dynamic thought and action!

The way how terms like cisgender and transgender get deployed often suggest that these are easily read off the body or are easily available identity categories or binary opposites. There seems to be a failure to acknowledge the history, geography and class (and racial) privilege that inhere in some identities like “genderqueer”. They are many ways of being transgender and gender non-conforming. They are many reasons why people are neither as “out” or visible as these binary oppositions suggests.  And there is also a racist exclusion of black people from the human, which recognises black femaleness but not black womanhood.

The fact is that coalitions are not built by linguistic abracadabra where some feminists seek to one-up each other regarding who is the most progressive but by difficult work across difference. A lot of what has painted us into tiny boxes is the way how organising for legislative and policy change has often meant satisficing, scaling back on vision or sacrificing the freedom and full humanity of one group at the expense of another. We have multiple experiences of this in the Caribbean. Tracy Robinson, Jacqui Alexander and Gabrielle Hosein are excellent scholarly and activist sources on this.

“Women’s rights” has a history in the exclusion and discrimination of women, biologically defined and socially constructed, not in feminist cissexism [at least not exclusively or primarily]. The women from the Global South whom I’ve met and who are working on sexual and reproductive rights are concerned about maternal mortality, 12-year-old incest survivors with no access to safe abortion, poor women imprisoned after miscarriages, women in need of their husband’s signed consent for health services, and the lack of comprehensive sexuality education in schools. We’re talking about women and girls here.

And with all the misogynist oppression that woman has come to mean, it is more than an identity category. Feminists politicised that category because it was difficult to talk about the issues women faced otherwise. I remember Peggy Antrobus saying that before 1975 nobody talked about violence against women. Now it’s all we talk about in the region. But the point is that there are particular histories to be acknowledged and critiqued even as we move beyond them. So yes, SRHR organising needs to be more trans inclusive and feminist visions and strategies need to be bolder, more radical and more inclusive. That is the difficult work of coalition building out of which the “right” language of that particular moment will emerge.

IMHO, it is neither transphobic nor cissexist to recognise that reproductive rights are a women’s issue and a trans* issue too. I have done some work with a colleague that seeks to demonstrate the way how oppressive norms around gender and sexuality dehumanise trans and gender non-conforming people, non-trans women and girls as well as other gender and sexual minorities. It is an attempt to challenge heteronormativity and transphobia within some forms of women’s/feminist organising in the region. Anyway, the fact that you are asking this question suggests openness and you’ve gotten great responses from @battymamzelle & Shari Inniss-Grant. Be well.

@battymamzelle:

“And there is also a racist exclusion of black people from the human, which recognises black femaleness but not black womanhood. ”

@redforgender, I don’t really want to jump back into this, but I wanted to say that the above was very poignant. Well said.

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The Pioneering WROC Urgently Needs Our Support

Petchary's Blog

The Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre (WROC) needs our support through a difficult time.

Economic conditions in Jamaica are harsh, we know; but can we allow a non-governmental organization serving needy communities, with a rich history of activism and achievement “go under”? I don’t think so. All the more reason, I would say, to support them in any way we can.

Kinshasa Carvalho gave a riveting account of the ground-breaking activism of the Committee Kinshasa Carvalho gives a riveting account of the ground-breaking activism of the Committee of Women for Progress, which led to the formation of WROC in 1983. (My photo)

At a recent National Integrity Action training session, we had a presentation by Kinshasa Carvalho on “Maternity Leave Law: Struggles and Victory.” It inspired me. Ms. Carvalho spoke of the enormously influential Committee of Women for Progress (CWP), a group of just nine women who through careful strategy and powerful advocacy ensured that the maternity leave law was passed on December…

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Rape survivor told STI prophylaxis is “white people stupidness”, abused by police

Guyana: A 26-year-old rape survivor reports that when she requested HIV and STI  prophylaxis following the sexual assault she was told by the police doctor, “That is white people stupidness!”:

The young woman said she asked the officers to accompany her to the doctor, but was told that they were tired because they had worked all night. The police left without taking a statement, or even inviting her to the station to make a formal report.

Her landlord eventually drove her to the Brickdam Police Station in Georgetown, and requested the rape kit. When one of the policewomen responded that they all were tired, she was taken to a police doctor stationed in an office within the very compound.

The young woman said the male doctor, to whom she was taken by one of the policewomen, handled her in a rough manner, even pulling her hair during a physical examination. “He was swabbing me, and when I cried because I was feeling pain, he said in a rough manner: “Is not a penis I swabbing you with!” The young woman said she felt embarrassed because the two female officers never objected to his remark, and they were also called to view the bruises she had sustained while being raped.

“I asked him (the police doctor) for an injection to protect me from STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), and he turned and said, “That is white-people stupidness”, the distraught woman complained.