Ending Rape Culture in the Caribbean

Zero Tolerance Will Yield Zero Impact until We Get Hard On Rape Culture

We have crazy ideas about men. We talk about their primal desires as uncontrollable, insatiable hormone driven NEEDS for sex as if they were fully embuddyed, rendered mindless and essentially emotionally stunted. The overwhelming power of testosterone is their divine curse, comparable to “that time of the month” for a woman. Testosterone as the principal male sex hormone means that we accept that it’s OK for men to always be a “little crazy” when it comes to “that thing”. We generally accept as natural, the idea that sexual choice and decision making almost exclusively comes from what’s between a man’s legs, rather than his eyes or beneath his rib cage. So in 2006 when Dr. McGill was quoted in the Jamaica Gleaner as saying “if there are problems with who [a man] thinks he is, if his social skills are marred but his sexual developments normal, his sex drive pushes him to satisfaction (by any means necessary)”  http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20060319/news/news5.html. We swallow this kind of reasoning up. I guess a spoonful of sugar really makes the medicine go down in the most delightful way.

In the field of crazy of ideas, here are a few of my own.

  1. Men aren’t marginalized, they ARE imprisoned.  Overwhelmed by social demands that force them to constantly act out and prove their manhood by performing a kind of masculinity that demands dominance over everything and everybody, particularly women, to gain legitimacy as worthy men. Life as a man in patriarchal prison means you’re on house arrest and you have to wear an annoying ankle bracelet. Sure an ankle bracelet is challenging, but not impossible to live with. So our average man pretends that he’s impervious to pain, and life’s stressors are just tests for which he “mans up”. Our average guy feels the prison of his own house is still better than being locked away in a high security prison, heck anybody can used to an ankle bracelet. Men are reasonably comfortable in their patriarchal prison and are often the chief beneficiaries of its privileges.  Privilege can sure make prison life feel like it’s worth it. So what if a guy can’t cry freely or be true to the underlying range of his human emotional responses. Come on, everyone “knows” that the most legitimate masculine emotion is anger anyway. So, many men continue to suppress their capacity for empathy and deny their capacity for substantive human connection. This denial means the majority of imprisoned men which make up a good chunk of the 49% of the population remain committed to reaffirming their manliness while claiming their rights to lead and getting the “best” of all things (and women) the society has to offer.

2. The world doesn’t need one more “nice guy” who DOES NOT take a stance on sexual objectification of women and violence, especially violence against women. Like the word suggests when you objectify a woman you “thingify” her. She becomes primarily her ass, tits, pussy, a Teacha’s Pet, a thing with a rack, wid tings weh jus’ “bubble”, a breathing entity yes, but yuh cyan help but “clap dat” or in Antigua kick een she back door. Wi need fi use our heads, have a conscience and understand that the thingyfication happens when everything we see including printing services on a giant Half Way Tree billboard which has a “girl frog” with legs spread and a caption “You know you want me” or chicken wings advertisements where three attractive women ask “what’s your flavour”, makes women’s humanity more and more invisible. The marketing decisions that produce music and advertising I described included the input of nice guys, and “well reasoned” women. But wait, nice guys, and even well reasoned women, have testosterone too right? Right the stuff that makes you a little sexually crazy.

As I write this Jamaica has been shaken again by another horrific story of how a few men couldn’t control “their crazy”. The men got so crazy on the diet of thingyfication and being constantly told that compassion, caring, and respectful interdependence ah “gyal ting” that they could exploit, defile and damage 5 women, including an 8 year old, all because the only thing worse dan being a “gyal” is being a “batty man”.

Men need to acknowledge that it’s not the damn testosterone, but rather this matrix-like life under house arrest that has left you messed up in your heads and hearts. It appears to me that it’s no coincidence that men make up most of our mentally disturbed and homeless on Kingston’s streets, Jamaica’s homicides are still primarily perpetrated BY men AGAINST other men, and rape and sexual assaults worldwide and in Jamaica are still primarily committed by men. We’ve had spoonfuls and generations of the mind dulling sugary medicine about needing IT so bad men can’t control themselves, that the craziness starts to feel “normal”. Men and women start to believe that men’s unfettered anger, lack of self control and emotional shallowness isn’t great for most societies but hell we accept it, we never really demand more, and currently we just ask that theydon’t let it get out of hand.

So let’s not be disingenuous by saying that this time it was a “deliberate act of violence to show power”. RAPE ALWAYS IS! And we simply don’t take it far enough when we describe the incident “as one of the most shocking, horrific and despicable crimes committed against Jamaican women”. It, like every rape, should be felt by each of us as if it is a crime committed against every Jamaican. The equally important question is what continues to push men so far to the edges of their own humanity? What is happening in the emotional and psychological life of the man who rapes AND the man who silently just hopes that it won’t happen to a woman he loves? What causes the disconnection so deep that men can comfortably thingify women and reduce the complexity of sexual desire to a demand made by a penis? When we naturalize male violence, accept thingyfication and fail to help men fulfill the fullest expressions of themselves, we create cultures that propagate rape and widespread complicity. Until we are willing to take responsibility for those things, the work towards zero tolerance for sexual violence will continue to be undermined almost to the extent that it has zero impact.

Article by Jamaican feminist activist and social entrepreneur, Georgia Love.

Image source: Lime Jamaica

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CatchAFyah and the history of Caribbean Feminist Activism

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Today’s In the Diaspora column in Stabroek News looks at CODE RED’s CatchaFyah grounding in the context of the history of Caribbean feminist activism.

Read the article here and leave a comment!

We are the 51%

There is great buzz about St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ first ever Women’s Congress to take place in March.  SVG made international headlines last year for its high levels of intimate partner violence, violence against women and femicides–the highest in the OECS.  The launch of the Women’s Congress was much needed good news.

The Women’s Congress is convened under the theme “Women Rising, Crisis and Response-Women as Agents of Change.”  The theme suggests that women are coming together to find solutions to the problems they face as women but also to the issues faced by their communities and country. And why shouldn’t they? After all they make up the majority of the population!  The Women’s Congress also expressly set out to be inclusive, naming rural women, people with disabilities, indigenous women and Rastafari women and young people among their key constituents and change-agents.

The Women’s Congress planners held a recent press conference where they were forced to defend their focus on women before a room full of journalists who were all male. They were asked to explain why rather than focus on broad gender issues, they were focusing on worn-out women’s issues. For about the last 20 years or so in the Caribbean “gender” has been used to invalidate a focus on women.  It is pointless to clarify how feminists use the term since this is not a semantic battle at all.  It is a simple belief held by many that women ought to know their place.  And that place is definitely not organising congresses to discuss women’s issues.  It is not parliament either where women in St. Vincent and the Grenadines are a mere 3 of 22 representatives.

The organisers defended  themselves by saying that there could be a men’s congress if men demanded it, that they recognise that they have to work with men in order to achieve gender equality, that there is a project in the works to create a resource centre for men and boys.

The OAS representative at the launch stated that:

the Caribbean lacks a critical mass of women political leaders committed to promoting gender equality in areas such as women’s economic empowerment and security, ending gender-based violence, advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights, equal pay for work of equal value and shared family responsibilities.

Beyond women as political leaders, she failed to mention women as a political constituency.  The fact that we’re not one.  States respond to men. Often in very, very problematic ways, but respond they do with a range  of institutions and policies.  But they do not respond to women as women. (They respond to women as mothers, again in problematic ways.)  If the Women’s Congress can move towards the creating women as a political constituency they will have achieved tremendous success.

The other point to be  addressed is the assumption that addressing women’s issues means negative outcomes for men. The Women in the Caribbean Project was the longest ever regional research project on Caribbean women.  It took place from 1979-1983.  One of the objectives of the project was to influence policy in ways that would improve women’s lives.  One of the guidelines the researchers set for themselves was that any policy recommendation should benefit both women and men.  Recognising the human rights of women and the specific gendered harms which many women face does not mean that men’s issues are ignored or men’s human rights are denied.

Men as partners for gender equality cannot be invoked to invalidate a focus on women.  That is not only absurd but goes contrary to any feminist notion of gender equality.

Wishing the women of St. Vincent and the Grenadines a successful Women’s Congress!

Jamaica: Fathers’ Names to be Mandatory on Birth Certificate

The Jamaica government plans to make it mandatory for fathers’ names to be recorded on birth certificates.  The Minister responsible for the legislation stated that:

 a penalty will be imposed on mothers who falsify information or refuse to give details of their child’s father in the registration process.

Vaz said if the mother is unable to disclose the father’s name, she would have to provide the reason on the appropriate section of the birth registration form.

Out of wedlock births in the Caribbean can run up to 75% of all births. Most Caribbean countries do not permit a single father to register the birth of a child but a single mother is permitted to do so.  (If the father is present at the registration his name is recorded and the child bear’s his last name, if he isn’t  no name is recorded for the father and the child gets her mother’s last name). Hence, there are many people with birth certificates which do not bear their fathers’ names.

This does not mean that they do not know who their fathers are, do not or have not lived with him or his relatives at some point or do not have the financial or emotional support of their fathers.

My father taught me how to read, walked me to school daily, supported the family financially for a time, all without his name being on the birth certificate.  Perhaps, since legally only a single mother can register the birth of child, many fathers are not present at the registration of the birth.  (Being named on the birth certificate is not seen as proof nor a requirement of fatherhood). This does not mean that they are not present in the child’s life, nor does it explain the absence of those fathers who choose to not to be a part of their child’s life in any way or who eventually end up having little contact with their children.

At first glance then, the Jamaica legislation seems a step in the right direction.  Single fathers would be required by law to be part of the registration process of their child’s birth.

However, the Minister’s comments reveal that these legislative changes actually mean increased responsibility for mothers which is best understood by examining Caribbean welfare policies.  Michelle Rowley has argued that Caribbean welfare policies reveal “the fear of supporting non-performing or deviant masculinity. […] welfare policies bring women into a complicit relationship with the state in so far as they are now invested with the responsibility of disciplining deviant masculinity if their own needs are to be met.”

Jamaican women will now be forced to name the father of their children or to give account of why they cannot do so.  The burden of naming falls on the mother as does the punishment for refusing to name or naming fraudulently.  In this way the legislation serves to entrench existing inequalities based on gender and class.

Ultimately, more is at stake than just birth certificates.  Afro-Caribbean, working-class families have been deemed dysfunctional since the anthropologists first got a glimpse of them.  Fathers were understood to be marginal to their children’s lives, expected to provide financial support but largely failing to do so.  The pathological black family became the scape-goat for all of societies ills with black mothers receiving most of the blame.

And mothers are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.  Also in Jamaica newspapers this weekend was the report of a study which claims that whether or not young men from the inner-city are able to escape a life of crime and violence is due to the presence of male figures in their lives:

A boy from the inner city who beats the influence of the street usually has a male influence somewhere. A male teacher, pastor and uncle are the three we usually find in studies. So when a mother comes out and says ‘is me and God alone’, it’s a lie…”

Mothers just don’t have this same kind of influence on their children’s lives because, according to the researcher, they cannot serve as role models for their children:

A number of studies show that three-quarters (75 per cent) of boys want to be like their fathers and more than half of girls want to be like their fathers. So once a father has a job and is stable and spends a lot of time with his son, that boy is most likely to be stable,” Gayle, an anthropologist of social violence, told the Sunday Observer.

“It is not the same thing for his mother. So the mother can have a stable job and thing, but the boy is still problematic because the mother is not a role model for her son. Very few boys choose, (for example), the careers of their mothers,” he added.

I really don’t have time to unpack the many stereotypes, assumptions and unexamined sexism in the statement above. I trust you good readers are able to do so.  Just as (some of ) the readers of these newspapers where able to grasp the gendered implications of the new legislation and the way in which they ultimately serve to coerce the most vulnerable.  They spoke of cases of incest, inter-generational relationships and child abuse:

yes I guess there will be many reference to incest in the explanation section. Everybody must have had crazy juice the day this was decided. Punish the mother and having to state possible shameful details on what can potentially be public record? How awful it will be to have to present such a certificate in any setting. Freedom of choice (a Go Jamaica commenter).

Barry Chevannes’ analysis of teenage mothers accessing services at the Women’s Centre of Jamaica during 1989-1994 revealed that 75% of baby-fathers stood by the baby-mothers during pregnancy with 46% of young women reporting that they saw the baby-father everyday during their pregnancy.  If this research is still relevant today, surely all it would take to get more fathers’ names on birth certificates would be a public education campaign encouraging them to do so.  Getting fathers to go the distance in terms of parenting would require appropriate policies, programmes and support for families.   This requires a greater investment of time, resources and changing understandings of parenting and fathering.  It requires genuine commitment by the state.  Co-opting/coercing women into disciplining delinquent masculinity is not the answer.

Carnival is woman…but not just any woman

Women’s public performance is always political, the fat black woman’s even more so.  There mere fact that this video* is circulating so widely is because people view the fat black woman’s performing body as disruptive and “unruly” (to draw on the work of Jamaican literary scholar Andrea Shaw.)

Some people argued that images of this woman would deter tourists from visiting Trinidad and Tobago for carnival.   This calls up how women’s bodies are used to signify the nation, in ways that are ultimately harmful for women.  Despite this nation being one where “every creed and race find an equal place” the fat black woman’s unruly political body is out of place, especially at carnival which itself has become a more commodified, commercially driven enterprise which re-inscribes class divisions rather than turning them on their heads as carnival has been expected to do.

Not just any body can represent the nation.  (Think of how he Caribbean’s beauty queens have traditionally been light-skinned, middle-class and slim.)

Trinidadian comedian Rachel Price had this to say:

That have to be CONFIDENCE to leave yuh house with nothing but red lace. When de holes in yuh arse that bigger than the holes on de road to Lopinot and of ALL words SEXY THING on the drapes posing as a panty ???

Yup, a fat joke! A cheap ridiculing of one woman out to have a good time.  What strikes me as most disturbing is the assumption that a fat woman couldn’t and shouldn’t be confident.

You would think that generations of fat, black Caribbean women who have refused to know their place would have put an end to such ignorance and prejudice.

Andrea Shaw’s The Embodiment of Disobedience: Fat Black Women’s Unruly Political Bodies is available at Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/Embodiment-Disobedience-Womens-Unruly-Political/dp/0739114875/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1301155101&sr=8-2

This post was originally posted to our facebook page and tumblr.  Read a response to our post from the roots and rights blog.

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