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.

Response to “I’m Afraid of Black Men”

For many years following my friend’s incident, the mere thought of a black man close to me made me nervous. I didn’t trust ‘them’. I became one of those old, white ladies who would clutch their pocket books when a black man was within two feet. I wouldn’t go to clubs that were predominantly black for fear of being stabbed, shot or God forbid – spoken to. I wouldn’t listen to Rap and Hip Hop music because that potentially made the wrong statement.  (from I’m Afraid of Black Men via OUTLISH magazine)

Before you read the comment from one CODE RED member below you have to read this article entitled “I’m Afraid of Black Men”.

One of CODE RED’s members responds:

Why is it OK to stereotype black men as unemployable, hyper-sexual criminals? Even as the article is one woman’s opinion it draws on historical discourses about black male hypersexuality and criminality. Some acknowledgement of the larger context within which these racist, sexist tropes about black masculinity originate and circulate is therefore necessary. Some acknowledgement of the material consequences for black masculinity of the intersection of anti-black racism and sexism is also necessary (i.e the black men like Emmett Till who paid for anti-black racism and sexism with their lives).

Yes, black people from the Caribbean often wish to draw an analytical separation between themselves and African-Americans but rather than repeat the stereotypes (with which we are all already quite familiar) why not produce a more reflexive, insightful analysis? Perhaps because the writer’s sheer elitism and ignorance won’t let her.

The kumbaya moment at the end really does nothing to resolve the anti-black and anti-male drivel that is the majority of the article.

I applaud OUTLISH magazine for usually keeping it fun and fresh with its awesome team that delivers on time week after week! Thankfully this article is not representative of the majority of your content.

Join us on facebook and tell us what you think.  Just one woman’s story to which she is entitled?

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.