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A Caribbean girl’s #lifeinleggings

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Sexual Violence is a Men’s Issue

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Caribbean journalist Ricky Singh indicts regional and national women’s groups, women lawyers and women politicians for being silent in the face of sexual violence against women.

Roberta Clarke, on her Roots and Rights blog, pointed out that for the last 20 years women’s organisations have in fact been speaking out, advocating for legislation, running shelters and crisis centres  etc. Caribbean women have been anything but silent in the face of relentless and ongoing violence. In the 1980s schoolgirls in St. Vincent and the Grenadines marched to protest sexual violence and in 2013 women’s groups across the region continue to do unrecognised, invisibilised work.

When it comes to sexual violence the overwhelming majority of persons who are raped or sexually assaulted are women and girls and the overwhelming majority of rapists are men.  Men and boys too are victims of rape (though not at the same rates as women and girls) and in these cases too, men are the overwhelming majority of rapists.  It should therefore be self-evident that sexual violence is a men’s issue.  And the more appropriate question to ask is why men as the majority of elected leaders in the region, as individuals and members of various men’s organisations are not doing everything in their power to end sexual violence. Rape is a men’s issue.  Ending rape, speaking out against violence against women and girls is the collective responsibility of men.

Yet, men collectively, as major power brokers in the region, are silent.

Why are Caribbean men silent on rape? Why did it not occur to Rickey Singh to ask this question? Why is men’s silence not shocking?

Everybody should be outraged when schoolgirls are sexually harassed in the street and on public transportation, when women are killed by their intimate partners, when police officers turn away rape survivors for being naked, when payments are accepted in lieu of prosecution in cases of child sexual abuse, when our legal system supports this form of injustice, when deputy commissioners of police suggest that teen girls are the ones responsible for the sexual crimes against them. Everybody should be outraged.  Not just women.  Not just the handful of women parliamentarians.  Not just overworked and underfunded women’s organisations. EVERYBODY.  And that includes men who for too long have been shamefully silent.  (Big up attorney Lennox Sankersingh and the other lawyers who have offered to support rape survivors throughout the legal process in Trinidad and Tobago).

Why are men silent on sexual violence against women and girls?

What does their silence communicate?

Does it communicate an acceptance of rape culture, of gender inequality? An understanding that violence against women and girls and the threat of it is part of what helps to maintain male privilege? A desire to see that privilege maintained at all costs?

It’s time we heard from Caribbean men what they intend to do to end gender-based violence.

I’m all ears…

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. 

Kick in she back door: Violence Against Women Takes Road March

Kick in she back door by veteran band Burning Flames recently won Road March in Antigua. Some bands refused to play the song because its offensive lyrics endorse anal rape of women. Nonetheless, it emerged as the most popular song of Antigua’s carnival.

Local activist group, Women Against Rape spoke out against the song saying:

We find the contents of the song unacceptable. The lyrics promote a lack of respect for women and condone the abuse of women and acts of non-consensual sexual aggression and violence against women. To put it frankly: the song encourages rape and/ or sexual violence against women and is in direct contravention of among others Article 4(Basic Documents Pertaining to Human Rights in the Inter American System).

We find the song so extremely offensive that we are calling upon the Hon. Minister Jaqui Quinn Leandro, Minister responsible for Gender Affairs and the Honorable Minster of Information and Technology, the Hon. Minister Edmond Mansoor to ensure that all steps are taken to ensure that all media houses within Antigua and Barbuda and those agencies connected with the media and carnival to immediately stop playing the song in public.
Below is a partial transcription of the lyrics:

[woman screaming]
[man mocking woman’s voice “murder murder,  ah kill he gine kill me”]

If she front door lock and you can’t get in
And she bathroom window lock
And you can’t get in
And she bedroom window lock
And you can’t get in
And she kitchen window lock
And you can’t get in

What to do?

Kick in she back door
Kick in she back door
What ah mean?
Kick um in

And she bawling murder
[more screaming]

I don’t really know bout you
But I know just what to do
When a woman batten down she house
Make up she mind to keep you out
You push your key to find it jam
And it in {something} in you hand

So the solution to get inside
Cause she lock down she house so tight
Whether rain or shine
Morning, noon or night
Is the only way to win this fight

Chorus

[more screaming: “Call the police, come of mi yard, you too damn wicked”]

Women does mek things real hard
Especially when they get mad
No matter how hard you try
No easy way to slip inside
So the solution to get inside
Cause she lock down she house so tight
Whether rain or sun
Morning, noon or night
Is the only way to win this fight.

The song conceives of heterosexual relations as an adversarial competition in which men, through the use of sexual violence, emerge as winners.  Sex with women is seen as a man’s right and therefore women’s consent to sexual relations deemed immaterial.  In fact, if you follow the song’s logic, if women refuse to consent to vaginal sex, they should be punished by being anally raped.  The song writer’s lament that “women does mek tings real hard, especially when they get mad”  suggests that women should not have the right to determine under what circumstances they will consent to sex.  It rests on an implicit assumption of a man’s right to control a woman’s body because they are in an intimate relationship.  All these beliefs need to be discussed, unpacked and refuted.  As heterosexual relationships are normalised and naturalised, often sexism, misogyny  and unequal relations of power between women and men in heterosexual relationships are made to appear normal and natural too.

Not only has the song not been banned, it’s the most popular of the season and will no doubt be exported across the soca-loving Caribbean.  Since it’s quite likely that many of us will hear it, whether we like it or not, or may very well like it, even though we don’t like the message, we might as well use it as an opening to discuss sex, gender, power and violence in heterosexual relationships.

So, let’s talk about sex. And power, pleasure and gendered expectations.

What does equitable, just and loving heterosexual sex look like? To the many, many vocal people who see absolutely nothing wrong with message in this song, who have argued that the lyrics speak of the “reality” of relationships, what would you say?

A Slutwalk in the Caribbean?

“I want to ask our young women, in particular to dress themselves properly. I know that sometimes, their mode of dress is not good at all and it is important that they dress themselves and do not give temptation to our men,” said Miguel, who is also Minister of Education, during the Budget Debate.

“I know that many a times, they do this but our men can sometimes pull them up a bit and say ‘No’. They have all their mammary glands (breasts) outside — some of them — and they need to know there are two good reasons why we were given these glands.

Source: Dress Properly, Don’t tempt men – Deputy PM

St. Vincent and the Grenadines: Deputy PM tells women to dress properly and not tempt men. She says that women’s breasts are intended to feed children and comfort their husbands. This hetero/sexist drivel was offered in response to the high level of violence against women and girls and femicides in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

One person left this comment on CODE RED’s facebook page:

It’s pretty ignorant. Revealing clothes do not cause murder or any other crime. She’s reaching for an easy conclusion and it’s the wrong one. She should be ashamed of herself and the government should be embarassed.

Not only are her comments ignorant, they are particularly dangerous in the context of such high levels of violence against women and murders of women. She is actually saying that women’s bodies do not belong to themselves, that they belong to men, and conflating women with mothers, that women’s bodies are to be in service of motherhood. Its the same kind of hetero/sexism that is at the root of the kind of violence against women you see in SVG. The respectability discourse, that the human rights of women, should only be protected, if women are “respectable” subjects is absolute sexist drivel. For the millionth time, clothing does not invite nor excuse violence against women.

What the Deputy PM is saying about men is also troubling. By arguing that women’s clothing tempts men into violence she is painting men as naturally inclined toward sexual violence and with no control over their own sexuality. But in the same breath she sets men up as “protectors” of women by asking them to pull women aside and tell them when they are dressing inappropriately!!! In the Caribbean street harassment of women by men is a daily nuisance. Her comments invite more of the same.

It is understandable just how frustrating it is to witness such everyday violence against women and to feel powerless to change it. But seeking to discipline women and our bodies is not the answer. Neither is positioning men as simultaneously naturally violent and as potential protectors of women.

in 1985 in SVG schoolgirls took to the streets of Kingstown in protest against violence against women and girls. They understood that they had a right to life and a right to a good life and used their very bodies to insist that their rights be respected. How is it that schoolgirls in 1985 understood what the Deputy PM in 2012 does not seem to understand?

Do we need a Caribbean slutwalk?