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Women and DNA testing

Eudine Barriteau

Women and DNA testing

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The following is an excerpt of a lecture delivered by Prof. Eudine Barriteau to the Mothers’ Union recently.
Some of the more entertaining statements I have heard about myself over the years are as follows.
I have been accused of not believing in God, being opposed to men and wanting to break up families. These assertions are untrue but I understand why they are whispered. The speakers are driven by a desire to distort my contributions to critical discussions on gender justice and to diminish the spaces my interventions seek to enlarge to examine unequal relations of gender in Barbadian and Caribbean societies.
I am particularly interested in calling attention to the contradictory beliefs or ideologies about women in Caribbean societies and the constant positioning of women as always, already wrong and always up to no good. You may think because you are a Christian organization of women, you escape the constant demonizing and blaming of women for the ills of society. Please do not fall for that trap of separating yourselves from all women. Let us consider a very contemporary discussion about women as mothers. Just this year, there have been extensive public discussions about Barbadian women as monster mothers. According to the speakers women are bent on fooling men about the true paternity of their children.
The proponents argue there must be compulsory DNA testing to prevent this. Let me state, no man without consciously, knowingly deciding to do so, should have to accept children as his biological offspring if their fathering lies elsewhere.
Similarly, no woman in a committed relationship with a man as his wife or common law partner, knowing her family to consist of two children with her husband or partner, should discover unbeknownst to her, he has fathered another five children elsewhere.
You see, herein lies the misogynous (or woman hating) rub of this DNA paternity discussion. It focuses exclusively on blaming women for unacknowledged or misrepresentation of fatherhood. The discussions so far assume these corrupt, scheming women cheat all by themselves. The arguments suggest the biological fathers of these children, before they were corrupted by these jezebels, were sitting innocently in monasteries praying, before being tempted into debauchery by these modern day sirens. I have no strong views one way or the other about DNA testing, neither do I deny such situations exist. I certainly do not condone playing with the emotions and lives of children and adults. Neither do I advocate women receiving child support under false pretenses.
I do take strong exception to the idea that each and every woman of child bearing age in Barbados is suspect and all children must be tested to prevent conniving women from imposing false paternity on men. The suggestion is offensive and reveals deep seated anxieties about women. I request, (my son says I should demand) an apology on behalf of all Barbadian women, and expect those who have expressed those views to have the courage to admit they have insulted all women.
I also feel very strongly about the implicit conclusion that when such situations of contested paternity exist, women single-handedly create them. I do believe if DNA testing is made mandatory or even more widespread, there just may be many families, some well-established, which will discover new brothers and sisters dotting the social landscape from the proverbial heights and terraces through to the villages, tenantries and urban working class neighbourhoods. This will happen because “daddy dearest” and “husband or man of the year” would have been corrupted against his will by the helper, the secretary, the shop assistant, the junior intern, the wicked step daughter, even the underage schoolgirl, or just any female out to destroy some innocent man and his family. Come to think of it, even during slavery, wanton enslaved women were cheating on both their enslaved partners and their nice mistresses. They forced decent members of the plantocracy to come to their slave quarters and father children that then would be born into the happy, carefree world of enslavement. Joycelin Massiah informs us, “that the child of a slave woman derived its status from its mother’s legal status, thus automatically becoming the property of the mother’s owner” (Massiah 1983: 9).
Ladies, in your meetings I invite you to consider all dimensions of the DNA testing paternity discussion, what those comments reveal about the respect accorded to women, and also the recurring theme of woman the evil temptress. Open the Church door, the challenges are calling.