ADRIAN GREEN: Tackling sexist attitudes
THE PLACE RECENTLY went nuts over a local establishment that made the unfortunate decision to portray beloved black celebrities and one white one with the heads of apes, during Black History Month.
We would like to assume it was a lack of historical context, knowledge and sensitivity, and not purpose work.
They have reportedly taken the images down. Score one for public pressure. We have an even higher stakes example of the power of the people in Trinidad.
Port of Spain Mayor Raymond Tim resigned due to pressure from members of the Opposition and the public.
A woman, a Japanese tourist, was murdered while playing mas during Carnival. Mayor Kee was asked by the media to make a statement. He chose to comment on what he saw as lewd behaviour by females and argued that women have “a responsibility to ensure that they are not abused.” The comments were interpreted as blaming the victim for her fate.
This did not sit kindly with many. The outrage was immediate and intense. In a matter of days, Mayor Tim Kee announced that he would resign. He issued a statement saying, “I consider the reaction has been sufficient to cause damage to the Office of the Mayor of Port of Spain, which any holder of this office should be concerned to protect at all costs.”
This is a seminal moment. A seminal moment is defined as a highly original moment influencing the future state. A Caribbean politician is stepping down to protect the integrity of the office he holds! Could this be a trend? Even officials caught up in scandals over money don’t budge.
Public officials around the region must be looking on while biting their nails; not only from nervousness but also to keep from biting off their tongues. We are used to talking wild.
Many of our high-level officials attended the Donald Trump school of politics. Or rather, Donald Trump may have learned his political style in the Caribbean. Donald Trump has frequently been accused of making sexist statements. During his presidential campaign, Trump claimed a female journalist who was grilling him about his alleged sexist attitude had “blood coming out of her eyes,” and “blood coming out of her wherever.”
High tolerance for folly
We in Bim are accustomed to hearing politicians comment about the reproductive health of female public figures, categorised as bald pooch cats, stripping and running through Broad Street naked, but not worthy of a date. The Barbadian public might have uttered a collective “Haw haw,” at these comments, but nothing intense enough to force a resignation. When it comes to certain issues we have a high tolerance for folly.
As ill-timed, poorly worded and insensitive as his comments were, many agreed with Raymond Tim Kee. In a region where the most popular songs encourage a woman to “Ben ova an tek dah juk,” even “Down in her throat,” it makes sense to advise women to be on guard and cautious.
However, the irony is that recently, the most high-profile cases of violence against women have been in countries where feminine modesty is still highly practised and prized. India and Bangladesh are conservatively extreme compared to the Caribbean. Yet in the Hindu nation, a string of horrific gang rapes have brought the safety of women to the forefront of public consciousness. In Bangladesh, as in several other Muslim nations, there have been cases of women actually being punished by the courts for allowing themselves to be raped.
In case we are tempted to cite religion as the reason, we should look at the case of the Mennonite Ghost rapes. The Mennonites are a conservative Christian group that does not use modern technology.
Nine Mennonite men were convicted of spraying a strong tranquilliser through houses in the community. While the inhabitants were knocked out, they would break in and violently sexually assault the female inhabitants. The women were led to believe that they were assaulted by spirits. The truth was only discovered after years of attacks.
Despite the former Port of Spain mayor’s intuition that sexually suggestive behaviour puts women at risk, we can also see suggestions that in some respects, women are safer in places where attitudes to sexuality are more open and liberal.
Most of the scantily clad women walking the streets during Caribbean Carnival celebrations and gyrating sexually seem to feel perfectly safe. There are many places in the world where they would definitely be in mortal danger.
It could be, that putting the emphasis and responsibility on women to not tempt men’s animalistic tendencies, actually encourages men to not control those tendencies themselves.
Whatever the case, the trend in modern societies is strongly moving away from ascribing any blame to the victim. Doan care how sexually provocative a woman may be, her provocation is not necessarily an invitation. Proceed at your own risk and choose your words carefully.
In all of this, many men are confused. On one hand, there is the pressure to be respectful of women. On the other hand, the model of the “Girls Man” is stronger and pushed harder than ever before. Be forward and assertive and risk being branded an abuser. Be more cautious and risk being branded boring and lacking initiative. There is the perception that liberated females of today don’t want a man that moves too slowly or cautiously.
This is a complex age we are living in. The ability to read the nuances of situations is an increasingly necessary skill. Having some kind of social and historical context helps us to make sense of a seemingly non-sensical world, especially in the hot button issues like gender and race.
Hopefully the trend of powerful, public-pressure, and responsive politicians protecting the integrity of the office they hold catches on across the region. The “I ain care wuh nuhbody say, wunna can’t tell me nutten, I is boss” attitude cannot continue.
Even more reason to ensure the public is educated, sensitive and aware.
Adrian Green is a researcher, writer, performer and speaker. Email [email protected]