As I lay safely warm and dry on Tuesday’s rainy night, Ziya was falling asleep, safe in my arms. In my head, all I could think about was all the girls and women who are not safe.
Amanda Mootilal’s beaten face on a front page was too much for me, as it should have been for all of us, especially knowing she is not an isolated case.
She’s a teenager who already intimately knows powerlessness, cruelty and fear. She’s also a mother, having conceived her baby at around 15 or 16 years old with an adult man seven years older, and who should have known better, whatever her own adolescent choices.
What about her education, her ability to earn her own income, to find herself before being told who she should be? Who failed to protect her before now?
The state has stepped in, but that is no guarantee of her safety, even if her attacker husband was denied bail. Counseling provides no guarantee that she will heal the wounds to her self-confidence and spirit, though she will, like many victims of violence, figure out how to survive.
I could talk about International Day Against Violence Against Women, November 25th, and what a slap in the face this was, what a wake up call we continue to get, that girls and women do not have the right to live free from fear and harm.
I could point to the need for services that prevent rather than respond at the point of crisis, say that we need state-funded, national anti-violence campaigns that target everyone, especially primary schools, telling girls not to love anyone who is not nice to them and telling boys they have no right to control women.
I could tell my Guardian bosses, the Ansa McAl group of companies to spend less money on sexist billboards that promote women’s bodies as objects to be consumed, and to put some profits to such a national anti-violence campaign. Don’t leave it up to the women’s NGOs, step up as the elite, as men, and put some of their power toward change.
Yes, it’s definitely up to political leadership which has never tackled the perils of a culture of male domination in any serious way. We don’t have quotas for equal representation of women anywhere, and so they are not equally represented in business or in politics. We have less than a handful of women in Cabinet, like us watching men run the deck and sometimes run amok.
Religious leaders continue insist that men should be the head of women, as if that doesn’t create the exact conditions needed for violence. Preachers, imams and pundits do not insist that men’s violence against women is not God’s way, not as much as they need to given the amount that men assault and abuse. Yes, it’s also up to these men of God to insist on what will not be tolerated amongst their own. Where is the IRO’s national campaign?
Violence against women is a men’s issue. Men dominating the Cabinet, men dominating corporate wealth, men dominating the door to God, which one of you is going to step up today to prevent another Darren Mohammed from dominating another Amanda Mootilal?
In a society where women and girls are disappearing, being beaten and being raped, no woman is safe. Warm and dry, listening to the rain, I feel unsettled and I don’t feel safe.
We need a downpour of effort so that there are no more bruised teenagers, that we, the whole society, failed to protect, looking back at us from the front page.
Et tu, Bunji?
There’s been a disturbing trend since 1990s gangsta rap began to globalise ‘the club’, meaning the strip club, as the site par excellence for cultural and sexual expression and exchange.
Caribbean women’s sexuality was taking over the road, but across the hemisphere primarily male performers, producers and video directors were disciplining this disorder with fantasises of brown bodies whose power lay in shaking their ass for men’s money.
Sharlene Boodram went from singing ‘Sweeta Sweeta’ on a beach to singing ‘Ask It’ in the strip club. Bunji Garlin’s new hit, ‘Red Light District’ extends this, big pimpin the Caribbean as a sexual and leisure playground for any men who want to come.
Strippers are a category of workers, and mostly women, whose femininity and sexuality are defined primarily by men: what men want to consume, what bodies they desire, and what performances they will reward.
Strippers are not the same as skettels and sluts, labels assigned to women whose sexual expressiveness and power is defined by their own unruly pleasure.
What Bunji hails as the “feminine gender” are a larger group of persons whose sexuality, including when they wine dong at Jouvay or when they have consensual, safe and pleasurable sex out of marriage, may not be represented by any of these terms. Women are more than strippers, skettels and sluts. Even strippers, skettels and sluts are feminine and sexual in wider, more complex ways than social hypocrisy allows.
Women who express their sexuality, who are sexy, and who give and receive pleasure in one way or another are everyday women, amazing and compelling just because we are.
What is disturbing is when we are reduced to narrow categories, especially those that exist to service male demand and command, often not in empowering conditions of women’s own choosing.
I’m not putting down sex workers, I just think women’s sexuality should have visibility and value in Caribbean pop culture beyond the provocative compliance of exotic dancers and ‘young hos’.
Such hypersexuality retains its vulnerabilities to violence and exploitation. I’ve been to red light districts in Thailand where you can see fully dressed men holding a beer in one hand and the breast of a young women half their age, with none of their economic power and clothed in only a thong, in the other. I’ve watched men sell sex shows where women put balls or needles in their vagina, whatever you will pay for, where they have asked whether you are looking for a ten year old boy or girl.
When you are feting to Bunji’s big tune or pole dancing for exercise, because for empowered women that’s trending and cool, be glad that woman or girl isn’t you.
I’ve been to red light districts in Amsterdam where Surinamese immigrants, our Caribbean women, work under conditions of race, class and gender inequality. Women doing jobs that society looks down on, without legal protection, unions or rights to respect in police stations is what goes on in red light districts in most countries. Not the delusion of girls just having fun.
Wining adults fail to take seriously how the airwaves both represent and produce existing realities. We will, however, blame girls when they upload videos of themselves, play sexy too early or look for status with their bodies, when they get shamed or violated for enacting the very femininities these songs rotate on the radio.
Where’s the girls dem darlin that chanted down rape? Like Bruno Mars with his pole dancer at the VMA Awards, he’s mainstreaming conflicting messages about sexuality as freedom, but not as women’s complete violence-free, economic, legal, moral and reproductive control over such sexuality.
Red Light District could mash up place whole night, but we are more than a pimper’s paradise.
Real beauty is about resilience: girls and women who have been through something and come out the other side with an idiosyncratic scar or a hard-earned wrinkle, like the first lines of a powerful story.
“There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness.”
The Dalai Lama
Can the sea help the way that it meets the sand? No. For it is at the mercy of the winds, the tides and its own restless nature. Can the sand help but meet the sea? No. It waits and offers the solace of its shore, but will not give all of itself and is content to let the sea go.
April 12, 2013
The disciple said, how can I learn to radiate my inner light so that it lights the world? The master said, you only need to turn your face to the morning sun, close your eyes and give back what you feel.
April 12, 2013
When you represent something, part of it leaves you to inhabit another form, providing perspective and opening inner space for freedom.
June 28, 2013