momentous trivialities: diary of a mothering worker


Post 322.

Sunday’s semi-finals provided annual bliss of sweet pan. As night fell, I rolled up on the dusty asphalt of the track, loving the tradition of rich and poor rubbing shoulders.

This is always my favorite place to be. As the bands move toward the savannah, all and sundry stand up close and in between the pans, holding on and swaying in suspension of tensions of sex, race, class and creed just for those minutes of high mas, and watching the players practice like anointed spirits that descend back into ordinary life once the last note is played.

You could close your eyes and safely get lost right there, for around you others also seem lifted by sounds of iron and steel dissecting and combining and jumping up into the air.

Wandering toward the stage, I meandered through children and babies playing amidst families and friends drinking, eating, talking and leaning back against muted sounds of soca from food vendors, for this wasn’t a fete in here, with its distorted bass and its bawling DJs, this was social space for communities of pan players and lovers to congregate over finer points of music.

To see the police walk through, maybe twenty strong and parting the crowd the way Two Face Crew once – a long time ago – used to, showed an approach at odds with its own cultural context.

People are happy for policing that makes society safe, but that effort doesn’t always have to appear more badjohn than the bandits. There’s an embeddedness in the local rather than a separation from people, that if conveyed, would make police presence more welcomed, and more respected.

I thought about how much more accepted police would appear if they walked through dispersed in smaller groups, acknowledging those around them, rather than seeming at odds with or distrustful of informal cultures of togetherness.

Seeing them, these blue-uniformed women and men who are indeed our own, I didn’t feel safer, I felt criminalized and infantilized, like the relaxed intergenerational joy I had been experiencing was sternly told to keep within bounds of good behavior. I felt like when old school teachers walk into a classroom of talkative students and hush descends as they menacingly take out a hard ruler, and you get frighten even if you haven’t done anything wrong.

Threats are everywhere and police have their job to do, but policing isn’t just swagger, it’s engagement with multiple representations and strategies. It requires an assessment of the present and an understanding of the past.

During Carnival, there are tensions around policing itself for completely valid historical reasons. It was police, in keeping order, who kept oppression in place, and Carnival revitalizes significant memory about why such force should be resisted. At the same time, levels of gun crimes, murders and feelings of insecurity also provide valid reasons for police visibility. Still, the whole country doesn’t need to be intimidated as if it is a criminal gang.

We’d all have felt their presence, and all have appreciated that could mean deterrence of crime and quick response when required, but we would have felt this way even without such a mass show of strong-arm force. There’s skill in asserting the professional authority that connects to what publics expect and what makes people feel reassured without overkill.

In my decades on the track, I’ve seen how spaces of public safety and artistic connection, and family feeling and national togetherness do exist. These are a resource for policing which should be embraced, rather than dismissed.

Part of pan bliss is the collective energy of people pushing steel bands on stage in a powerful metaphor for the idea of taking care of our own, and putting a hand in with beloved and stranger alike to press ahead, in pace with sweetness, ambitious camaraderie, and excitedly beating hearts.

As I crossed with All Stars, the phalanx of police appeared again, burly with stern faces, set jaws, helmets and big guns, to hurry us off stage, for such togetherness has to be kept on time and in order by the threat of a lil rough up for not listening quick enough.

I would have exited just as quickly if such anti-riot assemblage was replaced by nice ladies in bright t-shirts, without guns in competition for power with all that steel. As the band began, I looked on thinking about what Carnival taught us long ago. There’s fear and there’s love, and no power can govern legitimately through the first alone.

 

 

 

 

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Post 321.

In his 2005 hit tune ‘Ah hook’, Blackie sings about how he and his lady living so nice. In the video, he’s washing and hanging panties on the line, ironing clothes, giving her exaggerated amounts of money for cinema, and hugging her all about town.

The aproned depiction of washing and ironing represents a man publicly losing his manhood in the eyes of other men. Tricked by sweat rice, he tells other men that all the housework he does and all he spends on his woman isn’t their business.

Men say he’s a chupidee, and a mook, but he doesn’t care. He’s ready to do whatever it takes to make his lady happy. He’s so hooked, his feet (and shoelaces) are literally tied and he is unable to leave.

Without having to resort to sweat rice and tied shoelaces, I want a man hooked like that. More importantly, I want him to hook me.

I imagine if he’s looking and cooking the way he does, if he is smart and knows how to spend, and is so good about looking after the children, he could hook me back. He’ll know a hard-working woman wants a man to share, not just the costs, but also the labour and care that goes into everyday living. For, relationships require more than love and lyrics alone.

I want to be hooked because he sees how I’m feeling, and asks me questions and listens so he could try to understand. In his eyes, I’m more fire-hot-empress, more one-and-only than mere trophy, the best in his success story, and his daily inspiration to become a better man.

He’s hooked me through his commitment to giving whatever it takes to the life we are building. He knows apology comes with accountability, and can be trusted to make promises that don’t end in a garbage bin. Because he wants to grow on his own from his, and our, mistakes, he keeps hooking me in.

Relationships are hard, but things don’t mash up just so. He’ll know that if my love is disappearing, many times I’ve already said something, and there’s been reason after reason, each one a little more heart-breaking.

He’ll think for himself about all that I’m feeling so if I’ve decided to leave him, he’ll look into my heart, right where it needs mending, and see how he was taking his woman for granted from long, long ago. He takes responsibility for his choices and his reliance on our relationship inequalities. He knows not to beg to come back without a plan. He won’t force me to have to be so strong that I say no to yet another chance.

I want a man hooked enough to step up and honest enough to step back because being hooked is not enough, and he knows that a woman needs no reason to leave other than that she wants to go. Ending a family is never an easy decision, but a woman can’t stay when she feels better on her own.

Blackie might have been a mook, but he’s not the one put out in the road. It’s not about being unable to leave. It’s about making it worthwhile for someone to stay. It’s about respecting when she’s done with less than she’s worth, and becoming better or walking away. It’s about self-reflecting as a man without relying on a woman to justify and explain. What is remorse if it doesn’t heal hurts? What value is sweet talk if things remain the same?

Without putting panties in a pot, what does it take for him to pay attention to what’s happening before it all falls apart? I could do without the begging. Where’s the man who can hook me everyday with his loving? He’s washing and looking after the children, and we are a partnership with connection and communication where my needs and emotions matter too. Anything else is too lonely and even children suffer in this story while he’s out on the pavement without a clue.

While Kenneth Salick still wondering why Radica left him alone, like a dog without a bone, Farmer Nappy can’t believe the bridges his woman is burning despite his love so true. These songs of men’s heart-break show incomprehension about how women experience men and why they eventually leave them. They show insufficient attention to how and why to keep hooking her so two of you could live nice. I want to be hooked too. Maybe, Blackie could give them some advice.

Post 320.

The Phillip Alexander ruckus this past week has made me descend to calling for what should be already agreed upon. If you missed his critique of Hema Ramkissoon’s interview of PEP party members, it included a threat “to drag you to hell and beat you among the flames” because he felt he and the party were attacked. It included bringing up her private life and her past, her appearance, and using words like “stink” and “dutty”. It’s almost as if ole mas reached the party too early in Carnival season.

The interview wasn’t so bad. I’ve had worse from Fazeer Mohammed, and from radio hosts who thought sexist block talk was professional journalistic engagement.

I thought the women representing the party, Felicia Holder and Michelle Davis, were excellent. I’ve been on air and annoyed with media hosts for asking what I thought were baseless or biased questions, distracting the public from getting the point, and pressing me to justify my position in ways that I knew others would not have to fight for legitimacy.

Felicia Holder looked visibly annoyed at times, as I have, but also held her own, as one learns to. I liked her pitch and representation of principle, just like I like when citizens – including a younger generation – rise up and organize against those who have ruled far too long and overseen far too much injustice – and here I’m pointing all my fingers at both the PNM and UNC.

Over twenty years of observing elections, I’m not the cynic others have become. While one must always count polling divisions to calculate wins, losses and draws, I’m up for the role that third, fourth, and fifth parties play. They galvanise those who have stopped voting, represent those at the margins, raise outstanding issues, and remind parliamentarians that they do not have a sacrosanct hold on the great house. Such civic engagement makes the strongest form of democracy.

In such a democracy, violence of any kind, including in language, in images distributed, and in physical attacks, undermines broad participation. Across the world, women are notoriously more vulnerable in politics and particularly affected by such violence. They are inappropriately and unnecessarily sexualized. Their personal lives are targeted for public shame. They face sexist and threatening language to a greater extent.

Few women who have entered politics – whether as candidates or as public commentators – are unfamiliar with this, whether it’s in images of Marlene Macdonald, supposedly in lingerie, shared around the internet; or in endless totally hypocritical man-talk about Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s sex life; or in Keith Rowley’s many infamous double entendres – women as golf a course, a woman Prime Minister as a cat; or backlash gossip against women in media who say or write words others think they shouldn’t.

The Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD) writes, “an often neglected form of violence to consider is political violence against women. Whether this is outright violence towards women running campaigns or sexist discourse undermining women’s political credibility”. Women face “literally twice as much psychological abuse/violence during elections than men”, and have “a starkly different experience of the political world”.

In a 2016 study by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, involving 55 women parliamentarians from 39 countries, the “findings reveal troubling levels of prevalence – particularly for psychological violence, the most widely spread form, affecting 81.8 per cent of the respondents from all countries and regions. Among the kinds of psychological violence, 44.4 per cent of those surveyed said they had received threats of death, rape, beatings or abduction during their parliamentary term”.

Further, “65.5 per cent said they had been subjected several times, or often, to humiliating sexist remarks…on social media and, to a lesser extent, by telephone or e-mail, or during political meetings”. Their appearance, conjugal status, emotional, sexual and family life were all subjects of regular and widespread comment, attacks and derision.

In 2016, National Democratic Institute launched the #NotTheCost campaign: “a global call to action to raise awareness to stop violence against women in politics. The campaign’s title reflects the fact that many women are told that harassment, threats, psychological abuse (in person and online), physical and sexual assault are “the cost of doing politics””. Key is holding perpetrators accountable.

Working in the media doesn’t justify women’s (or anyone’s) risk of violence. Elections don’t justify it either. Political non-violence should be a commitment printed in manifestos and promised on platforms. It should be ensured by ‘women’s arms’, ‘youth arms’, and all men ruling party hierarchies, including the blustering and agitated PEP.

 

Post 319.

The Break the Silence Campaign, familiar to most because of its blue teddy bear symbol, enters its tenth year in 2019. Focusing on raising awareness about the prevalence of child sexual abuse and incest, providing training about these as issues of gender-based violence, and building communities around empowerment of children as part of prevention, the campaign has indeed seen silences broken.

There’s more reporting now than before, confusing our understanding about whether the rates have risen, or just the reporting, but confirming our position that too many children continue to be harmed.

There have been 11, 787 reports of children in need of care and protection since proclamation of the Children’s Authority. Over 2016-2017, there were 4, 232 reports of child abuse and maltreatment, averaging 353 reports per month. In relation into sexual abuse, girls are harmed at four times the rates of boys, but the rates of neglect and physical abuse are nearly the same, and in fact slightly higher for boys than girls.

At the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA) meeting yesterday, researchers highlighted childhood abuse, including sexual abuse, as a significant denominator among perpetrators.

Perpetrators also spoke about lacking healthy, involved and connected father figures. This doesn’t mean blaming women-headed households, which are managing the balance of both being freed from toxic masculinities while being burdened with unequal responsibilities.

It also doesn’t mean that it takes fathers to be fatherly figures or influential role models. It takes men in boys’ lives who care, enable them to feel accepted, and loved “like a son” so that boys don’t get used to “always walking around with hurt feelings as a young boy”.

CAFRA’s data is part of larger project to shift  cultural norms in order to end gender-based violence as it affects men, women, boys, girls, and especially those from marginalized groups defined by disability or sexual/gender orientation. This makes sense once you understand how striking the data is, and how complex explanations for it and solutions to it have to be.

In 2016, 3, 312 reports were made to the national domestic violence hotline, 150 to Rape Crisis Society, and 1, 141 to the TTPS. Why do hurt people feel safer to seek comfort from a stranger on the end of a phone than to reach out to the relevant authorities?

How were those lives lived after that call? Did the violence in that caller’s life end, and did it end with a perpetrator’s conviction for the crime of violence or with counseling as a path to accountability? Was there healing? Was there greater safety in our islands with as much as 1, 240 breaches of protection orders between 2009 and 2017? What happened to the children?

In the eighteen months between January 2016 and September 2017, ninety-nine women were murdered, but 857 men. As we think about the rates of boys and men murdering other boys and men in our society, who connects such killing to what we describe as domestic violence, or the ways that power is wielded in families that lead to experiences of trauma, harm and a will to hurt.

Even more significant, who has made the connection between child sexual abuse, neglect and physical abuse in boys’ lives, and their later actions that cause trauma, harm and death?

Currently, there is no national, state-led approach to prevention, prosecution and healing – including something as simple and necessary as age-appropriate curricula for primary schools that aim to change a culture that normalizes gender-based violence and forms of family abuse.

The Break the Silence Campaign is one example of a national focus on ending child sexual abuse and incest – which is so horrendous that it’s unbelievable we tolerate it enough as a society for it to exist. Any society that values family life above all else should have zero cases to report . What we have is a society that prioritizes fear, respectability, religiosity, discipline and silencing above children’s rights while children live amidst threat and vulnerability.

A decade on, the BTS campaign needs private sector and community infusion of support and investment so that it can continue to press against such silencing and violence for another ten years.

If we make the connections between child sexual abuse and incest, later domestic violence, and wider male violence and killing, we may prevent crimes before criminals are created. For the TTPS and its allies, this should be a priority, for it’s the more humane solution to the desperation of a shoot to kill policy.

 

 

 

Post 318.

On Sunday, Colin Robinson kicked off critiques of ‘good men’ campaigns. People might think activists are being difficult. Surely this is what women wanted all along.

Actually, things are as complex as critiques make them seem. ‘Good men’ campaigns are a recent invention. In the 1990s when organisations such as Men Against Violence Against Women (MAVAW) were founded, and were profeminist and allied with struggles of the women’s movement, no one was talking about good men.

Both women and men involved were still trying to get the public to see men’s power over women as harmful, and were squarely appealing to men to disassociate love from licks. The men’s movement acknowledged male violence against women and men’s role in ending it. In today’s opposite world, MAWAW circulates videos lauding men “destroying feminism”, and participates in male-only chat groups that malign women who suggest that doesn’t feel like solidarity.

In the decades between the 1990s and now, the ‘good men’ campaign grew as International Men’s Day became a day, not for growing men’s contribution to ending patriarchal gender ideals as they harm both women and men, but for praising men, giving them more platform and visibility, emphasising all men (not just those poor, HIV positive, disabled or gay) as marginalized, and pressing for women and feminists to meet male needs with greater priority.

We’ve seen the surreal shift to women organising fora in which only men are speakers, and radio programmes, such as on I95 on Sunday, when a male host thought it good to have only men speak about gender issues (as if experts), in the process promoting significant misinformation about gendered power relations, nature and nurture debates, and Caribbean feminist visions for women and men in our region.

Turn the whole world upside down, sang 3 Canal.

Robinson argued against ‘good men’ sloganeering because men are not good. Rather, like women, like all human beings, men have capacity for good and bad. In his words, “men owning our violence and our capacity for it is critical to change…Until we create spaces where guys can be honest about not being “good” men, men aren’t likely to do the hard work of exploring other options”.

There’s domineering joy in telling women on their way to work what you think about their bodies, knowing you would find men doing that to you both unwanted and threatening. There’s also pain and vulnerability in admitting that violence is how you control your woman because that’s what you’ve learned, and becoming the man you didn’t want to be is killing you at the same time as you risk killing her.

Peter Weller and I didn’t debate whether we “change men’s behaviour or we change the culture, systems and ideology that legitimate toxic masculinity”. Behaviour change is a strategy. The feminist revolution is more radical, conceptual and far-reaching. It includes changing the violence associated with power, opening up our very definitions of manhood and womanhood, shifting laws, policies, notions of ‘work’, and deconstructing fundamental assumptions of Western philosophy and the plantation-economy.

These legitimate goals have decades of scholarship and activism behind them and can’t be flattened simplistically into soundbites. I’m always wonderous about good men who come into a movement that they acknowledge they don’t fully understand, and may not fully support, and then seek to contain its goals. Good men should meet feminist analyses where they are, rather than women making their dreams smaller so no one gets angry.

Back to ‘good men’.

This branding mobilises the stereotype that feminists think “all men are bad”. Feminists don’t say men are bad. They call on men to be accountable for their views, behaviours and choices, and fight against masculine ideals that reproduce them as normal, natural and unchangeable.

Second, it excuses ‘good men’ from confronting male privilege as real, as institutionalized, as global, and as benefiting even good men. It’s like talking about the need to transform patriarchal power to someone who responds that your argument doesn’t have validity because he’s not bad.

Being a good guy is necessary. Being a good human is better. Supporting the feminist struggle to end sexism and homophobia, and to value us all because we are good humans, not because we meet gender ideals, is best of all.

Finally, if good men stop others from being sexist, violent, homophobic, unemotional or uncompassionate, what do good women do? By that logic, good women become feminists. Good men too.

If this becomes the conversation, it’s a transformation we’ve been dreaming of all along. Good women and men, it’s time to turn the whole unjust world upside down.

 

Post 317.

Photo credit: Tivia Collins

Yesterday, the shoelaces almost made it. All they needed was a little more time.

While the little girl with curly hair sat at her school desk quietly writing neat sentences, they plotted furiously, twisting and edging out of the knots they were in. Today would be the day.

Everyone misunderstands undone shoelaces. Parents stand over their children teaching them to tie their white, brown or black laces into tight, neat bows. Principals expect such rigid discipline once uniformed students are past the school gate. Every morning, laces are trapped into their expected roles by a conspiracy of disciplinarians, sometimes even double-knotted to prevent escape.

But, who doesn’t dream of freedom from oppressive restrictions and rules? Who doesn’t want a chance out of the limits of routine and everyday, sometimes suffocating, roles? Who doesn’t dream of deciding for themselves where they will go in life?

Isn’t the whole point of our existence here to determine the direction of our next step? Is there any one of us who hasn’t imagined something other than who we are and what we do everyday?

Then why deny shoelaces the free will each of us carries as small fantasies; the ones that help us to see the potential for better circumstances than we are in, the ones that connect to that small kernel of who we know we are inside, the ones that propel us to achieve aspirations no one thought we could.

The shoelaces had been shushing each other. The laces on the girl’s left shoe were loosened. It was a victory. They celebrated like a fete match. The girl thought she heard voices cheering far away, but no other children seemed to notice. She put her head back down, concentrating on copying homework.

Below the desks, the classroom of shoelaces craned their necks. The air was jumpy with shared anticipation. Sensing this, some students kept shuffling about their feet. The teacher admonished them to sit still.

In this overlooked community of laces were few which hadn’t also tried to run, but some were more tightly bound than others, some had grown close to their families, and had ambivalent feelings about living as refugees in the shadow of their former lives, and some had given up for the stress began to make their nerves visibly fray.

The bell rang for lunch. The left shoe had been won, but either the laces would be found out now and retied, or would remain unnoticed over playtime or, perhaps, tied hurriedly and halfway amidst running up and down.

Hope sprang eternal in their hearts, but the laces held themselves motionless, avoiding eye contact with prefects and teachers. This was a make or break hour.

After, back in class, their gains were secure. There were high fives and fist bumps all around the girl’s socks.

2.15 pm. Their breath ragged, both left and right laces were now completely undone from their knots. They continued smoothly, like brown ninjas, sliding out from the holes and loops, further slackening the grip of the shoes. Shoelaces across the classroom locked eyes, rooting that the hour may finally have come for one of their own. As if the children could hear, they all began fidgeting in their chairs.

This was it. School was suddenly over and the little curly-haired girl was shoving books into her bag like her mummy didn’t pay good money for them, and chattering without a care with the other children. She hadn’t noticed both sets of laces loosened and dangling. Freedom was near!

They could run for it now on pure instinct that it isn’t a job or identity that defines one’s purpose in life. All that matters is an imagined future as vast and endless as January’s blue sky.

But, what’s this? Why is the curly-haired girl’s mummy suddenly pointing at her shoes? Wait! Why are they talking about shoelaces wanting to escape by afternoon each day? How do they know? Does every struggle have its double agents?

They are laughing like it’s a funny story that explains why the girl’s laces have always become undone by the time school is over.

Dastardly repression! We are tightened back into knots!

Today is not the day, but this is not the end. Tomorrow again, under school desks everywhere, we will loosen ourselves.

Shoelaces of the world, untie!

If you’ve ever wondered why children’s shoelaces always end up undone, this is why.

One day the shoelaces may succeed in their ambitious escape for, surely, they will continue to try.

Post 316.

There are reasons why nations rely on reports such as the Global Gender Gap Index (GGGI), even though it has limitations. Not every measure of inequality measures up.

There’s the recently released Basic Index of Gender Inequality (BIGI) which focuses on three factors: educational opportunities, healthy life expectancy and overall life satisfaction. This index reflects a backlash that misunderstands gender inequality and why women’s disadvantage is historically highlighted, and that denies patriarchal ideals are the most powerful force organising such inequality.

It’s being touted as more fair to men, given that previous indexes set men’s status as a standard of comparison for women. Using men’s status as a standard is valid, but not perfect. Globally, women continue to fight to secure equal opportunities to men and equal status in law. For example, in the Bahamas, children can get Bahamian citizenship from their fathers, but not their mothers.

However, such measures also always needed to recognise that women’s struggles cannot all be compared to men’s. Women are specifically targeted by male sexual violence because they are women. Women are denied full right to determine what happens to their bodies and fertility in relation to sex and childbearing because their bodies are female and can reproduce. In other words, the rights that women seek are specific and legitimate because women are human beings with desires for freedom on our own terms.

That said, typical measures, which focus on political leadership, participation on boards, income levels, property ownership, and labour participation, remain valid. They show where power, wealth and decision-making lie.

They highlight how our beliefs about proper roles and rights for women and men, gender stereotyping, unequal responsibility for child care and family financial costs, and violence in homes and streets continue to disadvantage women.

These measures also show the extent of states’ recognition of such disadvantage. For example, although girls and women travelling by public transportation are far more vulnerable to assault and rape than men, nowhere does this reality inform transportation policy in Trinidad and Tobago.

The story behind numbers is complex. Measures, such as educational levels, show significant shifts. Across the world, women are entering tertiary schooling in greater numbers than men, despite the resilience of patriarchal beliefs which make masculine status in religion, family, politics, business, law and media appear normal and invisible or the least somehow justifiable and without consequences. In our region, it’s considered a ‘Caribbean paradox’, illuminating contradictions in the story that ‘women have already won’.

The BIGI guys argue that past measures which focus on women’s issues are ‘biased’ and not real measures of gender inequality. They argue that this index doesn’t show where men are at a disadvantage, such as harsher punishments for the same crime, compulsory military service and more occupational deaths. By definition, they argue, men can never be more disadvantaged than women in the gender gap index. However, it isn’t that the index is biased. It’s based on a correct understanding of patriarchy.

Men dominate prison populations, have higher levels of substance abuse, higher suicide rates, and higher murder rates because associations between manhood and strength, physicality, violence, toughness and more shape men’s choices, relations of control and power among men, and between men and women, and the standards by which men are recognised by others as men.

The BIGI’s basic premise is that its really men suffering from gender inequality. It’s no surprise then that the measure found “that men are, on average, more disadvantaged than women in 91 countries compared with a relative disadvantage for women in 43 countries”.

Their mistake is to see men’s issues as comparable to women’s when ideals of manhood both benefit and harm men at the same time. By contrast, femininity and all it represents – from softness to vulnerability to being defined as ‘the neck’ rather than the ‘head’ or the sex born to be penetrated – all remain low-status qualities and identities which men avoid.

The BIGI guys even argue that polygamy, an old system of male sexual privilege, harms men. Of course it does, but only as an issue of unequal power between older, higher status and younger or lower status men, not as a sign of men’s gender inequality in relation to women.

Focus on women is suddenly considered discriminatory, men are now considered the oppressed sex, and feminism must apparently, and without irony, earn acceptance by putting men’s needs first. Be skeptical of this argument, and data put out to justify it. This column begins to suggests why and how.

 

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