Post 179.

You don’t go there thinking that you will learn about how to live, but so it was last week at the funeral of Marcia Henville. How humbling to sit among her children and best friends, those she helped or who helped her, and some who never met her at all, everyone reflecting on what difference one life could make.

I was moved by invocations of forgiveness, knowing that this choice is not about excusing a wrong, but preventing it from devouring you from inside, particularly when your family is already torn asunder. I heard people say it was too soon, Marcia wasn’t even buried yet, but I couldn’t imagine what else her children could be expected to do.

We all live in families where we have had to learn to forgive hurts large and small. That hasn’t meant forgetting, and it does not displace necessary expectations for accountability, care and justice. But, as you walk with your wounds, you need to travel light. Fear, anger and hate are too heavy burdens when grief, regret and disappointment may be all you can bear.

Forgiveness is never about the other person and his or her lesson, it is only always about your ability to heal. When you forgive, you fit something that happened into your past, freeing your present, knowing there is no other exit from a darkening maze.

I admired that Marcia’s family and community understood this immediately. In my heart, I asked myself if I could be that good, that strong, that insightful about how to survive such a painful path ahead.

I also listened closely to what people remembered. She taught her children to be themselves, and she was their friend. Her friends said that she would go wherever she heard someone cry. She roamed the country helping families. She connected shotters with their desire to live differently, rather than by the gun. She had her own vision for the marginalised.  It felt like not letting such commitment die could be so simple, but her coffin was a reminder that it is not.

We still ask the wrong questions about violence against women. Why ask why women don’t leave? There are many reasons, from commitment to children and abiding love to terror and low self-confidence to lack of support and economic insecurity. While women must be empowered to secure their own safety, our questions should instead be: Why doesn’t every societal message tell boys and men who resort to violence that seeking help is their responsibility? Why don’t more men’s groups take action against men’s violence and for men’s healing? When will powerful men visibly lead transformations of masculinity beyond its associations with power, recognising the point of women’s struggle for peace and equality?

My own male Guardian Media bosses can begin to set examples that may save women’s lives. Stag’s totally sexist, ‘It’s a man’s world. Rule responsibly’, campaign should be the first to fund national anti-violence messaging everywhere that Stag sells, throughout and beyond Carnival. Profiting from dangerous ideals of men’s right to rule, despite statistics showing what that means for women in reality, means on every billboard and bottle you should be the first to market men’s responsibility to stop violence against women.

Reflecting on what difference one life, one effort, one campaign could make, I left Marcia Henville’s funeral with lessons resonating in my head like a conversation between tenor pan and bass. Remembering that love is a practice of forgiveness as much as of justice, I walked away under noon sun, grateful for an example of the kind of person I still could become.

(An interesting note: when this column was published, the Guardian editors removed the reference to the company, Guardian Media. Just reminder that what we read is, ultimately, corporate controlled.)

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Post 92.

The only thing stopping me from burning down billboards is the fact that I don’t drive around with gasoline and a flame-thrower in my trunk. I’m talking about billboards with images of women lying with a bottle opener by their open mouth (is she the bottle or is the opener a penis or is it that if you open the bottle you get to open the woman?) or sprawled across a shower with tiles over their breasts (as if that’s what tiles are for) or lying topless next to car batteries (because this is something women actually do when they go to the mechanic).

I’m not a violent person. This is a rational response to the violence being done to my daughter who I see watching these billboards as we drive by them, the same violence that was done to me by these entirely inescapable images.  It’s a rationale borne out of being a survivor of such violence and knowing exactly how Ziya will have to learn to survive amongst it and with it within her, despite everything I try to teach her and almost no matter what I do.

I was not given a chance to grow into womanhood without having to learn that women should be sexy and what that ideal means, that only some bodies are considered really beautiful, that some skin colour and hair are more valued, and that being a well-adjusted woman means keeping calm in a world ruled by others, who define your worth through their eyes and define even your resistance, because one day you can no longer see yourself free from how they see you.  

Every woman knows the effect of growing up in this world. Every woman knows what that has done to her sense of self, to her confidence, to what she now loves and totally hates about her body, to the fact that when she looks in the mirror, she is evaluating herself in terms of these standards, ones most women cannot ever meet nor should ever have to. Sometimes for years at a time, sometimes for her whole life, every woman battles with her body and her beauty as if they let her down. Every woman knows the damage done, the secret insecurities she carries, her feelings of not being good enough if she is not attractive enough, of wishing to have another body besides her own or look like someone she is not. Every woman knows.  Every girl learns.

In a world that didn’t constantly churn out airbrushed, narrow images of women, maybe Zi could grow up just valuing herself because she is, not devaluing herself because of how she looks, not learning first self-loathing and then, with age, difficulty and concession, something approximating self-love. Maybe she wouldn’t learn to try harder than she needs to simply to be loved for who she is, to spend more money on make-up than helps her be beautiful, to fall for the myth that high heels empower. Maybe I wouldn’t have to try so hard to remind her that a pedestal may look seductive, but what it ultimately does is make you afraid of stepping out of place. Why not let her grow up in a world where these images have been burned to the ground, rather than being burned on the minds, bodies and psyches of women? Don’t Ziya and a generation of girls like her deserve that chance? Fire bun these billboards and their violence.

Post 66.

Every morning, I drive from Santa Cruz, along the Eastern Main Road, to work at the UWI. Every evening, I return home by the same route. My baby girl Ziya, so acutely observant, sits in the backseat gazing out of the window absorbing it all, her mind working faster than the speed limit. Along the way, I point out the colours of the traffic lights, and letters and numbers on signs, so that she could learn from and become observant of the world around her.

Daily, I drive by billboards that in large print tell her, “It’s a man’s world, you wouldn’t understand”, even now, when people think that women have everything they could ask for. We pass multiple such signs, like a looped soundtrack, telling this little human that she is not equal in power or status, that her equal claim to the world will be shouted down from billboards, that she will have to fight simply to not be made invisible or positioned below others just because she was born female. What does it mean when the landscape you live in assures you that this world is not yours, and not an adult in sight cares enough to go and tear down a message as full of violence and disdain as my tiny blossom is full of promise.

Despite Stag’s view of her, my girl is not dumb and mindless, and when she understands exactly what that sign means, what reasons will find for the fate of living in a world denied to her before she can claim it? Will she decide this is right and give in like a slave whose spirit has been broken? Will she decide this is wrong and live with anger at the casual brutality scattered everywhere, continuously aiming to cut her down? Will she, more responsibly than me, stop her car one day and call on anyone anywhere with a conscience, a sense of outrage at gratuitous injustice, or even a boy or girl child who deserves a world better than this, to tear down these billboards, just as citizens who decide they deserve better tear down the statues of dictators and walls that divide us against each other for generations?

Daily, I feel sick that the men and women at Carib Brewery put their minds and their money to so deliberately put down capable, hardworking and flourishing women and girls who only ask for an equal chance to aspire and achieve. Daily, I turn the blame inward, against myself, for trying to get us home amidst the afternoon traffic, like everyone else, rather than destroying those signs however I can because my baby girl deserves more than these people with power will allow her. Daily, I feel helplessness, anger, frustration and fear that maybe I am the only one that knows this company understands women as plantation owners understood coolies, as bodies to use and control, and persons to disrespect and dismiss, because it’s good for profits.

Daily, this is the Trinidad my girl is witness to. Daily, I stop myself from stopping the car as any mother with a girl child and a conscience, and the will to stop those billboards from beating her down, should do. Mothers, fathers, am I alone? Will you help me? Please say yes because Ziya and I need you.