Post 460.

THERE ARE a number of observations to make about Amar Deobarran’s gruesome murder of Omatie Deobarran on April 1. 

The first is people’s disbelief that a diligent teacher, “upstanding citizen” and “very educated” guy “who loved his children” could also be abusive, repeatedly and lethally. It’s important to know that men exactly like this can do exactly these things. The fact that it can be any man is what is meant by it being “normalised.”

When people act so surprised it makes it less likely for women to break their silence about abuse by respectable men because it’s so hard to be believed and because people choose sides based on what they know, their own interests and biases.

Yet, violence isn’t meted out by some recognisable outcast or pathological exception, its perpetrated (like rape) by men who appear like any other. Recognising this, we can understand why all workplaces, religious spaces and communities have a responsibility to treat these issues of gender-based violence as if they are deep and real, however hidden, in their midst. 

The second is the family’s reported disbelief that Amar Deobarran could kill. Omatie Deobarran’s family reportedly advised her to “try and mend up things” despite the fact that Amar would “pick up a cutlass and knock it right round the hammock” when she was in it. 

At one point it seems that Omatie was to continue living on the same compound as a man who was recorded threatening to “saw off” her neck. Newsday reported that Amar was planning to evict her from their home, and described him and his mother telling her to go. It is commonplace for men to threaten to kill their wives, girlfriends or ex-partners, and for families to tolerate and defend them. Indeed, threats are often trivialised by families and ignored as a crime by police.

As a society, there is also significant dysfunction in how we understand love, whether in relation to beating children or condoning controlling and violent behaviour. Newspaper headlines are often guilty of just such confusion, misrepresenting men’s killing of women as acts of “passion” or blaming women for not choosing their men wisely. 

The Express represented Omatie’s murder as linked to her filing for divorce, not Amar’s infidelity and its consequences nor possibly his retaliation at custody arrangements resulting from his actions, and reinforced the message that women who decide to leave are the least safe because they “trigger” men to kill. 

Express’s headline focused on Amar Deobarran’s suicide. Omatie was merely described as “wife.” Guardian ran a story on how “Sir” changed after his father died of covid19, though problems clearly preceded that. No newspaper printed, “Unfaithful husband kills woman, self,” which would shift our perception of an inexplicable act by a caring man who “in a sudden twist” (to quote the Guardian) could kill a woman in front of their child. 

Third, it is therefore also absolutely essential that we talk about how a parent that loves his children could murder in front of them. All the data (see the Trinidad and Tobago Women’s Health Survey 2018) points to how much violence takes place in front of children, and against women when pregnant. This is something else that workplaces, schools and religious communities need to take seriously. It’s one of many reasons we should be teaching about gender-based violence prevention and protection in schools. 

News reports suggest that Omatie was fighting back for months, such quarrels were affecting the children, and that they were all seeing a counsellor, though Amar stopped going. One family member suggested that the murder was a response to court-mandated visitation with a court marshal, and where a man threatens a woman’s life, it should be clear to us by now that their children – as witnesses or victims – are also not safe. 

What should women do? Suffer in silence and be blamed for not leaving, thus exposing their children to the slow burn of family chaos and brutality? Hire an attorney and be blamed for leaving, risking men’s anger at having custody and access challenged? Are courts prepared to mandate lethality assessments which can protect women and their children? And how much more must be said about men’s responsibility for their violence before families acknowledge that this is where it can end? 

It’s because so many are surprised by “Sir” that we can imagine this is a common and familiar, though frequently unrecognised, scenario. Omatie’s story shows us so many signs, perhaps her death can stop another heartbreaking headline.

Post 441.

ZI TURNED 11 on Monday so I’m entering the pleasures and perils of pre-teen life, and the parenting moments it brings. 

The magic of childhood still lingers, with its uncontrived excitement, effervescent emotions, bubbling energy and honest words from a still blossoming heart. A child in a room of adults still transforms it somehow into an opportunity for being kinder, and sharing in laughter and wonder. 

An 11-year-old appears so grown-up in one instance and then so playful in the next, baby qualities bouncing about, tumbling with growth spurts and hormone changes and features that seem to mature by the day. The pandemic brought that home in a way that long workdays would have eclipsed. It took me a year to make lemonade (or lime juice), as they say, for I realised how much of her growing up I was missing and how much more of me she needed. I learned a lot about mental health and how our brains differently develop and cope, and how easy it is to miss signs of what’s going on with our children’s cognitive, social-emotional and expressive lives amidst the manic rush between home, school, homework, dinner and bedtime on repeat every day. 

When the pandemic began, she was just nine, and a completely different child. We rightly focus on children who need schools to reopen to resume their education, improve their nutrition, provide access to a trusted adult, and create valuable peer socialisation. Zi flourished at home, freed from the stress of traffic, with time to sleep later on a morning and chance to be herself without pressures of bullying. It was a privileged opportunity to feel calmer and safer by us being so consistently together.

I got to know her anew, over lunchtimes and afternoon walks and middle-of-the-day hugs, recognising challenges she’s navigating which I hadn’t noticed and making new decisions about mothering for which I wouldn’t have ever given time. I changed my priorities and responsibilities, increasing my attention to care and cutting back on much else. It made me grow. 

There’s an older adolescence that has also appeared, and interest in an adult world that she and her friends are yet unprepared for. We spend a lot of effort censoring regular pop music for its language and hypersexuality, and these days a regular YouTube playlist is a minefield of problematic socialisation. We are constantly checking for the clean version of songs.

Videos that show up either feature women (or Lil Nas X) writhing nearly naked or, alternatively, depressed and angst-ridden white American music stars. There’s a lot of conversation to have with teens about sex and sexuality, what’s age appropriate, stereotyped and commodified, real and empowering, and what messages are being sold to children. 

Sexuality brings both power and pleasure as well as risk and danger, and girls are most vulnerable to harmful consequences of early sexualisation as teens. They also enter a stage when they become more conscious of their bodies, weight, hair and skin colour, and how their appearance relates to acceptance by peers. 

They are seeing cyclical ads convince women they need to have long eyelashes, and I’ve watched as Zi’s emerging sense of femininity is shaped by the creation of insecurities and the expectation of self-improvement through consumption. 

As the recent Facebook study also confirmed, social media adds to girls’ challenges with self-esteem and anxiety. When you talk to girls, you realise how much they don’t like about themselves or how unsure they are about growing breasts and the onset of menstruation, developing a sense of responsibility and perhaps a sense of shame about both, and how adolescence is both very much like yet so different from our own decades ago. 

We try to use words that emphasise being fit and strong, not thin, and the mental health necessity of time outside, rather than on a device.

Not yet in secondary school, we also started preparing Zi, less for SEA than for pubescent crushes, having friends and cousins of diverse sexualities, and recognising that friends may begin experimenting with identities that cross and redefine old boundaries of “he,” “she” and “they.” From here, it’s like teaching life skills as much as critical thinking ones, a strong sense of self as well as an open, non-prejudiced mind. 

It’s been a year of learning about the world through her eyes. 

Welcome to 11, Zi. May you show us how much still must be changed as we show you how to love who you are inside.

Post 162.

Feminism is getting hotter. Sparking a global spring, girls and women are taking on the world political-economic order on the ground and through technology. More power to this movement for equality, equity, and transformation of all forms of domination. Welcome to a moment that tireless struggle has again born.

Once the dilemma was about the ‘I’m not feminist, but…’ kind of feminism, the belief in and practice of its politics that nonetheless ran from the backlash stereotypes associated with its identity and community.

However, going more mainstream has attached feminism to wider practices and representations, raising questions about the relationship between feeling powerful and undoing powerful hierarchies, as well as making us look harder at feminisms mix with capitalism, its long-marketed racist and sexist ordering of women, and its containment of the broadest goals of empowerment.

Take bootylicious feminism, also seen in Nicki Minaj’s dancehall queen version. Beyonce’s brand champions women as flawless and sexy, smart and powerful, economically in control and unanswerable to the politics of respectability. It also sells sex as it sells feminism. Indeed, here, sex sells feminism, potentially popularizing a narrower project than dismantling the beauty myths still packaging the meanings of female sexuality. What do hypersexual feminisms do for kinds that are not or refuse to be sexy?

I’ve wondered about this when my friend Nicole was shamed for playing Jouvay topless but for nipple coverings, and in an old shortpants, making explicit just how little pretty mas nakedness has opened a space for women’s non-prettied bodies on the road, on their own terms, even on Carnival days. I’ve thought about this when women face censure for shamelessly breast-feeding their babies. I’ve reflected on this as I envision the postcolonial feminisms I want for my little brown girl.

There’s feminist struggle for sex positivity. Existing double standards shame women in ways that men, even those who are molesters, rapists or adulterers, don’t face, and strippers, sex workers and ‘skettels’’ usually scorned behaviour means they are least protected by the law, unions, immigration officials and health institutions. This must change.

The question isn’t whether women have a right to make the choices they do. Instead our attention should be on the choices available, and the ones still determining women’s greatest rewards, pleasures and value. It’s no coincidence that just as girls have been ‘taking over’ education, media and labour markets, they have been increasingly pressured to still embody specific femininities and stilettoed super-sexiness. What does this mean for feminisms’ trenchant critique of women as objects for consumption, and for black and brown women’s refusal to reproduce reduction to their bodies at the expense of their humanity?

Freedom from sexual and other forms of  violence. Choice regarding marriage, children, and same sex desire. Access to reproductive justice, including safe and legal abortion. Transformation of the colonial gender stereotyping still pervasive in contemporary pop culture, advertising, nationalism and tourism. Value not for how we look nor for the femininities we do, but simply because we are. The kinds of economic rights that mean we neither gain greater wealth nor greater vulnerability from the exploitation of our bodies in public and private life. For me, this is what feminist goals of sexual liberation mean.

All women know there is no pure place for resistance. This is more rather than less reason for thinking critically about diverse instances named feminist. It’s reason for differentiating between the gender consciousness we now have of rights and inequalities, and feminist consciousness that aims at more than women’s individual wealth, choice or leveling of power to a radical re-imagining beyond current terms and boundaries.

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.