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Clutching Straws ~ Why the Insecurity Around Women’s Movements?

December 20, 2012

:: by Richie Maitland ::

On Monday December 10th 2012, a Candle Light Vigil organized by The Grenada National Organization of Women in collaboration with the Ministry of Social Development, was held on the Carenage to raise awareness and support around issues of gender based violence in Grenada. The initiative was given full support by Groundation Grenada and was advertised on our blog.

Imagine my shock when two persons, one, Kennedy Jawahir writing in a local newspaper, and the other ‘Mansah’, writing on The Spiceislander Talkshop, wrote two scathing individual diatribes, admonishing the women’s movement in Grenada for their initiative, warning against feminism, and in one case, harshly criticising the vigil itself.

In these diatribes, the authors make many unfounded assumptions and draw many unsupported conclusions. I think often these assumptions and faulty conclusions are accepted by many people and are damaging to the women’s liberation movement. This is therefore intended as a collective response to those diatribes. But perhaps more importantly, as a response to the prevailing circumstances and mindsets from which the authors’ sentiments emanate.

In the interest of brevity I’ve had to paraphrase the original ideas of the authors. I’ve tried to represent their original sentiment as thoroughly as paraphrasing allows. I apologize to the extent that I misrepresent anything; it certainly wasn’t my intention. Persons, whether the authors to whom this is meant as a response, or other persons, are free to respond. Groundation Grenada encourages such healthy discourse.

In Mr. Jawahir’s piece, he suggests that ‘these people’ (women’s organizers in Grenada), are urging women to leave their spouses and so are contributing to social decay. This suggestion fails to realise that a woman leaving her partner doesn’t inherently contribute to social decay while unhealthy relationships, homes and families do. Indeed, in many instances women leaving their spouses counteract social decay by creating more healthy spaces for the women, men, and/or children involved. Further, the author’s suggestion seems to ignore the many situations when it is in a woman’s best interest to leave a relationship because it is abusive or otherwise unhealthy. In fact any person should have the freedom to leave any relationship that they don’t want to be in for whatever reason. No feminist movement I’m aware of, advocates women leaving their spouses for its own sake.

He then ponders who is going to take care of these women once they leave their spouses. He says that Grenada doesn’t have the social welfare mechanisms the US or other countries have to adequately provide for the women who would have left their spouses. His statement implies that it is someone else’s job (whether a man or the state) to provide for a woman. I think his concern(?) is grossly misconceived. As I understand it, the salient objective of any feminist movement is empowering women so that they don’t have to depend on any person or state for their holistic sustenance.

He says further that the feminist movement is trying to revolutionise men and their social standing. I don’t see how this could reasonably be ascribed to feminism. Certainly the feminist movement is trying to revolutionize the social responsibilities, sensitivities and responses of both men and women, in a manner conducive to the more just and equitable society. However, I see no evidence that the feminist movement is trying to revolutionize the ‘social standing’ of men. Many persons wrongly confuse the objective of women’s movements as women’s supremacy.

He then says that the feminist movement is advocating for laws which are not applicable to our social conditions. I can’t help but wonder what are the laws to which he refers. As a matter of fact what are the social conditions to which he refers? Patriarchal social conditions certainly. Mr. Jawahir should appreciate that social conditions aren’t static (thankfully).

He makes the point that the country suffers from 30% unemployment (a true enough reflection of reality), and suggests that our efforts are better spent in addressing that issue. To my mind, issues related to women’s empowerment or lack thereof, relate in many ways (which I won’t discuss for brevity sake and to avoid pursuing a tangent) to unemployment. But even if those issues weren’t related, the fact that there are other social issues which need addressing, doesn’t preclude persons with an interest therein from addressing women’s empowerment issues. So, there is 30 % unemployment, we therefore should address that exclusively and not bother with issues of crime, inadequate health care, child abuse and other issues? Nonsense. Even beyond the almost obvious relationship between the issues as alluded to earlier, Mr. Jawahir’s idea reflects an unwarranted hierarchical valuation of social issues.

Mr Jawahir actually expresses incredulity at the fact that a woman could now have her husband prosecuted for rape. But why should it not be so? How does one defend a position which says that a woman, by virtue of being married, relinquishes sovereignty over her body and therefore can’t object to sex with her husband? (which is actually the reasoning behind the state of the common law under which a husband could not have been charged with the rape of his wife, which thankfully changed in 1991 in R v R , a landmark legal ruling).

He says that some feminists advocate ‘women walking topless’ and suggestively represents this as part of the general feminist agenda. However, feminists aren’t necessarily advocating women walking topless (though women are well within their right to challenge the cultural significance attached to their woman parts, which they may see as unduly restrictive). Further, women walking topless certainly isn’t on the agenda of any regional movement I’m aware of.

Mr. Jawahir says that it is “time that women understand their place” what is that place pray tell? I agree with him in his sentiment, but I think the place he and I envision are poles apart.

artist unknown

artist unknown

I was particularly struck when, in saying that a woman “owns and controls her means of reproduction” and that women wield this reproductive control as a weapon against men (a point I wholly failed to grasp or appreciate), he said that sex shouldn’t be an asset for one of them but liability for the other. It may or may not surprise him that this was actually the state of the law. That is, at one point, a man had a right to sex from his wife and it was a consequent liability on the woman, with no such reciprocal right enjoyed by women. In fact a man could have sued someone for interfering with his right to sex from his wife. The legal idea that a man couldn’t rape his wife came from this same patriarchal quagmire. Certainly we’ve come a long way, but we haven’t yet arrived, neither will we ever necessarily arrive, given the continued expansion of the conception of rights.

Mr Jawahir supports some of his ideas by saying that women lack men’s strength and that man is an economic and social animal. The first point is a sweeping generalization which ignores the many exceptions. The second point only makes sense in his diatribe because of the silent implication that women aren’t economic and social animals. Beyond stereotyping, in making this point, he mistakes something which is socially constructed in a particularly sexed body as something inherent in that particularly sexed body. There’s nothing which says that a woman is inherently ill suited for economic and social roles and in fact there are enough examples contradicting this stereotype.

There are a few other points I would have loved to respond to, but (perhaps due to my own daftness) it’s difficult to understand them.

The second diatribe, by ‘Mansah’, found on Spiceislander Talkshop, opens by saying;

“As the misguided heads take vigil in the night with candles, the same Gender War Missionaries are VERY VIGILANT in BROAD DAYLIGHT hatching and plotting their economic schemes in the same WESTERN METRO-POLES to make the VIGILITES on the Carenage to be among the poorest. And the evidence has shown that the same western feminists are the same ones sitting and plotting with their patriarchal men to economically suppress the Vigilites on the Carenage.”
*exact quote including emphases

In this opening statement Mansah implies that the feminist movement in Grenada is influenced by the feminist movement in the Metropolitan West (“the Gender War Missionaries”) and that because the Metropolitan West is responsible for economic oppression and/or violence against Caribbean Countries, we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be so influenced.

But implicit in that statement is that Caribbean women are incapable of self generating womens liberation ideas and movements. This is clearly untrue. Caribbean women and men sympathetic to the women’s movement are quite capable of seeing the plight of Caribbean women and of mobilizing responses to that plight without being prompted from abroad. Where does this idea that feminism is a ‘foreign’ ideal even come from? Even if local feminism was influenced by US or European feminism, that the local movement is influenced by a foreign one doesn’t affect the merit of that local movement at all. Mansah’s notion also ignores that many foundational voices in women’s movements of the Global North, such as Audre Lorde (a Kayak-Grenadian/American), came from the Global South, and further ignores the way in which access to transnational ideas fuel movements in the Global North and around the world. Nobody denies the economic power dynamic between Grenada/the Caribbean and metropolitan countries or the way that that dynamic is sometimes exploited to our detriment. But it’s difficult to see a nexus between that and any feminist movement. Perhaps Mansah suggests a nexus in the fact of both the US feminist movement and the economic violence he speaks of, emanating from the US. But does that then mean that the black liberation and trade union movements in the Caribbean lacked merit because they were influenced by similar US liberal civil movements?

Mansah then makes the point (by misrepresenting reality in some instances), that women’s lot has improved significantly over the years. Some of the things misrepresented are as follows;

  • That the gender power imbalance is against men.
  • That women in the Caribbean are far more exposed to education and education achievement than both their menfolk and more than women “anywhere else in the world”.
  • That income equality between men and women in Grenada and the Caribbean is more equitable than between men and women even in some Western Countries.
  • That the ratio of women owning and driving their vehicles is equal to or greater than that of men and “for certain women in the caribbean drive their own vehicles at a rate far above females in any other part of the globe. “
  • That “In terms of social norms, values and attitudes, the Caribbean man is least infected by backward traditional ideas about females role [sic] in society than anywhere else in the world.” (and I suppose that’s why we had 3 particularly atrocious domestic killings in Grenada alone this year.)

Mansah also says, that men in Grenada are not reported to have any issue with their women earning more than them and this is not due to any type of “dependent [sic] syndrome, but due to a culture in a region where women have always been independent actors on their own”. I wonder who would be in a position to report on the extent to which Grenadian men take umbrage with Grenadian women earning more than them?

'Breaking through...' by Uploathe

‘Breaking through…’ by Uploathe

The Grenada/Caribbean that Mansah lives in must be different from the one I know. In 2011, the Royal Commonwealth Society in collaboration with Plan, (none of which are feminist or women’s organizations) did a study entitled ‘Because You’re a Girl; Growing up in the Commonwealth’. In that study they do a comparative analysis along a number of different axes between men and women across different Commonwealth countries. Perhaps Mansah might find it enlightening, and rethink his ‘certainty’ about some of the facts he misrepresents; perhaps Grenada’s overall rating might surprise him. Mansah doesn’t seem to appreciate that whatever the improvement of women’s lot over the years, there is still room for improvement. It is this void, this gap between what is and what should be that the feminist movement (and by extension Groundation Grenada), is addressing.

I give him the benefit of the doubt that his misrepresentations weren’t deliberate, which leaves me to wonder about their origin. Perhaps it’s Confirmation Bias, an aspect of Cognitive bias, now being explored by psychologists. Confirmation bias is described thus on wikipedia;

“Confirmation bias (also called confirmatory bias or myside bias) is a tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses. People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs. For example, in reading about current political issues, people usually prefer sources that affirm their existing attitudes. They also tend to interpret ambiguous evidence as supporting their existing position.”

Mansah describes the vigil as being divisive, I think he misunderstood the point of the vigil. It was a call for people generally, not women only, to rally against gender based violence. How is that decisive? Can it be reasonably said that a vigil against child abuse is dividing parents against children?

Without wanting to presume upon the authors’ muses, I can’t help but wonder in the face of such sentiments like those they express – why the insecurity around women’s liberation?

I think it’s because by and large men have gotten comfortable in the seat of patriarchy; that space where men arrogate arbitrary power over women; that space where a man demands deference from a woman without merit and simply because of the genetic incidence of his masculinity and her femininity; that space which excludes women from full personhood and which denies men the chance to interact with real women because the women produced by a patriarchal system are cowed by patriarchy, which in many cases they’ve adopted as a reality so long that they can’t even imagine an alternative.

'Twin Flame' by FariStudios

‘Twin Flame’ by FariStudios

I’m not at all suggesting that because of the system as is, strong, intelligent, precocious and liberated women have not emerged. And having interacted with a good few of them, I can say firsthand what a detriment patriarchy is to us men. Men suffer from patriarchy, misogyny and sexism to the extent that those paradigms deny us men stronger companions and makes us less dynamic companions ourselves. But it is this system which produces such women as referred to above, disproportionately less so than it produces such men, that feminists are addressing. This system is not written in stone, it is sustained by our ideas.

I think persons who don’t really wish for substantial change between the power dynamic between men and women feel insecurity at the slight tremors which signal the imminent clash of the women’s liberation movement with patriarchy and sexism. They are afraid of the boat being rocked, because they are enjoying the smooth sailing. Perhaps the boat needs to be rocked when the smooth sailing is enjoyed at the detriment of the womenfolk rowing in the galleys, who suffer silently and endure amidst myriad tribulations.

Mansah refers to Groundation Grenada as Satan and a meteor dislodged from nowhere. To set the record straight , we haven’t come from nowhere dear sir. We come from the very bowels of Grenadian society, perhaps working some movement in those bowels because the place needs a purging and senna never kill nobody yet.

Perhaps also, Mansah’s use of the meteor metaphor is symbolic. Indeed, the last significant meteor which struck us, saw the death of the dinosaurs. Perhaps we too, have come to symbolically vanquish the metaphorical dinosaurs of our time.

__________________

Richie_MaitlandRichie Maitland
Editor/Co-Founder Groundation Grenada
Never far from the open pages of a book, Richie Maitland is a lyricist and literary at heart. Using his inherently creative approach he tackles issues of social empowerment and justice as a matter of course. He attended T.A. Marryshow Community College then taught a Presentation Brothers College before completing his Bachelor of Laws Degree at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill, Barbados. He eventually pursued Post Graduate legal training at the Hugh Wooding Law School in Trinidad, where he graduated in 2012. He currently practices as an Attorney-at-Law at Ciboney Chambers.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. Kadie! permalink
    December 20, 2012 12:26 pm

    Where to start? Firstly, thank you Richie. When I finished reading this and saw a photo of a man I was pleasantly surprised. Feminism is so grossly misunderstood. It is not about the disenfranchisement of men, but the empowerment of women and of men (yes, men do benefit from feminism). I don’t understand (well I do, but I find it ludicrous) how the empowerment of women strikes fear in men, especially “educated” men.

    This is the battle one faces in a revolution, the keepers of the status quo will guard it fiercely. They will raise doubt in others, plant seeds of misinformation to deter people from seeking interest in this movement. But we must push on.

  2. misskinx permalink
    December 20, 2012 1:27 pm

    Reblogged this on Misskinx's Blog and commented:
    Thank you Richie and any other male identified person(s) for challenging misogyny, sexism and patriarchy! Hopefully we’ll see more of this on our beautiful spice isle.

  3. krisstalina permalink
    December 20, 2012 3:25 pm

    Malaika, how fabulous, more power to you and your colleagues…. I love it, the time for enlightenment is here…… have a good one!Kriss Date: Thu, 20 Dec 2012 15:42:07 +0000 To: beachkriss@hotmail.com

  4. December 20, 2012 3:57 pm

    Well I am floored to say the very least. I cannot fathom how and why these bigots were able to make it past an editor to publish this filth, granted they were answerable to one in the first place.

    I would like to thank you for taking not only the time to write this but for your complete and thorough analysis and absolute clarity among the complete chaos of misguided hatred and misogyny.

    I hope that you have shared this response with both authors as well as submitted this to the two publications that originally posted their articles. A public apology is in order, to all families of the women who have lost their lives as a result of gender based violence, the women who continue to be abused and the men and women who walked that night in their honour.

    Ase. Ase. Kadamawe.

  5. Ras Tafari permalink
    December 20, 2012 6:38 pm

    2 assholes if you ask me…those things are not worth reading in their entirety…what they want is for women to shut up, cook, clean, open their legs,pelt out kids and ask no questions!!! Let them stay there with that foolish way of thinking! women NEED to get up of their asses and stop depending on men to keep them down! The only constant in this world is change so if they are not realising that times are changing im sorry for those two assholes!!

  6. December 20, 2012 8:06 pm

    I have to say “Bravo!” to the writer of this article. 1. For addressing what I consider pure idiocy and 2. Speaking from a stand point that proves his mindset is much broader than his gender. I chose not to read Mr. Jawahir and “Mansah’s” notations because I will not honor that sort of narrow-minded, misogynist and underdeveloped thinking, with my time. Besides, Mr. Maitland was very thorough in his referencing. Speaking of honor, I am aghast at the lack of respect and honor these men (also our Grenadian men as a whole), show to our women. Despite the ironic evidence so prevalent within our culture that it’s the women that are the backbone of our societies. I once viewed a documentary on African social structure(s) and it dawned on me that the women did EVERTHING. They were at times, literally, carrying the household on their backs. I think these social threads have survived and continue to propagate within our modern society.

    How many of us can say that we’ve had a healthy, communicative and substantial emotional relationship with our fathers growing up? Whether they were there, or in physical absence, provided monetary endowments, they almost always delegated the true upbringing to our mothers. Yet, embedded within their principles, they suffer an enormous lack of acknowledgement and realization of a woman’s contribution to our society. I recently spent a few weeks back home and during my time there, in conversation with female family members, I was brought to tears in discovering the accepted systematic abuse (physical, emotional and sexual) that the women in Grenada face. This vigil represented that need for conversation, atonement and catalytical impetus.

    To ignore what’s evident speaks volumes in terms of the viewpoint of men like Mr. Jawahir and Mansah. To consider a Metropolitan/Western regard as being something “foreign” to us, shows a complete lack of understanding of our global position. We ARE The West. We exist not in an Old World culture but that of an emerging western one. Stagnation will not build a society. Resourcefulness, bravery, open-mindedness, these are the tools that we can utilize to afford women their proper place. Sail or Sink.

  7. December 26, 2012 10:59 pm

    It is with great pride I read this a second time. I’m actually going to bookmark it so I can easily access it whenever I feel the need to reread it. Words cannot express how much I want to say to commend you Richie for putting all these words together. My heart is honestly overwhelmed.

  8. Kadie! permalink
    January 5, 2013 11:29 pm

    Reblogged this on Being Kadie and commented:
    Totally enjoyed this piece. It’s a must-read. There is a lot of unlearning and relearning that needs to be done. *rolls up sleeves*

Trackbacks

  1. Clutching Straws ~ Why the Insecurity Around Women’s Movements? | ♀ Kizzy™
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