Month: May 2016

Intersectional Feminism: Caribbean Sexual Education Is State-Sanctioned Violence Towards Women

Intersectional feminism in the Caribbean cannot ignore the violence perpetuated by the lack of a comprehensive sexual education. The current model of sexual “education” promoted is fear based education following the “abstinence until marriage only” model. Not only is this ironic due to the fact that Saint Lucia has one of the world’s lowest marriage rates, recent studies like college professors show that abstinence only education has around the same impact as receiving no sexual education at all. [x] In the Caribbean, where abortion is illegal and there are still laws banning “buggery”, the culture surrounding sex and sexuality is one where Puritanical mythology around sex is touted as “normal” and contemporary knowledge about sexual education and healthy sexual practices is all but absent.

Sex education is limited to scare tactics about “pre marital sex” and STDs but actual information about how to engage in physically and emotionally healthy sexual relationships is considered taboo. This is a women’s issue because women in the Caribbean face violence at the hands of the institutions that deny them reproductive rights. Without sexual education and with illegal abortion, the decision to have a child is not only placed solely in the hands of men, on another level it’s placed at the hands of the state which arguably doesn’t have women’s interests in mind especially if you look at the rape statistics across the Caribbean which are higher than the global average.

The alternative to abstinence-until-marriage sexual education is simple: comprehensive sexual education based on factual scientific information rather than outdated mythology. Unlike many white feminists that I’ve encountered in the U.S. I do not advocate for blind sex positivity; I do not encourage people to just do “whatever they want” without regard for the consequences. Rather, I envision a region where sexual education gives women accurate information about their physiology and their emotional health so that they can make informed decisions for themselves.

Our current sexual education system perpetuates violence not only towards cisgender, heterosexual women but towards the LGBT community as well. Comprehensive sexual education should include education about all kinds of safe sexual practices not just penis-in-vagina sex. Simple ideas like how to turn a condom into a dental dam for safe oral sex or using latex gloves for safe manual stimulation are just two examples of non-heteronormative parts to a comprehensive sexual education. A part of comprehensive sexual education is also allowing safe spaces for students to come to terms with their gender identities and sexual expressions which might not fit into a heteronormative framework.

Contrary to popular belief in the Caribbean, teaching children about sex does not “encourage” them to have sex. What it does encourage is safe practices when they do decide to have sex. It teaches them not only about physical safety but emotional safety as well. In a country where many women are pressured to have sex either as a transaction or due to manipulation, the emotional consequences of sexual interactions cannot be ignored. Just because you know the stone cold facts does not mean that you are informed on how to make good decisions, set up emotional boundaries and figure out what interactions you are most comfortable with.
Setting society up so that women do not have the resources to make informed decisions and then punishing them for the results is a nearly invisible type of violence in our society. It’s invisible because the truth behind it is concealed behind religious rhetoric and notions of personal responsibility. A proper look at sexual education would address the reality of the Caribbean and not the illusion of what exists; the reality is that “premarital sex” is more common than not and women who engage in sexual activity do not deserve bad things to happen to them.

The reality is that we have a greater collective responsibility to serve those at the margins of society: young women, gay women, transwomen, disabled women and ensure that their identities do not make them victims of institutional violence.

Source: wikipedia.org
Source: wikipedia.org

While the lack of sexual education is often touted as the more ethical option, upon further examination, it shouldn’t be difficult to see that forcing rape victims to carry babies to term, exposing women to unhealthy sexual options and lying about the reality of sexual activity is far more dangerous and unethical than meting our proper education.

We need to start telling the truth instead of fear mongering, educate out of love and not out of desire to control. We need to update what we teach according to the truth instead of relying on easily disproven mythology. Comprehensive sexual education is the only form of sexual education that positively impacts behavioral outcomes and every moment we go without it, we are damaging our country’s population.

Intersectional Feminism: 5 Ways West Indian Women Reinforce Patriarchy

 

intersectional feminism in the caribbeanOne of the aspects of weaving intersectional feminism into your life as a Caribbean woman involves a lengthy process of unlearning the damaging ideas and beliefs thrust upon you by Caribbean society. Even if I once had a West Indian teacher wrongfully assert that the Caribbean is a “matriarchy” because “mothers tell their sons what to do”, the reality is we are in a culture that’s patriarchal and even our mothers, aunties and grandmothers buy into the mindset.

Here’s to the West Indian mothers who raised us to be strong and defiant, but today I’m going to call out the women in our lives that didn’t raise us to be prone to accepting women’s liberation. I’m going to call out the ones who raised us to only speak when spoken to, who victim blamed, who abused and belittled the boys and girls in their stead…

So today, here are five ways that older West Indian women reinforce patriarchy:

1. “Boys Will Be Boys”

This is the mentality than informs the way many West Indian women raise children differently. Girls are kept under lock and key, taught that the world is too dangerous for them or that they are “temptations” to men. Boys on the other hand are allowed free reign to do whatever they please. Girls aren’t permitted to go out, interact as they normally would but boys are permitted (if not expected) to run amok, with very little control. This attitude that “boys will be boys” removes accountability for the inappropriate behavior male children exhibit. It’s a way of policing women to the extreme while allowing for bar behavior from male children.

Not only is this lazy parenting, it’s patriarchal to assume that expectations for male children should be lower than expectations for female children. This lays the groundwork for men’s poor behavior later in life. “Boys will be boys” paves the way for both men and women to learn that men deserve more respect, they deserve to dominate over everyone and women’s role is to remain subservient no matter what.

2. Men’s behavior is young girl’s responsibility

This particular belief is brought up in many contexts, but one of the most recent ones I’ve noticed is in discussions about girls’ school uniforms. Most school uniforms are long — past the knees — and extremely hot and stuffy considering tropical climates. Yet debates about making uniforms shorter, including physical education uniforms, is often stifled because short uniforms “lead to” men being attracted to young girls (between the ages of 5-17).

A majority of West Indian women do in fact believe that men’s attraction to young girls is “natural” and to curb this natural attraction, school uniforms should be longer. The assumption that young girls are responsible for pedophilia and not the grown, entitled men who prey upon them is another way that West Indian women reinforce ideas that are harmful to women. This is not just a belief that West Indian men hold; West Indian women hold it too. They teach their young daughters that they are responsible for the way adult men behave around them while never holding adult men responsible for their own entitlement or disgusting behavior towards children.

3. Blaming victims of rape/incest

It’s not difficult to see how the second point here leads to this one. In a world where girls are responsible for the behavior of adult men, when terrible acts of violence like rape/incest occur, these young girls are again blamed. When a thirteen or sixteen year old is pregnant, she is the one blamed, not the adult man who likely impregnated her. The concept of girls being “fast” (while not prevalent in Saint Lucia specifically) is used as justification for victim blaming.

Girls are not protected from violence; in fact, they are blamed even by those who label themselves as “progressive” or “thinkers” in our countries. Instead of understanding the sick culture that contributes to male violence against women, girls are blamed for anything from not enough church attendance to inappropriate clothing. Of course, it’s fair to say that these are widespread beliefs amongst all people in our culture but they are particularly insidious coming from West Indian women who (in theory) should understand the way male violence is leveraged against them.

However, the same people who were victimized perpetuate the same oppressive ideas. The cycle of abuse continues unless West Indian women today choose not to believe that every message from their mothers is a reflection of the way things should be.

4. Homophobia

While many West Indian women actually laud their closeted gay sons and nephews for being “good boys” (normally because they defy the expected entitled, brutish behavior of WI men), they are the same ones who sit in church and pray for fire and brimstone to be rained down upon gay people in our countries. Many West Indian women hold onto homophobic beliefs (Leviticus 20:13 informs their worldview) and enact physical and/or emotional violence upon gay or suspected gay people.

Cis, straight West Indian women are just as homophobic as men, using the same slurs and calling upon similar types of violence. West Indian women are just as homophobic to their daughters as to their sons. And of course, along with this homophobia, you will find transphobia as well. These beliefs are so prevalent that even West Indian feminists don’t realize how their groups are exclusionary to the LGBT community. Even women interested in women’s liberation do not notice how their ideas of liberation never even considered transwomen, bisexual women or lesbians.

5. Encouraging Abuse/Violence In Relationships

Harsh and abusive disciplinary tactics are one of the ways abuse and violence is normalized. There’s a reason abusive behavior is often described as “cyclical”. The behavior we experience growing up is what is imitated later on in life. When emotionally or physically abusive behavior is the primary mode of “discipline” in a child’s life, it is difficult for them to function any other way as adults…

This relates to patriarchy because often times, abusive tactics are employed against boys in specific ways that numb them to emotional experiences, encourage a lack of empathy and foster abusive behavior later on. I have a number of examples to back this up but the most recent one happened just last week. I was shopping for new apartment decor and a woman was walking with her son (no older than five years old) and hitting him as they walked. Of course, as he was getting hit (hard) in public, he began to cry. As her son wailed at the top of his lungs, this woman shouted, “Stop being a wuss!”

Is it really “being a wuss” when a five year old starts to cry? Or are you holding him to a patriarchal male standard where he learns his own emotions (and therefore, the emotions of those around him) are unimportant? Another lesson this child could learn is that mocking/belittling someone’s emotions is a way to manipulate them into doing what you want. The lessons learned from this are not simple and neither are they short lived. This is not coming out of thin air either — this is backed by psychological research into child psychology as well as research into effects of upbringing on adult behavior.

Before writing this post, I considered why focus on how women contribute to patriarchy. After all, patriarchy primarily benefits men in our society. I thought it was important to write a post about women however to combat the idea I mentioned in my previous post that the mere existence of women in a particular space makes it feminist. I also wrote this post to inspire accountability in women interested in identifying as feminists or learning more about women’s liberation. One of my personal/political beliefs is that before we can educate others, we must educate ourselves and more importantly do the difficult work of unlearning what we have internalized.

So this post wasn’t written for men to get off scot-free and it wasn’t written to “attack” women for no reason. I want Caribbean women to take a long hard look at what we believe and what we may not even realize that we believe and ask ourselves: how are we teaching our daughters, sisters and nieces to uphold patriarchy’s status quo? And finally, how can we break down these cycles in our communities and push for women’s liberation in our spheres.