Category posts: intersectional feminism

Intersectional feminism is a term coined by Kimberle Crenshaw to describe an idea that existed amongst black feminists since the 1920s. Intersectional feminism describes the idea that women are not just women, and exist on multiple planes of oppression. For example: black lesbian women are black, lesbians AND women and cannot engage with one aspect of identity without engaging the other.

Intersectional Feminism: Women’s Health

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Until my summer class is over, I have neglected to really discuss it in great depth on this blog or in any kind of formal writing. This is a very intentional omission as I’m keeping my head down this summer I feel more comfortable speaking more generally of women’s health and what I’ve learned of its condition on St. Lucia so far. Everything written here merely mirrors my experience in St. Lucia and I welcome commentary that differs from what I’ve learned. As of right now, my experience with women’s health here has reflected a dangerous level of misinformation and ignorance with no interest in learning otherwise. The deep roots of colonial Catholicism are entrenched beyond belief in every aspect of interpreting women’s health and conceptualizing female sexuality.

The culture regarding women’s health straddles and occasionally crosses the line from ignorant to downright dangerous. Women possess just as much, if not less information regarding their bodies and sexualities as men do here which exacerbates the patriarchal power dynamic where men become sole proprietors (for this is how they are viewed) of women’s bodies and sexuality. The problem with comprehending female sexuality is so deep that I cannot even begin to touch upon the politics and problems regarding LGBTQ members of St. Lucian society (who are largely undercover or extremely private anyways). Most women here aren’t totally aware of the most important part of women’s health, the vagina. The anatomy of the pubic area is taboo and unfamiliar and there is widespread misinformation regarding virginity and what that means.

The act of sex itself is largely seen as taboo between unmarried couples despite the fact that St. Lucia has one of the world’s lowest marriage rates and a birth rate that does not reflect a large number of births occurring within wedlock. I wonder how much women are in control during the act of sex here. In speaking with acquaintances here, I’ve largely gotten the perception that the act of sex is seen as something that is not expected to be pleasurable for women. It’s seen as something that men are owed for either being good people or paying for dates or for dishing out the right number of compliments. Penetrative sexual intercourse seems to have nothing to do with women who are objectified to an advanced degree here with many men colloquially referring to women as “tings”. I can’t even begin to think of a way in which the act of intercourse is seen as being for women because such an idea is unheard of down here.

I don’t know if I observed a single positive thing that would give me a hopeful outlook regarding women and their awareness of their sexual health. There is even a great deal of stigma regarding basic facets of sexual health like pap-smears which I’ve heard “make you not a virgin anymore” and STD testing. Women protecting themselves against STDs by carrying condoms or using birth control is also heavily stigmatized.

I could go on and on providing numerous examples of all the things I’ve listed above; I could even continue to list the ways in which the perception of female sexual health is warped. Is Catholicism or a conservative culture an excuse? It may provide an explanation but in my opinion it is not an excuse. Cultural differences are irrelevant at the point where they intentionally oppress one group (women) over another. The staunchly patriarchal view of women’s health and women’s bodies is harmful because it leads to increased cases of domestic abuse, sexual violence and other forms of violent crimes against women. I’m not advocating a total destruction of St. Lucia’s culture regarding women’s health, merely greater access to correct education that is free from religious and patriarchal bias against women.

Is Criticism an Act of Love?

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Positioning myself as a critic of West Indian culture may frame me in such a way that my words seem poison, as if they are complaints launched by a foreign but professional whiner. When did critique and love become mutually exclusive? Does somehow being critical of something suddenly mean you don’t see its value? This view is patently wrong. Critique in itself can be a demonstration of love, and with regards to Saint Lucia and the West Indies this is most certainly where my need to critique stems from. I have a vision of what our country could be like given the intelligence,  survivorship and drive our people possess. While some of our more positive traits may seem to be dwindling fast, I still believe we can do the work of healing.

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Simply Beautiful // Cas En Bas (Photograph is my own)

Without critique, there can be no cultural growth. If we accept every piece of our culture as it comes, how can we hope to adapt and survive in a changing world? We will need to change and we will need to adapt and as we change, our culture need not disappear, but should change with us. A part of humanity is always striving for better, and working towards improvement. For some, this need to “strive” can be capitalist and self-interested. They will strive to accumulate as much wealth as possible at the expense of those around them. For others, an effort towards improvement may be moving towards the deconstruction of oppressive power structures towards a more egalitarian world. Arguably, a push towards an egalitarian society is a part of Christian duty.

I love Saint Lucia. I love the West Indies. I love our culture. Yes, I mean that I love more than carnival, our food and our music. I even love some of the “bad” things about our culture like the tradition of poor customer service and the rambunctious attitudes of our people. But if I loved Saint Lucia and didn’t point out  the areas we need to work on, that love would be hollow and disingenuous. It’s like being in a relationship. You may accept the good and the bad, but this doesn’t mean you suddenly begin to see the “bad” as something good.

While there is a lot to appreciate about our country and region, there is also a lot to work on. Pretending we don’t have problems will not make the problems go away. Relying on external forces will not solve anything either. Every country, especially countries ravaged by hundreds of years of colonialism, has a lot to fix. Critique moves us forward; it helps us to heal and to grow. If that isn’t an act of love, I’m not sure what is.

Musical Women: How Women in Dancehall, Soca and Calypso Embody Black Feminism

Posted on - in black feminism, intersectional feminism

Author’s Note:

This post is a bit longer than the usual blog, so I politely request your patience as you read through!

Music is one of the most important aspects of Caribbean culture and probably even more important than I perceive it if it were to be viewed from an objective stand point. Besides dancing, food and beaches, it’s what the Caribbean is most known for abroad. American artists themselves have tried to capitalize on the popularity of Caribbean music (whether they are West Indian American or not). West Indian music as an art form and as a platform for social change therefore is valid and can have as many positive effects as negative effects. Women in Calypso, Soca and Dancehall practically apply different aspects of theoretical feminism in a way that has the potential to be a powerful tool against patriarchy by disseminating feminist ideals and thoughts as popular and culturally relevant through artistic expression.

Whether or not the idea of feminism is seen as “anti-Caribbean” is unknown to me. Most people don’t have the time or luxury to sit around theorizing about whether or not they are feminists and if discussions and meetings about such things occur at home, I am totally unaware of them. I perceive survival in a patriarchal environment as being paramount for the majority of St. Lucian women as opposed to coming to terms with the politics of their existence. I believe however, based on my cultural upbringing and what I think is culturally valuable to St. Lucian people, that the ideals of feminism have a place in Caribbean society. The undercurrents of feminist theory are present and bringing those feminist ideals to the forefront in conjunction with supporting, uplifting and empowering women within their communities can change our currently patriarchal society for the better.

Women involved in soca, calypso and dancehall tend to embody many feminist ideals through their lyricism, self presentation and their attitude with going into a male dominated genre of music. The most famous female artists have music that centers around having a good self-worth, pride in their identity, recognizing abusive cycles and other similar thematic elements. Their music is made for women and can have a positive impact if their messages are taken to heart. Their ability to become popular in a field that is dominated with messages from other artists that are either subtly or outrightly sexist in their hypersexualization of women, fetishization of different types of Caribbean women, and obsession with male sexual prowess (hinged upon female submission) shows that their words and music do have a place in Caribbean society. Their power to enact social change should not be taken lightly.

Music has an impact. We can say this because many of the homophobic messages from male dancehall artists have become wildly popular. Phrases like “bun b*tty man” and “kill b*tty man” that glorify homophobic violence have been popularized in nations where those phrases did not previously exist (note: this doesn’t mean the sentiment didn’t exist but the popularity and virulence of the message was likely expressed differently). If negative messages can have an impact, why can’t positive messages have an impact as well? Female artists have been changing the culture surrounding calypso, soca and dancehall and hopefully they will continue to do so.

Calypso Rose (Source: Wikipedia)

One of the most famous female Calypsonians, Calypso Rose, through her musical talent helped change the title of the regional calypso competition to “Calypso Monarch” as opposed to the exclusive term, “Calypso King”. The significance of a gender neutral term may not be initially recognized but it was certainly an important advancement. Women were present on the calypso scene and they demanded recognition for their talents.

The song “Manager” by  Sass! ft. Nadia Baston highlights some of the signs of what a modern day abusive relationship might look like. The tempo of the song is upbeat and quite fun, but the lyrics have a much deeper meaning. I honestly believe a song like this has the potential to allow a younger person to see something damaging in their relationship that they may not have previously seen. Sass! highlights things like: a man telling you what clothes to wear, controlling your whereabouts, isolating you from your friends and constantly checking your phone for “evidence” as negative things. Sass! doesn’t merely suggest leaving such a relationship but demands leaving it. And she does all of this without shaming people who do end up remaining in abusive relationships.

This song was a part of the Soca Gold 2013 album, showing that this message is relevant and being widely circulated. This shows that ideas of women’s empowerment can be spread through music and can be exceedingly popular. It isn’t quite progress, but it is perhaps an important step in giving women more of a voice about their experiences which is a first step in a sense. Knowledge that your voice and your experiences are valid and that you are not alone is the beginning of getting a generation of young people who can speak out.

We have a multitude of songs by other artists like Destra, Alison Hinds and Saucy (Denise Belfon) that speak about women’s agency and empowerment through dance. The idea of really owning your body and being beautiful, sexy and confident in the body that you have is important. This idea of our bodies being beautiful has been expressed in calypso, soca and dancehall and has been expressed physically through popular dances like wining, kotch, bubbling, wuk up etc. During Carnival season especially we can see this message being taken to heart. Old, young, fat, thin, shabine and dark skinned girls are ALL in costume, and proud of what they’ve got.

Lady Saw, 2013 (Source: GalleryHip)

I realize that I haven’t drawn much attention to dancehall artists which has in part been intentional because I think soca and calypso don’t get the recognition and attention they deserve as genres of music. However, women in dancehall have been important as well in challenging common patriarchal views of the world. Lady Saw, one of my personal favorite dancehall artists, takes many famous dancehall songs and flips the lyrics around to center on women’s sexual empowerment, and women’s independence from men. Her remix to the popular Gyptian song, “Hold Yuh” takes an unexpected turn. Lady Saw turns over the assumption that men are the ones who want to use women for sex and women are the ones who desperately want more. She talks about using her pussy to control men and explicitly describes her sexual wants.

This may not seem important from an American perspective, but in the Caribbean where sex, sexuality and sensuality are all around you yet strictly taboo, especially for women, it’s a powerful message. Lady Saw may not have the cult popularity of Alison Hinds (in the smaller islands at least) but her message and her music help shape the conceptualization of women in Caribbean music as independent, fearless and inspirational.

Our musical tradition is one of the most important aspects of our culture and I would be interested in seeing even more women who represent these same ideas and perhaps even stronger feminist ideals rise to regional fame. We need our women visible, we need them wining, screaming, wukking up, writing, singing and jumping for our freedom from society’s problems. We need the passion we have for music and movement to be a part of our activism and if we can use music to move us forward into a headspace where we are passionate for women’s equality,  I believe that should be explored.

Intersectional Feminism Means Addressing the Caribbean Mental Health Crisis

Posted on - in intersectional feminism

Intersectional feminism in the Caribbean means ending the stigma against mental health and actually addressing the mental health crisis as well as our culture’s ableism at large. I’ve tried to write a post about mental health and the Caribbean for months, continuing to draw blanks when I try to put a definition on our perceptions and attitudes towards mental health as a region. I struggle to portray the relationship succinctly in a way that would have the possibility to change the minds of those who believe that mental health is a struggle for the white, wealthy American.

West Indians who understand the problems we have with acknowledging mental health (much less treating mental health problems) doesn’t need to be told anything more. So, I figured that I would address the non believers in this post, in some desperate hope of breaking through.

Mental health is defined simply by a lazy author’s first hit on a google search as being “a person’s condition with regards to their psychological and emotional well being”. In general, I believe St. Lucians have pretty good mental health from all outward appearances (which may themselves be deceiving). As a whole the nation tends to be very relaxed, and possibly dangerously blasé about most issues. We maintain this lackadaisical cool towards near everything, letting neither poverty nor anything else bring us down.

intersectional feminism addressing mental health
Binge drinking: partying or problem?

However, these generalities exclude particular realities about our society that reflect a negative aspect of mental health, and that reflect a society with some fairly troubling undercurrents regarding emotional and psychological well being. There’s the common trope of the older West Indian man who spends all weekend nights drinking (and sometimes weekday evenings) only to come home piss drunk and beat his wife who has spent all day working alone to keep house and child. There’s the consistent presence of “crazy” people roaming downtown Castries as they move between the psychiatric hospital and the streets.

There is a lot going on at home and in the Caribbean diaspora that indicates poor mental health. We also know that poverty and the high stress of poverty are associated with conditions like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Not so much for the rich and wealthy. Of course conversations surrounding mental health are cloaked in vague language at best and at worst flat out denial that these problems persist despite the fact that they are quite common. We silence conversations on mental health and choose not to believe that they could possibly affect us.

Perhaps we believe that black suffering is normal. After all, our nations were born out of blood and trauma. What else do we know? Impoverished mental health feels so familiar, that we don’t realize that we don’t have to suffer. There are names for our “eccentricities”. There are treatments and therapeutic techniques that mean no one should have to endure suffering, sometimes to the point of suicide.

Suicide is too common.

Mental health is connected to physical health, whether or not we accept it. Taking care of our minds is not a white/American luxury; it’s a necessity. While understanding mental health through a spiritual framework may be culturally relevant, we also need to understand that making use of advanced scientific understanding of mental health is even more important to ensuring our nation’s health overall.

I find it troubling that we have so many people, often times young, able-bodied men, committing suicide in our country [x][x][x]. Other people seem to find it troubling as well and fall back on a spiritual understanding of this problem. While there’s nothing wrong with understanding various issues through spirituality, there is a problem when we ignore factual information about mental health to justify our preconceived ideas.

We need to learn about and destigmatize mental health issues. This needs to happen immediately so that we can stop losing our citizens to treatable problems. Mental illness is not a weakness that people can just “get over”. Mental illness is not just similar to physical illness. It is a physical illness. Would you tell someone to get over a broken leg? If not, you should never tell someone to “get over” a serious mental health problem.

There are resources available at the end of this post to help you understand common mental health issues better.

 

Resources: 

Depression

Bipolar Disorder

Schizophrenia

Anxiety Disorders

Borderline Personality Disorder

(Personality Disorders are different from the others, but consider this an introduction into some common personality disorders that we may also have in the Caribbean region but not have a name for.)