Intersectional Feminism: How We Fail Young Black Girls

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(Part 1 of about a million)

We ignore early symptoms of mental disorders.  

Since my parents are both educators, I hear a lot about what happens in the education system down here. I also have some of my own experiences and the experiences of close friends that I use for reference.

I would automatically distrust any statistics produced by the government of this island regarding mental health, so I’m going to address this issue without hard data because no hard data is trustworthy far less “unbiased”.

In school, there are many cases of high achieving students “going mad” either before exams or during the middle of the semester. These students sometimes let out blood-curdling screams heard through out the school. Sometimes they “speak in tongues” or engage in behaviors otherwise deemed “off”. There are many other instances of acting out that get students labeled as crazy.

everyone hates black people: hair edition.

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Content Warning: strong language, racism, anti blackness, realness

it’s repulsive how much saint lucians (and probably other west indians) hate blackness. i could spend all night counting the ways but for now i’m just gonna focus on their hatred of black hair.

it starts at home of course… good hair v. bad hair. no need to rehash what’s been done a ton of other places by black bloggers who can break it down twenty thousand times better than i can. colorism… white supremacy… we know what’s preferred.

but in schools down here… HOOOLLLLYY shit… it’s bad.

basically black boys are told that their hair bad, ugly and messy! if you have any type of hair showing as a black boy you are immediately painted as a thug.

“all rastas are thugs”

“cornrows are for thugs”

both of these are VERY common ideas here about black men’s hair.

meanwhile a white boy can have hair that’s a few inches long.

what else besides white supremacy makes three inches of white hair okay but three inches of black hair messy?!

black hair is MESSIER?

black hair is DIRTIER?

that’s what they’re saying essentially (and of course no one sees it)

it’s so colonial and backwards and when these men internalize this self hatred, they bring it with them into adulthood. and of course, they don’t just hate themselves, they hate black women too. Sometimes, being so emotionally dead inside, they project ALL their self hatred onto black women who are forced to suffer….this can happen through mockery…disgust w/ afro textured hair on women… and worse.

in this case black women are also both victims and perpetrators of these white supremacist hair standards unfortunately…

in school, black girls weren’t allowed to wear their hair “dropped” but they would let it slide for white girls. pretty much “neatness” has always been contingent upon how white hair looks.

in secondary school… neat hair = complicated ass styles OR relaxer.

relaxer DESTROYS natural hair. It destroys blackness at the root. yet it’s clearly preferred amongst students, teachers and everyone.

even if you have looser curls (like i do)… your hair is still considered a “bird’s nest” or “uncombed” if you do ANYTHING with it beyond brushing down every last strand.

women enforce this HARD with other women (hence perpetrators as well as victims). you experience a lot of verbal abuse from the women in your community if you dare to wear your hair as anything but “neat” (read: white) 

i’m still getting used to my hair being aggressively political… i had forgotten in which ways it was hard to be unapologetically black here. (but no going back of course. i’d rather have healthy AFRO textured hair than be damaged and fit in)

then in adulthood… it’s a nightmare too.

when i look up around a room at any given point most “professional” women have the EXACT. SAME. STYLE. Relaxed hair. so broken that the ends are mere wisps. rolled into a high bun (or the closest thing the wisps can get to a bun) with not a strand out of place.

who taught you that your hair was inherently messy?! White women wear their hair down all the time and get to be considered professional but when black women do it with the way their hair grows out of their head, it’s a different story…

of course luckily i’ve seen a few natural women down here and a few with dreads. but we all know that this isn’t the “preference” and especially amongst middle and upper classes it’s very much looked down upon either explicitly or subtly.

amongst blogging circles regarding natural hair on the web there’s very much the idea: you can have weave and not be self hating!! you can have relaxer and not be self hating!!

but i have yet to see the collective consciousness that proves this is true in the caribbean. in fact, it’s just a plain fallacy and anyone who claims that about the caribbean is expressing willful ignorance. hair is still very much political territory.

it makes a statement against white supremacy to wear natural hair here, ESPECIALLY if you wear it “dropped”. relaxing your hair and wearing weave down here IS an expression of self hatred. and until i see that there’s been change, i’ll stand by this statement.

Black Feminism Reader: Education About Contraception & STD Prevention

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One of the things I’ve learned through exploring black feminism is that taking care of my health and my body is a priority. It can’t just be ignored into wellness. I’m really alarmed by the massive amounts of misinformation out there about birth control or any form of contraception in the Caribbean.

When I hear certain things a part of me wants to scream, “Who did you learn this from? A manicou?!”

For example…
•    Birth control makes you fat
•    A vasectomy inhibits a man’s ability to orgasm properly (do you even know what’s down there?)
•    other ridiculous things, too numerous to mention…

A part of me understands that it’s just ignorance and the education system completely fails its students when it comes to sexual education.

We rely on “abstinence only” or “no sex until marriage” education when…

•    Saint Lucia’s marriage rate is THE THIRD LOWEST in the world [x]
•    One of the highest teenage pregnancy rates (43.9 out of a 1000 live births according to U.N. reports.

So obviously, not only is abstinence only education not working but we have deluded ourselves into actually thinking people wait until marriage to have sex. I mean… Even if you do believe that people should wait for sex until marriage the fact of the matter is they don’t. We need to be teaching based on reality not just wishful thinking.

Not to mention, it’s laughable when you think about it since 99% of the people who teach abstinence had plenty of sex and plenty of children out of wedlock. Maybe it’s not that laughable, but I’m laughing at it anyways…

So here are the ways that you can prevent yourself from getting an STD or having babies before your time. I’ll give you a few bullets for each one, but really you should check these out yourself and KNOW THE FACTS before you spread uninformed nonsense.

(i.e. unless your priest/pastor/mother/auntie/obeah man is a physician, i don’t want to hear it)

  • IUD – Intrauterine Device [x]
    • t-shaped tube  inserted by a physician into your uterus. there are two kinds copper (lasts ten years) and plastic (lasts five years)
    • You can get them removed at any time
    • Prevent pregnancy but not STDs
  • Diaphragm (used with spermicide) [x]
    • shallow dome shaped cup that covers the cervix
    •  need to get fitted by a physician and you can use it for up to two years
    •  prevents pregnancy but not STDs
  • Hormonal Birth Control (the pill) [x]
    • Take every day, ensures that you don’t ovulate
    • prevents pregnancy and not STDS
    • myth busting: the pill does not inherently make you fat… some people experience weight gain with some kinds of birth control but not all people with not all pills. Different medications have different effects.
  • Depo-Provera (The Shot) [x]
    • injection of hormones (natural hormones that are already found in your body in case you’re panicking) that prevents pregnancy for around three months
    •  given to you by a physician
    • prevents pregnancy but doesn’t protect from STDs
  •  Nuvaring[x]
    • insertable hormonal ring that prevents pregnancy but not STDs
    • you put it in for 3-4 weeks and then remove it to have a menstrual period. Painless as putting in a tampon
  •  Female Condoms [x]
    • polyurethane condom that you insert into the vagina to prevent pregnancy/some STDs
    • inserted prior to sex
    • sort of difficult to come by, but you can use them up to six hours before intercourse (#BePrepared)
  •  Dental Dams [x]
    • use during oral sex and prevents STDs from spreading
    • doesn’t protect from pregnancy (obviously…
  • Condoms [x]
    • I think you know the deal with these. With proper use they are 99% effective so don’t listen to people who say they “don’t always work” as an excuse!
    • Easiest to come by and cheapest. If you have a latex allergy they are available in other kinds of materials.
    • Prevents some STDs and pregnancy. Don’t prevent herpes/pubic lice
    • there are many different sizes of condoms so “it doesn’t fit” doesn’t mean no condom, it means try a different sized one.
  •  Vasectomy [x]
    • somewhat reversible surgical procedure that prevents sperm from leaving the penis
    • less popular form of male birth control, but does not prevent STDs
    • myth busting: yes you can have a vasectomy and still release semen because semen and sperm are not produced in the same place.
  • Historectomy [x]
    • removal of the uterus (or partial removal of the female reproductive organs
    • prevents pregnancy but does not prevent STDs

If you want to know more, follow the links that I so helpfully included for you. While most of these are for preventing pregnancy… STD prevention can be attained by getting regularly tested and having your partner get regularly tested as well. (#HospitalDate)

THIS is the information that should be COMMON knowledge in schools. Not fear mongering. Not lies and misinformation. Abstinence only education prevents people from making INFORMED choices and is typically inherently misogynistic, homophobic and transphobic.

I guess the other thing to tackle in terms of sexual education would be the obsession with the biologically false concept of virginity… but I’ll leave that for another day.

Intersectional Feminism: Mental Health Isn’t Just For White People

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“Mental health” isn’t just something for wealthy white people. Intersectional feminism calls for us to examine the intersectionality of experiencing sexism, racism and mental disorders. Of course, practically no one in the Caribbean believes mental health isn’t a first world invention, barring perhaps a few therapists, psychiatrists and psychologists. (NOTE: I must add long after I wrote this post that most Caribbean mental health professionals are incredibly ableist.) Even then, I’m skeptical about the depth of understanding considering what I’ve heard about doctor/patient confidentiality down here (although willing to listen to dissenters who may know the truth). If we look at statistical data across the West, which likely mirrors the trends here, we can see that mental health issues are serious and pervasive.

For example: 

  • Poverty and mental illness are inextricably linked. Poverty is thought to cause mental illness and mental illness is thought to cause poverty. [x]
  • Long term stress exacerbates existing mental health problems and create them. [x]
  • Black Caribbean people in the UK have high rates of schizophrenia, a condition we know to be at least partly influenced by genetics. [x]
  • Cases of depression may be underreported in black Americans due to stigma within the community. [x]

These articles represent some of the many pieces of evidence that suggest mental health issues are relevant to the Caribbean community. Yet, we continue to ignore the facts because of stigma and strong beliefs based on misinformation. We have a lot of work to do when it comes to breaking the silence around mental health issues and ultimately creating a healthier society. The mind and body are integrated and when one suffers, the other does too.

What supports our culture’s view of mental health is the notion that expression of black suffering is “complaining” or “exaggerating”. This is rooted in the racist belief that black people can tolerate more pain and should tolerate more pain.  We see lapses in mental health as weakness, attention seeking or much worse rather than recognizing them for what they are: valid expressions of emotional pain. The “strength” of the Caribbean people can be a good thing but not when the cost is something as significant as honest communication about our mental health and how to care for it. We are far behind the scientific research in our perceptions and attitudes towards mental disorders and maintaining mental health. (Rum is not a solution because it makes you temporarily ‘stress free’!)

While many may respond to what I’ve said dismissively, suggesting that the region is just backwards, I don’t think that’s an entirely accurate view of what’s going on. Like everything in the region (history, culture, religion) there is a powerful colonial legacy at work here that’s created these views and perceptions that are slowly poisoning our people. Poisoning our people? Isn’t that a bit theatrical? Not particularly when you consider that the outcome for many untreated mental disorders is suicide. Ignoring mental health results in death. 

While suicide may be the “worst case scenario” it’s not the only reason we need to care for our nation’s mental health. Untreated and undiagnosed cases of depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety and schizophrenia all contribute to lowering national productivity. If the population is too mentally ill to work and not getting better because they lack diagnosis and treatment, national productivity will dip.

Additionally, the ability to contribute to the capitalist economy is also not the be all end all of life. When we have a mentally ill population we have an unhappy population, a population with lives defined by violence, abuse, alcoholism and possibly much worse. (Experiencing these things as children can lead to mental disorders later on is just a part of what I’m getting at here, not suggesting that mentally ill people cause violence etc.)

I haven’t quite worked out yet what would be a good solution to our massive problem with mental health here. We could start advocacy groups or perhaps increase the number of suicide hotlines across the region. This still might not be enough. We can’t examine mental health without looking at how it intersects with other identities like class, disability or LGBTQ identity. That adds another layer of complexity to this whole issue.

Hopefully though, there are people working on solutions. What do you think? I haven’t ever explicitly done this before but I welcome readers to begin discussing this with me in the comments!

 

Diva Cups Aren’t That Gross.

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What the hell is a menstrual cup? According to Wikipedia:

Menstrual Cups: come in pre-childbirth and post-childbirth sizes!

A menstrual cup is type of feminine hygiene product which is usually made of medical grade silicone, shaped like a bell and is flexible. It is worn inside the vagina during menstruation to catch menstrual fluid (blood), and can be worn during the day and overnight. (Plus they last fifteen years!)

Before I tried one of these for the first time I was VERY skeptical. Here were a few of my major concerns:

 

  • I have to empty blood out of this… in PUBLIC?
  • This looks dirty, how will you CLEAN it?
  • It looks really big and uncomfortable, how can I get it up there?

Well, I have the answers to all these questions and I also have some benefits of using a menstrual cup that I didn’t consider before I owned one.

  • You can wear the menstrual cup comfortably for 12 hours at a time. So if you put it in at home in the morning you can remove it at home in the evening! No public mess, very hygienic.
    • Note: Personally, I have an unusually heavy flow on Day 1 so I actually had to wear it for a little bit less time.
  • You do NOT clean it with soap, which I was concerned about since soap can mess up the pH of your vagina. You clean with boiling water after use. This still might gross some people out, but if you think about it, this makes it a lot safer than using a tampon which might still have bacteria in it. We’ve all come across those really gross pictures of moldy tampons…
  • It’s SUPER easy to put in. If you think about it, BABIES can come out of vaginas. This is much smaller than a baby, therefore it definitely fits.

Some of the other benefits include:

  • For the one time cost of $29.00 I saved myself fifteen years of buying tampons ($20 * 12 months * 15 years = $3,600). Which would you choose: spending $3600 or spending $29?
  •  Never awkward to carry around! No more awkward wrapper crinkle in public restrooms, no more wondering if your tampons are going to fall out of your purse. The menstrual cup can be kept in an adorable little bag for storage so you can bring it anywhere, at any time, just in case.
  • Environmentally friendly. Tampons, pads and all their wrappers produce a LOT of waste. Over fifteen years, the lifespan of a menstrual cup, I can’t imagine how much waste we produce using tampons and pads. This cuts down on waste, making sure we live in a more sustainable way.
  • NO overnight leakage! I didn’t believe that I could possibly sleep through the night without creating a huge mess. I’ve ruined countless sheets, underwear and pajama pants throughout my life but the menstrual cup seems to have stopped this, even with a heavy flow.

I’m not going to lie to you though… it hasn’t all been smooth sailing.

My first time trying to remove my menstrual cup was similar to the first time I tried to remove my contact lenses. I thought it was “stuck” and proceeded to panic. Thanks to google, I realized that there’s simply a technique to removal and instructions exist for a reason. With the recommended technique, it’s become easier to remove over time. What I’m saying here is that it IS an adjustment.

For me, the benefits far outweighed the cost of that traumatizing “it’s stuck and a part of my body forever” moment. I especially love the fact that I won’t have to deal with another cardboard applicator (only type of tampons available in Saint Lucia that I’ve seen) for the rest of my life. Seriously, who invented those?! I think menstrual cups are an amazing innovation for everyone who menstruates. There’s nothing gory or gross about them. All my concerns disappeared the moment I actually tried it out. I highly recommend this product to anyone interested in handling their menstruation in an environmentally friendly, inexpensive and sanitary way.

Black Feminism: Healthy Mind, Healthy Body

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intersectional feminism health
Fat Chance by Robert Lustig

I’m a twenty one year old woman in the land of plenty eating like a diabetic and I FEEL AMAZING! Recently, I read the book Fat Chance by Robert Lustig and through this book, I was convinced by a friend to give up sugar and most complex carbs (like bread and potatoes). I was seeing the results happen to this friend before my eyes. With each Skype conversation he seemed to look healthier and seemed to feel better so I figured I would give it a try.  I had the evidence, theoretical and practical. Nothing was stopping me. Eating “well” leads to having a healthy body, and since the mind and the body are one and the same, a healthy body leads to a healthy mind. All of this is crucial to self care, one of my biggest personal priorities.

Sugar is a major addiction that most of us have in the United States; this addiction is growing world wide. Cutting that addiction out has been difficult and I haven’t been perfect. One cheat day and six days of “clean” eating per week has opened my eyes to the possibilities for my physical health and overall well being. It’s been three weeks since I started this new lifestyle and my diligence has increased over time. I don’t have the cravings and I don’t sneak bites of dessert anymore. I’m well on my way to cutting sugar completely out of my life, as well as these extra pounds.

Cutting sugar out of my life has been difficult mostly because of my environment. Since I’m on my school’s meal plan, I’m forced to eat what’s in the dining hall and often, the options are not pretty. For example, today as a part of my breakfast I shaved off apple peels to dip in natural peanut butter just to avoid the available food that was jam packed with high fructose corn syrup and sugar.

I’ve always found eating healthy so much easier in the Caribbean. We complain that our grocery stores don’t have options. We fantasize and dream of a world where we can access all the McDonalds, Cocoa Puffs and Cadbury chocolate that we could ever possibly need. Maybe our lack of access to these unhealthy options isn’t such a bad thing. Healthy food is relatively affordable in the Caribbean compared to fast food (even with VAT). The cost of burger doesn’t beat out the cost of lentils and chicken. You can’t say the same for many regions of the United States. 

 

This is the choice I want to make… yum.

As I’ve traveled from home to the United States a number of times over the past nine years, I’ve noticed changes in the health of the population. Metabolic syndrome, hypertension and diabetes seem to be on the rise and I can’t help but wonder if a part of it is an increase in unhealthy eating. If healthy eating is easier in the Caribbean than it is in the United States, why do we still make the unhealthy choices? Perhaps, we associate these unhealthy foods with the sought after American lifestyle. We associate the American lifestyle with wealth. So in our quest for wealth or perceived wealth, we forget something much more important: our health.

In the coming years, what we need more than anything isn’t to give West Indians more access to fast food chains or cheap sugary foods. These glorified American foods are not necessary! We need to work on ensuring that the population is encouraged and enabled to make the right choices when it comes to health and eating. This doesn’t mean increasing education about health. That relies on the faulty assumption that people want  to and choose to be unhealthy. They don’t always. We need to make sure there’s access to the healthy foods so that making the right choices is easy and automatic. Rather than fighting heart disease or diabetes as it comes, it would be wise to focus on prevention to make sure our population is spared these harmful effects of unhealthy eating.

Who Can Tell You How To Be A Man?

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When I was reading The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity & Love by bell hooks, I was approaching the book from two angles. First, I was inspired by my social breaching experiment to explore the concepts of healthy black masculinity. Second, I looked towards the book to reaffirm my faith in the goodness of men and to seek ways I could apply the lessons to my life. For example, where was I falling short in my feminism, and were there ways I was reinforcing patriarchy in the way I treated men? I find that kind of self-assessment not only helpful but necessary to my belief system. A commitment to change should represent an internal and external change. To remain stagnant in my feminism means accepting a life without change.

Some notes: I am a cisgender, heterosexual woman so this post is written through that lens and speaks to my personal experience alone.

There are a few ideas within hooks that apply to all genders that appealed to me:

1. Defining love as the will to nurture one’s own and another’s spiritual and emotional growth. 

In defining love like this, hooks calls on us to think about how the way we tend to talk about love is possessive. We rarely see her definition of love represented in mainstream discourse. The language of belonging, he is hers or she is his, tends to be used most often. Seeing love as less transactional, that is ceasing to see love between men and women as a platform for “what can he provide for me”, is a healthier and more anti-patriarchal way to conceive of love.

2. Rejecting “dominator models” in loving relationships 

This idea applies to all kinds of relationships. Here, she called for rejecting power dynamics in relationships based on gender roles. hooks doesn’t think feminism means an inversion of a patriarchal power dynamic, where women suddenly become dominant in a relationship. Instead, this “dominator model” should be eliminated with both parties working towards mutual growth and love as she defines it.

3. Defining masculinity “divorced from the dominator model”. 

This is best explained in hooks own words:

“… one of the first revolutionary acts of visionary feminism must be to restore maleness and masculinity as an ethical biological category divorced from the dominator model.”

We need to define what it means to be a man as something unrelated to holding power over others, especially when maintaining power relies on violence and disenfranchisement.

While reading this book, I wondered what could be done. (I’m a woman committed to action.) Were there solutions to the crisis of masculinity that’s not only touted by the media but addressed by hooks herself? While I’ve never had the chance to be in any sort of relationship with a man who has rejected patriarchal masculinity completely, I do think there are men who come close to it.

define feminist light humor
the opposite of a masculinity crisis? (#lighthumor)

In fact, I know these men are out there. Perhaps their abstinence from self-identifying as feminists is what pushes them away from being completely anti-patriarchal or easily identified as such. However, these men exist and I think they are crucial to solving the “masculinity crisis” we hear about nearly every day. We need the men on the fringe who decide for themselves what makes them a man. We need the men who have discovered healthy manhood in the absence of fathers are pioneers and have the potential to lead other men down similar journeys.

It’s not up to me or any woman to tell men how to “be men”. The solution to this crisis is out of my hands. Women can support, assist and step back from projecting expectations of patriarchal masculinity, but we cannot tell men how to be. They need to find the rare beings who have solved their own masculinity crises. Men need new leaders and role models. Your daddy’s 1950’s masculinity just won’t work anymore. I think these leaders are among us; they are the men who are struggling daily against the entrapments of patriarchal masculinity and forging a way for themselves, challenging society’s expectations without compromising their essence.

Intersectional Feminism: Incarceration in the West Indies

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I’ll preface this by saying that I have no in depth knowledge of Saint Lucia’s legal system or penal system. I know enough to say that we know longer penalize people through hangings. I know enough to know that a goal of intersectional feminism in the Caribbean should involve a critical examination of the prison system. I know that Saint Lucia has a prison; most of what I know about the prison is from rumor and  hearsay. In the United States, the prison industrial complex is well documented and renowned for being a method of population control that maintains the authority of the privileged (racially, economic, able bodied etc.) over others. One of the ways this power is maintained is by presuming certain populations inherently deviant or criminal. The United States has a prison population larger than the prison population in China, a country heavily criticized for its strong-arm approach to justice.

intersectional feminism and incarceration
Source: stlucianewsonline.com

Do we have anything similar in the West Indies? What is our punitive system based off of and is it functional? These are questions that I don’t honestly have the answers to. The way our system criminalizes oppressed populations and defines them as deviant is one similarity to the United States. Here I’m referring to the anti-buggery laws which criminalize “gay sex”. Making that specific act illegal clearly targets LGBTQ members of the population, a population that is also marginalized in the United States. While I can’t speak for the racial or class breakdowns in West Indian prisons, I have a hunch that there are very few wealthy white people amongst that population.

Perhaps our prison system isn’t perfect (at best) and at worst, it’s highly dysfunctional and oppressive. But do we have other punitive systems that work better? West Indian cultures are known for having strong, close knit communities. Many of the stories that I’ve heard from my mother and from other Saint Lucian women talk about the way communities rally around women who experience domestic abuse. Sometimes, communities or families will remove the woman from the company of her abuser, or engage in other tactics to exile the abuser and ensure the safety of the woman who has experienced this abuse. While bystander intervention might not always be the best solution, we can look at this as a way communities hold their members accountable. Rather than a state delivering justice, the community decides what is or isn’t acceptable.

That being said, if the values of a community are based on patriarchal, imperialist or racist thinking, self-policing could simply mirror the oppressive policing of the state. So what’s the solution then? Perhaps in order to have a successful shift towards communities self-policing we need more progressive communities. In the absence of that, maybe our prison system in the West Indies isn’t so bad. Perhaps we need reform in place of abolition. While more radical people may call for immediate deconstruction of the prison system, thinking about home, I’m not so certain I believe in that. What do you think? Do you see the prison system as functional? Who is it functional for? Does the imprisonment of deviants and criminals benefit anyone?

Again, these are questions that I don’t believe I have the answers to, at least not yet. But I urge you to think more critically about the prisons in your home country. It’s a topic that’s rarely considered and one that we may have to consider as we push towards social progress.

West Indian Masculinity in Crisis

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West Indian masculinity is in crisis. I’m not referring longingly to a deviation from patriarchy and I’m not advocating for a return to patriarchal masculinity. What I am referring to is a changing gender dynamic and men’s perception of their own powerlessness in the face of this shifting dynamic. Faced with this perceived loss of their patriarchal birthright to a dominant expression of masculinity, young men feel the need to take this “birthright” by force, relying on violence to do so.

This idea came to me while I was performing a “social breaching” experiment in Saint Lucia a few weeks ago (more on that later!). While out on dates, my romantic interest and I would ask the wait staff whether they thought it was “right” for the woman to pay for the date. We figured we could get some pretty fascinating responses by asking the question every time we went out; being young, light skinned and conventionally attractive probably gave us a good likelihood of getting responses. Every response to this question (which we posed in different ways) was interesting but one in particular stuck out to me.

 

intersectional feminism
Me when I hear “the man is in charge”

The waiter was a young, upbeat black male around 20-25 years old. He seemed nervous as he waited on us, nearly completely lacking in confidence.When we posed the question to him, this demeanor s changed. His desperation for approval was replaced with underlying aggression. He responded that he thought it was wrong for the woman to pay because “the man is in charge” and he should “be in control”. Of course, we got this response on one of the days where I had agreed to pay for dinner before hand.

After dinner, the two of us began a conversation on gender roles, specifically the male role of the “provider” that this young waiter had likely internalized. How can a man like that live up to his own ideation of masculinity, when at his prime, he’s working a low paying job that doesn’t have great opportunity for growth? Who can he provide for? How can he even rightfully see himself as a provider in a country where women’s economic power is growing much faster than men’s?

This isn’t me bashing waiters or even this waiter in particular. I’m trying to understand the mindset of a man with a patriarchal mindset who cannot live up to his own ideas of what a man should be. Where does he turn? Where should he turn? Deconstructing rigid notions of masculinity that dictate a man must pay and a man must provide would probably be the most positive solution. However, as a cynic/realist, I think it’s pretty unlikely that would happen. What most likely will happen is that he will fall back on other aspects of “ideal” masculinity to prove to himself that he is a man.

This can be negative like relying on violence to dominate others, especially women in romantic relationships for example. We already know that one of the risk factors for men committing domestic violence is strict belief in patriarchy and patriarchal gender roles. Now, I know nothing of this man personally, and perhaps he has never committed violent acts against anyone. But it is a possibility, and it’s a great possibility considering the general hopelessness men in Saint Lucia obviously feel if we look at the fairly large suicide rate amongst Saint Lucian men.

Yes, masculinity is in crisis, but the way to fix it is not a return to traditional masculinity which cannot possibly survive in a world moving closer to equality. All men, especially those who consider themselves allies to women should take time to consider how they define their own masculinity and what it means in this changing world. What makes you a man? Does your definition rely on something outdated, harmful and/or oppressive? That’s not something that I can answer for you, but it’s something that I urge you to consider or to ask the men in your lives to consider for themselves.

Black Feminism: Acknowledging Colorism

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As my exploration of black feminism continues, I am interested in discussing how colorism impacts our ability to analyze and critique different situations. A popular subject I’ve seen on various forms of social media is the subject of ending “girl hate”. While the subject is discussed within American feminist contexts in different ways, I think as young Caribbean women we have a responsibility to ourselves to find a way to end girl hate within our own social sphere. This means not speaking about girl hate in a way that circumvents the issues of race and class that are so entrenched in women hating other women. We have such specific and subtle ways we interact down here and there are racial hierarchies at work that influence “girl hate” and how much power it holds on an individual level.

In St. Lucia we have a racial hierarchy that determines the value of women within our society. This racial hierarchy is a leftover of colonialism, and yes, the legacy of colonialism is still alive today. Within our society, and ultimately within our culture, women with greater proximity to whiteness are valued more than those who are darker, with greater proximity to blackness. Keep in mind, this isn’t unique to Saint Lucia or to the Caribbean. Outside of the black-white dichotomy, women of Indian or East Asian descent fall along a median spectrum, where women who are darker are devalued similarly to darker skinned black women.

This means that some forms of “girl hate” while possibly still harmful on a personal level do not carry the weight of other forms of girl hate which are backed by generations of damaging racist hierarchies. Insults or hatred towards women who are lighter skinned or have features that are closer to the European standard might be hurtful but they do not have the power that insults towards darker skinned women have. I think in considering our own actions, this is crucial to acknowledge and understand. For example, if you as a lighter skinned woman are finding that a large number of your negative attitudes towards women are towards darker skinned women, perhaps you need to deconstruct the implicit colorism or racism embedded in your “girl hate”.

In our quest to end our hatred of each other, we need to take race into account, even in a multiethnic heterogenous society like the West Indies. Keeping this in mind, along with my suggestions for how we can work to end damaging social practices, I think we all can make significant headway in stopping this hatred for each other, and this toxic negativity within the public sphere. When women are pitted versus women, no one ever wins.