Discussing race and class with regards to Caribbean feminism can be tricky. The mythology of our islands being a racial “melting pot” has led to many people wrongly believing that we have no issues of race and class or that these issues are irrelevant to feminism. The fact that there are many wealthy black people in the Caribbean has confused people.
Despite the fact that there are wealthy black people and despite the fact that there are many black women, issues of race and class are still of utmost importance to women’s issues. When thinking about race and class, we need to focus on systems of oppression, not our individual, anecdotal beliefs (many of which are informed by misinformation by international mainstream media).
Empowerment is one of those subjects for feminists that sounds like a good idea in theory and of course since the entire focus is on feeling good/strong, it can be a compelling “focus” for feminists. Caribbean feminists, however, should be focused on anything but empowerment. Empowerment is a feeling, an idea, a notion. Empowerment is nothing concrete and tends not to have any real long-term measurable impact.
Recently, I’ve been going to Mango Moon (Vigie) on and off, but I’ve also been a member of Fitness Freaks (for a time). The more time I spend in these male-dominated spaces, the more I’ve developed a case for a women’s only gym that doesn’t just have treadmills and ellipticals.
This hasn’t just been my experience; the experience of discomfort in male-dominated spaces in Saint Lucia has been echoed by other Saint Lucian women.
The issue with gyms being a non-explicit male dominated space is there may be the false assumption that men and women are both equally welcome in workout spaces when this just isn’t the case.
Today, I want to write about something that has been bothering me for a long time. Once in a while there will be a period of seemingly nonstop violence in St. Lucia, as I’m sure is the case in other Caribbean countries. For example, during last year’s Christmas season and early January, I could hear multiple gunshots from downtown Castries almost daily. Nearly every day in the news I read about some murder or group of murders that had occurred in the north of the island. Many of these murders happened disturbingly close to my home.
In the wake of such violence, it’s common for the ministers and other government officials to release statements calling for an end to violence. From as early as I can remember, I recall hearing minister, teachers, and other officials calling for violence to come to an end. However, violence still continues today in St. Lucia. All of these calls for prayers and short-term solutions failed to stop the gun and gang violence in St. Lucia.
On the rare occasion when I actually want a migraine, I’ll open up my web browser or my email and see what’s new in Caribbean regional news. Sometimes on Facebook, against my will, I’ll also be exposed to various local news sources. Often, what I encounter stimulates deep feelings of embarrassment and disappointment. I’ve finally put my finger on why that is.
Being a bisexual counselor-in-training, I feel like I need to utilize my education and privilege to advocate for the LGBTQiA community. Mental health has become a passion of mine that has provided me with an exciting career path. Though I do not live in the West Indies, I’ve spent a lot of time between Trinidad and Jamaica. I have been discriminated against and I’ve also witnessed anti-gay scenarios mostly while in Trinidad. Being a bisexual women, I’ve felt more accepted than many because I have straight passing privilege. I grew up with a heavy West Indian culture, which was also a bit homophobic. I will always identify as West Indian before American. Mental health and lack of resources for the LGBTQiA community within the West Indies is an issue I plan to combat.
I didn’t want to speak for individuals actually living in the West Indies so I did an interview with a friend of mine that lives in Trinidad.She identifies as lesbian and has a wide variety of queer friends.She participates in several advocacy campaigns as well as safe space groups at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine.Queer women in Trinidad seem to be the most prominent group that advocate for the community.My friend noticed gay men are not too active in advocacy.She said, “they seem to be too preoccupied partying and liming,” which added some humor to this serious topic.She believes men should use their privilege to help make a change and I couldn’t agree more.It seems like the queer women that do advocate in Trinidad have had the privilege to go abroad and study. They are lucky enough to go back home and live within the upper class of the society. I was encouraged to “take activism in Trinidad with a grain of salt.”There is a generational and gender divide within the community. There is no solidarity.
In the age of viral video feminism and in a world where (some) explicit acts of misogyny are not socially acceptable anymore, misogynistic men have had to adapt. They must adapt to shield themselves from any criticism, to preserve their fragile sense of self-importance and to gain a one-up on the women around them without getting the unfortunate label of “sexist” or “misogynist” slapped on them. As expected, their tactics are crude and it’s not too difficult to see that although misogyny might wear a different disguise, it’s still the same old BS. Put a dress on a pig and it’s still a pig.
If you’re a woman (especially a feminist), you’ve encountered these men and you might find yourself confused, frustrated and generally questioning yourself. Here I’m going to teach you a few ways you can spot these “benevolent” misogynists and how you can defeat them, keeping your self-assuredness in your experiences as a woman in tact. It’s also not surprising that many of these benevolent misogynists apply tactics of emotional abusers including gas lighting and crazymaking. So learning their modus operandi is important to keep yourself safe psychologically (and possibly physically).
Remember, your experiences as a woman are valid. You don’t need to prove anything to anyone who would deny sexism in 2016, the age of Google and the Kindle Store.
Here are five things that “benevolent” misogynists do that you can use to identify them in the wild.
I recently felt challenged to condense my thoughts regarding my experiences with menstruation and taboo in Caribbean society. I don’t think it’s completely necessary to frequent fliers here but I will add the disclaimer that the experience that frames my experiences and observations about menstruation in the Caribbean are the experiences of a cisgender Caribbean woman and I’m applying my knowledge of black feminism and black feminist thought to how I view the subject.
Like most things considered to be “feminine” in the Caribbean, menstruation faces heavy stigma within our culture. There is both shame and pride surrounding the first menstrual cycle. Shame is one of the first lessons that we are taught about menstruation and it’s a lesson sowed so deep that the shame becomes instinct — and therefore, goes unquestioned. This root of this shame is a socially backed feeling that during menstruation, your body is disgusting and repulsive.
West Indians seem to think that binge drinking and massive amounts of alcohol consumption are a hilarious joke and signify the “free spirited” nature of the region. Just look at songs like Kabawé by DYP or Rum & Redbull by Beenie Man. Although both songs are good songs, they do glorify a culture of irresponsible behavior with one of the most dangerous drugs anyone with a twenty dollar bill can buy over the counter with absolutely no interference. Today, I’m not going to go into the root causes of alcohol addiction, but hopefully I will highlight why this public health emergency presents a far graver danger than marijuana, our governments’ current scapegoat for every social ill under the sun.
I’ve written briefly about alcohol before, comparing it to marijuana but today I’m mostly going to shy away from comparisons and delve into the social/physical implications of alcohol addiction. I say that alcohol addiction presents a far more serious problem for a couple primary reasons:
Alcohol is ridiculously easy to buy in the Caribbean. At least in Saint Lucia, you can’t drive 100 ft without passing a bar. You can buy alcohol in the grocery stores and there is no enforced drinking age. (You can act like a drinking age is enforced but I have hard evidence that suggests otherwise…)
Alcohol is linked to social issues that disproportionately impact women such as intimate partner violence and sexual assault. (To any cretins reading… No, I don’t mean women’s alcohol consumption causes sexual assault. Rather, men seem to commit sexual assault when binge drinking.)
But what impact does alcohol have? Why can’t it just be fun and games?
Here is how easy it is to get hooked on alcohol according to two different scales averaged together:
On this chart, you can see that some aspects of alcohol addiction are more potent than nicotine and cocaine. Alcohol is certainly more addictive than caffeine or marijuana. Additionally, the biggest “advantage” alcohol has over all these drugs is that it’s incredibly easy for anyone to purchase at any time, for any reason, in any quantity. Addictions are most easily formed in younger people, so this accessibility of alcohol means the public health burden of alcohol will certainly be greater as more people are permitted (and encouraged through media/family influence) to start drinking early.
Drinking too much over time (whether you can be diagnosed with alcoholism or not) has negative impacts on many parts of your body for example:
Pregnant women who drink are at risk of having their children develop fetal alcohol syndrome
Drinking impairs anyone’s ability to contribute to the household function (this may include earning capacity, or capacity to engage in general maintenance of the household)
If one party spends a lot of money to feed their addiction, this can negatively impact a poor family, draining them of most of their resources. Taking these resources away can lead to poor health outcomes for everyone, not just the alcoholic as money is diverted from other health care or child care needs
Drinking can lead to home accidents and domestic violence
Alcoholism can lead to loss of family income due to inability to work OR due to premature death of a provider
There are substantial mental health problems that accompany alcoholism (some examples include depression & anxiety)
The effects of mens’ heavy drinking in the household have strong negative impacts on the women in the household in these regards:
Increased instances of domestic violence
Increased risk of HIV infection
increased economic burden on their partners
This is just examining the social effects of alcohol in one specific lens. Of course, there are other aspects of social functioning to consider like the ability to function in the workplace. If these social problems don’t resonate with you, visit this reddit thread of “adult children” of alcoholics filled with heart wrenching personal stories that just begin to highlight the negative impact alcoholism has on families.
Overall, this isn’t to shame alcoholics or to suggest that there is something inherently wrong with them. In this culture, getting caught in a dangerous cycle is beyond easy. Breaking a habit of heavy drinking and/or alcoholism however is — in contrast — far more difficult. Here, we don’t have Alcoholics Anonymous or Al-Anon. We don’t have the facilities for medical detoxification when necessary. Our society encourages one thing, but when it gets out of hand, drinkers are blamed and vilified rather than helped to heal. And of course, this post will never be able to cure someone’s alcoholism or heavy drinking. Education and knowing the facts isn’t enough to stop addiction; this is a moralistic (and incorrect) myth about addiction that leads to placing the blame on addicts. We need a public health intervention that includes education but doesn’t stop there.
And no matter what needs to be done on an institutional level, we also need to change our culture surrounding alcohol. Binge drinking isn’t fun or funny. Our “carefree” culture isn’t actually carefree at all. It’s flat out irresponsible and dangerous. Alcoholism and calling rum “therapy” isn’t a joke. When you take alcoholism lightly, you diminish one of the most serious health issues our nations face.
This is a serious public health issue that has damaged our countries and will continue to damage them until something changes.
If you suspect that you or someone close to you may be heading down a dangerous path with alcohol, please view some of these resources linked here:
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.
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.