We may not realize quite how many feminists we are surrounded by in our daily lives. A part of that is probably because of how we define feminist. The word “feminist” makes us think of someone unusual in our communities; this ignores some of the feminist traditions alive in our culture and in a sense is a method in which mainstream feminism can exclude us, viewing us as the poor third-world country women who need to be saved. In the Caribbean, can’t we see feminism all around us? Although there is much work to be done, let’s first acknowledge our accomplishments and the ways “feminism” is naturally ingrained in our culture. Soca artists and Calypsonians have been incorporating feminist messages into their music for ages. Calypso Rose, famous Trinidadian calypsonian, was the one to change the title Calypso King to Calypso Monarch to accommodate her prowess in the musical field. We have singers like Patra, Alison Hinds, Denise Belfon and Destra who sing powerful messages that give agency to women in our way. The song “Roll it Gal” by Alison Hinds is one of my favorite examples of how feminism is intertwined with some of our ways of thinking; the verse quoted below shows this.
Go to school gal, and get ya degree
Nurture and tek care of ya pickney
Gal ya work hard to mek ya money
Roll it gal, roll it gal
If ya know ya smart and ya sexy
Neva let dem abuse ya body
Show it off gal and let di world see
Roll it gal, roll it gal
This segment of the song shows a world devoid of the male gaze, one that exemplifies a mindset that has been present in the Caribbean. You can go to school, raise your child, work hard, but when it’s time to party, it’s okay to roll and shake and dance. Our bodies are not either sexual objects or asexual workhorses. The concept that women can be multifaceted has existed for a while in our culture.
In St. Lucia specifically, feminism has been happening on various scales since the slaves were first freed. In Dennery, when the black female wage workers made less than their freed male counterparts, they protested and demanded an equal wage. Caribbean women have been at the top of their educational and career paths for a while. The top secondary school in St. Lucia right now in terms of CXC scores is an all-girls Catholic school. In government, there are numerous women, from permanent secretaries to ministers to District Education Officers. Jamaica and Saint Lucia are two of the top three countries where you are most likely to have a female boss.
Families many times are led by women. Even if mothers may be unable to raise a child, groups of aunties, grandmothers and female relatives are often very involved in the child rearing process. The family unit, while still maintaining some patriarchal aspects (something I could make an entirely new post about) also has an aspect of female empowerment. Women are instrumental to the function of our region.
There are so many avenues where women recognize our own importance and demand our liberation. It’s about time we start demanding more. What are we missing? Where are we headed? In what ways can we dismantle patriarchal thought, action, and structure within our societies? These are some of the questions we need to be asking ourselves and each other.