Tag: feminism

Men’s Issues Monday: Male Victims Of Rape/Abuse Deserve More.

CW: rape & abuse

Male victims of rape and/or abuse deserve more than being used as a “trump card” to invalidate women’s issues. Men who do not care about male victims of abuse love to point out that men are also abused as a tactic to divert attention away from discussing women’s issues. These people do not care about women. (I bet you already figured that out!) They feel annoyed that women have the gall to discuss their social issues and their entitlement to be at the center of attention at all times supersedes their empathy for male victims of abuse or rape.

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Women’s Wednesdays: We Need More Than ‘Empowerment’

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.

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Why We Need A Women’s Only Gym In Saint Lucia

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.

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Black Feminism: Menstruation Taboo

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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.

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Caribbean Voices: Veronique Bailey via St. Vincent & The Grenadines

veronique-headshotVeronique’s blog first caught my attention when she discussed her experiences as a half-Black/half-Indian West Indian woman. Finding out she was from a neighboring island, I had to get her take on feminism in the Caribbean and ask her more about her life. I found her perspective very interesting especially when juxtaposed to last week’s interview with Lana. Keep reading to find out more… 

Veronique Bailey | 27 | St. Vincent & The Grenadines

Tell me a little more about yourself? What do you currently “do” in your spare time? What are your interests?

Programming, museum visiting, people watching, and cognitive psychology

I wanted to talk to you about your ethnic/racial identity growing up in the Caribbean. How would you describe your ethnic/racial background?

I’m dougla

[Editor Note: For people who don’t understand, click this link to find out more about what this means [x]. Additionally note that dougla is not considered to be a slur in the Caribbean although it might be elsewhere.]

What’s one thing you wish people knew about your racial identity?

Within the Caribbean: I’m not from Trinidad. Outside of the Caribbean: It’s a racial identity, I don’t have to ‘choose a side’.

Are there any assumptions people make about you due to your race/ethnicity?

That I can cook the most bomb curry while whyning/ doing d tic toc.

Do you feel comfortable expressing yourself and your gender/sexuality in your family and/or your community?

To a certain extent, while I enjoy being female I don’t enjoy feeling like my body is up for consumption. Even though I’m straight, I don’t agree with the idea that being gay is a ‘white people thing’ or that it’s a sin. I definitely don’t agree with the idea that lesbian love is somehow less of a love than heterosexual love. Gender binaries are weird and in general binaries only make sense for computers.

Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why is your answer (yes or no) important to you?

Yes, but I consider myself an intersectional feminist. I’m still doing more research into womanist philosophy but until I feel completely comfortable within that theory, I feel most comfortable describing myself as intersectional. Identifying myself as an intersectional feminist is important to me as a UX designer/programmer as well as a member of society.

As a UX designer/programmer, one of things that studying design will teach you is that there is no such thing as one design that will fit for everyone; we should aim for inclusive design or design that takes into account the needs of various groups. If I as a designer am unaware of how my designs might contribute to the exclusion of a group of people, or if I am only designing with only one group in mind….am I truly a designer? Do I truly understand the needs of various user bases?

Are you fluent in creole?

hahahaha cho’, yo dunn ‘no! All ah we does talk in dialect (english creole)

Is being a feminist acceptable in your community?

Not particularly, it’s more often than not perceived as man hating. Feminism is also seen as only really being white feminism, where the feminist W.O.C. and their work is not given as much exposure.

What are the biggest priorities feminists in your country should have if they’re looking to change things?

Increase dialogue of west indian feminists, name the work already being done by women within the community as feminism.

What kind of misconceptions do people have about your racial/ethnic background?

I’m not sure. For the most part within the Caribbean it gets positive feedback, as in I have nice, mixed hair down to me back, and I’m a brownin’. The two things that people look for when racial miscegenation happens.

If you had to raise a child in the Caribbean, what would you keep from your own upbringing and what would you change?

Things I would change:

1. The idea that ‘nothing black nah good’

2. Getting darker is not a sin

3. Your hair doesn’t have to be straight. Let it take up it’s natural born space, feel free to cut it, dye it, and experiment with it. The length and texture of your hair are not all there is to your beauty.

4. Your ankle bracelets, toe rings and bracelets don’t make you a prostitute.

5. Indian food is not dirty, it’s ok to eat with your hands.

Things I would keep:

1. Anansi stories

2. The idea that knowing your community is part of knowing who you are

3. Always share

4. Nah bother watch people fu them things.

5. Take care of old people

6. Know all the old people sayings, because it connects you to something bigger than yourself.

7. Is there a word or phrase that can capture the smells, sights, and colours of the Caribbean?

I absolutely loved everything about this interview with Veronique, especially her final response which really resonated with me as a person who has often struggled to pinpoint the answer to the question, “What is culture?” Growing up as biracial or multiracial in the Caribbean, you can get a lot of different messages about where you fit within our culture. To me, Veronique isolated a lot of what’s important for everyone in the Caribbean to understand. If you’re interested in checking out another interview like this one, check back for my very first Caribbean Voices piece featuring Lana C. Marilyn.

Black Feminism: Lies About Women’s Liberation In The Caribbean

Black Feminism Photo

Whenever there’s something vaguely progressive (and even then, it’s barely so) about Caribbean culture or interactions, people tend to latch onto it and then use that to mask or minimize the current evils that occur. For example, when (black and white) American media criticized “Work”, there was a popular quote that was passed around social media from Director X’s comments to FADER.

The quote began:

 In West Indian culture, a dance is a dance. You can have that dance. There could be a girl jumping on top of you and you’re wining up on one another. In the wrong state, you’d get arrested and charged for lewd conduct or something. But you can end that dance and her boyfriend can be beside her, and you’re like, “Hi,” or you just walk away. Dancing and sex are tied together in America—if you’re dancing with somebody that means you’re sleeping with somebody. But that doesn’t mean that in our culture it’s the same. In West Indian culture, you’re dancing with someone because you’re dancing with someone. You’re having fun. There’s a beauty to the dance and there’s a beauty to the battle. That’s something they’re not understanding. Within a dance, there is a competition going on. There is a battle of the sexes.

Of course every single West Indian online was in a state of celebration about this quote…

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When you define feminist, why exclude “Internet Activists”?

Why do feminists in academia think they can define “feminist” for everybody? In one of my classes at Middlebury, I was responsible for editing the work of one of my classmates. She wrote her post on the fruitlessness of blogging as a platform for feminist activism. I kept my critique as respectful as possible and even now, I’m not here to bash the specifics of her post. There are some underlying ideas that I did gain from what I read that are very troubling and recreate the current societal structure.

1. The belief that some voices “deserve” to be heard over others.

Who gets to decide which voices are deserving and which aren’t? If you view feminism as a platform to exclude undesirable voices, are you any better than oppressive people who want to exclude the voices of the marginalized? They don’t believe marginalized voices deserve to be heard either. Stop thinking that it’s up to you to decide who is deserving of a voice.

2. The belief that “crazy” people shouldn’t have a platform to express themselves.

Who is considered “crazy” in our society is highly gendered and racialized. What this means (basically) is certain people are automatically considered crazy for their gender or their race. ($100 prize if you can guess who is considered the craziest.) If we silence the voices of the most radical because we have already dismissed them due to “craziness”, we again risk maintaining the very power structure we want to deconstruct.

3. The belief that feminist voices don’t need to be heard because they only communicate with other feminists.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The internet gives hundreds of thousands if not millions of people easy access to educating themselves about feminism. This includes people who may not originally have considered themselves feminists. Blogs and twitter feeds do NOT only include other feminists. These posts and conversations are public and give a voice to opinions that are marginalized by mainstream discourse.

So what good are feminist blogs? What good is internet activism?

Feminist blogs, hashtag feminism and all other forms of feminist activism that rely on the internet offer a more inclusive feminism. While many people in the world do not have access to the internet, many do. And these people have the opportunity to create grassroots movements, to learn, to explore, and to talk about the way oppression impacts their lives. It’s important that these platforms exist because now, you don’t need to be validated by the mainstream for your voice to be heard. Resistance is happening now on the internet. Significant conversations and activism happens on twitter every day.

I think the mainstream culture (especially in the U.S.) is afraid of internet activism. Finally the oppressed population has an easy way to connect with each other. We can organize. We can communicate. We can support each other and make surviving in this world a little easier for each other. That in itself is a threat to the powers that be. So the response is to say internet activism is “unimportant”. Well, historically the voices of the oppressed have always been considered unimportant. We didn’t shut up then, and we won’t be silent now.

Black Feminism In The Caribbean: Examining The Mulatto Effect

One of my favorite mythologies about the Caribbean that seems to be perpetuated amongst emigrant communities and foreigners alike is that we have transcended race due to our highly multiracial and integrated society. Due to my interst in black feminism, this lie has been exposed as entirely false. Even without the academic language of feminism, I knew this intuitively. While there is indeed a high degree of multiracialism, the notion of transcending race is mythical because the Caribbean still suffers from crippling anti-blackness. Nearly every person, regardless of race, is complicit in this anti-blackness on some level or another.

At this point, some of you may already think I’m crazy. How can there be anti-blackness in a place where the population is mostly black? How can I, a black person, uphold anti-blackness? In the Caribbean, despite the lack of a large class of wealthy whites, we still have racial stratification; everyone in our society is complicit in upholding it. Parents of all shades of black wish for their children to come out lighter skinned. Women are pressured to destroy their natural hair textures to conform to what is “proper” (as dictated by European standards). History is taught in school in such a way that we are ashamed of slavery but proud of the accomplishments of the British/French.

The experience of “whiteness” can be approximated by being biracial which I’ll use interchangeably with “half-white” for clarification of which biracial identity I’m referring to. I call this the mulatto effect, putting a name to the nuanced Caribbean experience of “white privilege” that creates an insulated world where lighter skinned black people do not experience the full extent of anti-blackness.

In the Caribbean, blackness is the dominating framework through which race should be discussed, but blackness in the Caribbean is heavily influenced by East Asian (mainly Chinese) and South Asian (mainly Indian) cultures and racial mixing with white people both local and foreign. Different islands have different racial compositions that add additional nuance to a discussion. While Trinidad and Guyana are known for their large populations of Indians for example, similar proportions of Indian populations do not exist in Saint Lucia.

The mulatto effect is how we can perceive the organization of the Caribbean’s racial hierarchy. The top is not necessarily white, due to an excessively small population of  white people with NO black relatives. White adjacent people who come from either historically white families or who have visible proximity to whiteness occupy the highest racial class. We may not have a significant white ruling class, but a biracial/multiracial class that receives distinctly better treatment than the majority of the “100% black” population.

Without a distinct and large white upper class we see anti-black dynamics play out in a way that misleads people to believe we have transcended race. We’ve merely transplanted a racial hierarchy in a way that suits our population. The closest to white occupy the top, whereas the furthest away from whiteness occupy the bottom of the hierarchy. Every aspect of this hierarchy was constructed during colonialism and has not disappeared, even today.

Racial hierarchies aren’t just theories. Reflecting on my time in primary school for example, there were a number of occasions where half-white students — myself included— were spared punishment because they came from “good” families. While many black students in the class came from similar or higher economic classes, they were not spared punishment. They lacked the visible “goodness”, that was in this case, applied to visible whiteness. In customer service, visibly half-white people, especially those who don’t look local, receive better treatment than dark skinned locals. There are a number of other ways in which half-whiteness/whiteness is privileged with regards to beauty standards, assumptions of intelligence and more. I could go on forever pointing out the ways in which half-whiteness is privileged.

So what is the point of all of this? Why draw your attention to a racial hierarchy that I myself benefit from due to my white father, and my specific biracial phenotype (light skinned, loose curls, thin, able-bodied)? As a feminist and an anti-racist, with a commitment to social justice and equality, I recognize that this hierarchy is oppressive to everyone. Racial hierarchies like this one uphold destructive colonial mindsets that were created with the goal of maintaining black subjugation. The first step we can take in decolonizing (in this regard) is by recognizing where we see “the mulatto effect”. Where do we see our privilege or our oppression?

Most non-white people in the West Indies can intuit that they are treated differently for being darker, for having “bad” hair etc. These feelings and notions are patently invalidated as bitterness or jealousy. There is no vocabulary to speak about the injustice of having half-white citizens prioritized and treated significantly better than non-white citizens. The vocabulary doesn’t matter as much as our ability to recognize the injustice. I invite you to consider moments when you felt like your blackness was a mark, when you were dehumanized or privileged because of your skin tone. Both reflections are important since without biracial recognition of our privilege, we cannot possibly hope to remove the colonial stain on our region. Through recognition and self-reflection, you will have taken the first individual steps towards radical politics and regional black liberation. Of course, as activists and as individuals, we still have a lot of work to do.

Black Feminism Means Calling A Spade A Spade…

… And putting a name to West Indian patriarchy.

Content Warning:

mention of rape, homophobia, violence, harassment

Black feminism allows us to acknowledge that patriarchy extends into all parts of our lives in the Caribbean. We may not even realize it is there for it is so deeply embedded in our thoughts, perceptions and beliefs. This does not make us culturally impoverished as first-world nations would like us all to believe. Patriarchy exists everywhere but its manifestation in the Caribbean is unique due to the scale on which it presents itself and the way it manifests.

Patriarchy here refers to a heterosexual male dominated power structure, for those of you who may not know the ins and outs of feminist theory but may still care to read this and perhaps learn something.

I’ll identify some examples of patriarchy that we probably see in our everyday lives as Caribbean women and hopefully explain why each of these things are problematic. Of course this cannot possibly be a comprehensive list without becoming a small novel.

Homophobia/Transphobia: Homophobia is consistently  justified by the excuse that homosexuality “not a part of our culture”. Sexuality and gender are not caused by culture. Homophobia is not Christian. Hate is not Christian either, so the excuses used to lay the blame on God do not apply. If you follow the book of Leviticus when it comes to homophobia, you should also see what Leviticus says on eating shellfish and on wearing two different kinds of fabrics. Homophobia exists and is perpetuated only to uphold the current power structure within our society.

Heterosexual, cisgender (those who identify with the gender assigned to them at birth) people feel like their identity is threatened when gay people exist freely and even more threatened at the existence of transgender men and women. Identities that oppose the status quo are discriminated against; this is a result of a patriarchal culture that only allows for one kind of masculinity.

Street harassment: From a young age, girls/women walking down the streets have been subjected to street harassment in the form of whistles, cat calls, kissing noises or a “pssst” sound. This is an exercise of patriarchal power not only because it is objectifying, but because it causes women to feel unsafe. That kind of attention is not flattering, although some perceive it as such. People who are not gender conforming or who are openly gay also experience street harassment, even if it is not sexual attention. This conveys the simple message: You are not safe.

Rape/Rape Culture: We think of rape as a situation when a man jumps out of the bushes and forces himself on a woman. Patriarchal oppression relies on this definition, when we think of rape as something that occurs between strangers we don’t hold male perpetrators accountable. Rapists are more often people who the victim knows. Rape can occur between a husband and a wife. It sounds abstract, but the system of male domination needs us to believe that rape is normal, not a problem or the fault of the victim. This allows the domination to continue, because we can never identify the problem.

Of course, there are male victims of rape too (with female perpetrators); patriarchy ensures their stories to go unheard as well.  The system of patriarchy causes male silence due to the fear of being labelled as gay (something that is only a fear due to homophobia).  There is also stigma against men/boys who face rape or sexual assault at the hands of other men. The survival of patriarchal rape culture relies on their fear about coming forward too. Male victims’ fear is born from patriarchal notions of masculinity and sexuality.

Strict Gender Roles:  Strict gender roles ensure a system of patriarchal domination by preventing women and LGBTQ individuals from having as much political, economic and social power as heterosexual cisgender men. A system with no room for flexibility where men “must” pay for the dates (for example) or where a “woman’s role” is housework ensures that we have a culture of inequality.

For more information on patriarchy and the damage it can have to our culture, I’ll point you to a few resources at the bottom of this blog post.

Also, click on my Feminist FAQ page for more information.

 

Resources:

Questions on feminism and patriarchy? Check out this great blog: finallyfeminism101