Tag: intersectional feminism

White Privilege In The Caribbean

feminist meaninA collection of thoughts about white West Indians…

In honor of our alleged liberation from Britain’s imperial rule.

These may appear random and out of context, partly because I don’t really believe that everything has to have a coherent flow for the individual points to make sense and also because these are merely excerpts from a longer conversation I had with a black WI woman this morning. Trust that they’re all interconnected and perhaps allow yourself to tease out even more connections that I was unable to see…

Whiteness is a funny thing in the Caribbean. Some pretend that it’s nonexistent, but really it is invisible, similar to whiteness in the United States but not quite the same. While our lives are different from those of Black Americans, we suffer oppression along the same lines. Here are a few examples of how whiteness “functions” in the Caribbean:

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Intersectional Feminism: Mental Health And The West Indian LGBTI Community

Viewing mental health through the lens of intersectional feminism calls for us to examine the specific mental health issues faced by the LGBTI community. While all mental health issues are largely ignored by the greater West Indian community, another group of marginalized people face specific oppression at the hands of medical professionals; they face specific issues regarding their sexuality and gender expression that other West Indians do not face.

In a society where non-cisgender and non-heterosexual people face massive amounts of physical/emotional and sexual violence, there is no space for LGBTI+ individuals to receive help or support for their unique difficulties. Not to mention, the people who cause these difficulties don’t believe that their problems are real. While I’m not qualified to speak on behalf of anyone in the community, I can advise my readers, especially those in positions of privilege, to pay attention to how our society creates toxic conditions for the mental health of LGBTI+ individuals.

LGBTI+ individuals face bullying and abuse at the hands of their family and friends. Abuse has a definitive negative impact on mental health. (Source: CDC, Google it)

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Intersectional Feminism: Addiction & Discrimination

West Indians ignore addiction, a very pertinent aspect of mental health, by pretending our cultural identity as West Indians makes us immune to the addictive effects of alcohol.

Our culture glorifies alcohol on a level that surpasses that of even the United States. We have bars popping up called “Rehab” and “Rum Therapy”; although funny on one level, these trends point to the disturbing fact that using a harmful substance as a coping mechanism is celebrated. There are many memes online about how Lucians/West Indians drive better drunk that promote false information about alcohol abuse under the guise of humor. (more…)

Intersectional Feminism: How We Fail Young Black Girls

intersectional feminism(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 labelled as crazy.

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

“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.

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.

Intersectional Feminism: Incarceration in the West Indies

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

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.

Intersectional Feminism: Women’s Health

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.