Tag: misogynoir

Misogynoir And Colonial Law Mean Girls Can Give Birth While Serving Prison Sentences And We’re All Just OK With It

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A week or two ago, I came across this headline in St. Lucian news “Teenage Inmate At Bordelais Correctional Facility gives birth”. Unexpected, jarring and indicative of a number of social issues that are worth discussing. While the trend of mainstream feminism leans towards empowerment and other buzzwords unsupported by action or empathy towards the women who suffer most, there are clear feminist issues within our culture that an article such as this one brings to light…

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Black Feminism: Sexism In Carnival Advertising

Black feminism in the Caribbean involves encountering sexism in our daily lives. As someone whose work involves a fair amount of internet marketing, I can’t help but apply feminist thought to my life in the Caribbean as well as advertising that I may encounter. As Carnival approaches in Saint Lucia (as well as my beloved vacation), I can’t help but notice the sexism that is rampant in much of the advertising surrounding carnival. I don’t necessarily mean the ads for the costumes themselves; the costumes are what they are, and that’s not what I’m going to present to you today. Rather, I’m talking about all the events that lead up to Carnival, the imagery used and what it means about our culture.

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The pictures I will examine were all screenshots taken from the Instagram accounts of popular carnival bands in Saint Lucia. The first ones I want to analyze involve the advertising for Red Rebellion’s Red Bikini Affair party. In most of these images, there are thin, women posing in sexy and “seductive” poses to advertise the party. In one of these images, the woman is posing with everything but her butt cropped next to a bottle of Campari. This imagery aligns the faceless (i.e. mindless) woman in the photograph with an object of consumption, indicating that she too is part of the consumables offered at the party.

“Sex sells!” people cry in retaliation. Is “sex” really what is being sold here or misogyny? “It’s a bikini party! What do you expect?” It may be shocking but it’s actually possible to advertise a bikini party without overly suggestive poses and photographs. No one is saying don’t wear a bikini, I’m asking you to question why a “bikini” party is suggested in the first place? Are women there to have fun or are they the bait, objects to lure men into attendance. When analyzed by a marketing expert, he said, “I can’t tell what’s going on here… I don’t see what time the party is or anything.” This suggests that suggestive posing and over sexualization of women does not make for good marketing on its own. 

Another ad that we analyzed was this ad by Just4Fun Carnival Band:

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One of the main features of this ad is a thin, white woman with long blonde hair. The first thing I noticed is that this woman doesn’t represent your average Saint Lucian woman at all. Again, it is intended to portray women as the “bait”, the product you should anticipate. Here, this woman represents the “ideal” bait — a white, visibly non-Saint Lucian, thin woman. This falls prey into anti-blackness because it does not represent the truth of our island but instead seeks to represent a white ideal.

Additionally, this photograph adds nothing to the advertisement. The name of the party is obstructed by a logo so it’s practically unreadable and the image itself tells you nothing about the party except maybe its location. (It does speak to the photoshop skills of whoever created this ad perhaps…)

This portrayal of women is objectifying and unecessary. This type of subtle reinforcement is a part of the reason misogynist thinking is so engrained in our culture. We don’t think twice when we see ads like this one, but all misogynist thinking is connected and we can’t ignore one instance of misogyny because “it’s just an ad”. Advertisements represent beliefs, they change people’s attitudes and invoke emotional responses in the viewers. They aren’t just ads, but representations of our values, our beliefs and more.

If we look at more advertisements surrounding Carnival related events we see similar motifs: women who look nothing like the average Caribbean woman objectified and naked before the camera, posing as objects for male party-goers to consume and female party-goers to negatively compare themselves to:

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Objectifying women in your ads does not make them more effective. An effective ad presents the viewer with the information they need the most about the event they’re attending. It should not just be there for shock value…

Look at this Just4Fun ad below and then I’ll contrast it to other ads that do not rely on sexism to sell their events:

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Notice that this ad is incredibly busy. There are half naked women on the front that add nothing to the ad, as well as all the relevant information pushed off to the sides.

The “busy” nature of this ad’s design takes away from the point. Relying on sexism and female nudity to sell not only reinforces a culture where degrading and objectifying women is normalized, but it can potentially take away ad space to actually get to the point of your ad. 

 

Look at these other carnival related ads that don’t rely on sexism:

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The first ad shown here by Legends Carnival Band has the effect of showing off the carnival costumes without throwing women under the bus. The women in the photograph are blurred out and the actual point of the ad is front and center. The point of an advertisement is to deliver information and this ad does a great job. The second advertisement is for a private event related to Insaniti Carnival Band. Despite the fact that the ad isn’t for a public event, it has all the features of an effective ad that doesn’t rely on sexism. You have the image of a pool and the image of a bottle of wine, but the rest of the ad is informative. You have all the information you need as well as the features of the party that will make it appealing — drinks for a good time, DJs and live performances. Women are not scapegoated as “party features” and objects you can use for a good time.

This week I challenge you to look at the advertising you come across for Carnival, or anything else. What are the subtle ideas this ad is reinforcing? Is this ad telling you that you are not the ideal woman, but rather, a white blonde woman or a thin light skinned girl with loose curls? Is that message true? (Hint: That message is false. Don’t buy it, fam!) Is the ad telling you that you have to be naked to be worth something, and then your worth will only be as an object to be desired? Is that message true?

This post is NOT intended to “shame women for their choices”. This is not about women’s individual choices on what to wear or how to behave. (This type of comment is necessary in a Puritanical place where messages are easily misconstrued to fit a different misogynist agenda…) This is not about women, but rather how women are used and how this negative objectification of women is pervasive in our culture and harms women by stripping them of their humanity.

Let’s take some time to be active consumers and consider what we are consuming and what we are endorsing in our culture. The impact of standing up to sexism can be nothing but positive.

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 And How Women Interact

I’m going to be 2015’s biggest cheese ball and start this post off with a quote from Chimamanda Adichie. This quotation explains one of the challenges you may experience when learning about black feminism and trying to live more positively.

“We raise girls to see each other as competitors not for jobs or accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men.”

You may recognize it from the popular Beyonce song we’ve all had on repeat since December 13th 2013. This quote has been in the forefront of my mind since I’ve come down here and as I’ve started to notice interactions and body language between women in public spaces. I can’t help but have this quote at the forefront of my mind as I listen and observe the women around me. Maybe it’s strange, but whenever I’m out, I feel highly in tune to the people around me. I notice body language, the way they say certain things, the way their eyes move and pretty much everything else. My intuition and my sensitivity to body language are heightened when I’m not alone.

The insights I’ve gained through observation have led me to believe that there is a crisis in women’s interactions here. There is nearly tangible tension amongst women who are not close friends. It feels hostile and unwelcoming. This tension creates a social environment where instead of helping, loving and supporting each other, women are constantly in competition. And for what? I haven’t been able to pinpoint that quite yet, but I think Ms Adichie might be onto something. When women are constantly challenging each other in the social realm instead of being supportive and loving, we cannot be liberated from a dominant male culture.

Challenge: Trying not to side eye negative people.

In public, women try to test you. They may size you up, looking you from head to toe with a judgmental face. Occasionally, some may flirt with your romantic partner in front of you. A lot of times, there is just a general sense in casual conversation that your weaknesses are being assessed and judged, that you are being categorized. The categories that exist here are unfriendly. There is a strong perception that you can only be two things: the “good girl” or the “bad girl”. (Think Madonna vs. Jezebel and the connotations of both of those things.) The thing is, we are all guilty of judging and trying to compete with other women, women who we may not even know. It doesn’t have to be this way.

In situations like this, where making external changes is nearly impossible without changing your own attitude, I prefer tactics of passive resistance, or resistance through changing my own behavior. When someone is sizing me up, a bright smile throws them off and surprises them. When someone is flirting with someone who I’m on a date with or sizing me up in that situation, I show how little I am bothered by it instead of making a face or any other response. Acting jealous and competitive shows an insecurity that I do not have (or perhaps a confidence that I DO have!). When people try to categorize me, I let them try, but I happen live in such a way that makes putting me in a box difficult. I’m smart and soft-spoken enough that I could easily be a “good girl” but I know my “wild” hair and “too short” dresses could easily catapult me into the category of a “bad girl”. It makes life difficult for the average judgmental person. Yet, not everyone lives like I do, and they don’t deserve to be subjected to judgment for their choices either.

Where I live in the United States, the cult of womanhood amongst black women is different. We do have a culture of supporting each other, regardless of how close we are. There is a positive environment amongst women of color that I would love to see replicated here. Living in a nearly homogenous white student population, we only have each other. This has forced us to stick together for survival purposes; so I don’t think this difference is a cultural difference between the U.S. and St. Lucia entirely. The difference still exists however, and it has opened my eyes as to ways that you can change your own behavior and dismantle this unspoken hatred between women.

1. Try to compliment at least one female friend a day. Tell her you like her hair-do, her nails, something. Make it genuine. Don’t just compliment for the sake of it. Training yourself to see things that you actually like about the women around you will get you started eliminating a lot of implicit negativity you may have towards other women. This is the easiest one, so if you find the others more difficult, try to do only this for at least a week before moving on to the others. The results will be worth it.

Challenge: Keep being a carefree black girl!

2. Catch your negative thoughts about other women. It’s hard to police your own thoughts, but the positive feelings you get from doing this far outweigh the inconvenience of having to self-monitor. When you see a woman and feel the need to judge her clothes, hair, body or man, take note of the negative thought you had. Don’t eliminate it! Form the thought in your head, go so far as to say “Wow, I thought she was wearing really terrible clothing.” Acknowledge the negative thought and then assess.

Where did this judgment come from? It may come from jealousy or anger or it may come from nowhere at all. It doesn’t matter if there is a rational reason. Once you have understood the source of your thought or comment, force yourself to find one nice thing to say about the woman you have just judged. It doesn’t even have to be something real! You can think to yourself, “But I bet she is a really good cook.” You just need something to replace the negativity in your mind and practice mindfully choosing positivity.

3. Do not engage with negative looks, comments or behaviors. We are tempted to respond when we feel threatened. If another woman gives you a dirty look, sizes you up or flirts with your partner, her behavior does not reflect on you, it reflects on her. She may have her own insecurities or other factors that lead to that behavior. While you aren’t in control of her actions, you are in control of how you respond to her actions.

I do not advocate accepting abuse lying down, but if a situation is not dangerous, there is no need to engage with negativity, for your own sake. Respond with a smile, or neutrality if you can’t manage that. This tends to jar people, and while it may not change their minds, it will give you some peace and perhaps an upper hand. Responding to hate with love is not always the solution, but in this case it can serve as an effective way to break down barriers between women.