… And putting a name to West Indian patriarchy.
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.
Questions on feminism and patriarchy? Check out this great blog: finallyfeminism101