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

 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...

1. Imprisoning Pregnant Women And Children Is A Human Rights Violation Regardless Of What the Colonial Legal System Says

Prison injustice is not unique to the United States; the headline and content of this article make that clear. Regardless of what the law states, as Caribbean women, we need to ask ourselves what could possibly make it just to imprison a sixteen-year-old who is already a mother? Is it just to imprison people under eighteen years old for what is a non-violent crime? Even if her crime was violent, is imprisonment just?Women are villainized in our society from birth, especially black women. Is a sixteen-year-old mother of two really the villain in any story? Or is it more likely that she's been victimized again and again by society at large?Women's liberation movements in the Caribbean need to start asking themselves about the relationship women as a social group have with the justice system and if there's any room for that relationship to change. Is incarceration the solution to our social ills or can we acknowledge the positive impact prison abolition might have and seek alternatives? (Note: Just because YOU PERSONALLY haven't conceived of alternatives doesn't mean they aren't out there.) I recommend reading this article about prison abolition, and learning how it differs from prison reform. Here, we see the potential for feminists to grow their perception of women's liberation by adopting the ideals of prison abolitionists or at least entertaining the ideas.Hopefully, as empathetic people, we can all agree that pregnant girls do not belong within the prison system. Doing so is an injustice to all women in our country and blatantly inhumane. Prison is not a place for girls. It is not a place for pregnant people. And it's certainly not a place for someone to raise a child, "private quarters" or not.

2. Villainizing A Seventeen Year Old Woman Is Objectively Wrong

To be blunt for a moment, I don't give a damn about violated court dates or the fact that the "WOMAN" in question was revealed to be seventeen. Sixteen, seventeen, it makes no difference. It's still unjust to imprison a pregnant woman PERIOD, much less one who is under the age of eighteen.The media and the government, both great bastions of the great sexism our country clings to for dear life, launched what is essentially an intellectualized smear campaign against the imprisoned GIRL, intended to justify her imprisonment despite the justified outrage.

Human rights are prioritized above laws, frankly... It was legal to own slaves. It was legal to rape slaves. It was legal to traffic HUMAN BEINGS. Sometimes, the law is barbaric, backward, and unjust. This is one of those times. At one point, it was legal to beat your wife. It's still legal to beat and brutalize your children. Whether or not it is "technically legal" to put a pregnant GIRL in jail, it's morally wrong. The media campaign to villainize the imprisoned girl further highlights our society's desire to cling furiously to injustice and sexism for no good reason.

Women in our country are constantly abused by individuals and our society and this sort of treatment by the system and media further highlights this abuse. Women (especially poor black women) are denied victimhood at every turn. There is NO consideration that a TEENAGER with two children under the age of eighteen could ever deserve humanity. That is the mark of a twisted system in desperate need of change. NO not elite feminist round tables but DIRECT ACTION.A quote from the article explores the cognitive dissonance here where government organizations are permitted more empathy than girls under eighteen. Let's deconstruct this pathetic press release quote:

"The Department of Equity, Social Justice, Empowerment and Human Services and by extension, the Government of St Lucia, wishes to reiterate its commitment to the Care and Protection of all Children and Juveniles.Any case, circumstance or action that compromises the well-being of our children is utterly disappointing and worthy of our effort. It is equally disappointing when individuals and organizations to cast aspersions- against those who provide support services to the island’s vulnerable population- on the basis of unfounded and erroneous statements and allegations."

To this so-called Department of Equity etc. seems to think that calling them out for their unjust treatment of a GIRL is akin to the abuse that this CHILD has received. This highlights some of the points I've made previously about the vast delusion that fuels our government bodies here where they see themselves as being victims in situations where they are acting as oppressors. Our citizens have a RIGHT to demand better treatment for individuals and social groups."Casting aspersions" (Thesaurus fest 2016 apparently) is NOT the same as abusing human rights. They are NOT equivalent and this "department" deserves NO sympathy as all the VALID CRITICISMS are actually quite fair. Making a public statement AFTER your acceptance of human rights abuse has been publicly exposed is not the same as direct action in the public interest.A department for social justice doesn't have the role to uphold the status quo but to question the laws in place that would permit a pregnant seventeen-year-old CHILD to be imprisoned for any reason. Otherwise, they are best off changing the name of their department to something more fitting."Department of Sensitivity To Aspersions" rings a nice bell.

3. Black Women Are Denied Girlhood By The Justice System And This is Colonial Misogynoir At Work

Check out this link here about black girlhood. Attributing womanhood to a black person under eighteen is nothing more than an expansion of the racist "strong black woman" stereotype on a societal level. It would be naive to think that our colonial (and post-colonial) law writers weren't operating from a racist perspective when deciding it was alright to imprison black GIRLS.If we accept this is morally correct, there's not much room for a "difference of opinion". We are accepting then that it's alright to deny black women the chance to be children. To be girls. To be perceived as valid and deserving of empathy and love. A GIRL who is seventeen years old, pregnant in jail and ALREADY the mother of one child has definitely been denied girlhood repeatedly.

I wonder why there are no questions about the father(s) of her two children. Are these men far older than a sixteen or seventeen-year-old? Are these men serving prison sentences for statutory rape? Are they suffering ANY consequences in their community or social group? My guess is, they are not. But the GIRL in question is being villainized by the Department of Sensitivity To Aspersions in the media because they refuse to accept that they could have done any wrong.What would make our society just, empathetic and dare I say it, Christian (in PRACTICE) would be to eliminate injustice against this young girl who has now been publicly deemed a CRIMINAL on multiple counts. (Not just for her crimes but for daring to be seventeen and pregnant.) As a sexist society, however, I'm almost certain that no steps will be taken to ensure that young girls are not abused by the system or by the men and women in their communities. So as Caribbean feminists we must ask ourselves: Is this acceptable because it is legal?

Caribbean women need to start asking ourselves tough questions:

  • What are we willing to accept?

  • Who deserves protection in our society and why do we think only certain groups and social classes deserve protection?

  • What direct action can we take to end injustice against women and girls?

  • How can we deprogram our internalized sexism and misogynoir that allows us to justify the ABUSE of young girls by our justice system and government?

  • How long will we sit around and crochet while we wait for our patriarchal government to decide women deserve liberation? When has that ever worked?

When you make your decisions about who gets to be deemed worthy of protection and love, let's hope you can live with these choices. Additionally, let's hope that when you decide certain classes ARE unworthy, you can handle those higher than you in our social hierarchy making such decisions about your own life and deeming you unworthy too.

Intersectional Feminism: 5 Ways Class Changes Your Experience of Womanhood

Socioeconomic class influences all of our daily routines in the Caribbean. What we do on a morning (full, balanced breakfast vs. bread and tea), how we commute from place to place (bus vs. sedan vs. luxury four wheel drive), where and how we work (cashier vs. civil servant). Socioeconomic class is not "taboo" in a country where people flaunt even the most meaningless status symbols -- from Jansport backpacks to Audi's on the verge of getting repossessed. But when it comes to women's liberation as well as LGBT liberation, the majority of people are silent. All of a sudden, class becomes invisible when it might force you to look at a situation from a nuanced perspective.In reality, your socioeconomic class affects everything. You can't avoid discussing it when discussing women's liberation or you will never succeed in true equality. Additionally, you cannot (as a wealthy person, let's say) take a condescending role of "leadership" over the needs of all women. Being patronizing doesn't mean you've all of a sudden developed a nuanced understanding of what women in poverty need. Try again.

Here are five ways that class is likely to affect your experience as a woman in the Caribbean.

1.Access To Education

Opportunities for women who live in poverty are stymied from the time they're in primary school. In Secondary School and beyond, your level of education, as well as the quality of your education is still very much linked to your socioeconomic class. Can you afford to do get a degree? The ability to travel for a university education, to continue school beyond A-levels and more is all highly dependent on your family's ability to either afford school or take out a loan. This leaves a large portion of women in poverty who simply have no access to education -- the same education people claim will free them.Scholarships for a few individuals DO NOT change the entire landscape for women living in poverty whose lives were predetermined from the time they attended primary school in a specific region.

The socioeconomic class you were born into therefore has an effect on how you experience the world. To someone whose parents could afford to send them to Canada/US/UK for continuing education, achieving a bachelor's degree will seem "easy". But for a woman who grew up living in extreme poverty, achieving a bachelor's degree will not be the same.These discrepancies don't just apply to the tuition required to further your education. This affects young girls from the time they're in primary school: Can their parents afford to send them to school every day of the week? Can their parents afford bus money or school books or food? Achieving an education is tilted in favor of the middle class and upper middle class. It is not simply a function of "working hard", contrary to a belief held by much of the sheltered classes of our region.

2.Perception Of Womens' Immediate Needs

Wealthy women in this region have a very different perception of what women's immediate needs are. This typically leads to a feminism that looks very bourgeois at best and violently exclusionary at worst. Considering the immediate needs of women in our countries should not focus on the immediate needs of wealthy women -- which tend to be largely around acquiring more social capital and power than necessary.The needs of women in poverty tend to be more about survival than about simply feeling good. There are very real issues in our countries that would be better solved by wealthy women donating money and labor rather than holding exclusive roundtables. Continuous community action doesn't have the same luxe feel as an exclusive charitable event, plus it requires continuous long-term planning. When we choose how to help women based on the immediate needs and desires of the wealthy, we will find it impossible to achieve social equity.

3.Access To High-Quality Health Care

Women living in poverty receive very different treatment from health care professionals than women who don't live in poverty. From doctors to nurses, women are judged based on their perceived socioeconomic class and the treatment they're given is dependent on this as well. Disparities in health and health care exist outside of the Caribbean too and we can look to previous research to understand how the effect play out in our own countries.The discrepancies in the quality between our private and public hospitals also point to a glaring example of how much worse the quality of care is for poor women than it is for wealthier women who can afford (or manage) the hefty price tags associated with private hospitals. This doesn't even touch on the affordability of health insurance for women living in extreme poverty, where you're certain to see this same discrepancy.

Poor women get far worse health care than wealthier women and this affects their experience in the world, their approach to illness as well as the long-term prognosis for serious illness.

4. Impact Of Rape, Abuse And Domestic Violence

Poor women are less sheltered from abuse and domestic violence and they're less sheltered from the long-term impact of sexual assault as well as abuse. Poor women are more likely to suffer from the aftermath of domestic violence and are also more likely to suffer from domestic abuse.  The link between poverty and surviving domestic abuse goes beyond the increased likeliness of being a victim. Approximately 50% of domestic violence and assault survivors lose their jobs as a direct result (see source linked above). In homes headed by women, where women are the sole income earners, this can have devastating effects.

Women who are not poor still face issues of being vulnerable to rape, abuse, and domestic violence, but they tend to be more sheltered from the events. It might not be as life-changing to lose your job if you have months of money saved up for example, or tons of assets and a well-connected family to help you through the difficult times. However, for women who are living hand-to-mouth, the impact of rape, abuse, and domestic violence differs.

Child maltreatment via neglect is more common for people who grew up with poor mothers; this isn't for moral reasons or due to "education", but rather due to the economic realities of living in poverty. Being a poor woman means less time to dedicate towards child rearing and can lead to abuse. This can have two effects. Women could be on the receiving end of this while they are children and they can also perpetuate this abuse when they become mothers. Considering both poverty and abuse are cyclical, it's not hard to see how childhood maltreatment can perpetuate from one generation onto another giving poor women a markedly different experience of childhood and abuse from those in wealthier economic situations.Poverty and sexual violence share an analogous link. People who commit sexual violence often target poor women due to their vulnerable positions in society; perpetrators intentionally target women who will be in socially weak positions to seek justice or to retaliate. And again, as with domestic abuse, experiencing sexual violence puts women who are already vulnerable at greater risk of losing their jobs or suffering other financial consequences.

5. How Other Women Treat YouI added this last point not necessarily because it has been studied at length but because it's true and it's especially true amongst women who consider themselves to be educated. And women who consider themselves to be feminists.Feminist circles are rife with classism. There is a moralistic stance taken against women who don't have fancy educations regarding feminism and against women who don't express themselves in certain ways deemed acceptable and appropriate. It shouldn't be hard to guess therefore that what's considered "acceptable" is behaving in a way that is posh, fancy or more upper class. Women who express themselves in ways that are deemed too "declassé" and "unrefined" are ignored, dismissed and discounted constantly. If you're a frequent flier on my blog, you should be able to guess which racial demographic these women tend to fall into... Even in the Caribbean.

Especially in upper-class circles, there's also a negative, condescending attitude towards younger women and their views on feminism. As there is a great degree of younger women who do not believe that women's rights should be exclusive to the bourgeois class, many older women take this opportunity to discount the valid work of younger feminists and younger women in general. They do this via tone policing or flat out dismissal of younger feminists opinions. Basically, they latch onto any excuse for things to remain the same as in truth, they are not interested in women's liberation but getting a cushier spot within their already secure position at the top of the status quo. Again, this is rife with respectability politics that actually have a negative impact in the long-term quest for women's liberation.You don't have to dress like a nun to be a feminist, although, to many middle and upper-class feminists, especially in the Caribbean, you do. Maintaining your image and acquiescing to the rules of patriarchy becomes more important to the wealthy than change. To them, feminism is simply a tool to acquire the power that men have and it isn't a genuine movement to dismantle systems of oppression like the cis hetero patriarchy.

(Just a full disclaimer here this term is NOT my own. I hope I've cited it well enough so just click the link and give credit where it's due.) This is because, in order to dismantle systems of oppression, you do have to take a hard look at socioeconomic class and bringing liberation to the poor, something that most middle and upper-class people possess a deep fear of doing.This is all to say that due to this fear of poor women and what their liberation would mean, as well as an allegiance to patriarchy on some level, wealthier women treat poor women as their lessers. And they might have fancy excuses for why they're doing so but the reality is something different and it's largely based on unexamined prejudices, personal philosophies as well as flat out bias.I am not going to add any disclaimer here about not wanting to "hurt feelings" or whatever you want to call it. The fact of the matter is that middle and upper-class women should feel uncomfortable, especially if they have never thought about ANY of these points before.I especially want to direct this to young feminists who are eager to label themselves feminist while pursuing patriarchal approval with equal fervor. Their desperation to inhabit to worlds that are totally incongruent leads to many contradictions and flaws within Caribbean feminist groups whether official organizations or simply groups of Caribbean feminists in general. Ask yourself: Could your actions and your personal philosophies require greater scrutiny? Is there more fine tuning and education for you to accomplish? How can you be a better person without relying on the smoke and mirrors of a label unfettered to genuine action?

Additionally, I want to ensure that women who read this take the time to really check themselves for the condescension that is typical of the "educated" classes in the Caribbean. I want to personally remind you that your degree is just a piece of paper, but how you treat the women in your community is very very real. How you live in the world is where all your significance lies. Your identity need not rely on putting other women down. Rather, we need to open our hearts to all of the women on our islands and allow our women to speak the truth of their oppression, even if we don't like what they have to say or how they have to say it.