For most of my time here, I’ve been genuinely baffled by people who insist that, given the chance to live abroad, they would never have returned to T&T. Having spent half of my life elsewhere, I honestly couldn’t understand their perspective because, underneath all the inefficiencies, corruption and, yes, crime, T&T isn’t actually the worst place to live.
At least, that’s how I felt until very recently. You see, it’s one thing to know deep down that you’re living (and raising your child) in a deeply patriarchal society, but it’s another thing to have that fact declared by a public official who, apparently, sees nothing wrong with it. When you realise something like that, you now have to figure out what to do about it. Do you try to ignore it, knowing that your daughter will shortly begin to feel the effects? Do you leave for greener pastures (wherever they might be)? Or do you at least make an effort to stand up and address it?
The first isn’t an option. Not for me. It’s not my way. The second… well, never say never, but it seems like I should at least give the third option a shot before abandoning the motherland (again), doesn’t it?
Which is how I ended up at the venerable University of Woodford Square this morning to support a protest calling for the dismissal of Port of Spain Mayor Raymond Tim Kee. I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to go at first, but by the time I finished reading a series of Facebook statuses from women who now feel disregarded and unsafe in their home country, my mind was made up.
So, I went, with the intention of supporting from the background. Within minutes of arriving, I saw a protester being heckled by a man who was somehow very offended by the sight of a woman wearing a Carnival costume. Never mind that thousands of women were wearing something very similar in that very same city three days earlier. Then there were the women — senior women, matriarchs — who were so outraged by our gathering that they stood screaming at the top of their lungs while we called for a society that treats them, their daughters and grand-daughters as human beings worthy of respect. Finally, there was the presence of a significant number of police officers, one of whom came over and asked us (for our own protection of course) to wrap up early because the people who disagreed with our views were getting rowdy.
That’s how, despite concerns about what it would mean for my freelance career, I ended up reading part of the statement publicly. And how I ended up giving an interview. Because there really does come a point where you have to stand up and help make the change you want to see in the world. And because I don’t know how I can continue to look my daughter in the eye and teach her to navigate this world if I’m not willing to at least try to make it a safer place for her.
For those of you who so adamantly believe that women should be governed by your own personal beliefs and who believe that a woman who dresses or acts a certain way can deserve to have a brutal, violent act committed against them, I’m going to state the obvious:
Telling girls and women how to behave while declining to tell boys and men much of anything at all encourages violence against girls and women. When you police our behaviour while failing to teach boys and men how to respect us, it gives them carte blanche to do what they please while placing the responsibility for their actions on our shoulders.
Here’s another thing about that ridiculous and dangerous line of reasoning: it does a great disservice to our boys and men. It sends the message that they’re savages, unable to control themselves or their urges. It also sends the message that just about every man is a potential rapist and should be treated as such.
I can’t imagine why anyone would be ok with any of that, not even the people (men and women) who are bending over backwards to support the mayor’s dangerous remarks. In fact, I can’t imagine that any of the women supporting this nonsense can claim that they’ve never been disrespected by a passing man on the street. Despite their vehement cries to the contrary, I imagine that deep down inside, they’d like to see things change too. Maybe the fact that things have been this way for so long has them thinking that they can never change.
But they’re wrong.
Enough is enough.