It would seem that T&T has decided to forgo decorum for Lent 2016.
In the past three weeks, we’ve seen an epic amount of shenanigans, including, but not limited to:
- Sexist remarks from the mayor of our capital city (who then made a painful and lingering exit rivaling that of Romeo and Juliet, for whom parting was infamously sweet sorrow).
- A domestic abuse case blown wide open on the internet, which somehow ended up leading to the arrest of a populist hero, who has since been caught red-handed lying about his innocence. Worst of all, he ultimately managed to overshadow the aforementioned brutal domestic abuse case with his antics.
- The sudden appearance of topless photos of, not one, but TWO of our local gymnasts who, coincidentally, are currently vying for the right to represent T&T at the Rio Olympics (which, according to the metrics originally set by the local governing body, one of them has already won).
It’s been emotional, to say the least. I’ve started and stopped this blog post several times over the last few weeks, feeling both overwhelmed by the sheer insanity and frustrated that we’re still (STILL) having to address these ridiculous issues. On the other hand, it’s also been incredibly enlightening, in no small part because it turns out that all of these incidents are connected.
By way of an explanation, allow me to momentarily jump back to the ill-fated former Mayor of Port of Spain Raymond Tim Kee, who cut his own mayoral career short when he infamously declared that women have “… the responsibility to ensure that they are not abused…”
Now, it wasn’t the statement that got him into trouble, so much as it was the unfortunate time at which he chose to repeat it (in response to a question about a murdered masquerader). As so many of his supporters repeatedly declared, while his timing was dreadful, he was simply reiterating something he said before Carnival had even begun. Of course, no one had much of a problem with it then because, it turns out, many Trinbagonians (including a couple of prominent ones who have yet to answer for their views) do indeed believe women are responsible for ensuring that they aren’t abused.
Note the wording of that statement. Note how it twists itself into uncomfortable shapes to avoid addressing the actual culprit: the abuser. It would have to, because if you were to include said abuser, the statement would become even more nonsensical. Watch: Women have the responsibility to ensure that they are not abused by their abusers. Silly, no? I mean, how could the responsibility of preventing an action fall anywhere else but on the person committing the action?
By that same token, the Mayor had lots to say about the vulgarity of female masqueraders and little more than an afterthought for the men (“… some of the things women do… assisted by men, of course…”). His supporters agreed and, in a few very dark days spent roaming the threads under local media stories about the controversy, I didn’t find a single one who had an issue with the vulgarity of men. Not one. As a person who isn’t much into Carnival, I’m left to assume that men either don’t participate in Carnival at all or they’re mainly horrified bystanders of female lewdness.
Ok, fine, you might be saying right about now, the Mayor victim-blamed, slut-shamed, etc. and resigned over it. What does any of this have to do with domestic violence and racy pics?
Well, my dear reader, it turns out that his statements have everything to do with it all. Remember, as he pointed out in his #sorrynotsorry apology, and as was visible all over the local corners of Facebook, lots of people agree with him. Ours is a culture that works very hard to blame women for the crimes committed against them. Rape victims are disbelieved and questioned about whether they led their attackers on, domestic violence victims are ignored and accused of antagonizing their abusers and sexual harassment victims are accused of inviting the harassment through their choice of dress or simply of being too sensitive and unwilling to take a compliment. Even when a crime isn’t committed, there are a disturbing number of people in this country who are comfortable judging and disrespecting a woman based solely on conclusions they draw from her outfit and whatever life choices they deem objectionable.
Is it any wonder that a man (particularly one with enough money to build a castle and a friendly relationship with T&T’s premier crime-fighting hero) might feel entitled to brutalise his wife just minutes away from a police station? Or why, instead of questioning the motive behind the release of those rather tasteful topless photos, the T&T Gymnastics Federation has not only referred both athletes to the discipline committee, but has now made it clear that it is well within its rights to send neither of our best athletes to represent us on the world stage?
Every single one of these controversies (from Tim Kee’s statements to Thema and Marisa’s photos) is a symptom of a wider cultural problem. Until we learn to respect women, truly respect them, regardless of whether their clothing and life choices agree with our own personal beliefs, until we start teaching our children that it is not ok to hold women to different archaic standards, and until we stop engaging the societal victim-blaming and slut-shaming that keeps putting these insane and ridiculous stories on the front pages of our newspapers, our country will never be able to step out of the dark ages.
I believe we can take those steps, though. Not because the people so committed to the antiquated views underpinning all this drama are ready to change (as if), but because more and more people are willing to drag them into the 21st century.
We’re going, one way or another.
In the meantime, I’m here wondering what the nation has planned for the remaining 22 days of Lent.
I’m not sure my heart can take it…