by Stella Ramsaroop
(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 26 March 2006)
Ten days ago this newspaper published a sobering editorial focusing on the need for the nation to start taking a strong stance against violence against women. This is how the editorial began, “It is an unendurable shame that the scourge of violence against women continues to plague Guyana year after year, with no end in sight and with no sustained public outcry against it, especially from women.”
We are nearing the end of the month many celebrate as Women’s History Month. As such I want to highlight a piece of musical art that was only recently released. “The Color Purple” is a movie from the 80’s that captured a period of time in African American history circa 1949. This movie has been made into a Broadway musical and a soundtrack of the musical is now available.
I picked it up a couple weeks ago after watching a stirring performance on television of a particular song. The song is entitled, “Hell, No!” – and for good reason. Let me share that song with you. Here is the setting; Sofia confronts her friend Celie for telling Harpo (Sofia’s husband) that he needed to beat his wife if he wanted her to “mind” him.
Sofia: You told Harpo to beat me?!
Celie: I’m sorry.
Sofia: I loves Harpo. God knows I do. But I’ll kill him dead, 'fo I let him or anybody beat me!
Sofia begins singing:
All my life I had to fight!
I had to fight my daddy!
I had to fight my brothers, my cousins, my uncles too!
But I never, never, never, never, never, never thought I'd have to fight
In my own house!
I feel sorry for you to tell you the truth.
You remind me of my momma!
Under yo' husband's thumb, naw
You under yo' husband's foot!
What he say goes!
Why you so scared I'll never know.
But if a man raise his hand...Hell no!
Girl child ain’t safe in a family of mens!
Sick and tired how a woman still live like a slave.
Oh, you better learn how to fight back
While you still alive!
You show them, girl, and beat back that jive!
Cause when a man jus don’t give a damn...Hell no!
Celie: What you gon' do now?
Sofia: My sisters comin' to get me. I think I need a vacation on up and away from here.
Celie: But Harpo yo' husband. You got to stay wit' him. I know you love 'em
Sofia sings again:
When that man used to touch me
He'd climb on top and start to rock me away
Lord knows I still loves him
But he tried to make me mind
And I just ain’t that kind - hell no!
Celie: Sometimes my husband get on me so hard, he hurt me all over.
But he my husband. So I jus' talk to my ol' maker.
This life'll soon be over. Heaven last always!
Sofia: What you oughta do is bash Mister's head open and think on Heaven later.
You can’t stay here, girl! Calling out in a loud voice: Sisters!
Sofia’s sisters enter the stage from every direction, one with a shotgun, as they sing and shout:
Sister 1: Hell no!
Sister 2: Hell no!
Sister 3: Hell no!
Sister 4: Hell no!
Sister 5: Hell no!
Sister 6: Hell no!
Sister 7: Mmmm, hell no!
Sisters (together): Hell no! Lets go!
Sister 1: Gonna be yo’ rock! Gonna be yo' tree, yeah!
Sister 2: Something to hold on to in yo' time of need!
Sister 3: Well, you too good for that man!
Sisters: Man, that man!
(I'm gonna take yo' hand!)
Take my hand!
Sister, you got to go!
Sister 4: Don’t be no fool! Don’t waste your time!
Sister 5: Any man who hurts you ain’t worth a dime!
Sister 7: What he won’t know til yo' gone
Sisters: Til she gone!
(Throw him away!)
She be gone!
Sister, you got to go!
Sofia to Celie: Girl, you too good for that man!
Let me take you away!
(Sister!) Come on, go away!
(Sister!) Dont you wanna go away?
(Sister!) You gotta, you gotta leave today!
Sisters: Sister, you got to say!
Sofia: You got to say, you need to say, you better say, you oughta say!
Sofia: Hell, hell, hell, hell, hell, hell!
This song explores so many of the nuances that accompany domestic abuse. Celie is the complicit woman who accepts it as a norm in society. Sofia refuses to submit her life to abuse and even though she still loves her husband, she is leaves him. Sofia is a perfect example for how the women of Guyana can rid themselves of abusive men.
Sofia’s sisters did not – not even for one second - encourage her to stay with an abusive husband. They came to get her and was ready to fight for her safety if need be. They did not make it seem like it was her fault (something many women do to justify the abuse). Instead, they gave her the support she needed and surrounded her with love.
I completely agree with Sister 5 when she said, “Any man who hurts you ain’t worth a dime.” A woman would be far better off without any man at all than with a man who is beating her. All she needs is some support to help her transition into a good job and take care of herself and her kids.
This is song is a perfect portrayal of how I see the abuse ending for the women of Guyana. I see women of every ethnicity standing up for her abused sisters and, just like Sofia’s sisters, coming from every direction to say, “Hell, no!”
I see these women fighting back and refusing to be the complicit slave that can be taught “how to mind.” I see each woman becoming her own person and creating a life that is safe and personally rewarding – and then sharing that life with a caring (and non-violent) man.
Ladies, if the government will not protect you, then it is time for every one of you to band together and protect yourselves. It is time to take a stand against this scourge of violence against women. It is time to refuse to be a punching bag for some insecure man who feels he owns you and can do whatever he likes to you.
It is time for every woman in Guyana to hold hands and in unison yell to the top of your voices at every single abusive man, “HELL, NO!”