Sunday, March 25, 2007

Stella Says…Is it unrealistic to expect purity until marriage?

by Stella Ramsaroop

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 25 March 2007)

There is a new phenomenon in the US that is very disturbing. In fact, this new development even has the Arabic news station Al Jazeera scratching its head since the US is suppose to be a leader in gender equality. I am talking about the latest trend called Purity Balls.

A Purity Ball has all the ingredients of any nicely prepared formal ball. There are flowing gowns and black tuxes, practiced dancing to lively music and white candles sparkling throughout the ballroom. This is all very lovely.

Those attending a Purity Ball are young women with their fathers as their dates, and as they swirl about on the dance floor, it is no doubt a sight that would warm even the coldest of hearts. At first glance, it would appear that this event is simply an opportunity for dads to have some quality time with their little girls and perhaps get to know them a little better.

However, it is what happens toward the end of the event that causes me to lose that warm fuzzy feeling. At a predetermined time, each one of the girls reads to her father from a printed card that was placed on the table in front of her seat, at which time she promises her father that she will remain pure by abstaining from sex until she is married. The ages of these girls range from as young as 11 all the way into their twenties.

I have no problem with teaching abstinence to our children as a way to avert them from the pressures and dangers of a sexually active life until they are ready to assume the responsibilities that accompany such a weighty decision.

However, practically speaking, we all know that young men and women will explore those feelings and urges developing at an alarming rate during puberty. It is a natural and biologically driven desire that pushes teens to want to see what their quickly developing bodies can do.

Case in point, 88 percent of those who pledge abstinence at these Purity Balls wind up breaking their pledge and having sex before marriage, according to a study by Peter Bearman, the Chair of Columbia University's Department of Sociology, and Hannah Bruckner of Yale.

I too have quite a few issues with these Purity Balls. Firstly, why are there no such balls for the boys? It is so hypocritical and highly unrealistic to expect the young women to remain chaste if the young men are not expected to do the same. This is a perfect example of the double standard set by society for women.

Secondly, this pledge of purity further perpetuates an unhealthy relationship between parents and children concerning sex. When a young woman takes this oath of purity, but changes her mind and decides to have sex, she will feel completely reticent about speaking to her parents about her decision.

Thirdly, while young men are seldom taught sexual restraint during their formative years, young women are taught to feel guilty for their sexual explorations. A broken promise to their father adds additional guilt to a natural experience. Meanwhile, neither the girls nor the guys are being taught how to act responsibly with their sexuality.

Lastly, it seems to me that these Purity Balls, where the girl pledges her purity to her father until she is married and belongs to another man, are simply a contemporary nod to the old patriarchal system that encourages the ideology that men are somehow the ones who decide what is best for a woman.

This sends the wrong message to our daughters when we are trying to teach them to be independent, freethinkers who thrive in today’s world and who can get along fine with or without a man by her side. Every woman should be the master of her own body and the decision about whether to have sex or not should be hers alone – hopefully after her parents have educated her on the weight of such a decision and responsible sexual conduct.

Let’s talk about reality for a minute and leave aside our archaic notions of pre-marital sexual activity. In reality, every single day thousands of teenage girls (and boys) are having sex in Guyana, the US and every other country in the world. To expect an oath of abstinence until marriage from a young woman is as unreasonable as expecting it from a young man.

However, it is not the sexually active young man who gets tagged with unflattering labels. This is another social double standard. With whom do right-thinking parents think these young men are having sex? They are having sex with the young women, of course. The sooner we realise that our teens are having sex, and lots of it, the soon we can start acting like conscientious parents.

As such, would it not be more practical to teach these youngsters about responsible sexual conduct instead of placing unreasonable expectations on them that create feelings of failure and guilt about an action that is biologically natural?

Would it not be socially proper to create an atmosphere at home that is open for teens to talk to their parents about their sexuality instead of leaving their children to explore such an important part of their life as a trial and error experience?

We can be such prudes sometimes with our own sexuality that we shy away from the important task of educating our teens about sex. In the meantime, they are learning about it on the street – the worst place ever. The street does not teach our girls about sexually contracted diseases, what steps to take to prevent pregnancy or how to fend off an unwanted sexual advance.

We do not need a new trend that unrealistically insists on purity until marriage, we need to live in reality and teach our daughters – and our sons – about responsible sexual conduct. If we keep our heads in the clouds and believe teens will remain pure until they are married, we do them and society a terrible injustice.

Email: StellaSays[at]

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Stella Says…The mistress role hurts the women’s movement

by Stella Ramsaroop

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 18 March 2007)

When I talk about issues that effect women, 99 percent of the time my focus is rightly on how the current patriarchal system has twisted reality to the point that both men and women often mistakenly believe that females are less valuable to society than males.

However, in today’s column I want to touch on an issue that is very harmful to women worldwide and that - although it is still a by-product of patriarchal rule - is perpetuated by women. I am speaking of women who willingly chose to enter into a relationship with a married man even when she knows he has a wife and family.

The mistress role is one of the most degrading relationships in which a woman can choose to become involved, yet every day millions of women do it willingly and in the process hurt the cause of women severely.

The mistress role is the perfect example of a woman being used for sex - and very little more. Those sold into slavery for sex have no choice in their situation at all and prostitutes are often just trying to make some sort of money to live. Contrarily, a mistress allows herself to be used for sex even when she knows she will gain nothing in return but hurt and heartache.

In the meantime, while she is allowing some man to use her for sex, the cheating husband has a wife at home who most times knows full well about the affair and must decide on whether to confront her husband and kick his sorry ass out or keep her mouth shut because she cannot bear the idea of trying to raise their children on her own.

There are many reasons why a woman might decide to allow herself to become a mistress, but low self-esteem is at the crux of every reason because she likes it when he makes it seem that he has chosen her over his wife, even when this is not truly the case. This makes her feel as if she is better than another woman.

Additionally, the mistress might hope for money or gifts in return for her silence. She might want power if the man even has any power to offer. Or there might just be a real connection between the two people, or a sex appeal, or she might even love the man.

Quite frankly, not one of these reasons I have listed, or any others that someone else might think up, are good enough to break a family apart. None of these reasons provide any would-be mistress with the justification to move in on another woman’s husband or to respond to that husband’s advances toward her.

I am not going to cite religious verses about sex outside of marriage because they are just control methods from the patriarchal system to make women feel guilty for having sex. However, speaking purely from a social standpoint, marital trysts cause too many women to face single parenthood, which hurts the children and contributes to poverty (single mothers make up the majority of the poor in the world)

When a man and a woman get married and have children, they have made a vow to each other that should be honoured. If either person does not feel he or she can adhere to that vow, then the problem is easily solved – just do not get married in the first place.

A single person, male or female, can have responsible sex with whom ever they please without hurting anyone else. A marital affair hurts so many people and has a negative impact on society at large.

Worst of all, the mistress has positioned herself in a very degrading role and has betrayed her own gender – specifically, a fellow sister who is trying to do right by society and raise her children in a family setting with a mother and a father. Every single mistress needs to ponder the fact that she too may one day be a married mother who wants the father around to raise her children.

Of course, there is always the mistress who naively believes her lover will leave his wife and family for her one day. Sweetheart, you are being used in so many ways already, please do not let your heart overrule your common sense, too.

Even if he does leave his wife, is that the type of man with whom you want to have children? Do you really want to be with someone who balks at his responsibilities as a father and husband and takes up with the next young, pretty face to come along? I can assure you, he will do it to you too when you start expecting him to act like a father and a husband.

I believe every cheating husband has one thing in common, he would rather find a fresh new face that is naïve about relationships and use that girl for sex and intimacy before trying to work through a tough marriage relationship (which is probably tough because the man never knew how to develop and foster a truly caring relationship in the first place).

Women have enough to deal with in society – inequality, sexual harassment in the workplace, physical and mental abuse and social marginalisation – thanks to thousands of years of male rule. The last thing we need is a woman hurting another woman.

Women need to stand together to make the world a better place for ourselves and our daughters. If we cannot trust the men to do right by us, we should at least be able to expect women to do right by each other.

When women finally start coming together instead of hurting each other and pushing each other away, that is when we will be able to change the present course of history and form a whole new way of life for all women worldwide.

Keep this column in mind, Ms. Mistress, next time he comes knocking on your door. You are not creating a future for yourself when you are rolling around in that bed. You are actually destroying your future and the futures of so many other women and children.

Email: StellaSays[at]

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Stella Says…I have a few questions for Poised and Proper Priya

by Stella Ramsaroop

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 11 March 2007)

During my sabbatical, I received an email to which I will now attempt to reply. However, I will admit from the start that I do not have all of the necessary resources to fully provide the type of response this email deserves, but I will do my best.

The email was from a Guyanese woman who asked many questions of me in just four short paragraphs. She wanted to know if I could tell her what Guyana’s Constitution had to say about the rights women. In particular, she wanted to know about the rights of the married Muslim woman.

I am going to share a large portion of that email with you because it is so powerful. However, I will not give this ladies name because I fear for her safety – as she obviously does as well. You will soon understand why.

She said, “I ask myself everyday how the people can life like this. Why the government of Guyana no do anything for all the Guyanese woman everyday suffering abuse for her husband etc. I ask my self everyday PPP control Guyana for more and 5 years and until now them can no do anything.”

This precious woman wanted to know why the police seem to lose evidence when it is time to present it to the lawyer after a woman is raped or a family member is murdered.

She continued, “I have another cuestion why in this XXi century the parents can choice husband for her daughter.” And toward the end of the email, the woman said, “Really I have plenty cuestion in my head and until now I no get answer.”

This poor woman’s email broke my heart. She is obviously very smart. She knows it is wrong for a husband to beat his wife. She knows she should expect more from her government and her law enforcement officials.

She knows that every woman should be able to choose her own husband. She has so many questions and so few answers. I would bet my last dollar that there are many women in Guyana who share this woman’s frustration.

First of all, my friend, let me say that from what I know of Guyana’s Constitution, it does not afford any less rights to the women of the nation than it does the men. However, precious sister, your problems are to be found elsewhere. The source of your problems can be found in the laws (or the lack thereof), the enforcement of those laws and in the social and religious traditions that are so ingrained into society.

You were right to pin the guilt of the plight of Guyanese women on the government. Complacency and bureaucracy is the rule of the day with the PPP when it comes to protecting the women.

You were also very wise to blame the law enforcement officials for their part, too. No matter how many laws the government does actually instituted for the protection of women, it matters not if the police treat an abuse or rape victim with contempt.

Moreover, patriarchal religions and social traditions further propagate the subjection and objectification of women. This is why a man feels he has the right to choose his daughter’s husband, because he sees her as his property until he decides to give her to another man, at which time she becomes that man’s property.

The women of Guyana have so much working against them. They have a government that cares too little about their plight, a law enforcement system that treats them as badly as their abusive husbands and a system of social and religious traditions that shackle these women to an unbearable life.

This is my clumsy answer to your questions, dear friend. It is simply an academic response from someone who has studied this topic and answered these questions over and over. However, if you are looking for a real answer to your questions, then I would like to suggest that you pose these questions to someone who can help you to find some tangible resolutions – the Poised and Proper Priya Manickchand.

In her position as the Minister of Human Services and Social Security, Poised and Proper Priya wields the power to help you and the rest of Guyana’s women. In fact, I will do one better. I will get the ball rolling – to help cut out all of that damn red tape the PPP seems to love – and present these questions to her for you.

Priya, dear, how are you doing? I wonder if you could be a peach and help me with a situation I have. You see, I have a friend who has asked me some questions that I think you are far better equipped to answer. My friend (and probably several thousand more Guyanese women) would like to know why a Guyanese husband can abuse his wife everyday and get away with it.

She wants to know why the police seem to lose evidence from rape and murder cases. She would also like to know why a father can still chose his daughter’s husband. My friend feels that the PPP has been in power long enough to have this situation under control and just wants some help to form a better life.

Of course, I could ask a million more questions of you on this topic, dear Priya, but I think my friend’s questions are the perfect start. She mentioned in her email, “I want help all this woman. I wish you can do something for all this people, principal muslim woman.”

I know full well what is required of me from my friend – and this column is just the beginning of the fulfilment of my responsibility on this matter. Do you know what is required of you Priya? What will you do to fulfil your responsibility to this woman? You can start by answering her questions. Be assured that we will both be anxiously awaiting your response.

Let me say one more thing to my dear friend. Dear woman, you need to put that fiery spirit and that obvious intelligence to work and start gathering your women friends together to start a grassroots effort to change the status of women in Guyana.

Surely, you do not think the men are going to lift a finger to help women in this regard. If that were going to happen, it would have happened hundreds of years ago.

Email: StellaSays[at]

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Stella Says…Here is the real definition of a godly woman

by Stella Ramsaroop

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 04 March 2007)

Since I grew up in a very conservative Christian home, I know how Christianity would define a godly woman. She would submit to her husband, she would meekly obey her husband and she would take care of the kids and the house without complaint. That is what this sub-culture demands.

I am a spiritual woman who struggled with wrapping my mind around the injustices meted out to women based on our holy books. It is bad enough that little girls must hear how evil they are because Eve supposedly ate an apple long ago in a far away place, but it is even worse when normal biological occurrences, like painful labor during birth, is attributed to the “curse” of being a woman.

However, if you ask me, that interpretation of a godly woman is dated and sexist. Therefore, I think it is high time to revise that definition of a godly woman and to make it something that is far more gender equitable.

In the spirit of the new rise of gender equality that is spreading around the world through the UN’s new efforts to help women gain ground in politics, business and education, it can be easily concluded that before any of these other areas experience real change, the first area that must change is religion.

So how would I define a godly woman in the 21st century? First of all, we must explain that, for this article, being “godly” is the act of pleasing our creator. A godly woman is a spiritual person seeking to act in accordance to what her God would require of her.

I do not believe for one second that God would create one person for sole purpose of serving another person. There is no way such an enlightened being’s mind would function like a common human seeking power over others. This being would already have all power. There would be no reason whatsoever to establish one half of creation as superior to the other half – as our current holy books have decreed.

As such, surely the true creator of this world would not require women to degrade and restrict themselves by submitting to such debasing teachings, which are still practiced in the 21st century.

It seems to me that our creator would want both men and women to reach as far as possible intellectually in a joint effort to accomplish the utmost for mankind. Even a mere human such as myself can see the futility in creating something just to stifle that creation’s potential. Surely God is far wiser than I am.

Surely the creator expects both male and female to function at full capacity at all times and to work together without regard to gender by acknowledging the separate strengths of each gender. Indeed, our creator could not expect anything less.

With this in mind, a godly woman would be educated as much as possible, operating at optimum capacity without any social or political restraints to hold her back and would never, never, never submit her will to a man just because he requires it of her.

A godly woman would expect her spouse to equally share household chores if she chose to work outside of the house. She would make sure to help with those chores if she chose to work fulltime outside of the home and the man was the primary caregiver for the children. Likewise, she would require the same in a reversed role.

A godly woman would be quick to speak against sexism and she would never tolerate a man who abused her or her children physically, sexually, emotionally or mentally.

Of course, a godly woman would also gladly help others when it is within her power. She would freely dole out a shrewd mix of compassion and wise counsel.

A godly woman would accomplish as much as she wanted, she would reach as far as she could reach and she would never feel guilty for being successful and intelligent. She owns her own properties, runs her own businesses and manages her own finances if she so chooses.

What is a godly woman? She is the quick-thinking lady who does not shy away from telling fundamentalists that she is her own woman and she refuses to succumb to the dated and sexist teachings.

Surely, this is what our creator really expects of women. In fact, this has to be what our creator expected all along. Anything less would be a sin.

Email: StellaSays[at]