Wednesday, March 28, 2012

When women harm women

(Originally published in Guyana’s Stabroek News on 17 March 2012)

“There is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women.” So said Madeleine Albright, and I agree wholeheartedly. A friend sent this quote to me recently at the suggestion of another friend. These are both women who value their sisters and care deeply about the plight of women in Guyana.

On the other hand, I have seen some horrid behaviour from women toward other women. To say such behaviour is disconcerting is an understatement. I have even had many men bring this type of conduct to my attention – some thinking it funny or ironic and others finding it worrisome.

If there is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women, what kind of karmic reckoning awaits those women who wilfully harm other women?

It is bad enough that women are forced to live under the constant weight of male dominance, which is comprised of physical, mental and verbal abuse as well as an overarching financial jurisdiction, incessant sexual harassment, rape and an encompassing control over the lives of women (just to name a few).

Yet to have women resort to the very same behaviour – whether in deference or acceptance of the same patriarchal rule that oppresses them or because of some inner maliciousness – is the epitome of immorality. There are very few things I find as revolting as a woman who intentionally harms another woman.

Does Jennifer Webster have the courage to make a difference?

(Originally published in Guyana’s Stabroek News on 10 March 2012)

The new Minister of Human Services, Jennifer Webster, addressed the issue of violence against women and children this past week as the world recognised Women’s Day and Women’s History Month. As I always do with any news concerning women in Guyana, I posted the Stabroek News article on my Facebook page.

I highlighted a quote from the article for my Facebook friends to read, “Under the theme ‘Access to Justice for Women,’ some of the issues that were highlighted are the need for networking and the sharing of inter-sectoral information, jury duty, the need for counsellors in the judicial system, gender sensitivity, improved reporting procedures, investigations, and addressing victims/survivors’ needs.

“A Government Information Agency (GINA) report said the justice system was the focal point of discussions as it resonates in the society where cases of abuse, which are sometimes the result of injustice, are frequently featured in the daily newspapers and news broadcasts.”

If this is the focus of the new Human Services Minister, she is headed down the right track. The law-enforcement and judicial process has long been a deterrent in the reporting aspect rather than a help.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

I would’ve been burned at the stake

(Originally published in Guyana’s Stabroek News on 3 March 2012)

To call a woman a “strong woman” means different things to different people. To some it is a compliment about a woman who has the ability to weather the storms of life and love. To others, a strong woman is someone who walks with too much confidence and needs to be “put in her place.”

In this month, Women’s History Month, it is right and proper that we address long-lived misconceptions about strong women. The very reason there is need for a month dedicated to Women’s History on an international scale is because written human history has always just that – His Story. It is very seldom Her Story.

Without much history on the spectacular feats of women (when they were “allowed” to be spectacular), women are incessantly reduced to minor, supporting roles in historical context. Therefore, a strong woman is out of place in the light of recorded texts and a female with a confident stride must be arrogant.

Yet the strong woman is a misunderstood soul. I know this quite well because I am a strong woman. In my 30s I was being told that I walk with too much confidence, so I tried to slouch my shoulders, bow my head and walk more gently to conform to the meek and mild societal perception of how a woman should act.

That experiment ended quickly when I realized I am not, in fact, a woman who walks around gently with bowed head and slouched shoulders. It is not arrogance that feeds my confident stride; it is simply my personality. I know who I am and I am comfortable in my own skin, so why should I pretend to be something else?

Some think strong women are overbearing, but just because a woman is strong it does not mean she walks all over everyone around her. On the contrary, a strong woman needs little or no affirmation from others to know she is where she belongs.

The fear others have of strong women comes from the fact that women are expected to be weak. When women are meek and mild there is nothing to fear. Meek and mild translates to submissive and obedient. Social protocol has long insisted that as long as a woman submits and obeys, she is a good woman. Which means that if she is a strong woman with a confident stride and brain, that she uses on a regular basis, she is not a good woman.

Why on earth would a woman who is intelligent and capable feel the need to submit and obey anyone else in vital decisions concerning her own life? Would an intelligent and capable man ever willingly choose to do such a thing? Never. So why should a woman be expected to spend her life in droll acquiescence to please the egos of men she could run circles around intellectually and morally?

Oh my goddesses!

(Originally published in Guyana’s Stabroek News on 25 February 2012)

Lately, female deities have fascinated me. Having grown up as a woman in a Christian home, I sorely felt the lack of having a female deity. I did not even know what it was that was missing for a long time, but I did know that I did not identify with the male deity worshipped by Christians.

Further, I simply did not want to identify with that male deity. I studied scripture long and hard for decades trying to change my “rebellious” views, but in the end I could not embrace a male form of God. The aggressive behaviour (the systematic killing of any tribe that didn’t worship the God of the Jews), the condescending treatment of half of the world’s population (the female half) and the demand that only that male God must be worshipped.

However, I recently discovered Saraswati, the Hindu Goddess of knowledge, arts, music and science. This is one smart Goddess and this is a deity with whom I can identify and I have found that she inspires me more than any male deity ever did.

I know the very idea of me exploring female deities will rankle the ire of some of my Christian readers, but I ask that you to bear with me, friend.

You see, there are so very few female role models in the world and women need female role models.
There are male leaders everywhere – male Gods, male politicians, male business owners, male religious leaders, male everything.
There are so many male role models that women have felt they needed to emulate men to be successful because the only leaders women have had in front of them for thousands of years have been male.

But I do not want to be male-like at all. In fact, I find many male leaders to be the exact opposite of what I consider a good leader. So where does a young woman turn for a solid example of female leadership?

Are men animals without a moral compass?

(Originally published in Guyana’s Stabroek News on 18 February 2012)

I had an interesting conversation about women’s issues in Guyana with a community leader this past week. We shall call this gentleman Mr X. I was with friend at a reception for the sparkling new café at the Pegasus and we were making our rounds and talking with everyone when we came upon Mr X.

Mr X told me he was an avid reader of my column and that he feels my writings are much needed in society today. I thanked him and, as it often does, the conversation stayed on issues impacting women in Guyana. He assured my friend and I that he trained his boys to respect women and they would never treat women badly like some others in the nation.

However, the conversation took an unexpected twist when he declared that although women do not deserve to be beaten or raped, if a woman is wearing a short skirt or a tight top, then it is only natural for a man to want to have sex with that woman – the man simply cannot help himself.

My friend and I firmly stated that regardless of how a woman is dressed, no man has a right to touch her in any way without her permission. Mr X agreed – but, he said, a man has no control over what he does when he sees a woman dressed in such a way.

I asked Mr X if he considers men as mere animals with no control over their urges? In short, he does view them as such. I believe that men have brains with a capacity to reason. I argue that men know the difference between right and wrong; they have a moral compass. Yet, Mr X contended that men have no self-control when it comes to sex.