(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.
I told Mr X that it seems my friend and I have a better opinion of men than he does and he agreed. This conversation was very interesting to me because I grew up in the US, where sexual harassment gets a man fired, where rapists go to jail and where domestic violence has not been a social norm for a long time.
As a result, I know very well that men can control their “urges” with the right amount of social guidance (from family and society) and the surety of legal intervention should he step outside of the lawful boundaries when interacting with a woman – regardless of how she is dressed.
The very idea that a man cannot control his sexual impulses is not only repugnant, but it is reduces men to mere animals with no ability to reason, no sense of judgement and no moral compass. I know plenty of men in Guyana who would take issue with Mr X’s depiction of men. I take issue with his depiction of men.
To reduce men to uncontrollable animalistic tendencies by insisting they have no capacity to choose between right and wrong is to say the human race itself is in moral retrograde since both men and women have been able to decipher good and bad for thousands of years. It is what separates us from the rest of the animals on the planet.
I refuse to accept that because certain vicious men choose wrong actions over right ones, the rest of the men in the world are nothing more than dogs being driven by biology alone and no moral sense. Men do have a choice of right and wrong.
Rapists have a moral choice to make when an evil thought to violate a woman (or child) in the most intimate of ways comes to his mind. The wife-beater is presented with a moral choice when he wants to physically, mentally or verbally abuse a woman.
Even those who sexually harass women have a moral choice to make concerning whether they will reduce a woman to nothing more than a sex object or respect her as a human being with a mind and emotions.
It is incongruous for an intelligent male leader to tell me in one breath that he feels deeply about how horrible it is for women in Guyana today and in the next breath say men cannot help their sexual urges when a pretty woman in a short skirt is in front of them.
Which is it? Either men are a viable part of fixing the situation for women in Guyana and work together with the women to make a better nation for all – or society must continue to look the other way as women are raped, brutalised and murdered because men simply cannot help themselves.
It would seem Guyana’s men are yet again presented with a moral decision. Will they continue to pretend they cannot control themselves and that they have no choice but to rape, murder and be violent? Or will they finally step up and acknowledge that they have a major role to play in creating a just and humane nation where women are safe and equal?
In being presented with this moral decision, men should realise that women will be safe and equal even if men do not choose to join them on this just and right path. There is no longer a question about whether women should be equal – as there once was years ago. Likewise, there is no longer a question about whether women should submit to beatings and torture as society now rejects this barbarism. Women will be equal and they will be safe.
The next step in this process is crucial because should men continue to pretend they have no choice in their cruelty toward women, it could cause a severe breach in the social fabric of the human race. That breach is already quite evident as women are refusing to be the subject of men’s brutality any longer.
As women go along this path – as they get an education and become more independent – if men do not find a way to adjust to feminine equality and value it as the priceless jewel that it is instead of trying to beat, rape and murder women back into submission, I have a feeling women will simply leave men in their dust and this does not bode well for the future of the human race.