‘Haters gonna hate’ is the thought that comes to mind as the opportunistic warriors of both political parties spar over the Darryl Smith sex scandal.
They do not spend a moment to ensure that our women are protected and to voice disgust at the cavalier use of the continued suffering of Ms Carrie-Ann Moreau, the current face of violence against women. They are more concerned about winning a fleeting political battle instead of caring sustainably for half of the population.
Influential people have real potential to wreak lifelong havoc on women. The act of sexual harassment does not end with the offending event(s) but continues to devastate and hollow out the ‘walking dead’. The offending men bounce back quickly even as the damaged women disappear into the darkness.
MP Smith was present and smiling with his leader at the opening of the Diego Martin walkover, and former MP Glenn Ramadharsingh has been rehabilitated and given a chairmanship in his leader’s constituency. Woman is not boss!
Sexual harassment is on the continuum of men’s violence against women as a cause and consequence of gender inequality. It is more than just a sexual incident, but it is putting women ‘in their place’. We have not really moved away from the girlie calendars that adorned walls as we persist in rejecting progress.
Men continue to suggest that their action was simply an innocent complimentary remark, it is not. It is uniquely gendered. Why do men not tell their male peers how good their private parts look in their pants? Why not describe how their lips look? But it seldom ends with the unwanted and offensive remarks.
Men perceive themselves as hunters, needing to capture the women at any cost. They are narcissistic and cannot believe that a woman can resist their charms. The only ones who will resist are lesbians and other nonentities who are so horrible-looking that the script then gets revised to deny that such a woman could ever be worthy of their attention. They carry an invisible record that categorises each woman’s suitability to bed.
Scandals do not appear out of nowhere; somebody chooses not to speak up. Everybody knows who is the sleazy creep in each company. There is no single profile of the sexual harasser, except it is someone obsessed with power. But somebody chooses to curry favour with the offender rather than to protect the company or the country. The operating environment nurtures the offence.
Sadly, in this specific case, facilitating women, at several levels, benefitted in different ways from turning a blind eye to the minister’s behaviour. In other cases, the men surround the predator with multiple excuses even as he ‘picks off’ the lonely and the vulnerable.
Because of the lack of an enabling network and against a powerful male cabal, Ms Moreau, with inferior advice, did not get the compensation she deserved for the lonely pain she suffered. The target of unwanted attention is never to be believed. Indeed, she is brutalised again and again by those who would blame her for the incidents. The silence of sexual harassment pains and scars.
As the three-woman investigating committee found out, to their chagrin, at the end no woman is immune; you can be thrown under the bus. Man bestows, man takes away. This is not the first time. Remember the Mahabir-Wyatt committee at Angostura? Wordlessly, they were shunted into the wings while the men ‘fixed’ the problem. Even the powerful SWWTU did not make a difference. It can always be said that you were incompetent. Matter closed.
The lesson? You, as a woman, are dispensable, not an equal. Make the coffee and look pretty. It matters not that you are an executive; you remain a second-class associate.
All men benefit from being a man. Their access to power, privilege and scarce resources is enhanced by their biological identity, despite the scientific facts that there are no gender differences in intelligence, ability or thinking capacity. Men protect their rights, both as individuals and in groups, as they preserve and extend their control over women. Men seldom confront men but usually make excuses while they try through humour to induce compliance.
Women need to recognise this behavioural pattern and stand with each other and against bigotry. Few men would seek your interests in front of other men with no benefit accruing to them. Women must stand united. Elma Francois and Jacqueline Creft are exemplars. Neither were man-haters. One does not have to hate a man to stand up for what is right. Rights are not gender-sensitive but are due to all.
Laws are necessary but not sufficient. If they were, then spousal murders would have been history since our proclamation of the Domestic Violence Act and the issuance of restraining orders.
Our country is a signatory to the Beijing Declaration, and a third of our MPs are women. We have a sexual harassment policy and a minister in the Office of the Prime Minister responsible for gender affairs. But the problem persists.
What we lack is institutional will to confront malefactions. Men need to stand up to other men. Women need to stop facilitating offenders. It is a long hard battle, but it is winnable.