On the eve of the 2007 general elections, Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar quoted the famous Marley lyrics ‘no woman, no cry’ as she dug in against the treatment from the men in her party.
When she later won the internal elections and appointed Jack Warner as Chief Whip, Roodal Moonilal and Ramesh Maharaj objected bitterly. Mr Warner then parachuted Natasha Navas into the Chaguanas mayoral seat—ostensibly to side-line Mr Suruj Rambachan—but she rose and fell so precipitously that the concerns and objections of Mr Orlando Nagassar about her residential qualification did not matter.
Now comes Vandana Mohit, the newly appointed Chaguanas Mayor, and she is immediately bullied by persons unknown.
Because Trinidad is a nice place, Mr Faris Al Rawi chimes in to support Ms Mohit as though he missed the recent clear rebuke of Ms Foulade Mutota. Or maybe, he believes that there is truth in Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s affirmation that there is ‘nobody in my Cabinet that is guilty of misogyny’. Women remain dispensable tools in politics and our country.
The male mindset is often that women should stay at home and actions are taken to remind them that they are not fully wanted. In this, the disrespectful Naipaulian quip that women who wear bindis (the red dot on their forehead) signify that their heads are empty is apt.
Unfortunately, many men still think this way. Publishing stories about believing the survivors of gender discrimination but not addressing the root cause of toxic masculinity will not change things.
Professional women run the gauntlet of threats, negative comments and rumours. The aim? To undermine their work, portraying them as being unqualified and without scruples.
It is more than the unauthorised sharing of nude pictures, they do that to demonstrate their silly conception of male power as they seek to fulfil the need to dominate women. These reputational attacks are essentially bullying, in which a woman’s history—real or imagined—is used to harass her.
Interestingly, the word ‘slut’, the disparaging word used to characterise women, originated in Middle English and at the time meant ‘dirty’ in the context of personal hygiene and housekeeping. There were no sexual connotations. But Eighteenth-century Americans applied it to ‘women who were perceived to be not in their private space, not in a parlor with other women, not being escorted by their husbands walking down the street, not at church with their families’.
Women who were alone in public were perceived to be prostitutes. Edmondson (2003) speaks, in the Caribbean context, to the confining of public spaces to men and the sexualising of women who dared to enter the public arena without the protection of a man. Women who do not conform are vilified.
Gabby Hosein (2012) helpfully discusses the particular plight of the East Indian woman—a discourse worth visiting in the context of both Navas and Mohit.
These attacks are only effective because adult men are still squeamish and judgmental about women’s sexuality. They revel in hypocrisy. They declare its appropriateness at Carnival, they want the women to be as bare as possible and to be raunchy and to be a ‘Wining Queen’.
But God forbid, should the same women dare to declare their independence. It would be viciously shut down. Men are celebrated for their sexual exploits, but women are humiliated for theirs.
The Millennials’ relationship with digital culture is tricky to comprehend. Taking selfies and consensual erotic photographs are a new norm. Precisely because of their youth, they may not consider the implications about the permeance of those images. Before we condemn, let us be thankful the technology was not present in our young days and recall our own indiscretions.
A study, based on 1,000 university students, showed that women were more likely to take these pictures to keep their partner interested but also as a form of self-empowerment (Johnstonbaugh, 2019). It is a conflicted part of modern dating. Half of all young people exchange explicit messages voluntarily (Data and Society, 2012).
If as some commentators have said, Ms Mohit should not be a Mayor because of the photos, are we prepared to disqualify half of our young people from leadership? Why do we accept the male politicians who cheat on their wives and pretend as though they are paragons of virtue?
The double standards persist and now worsen because older people do not like photographic evidence of their misdeeds, but young people do what they do unapologetically.
Taking such consensual photographs is not a crime, even if we think it unwise. The intent is not to share with the world but with a chosen one. The man, who shares them beyond the expected boundaries, is an exploiter.
He violates trust, making public an intimate moment without consent for the purpose of denuding the woman, who loved and trusted him, of her honour. He terrorises the woman and objectifies her to like-minded men.
Women, under 30 years, are 10 times more likely than their male peers to be threatened by the possibility of non-consensual public image sharing. Why? Because of the male toxicity that is being passed down to the new generation of boys.
Our discussion should focus on how we treat with such deviant despicable men. They are traitors and perpetrators of violence. How do we trust men who actively seek to destroy a woman that trusted them? That is a step too far. This is not about Ms Mohit.
She should do as Marley sang, ‘observing the hypocrites… mingle with the good people we meet’.