There was an advertising slogan, ‘You’ve come a long way, Baby!’, in the late 60s that reflected the rising empowerment of women. By the early 80s, a board including two men, inspired by Radhica Saith, ran the first local Halfway House for Battered Women.
Thirty years ago, this week, our country passed the Domestic Violence Act. However, amazingly, on its anniversary this year, the Express lead story ‘Unpleasurable Cruise’ tells of our reality: our women are still in the clutches of misogynistic men.
The Express story followed a Saturday 23 May Newsday story aptly headlined ‘Out of Order’, which reported that the vessel owner in his work environment mandated that women in his office either wear or have readily available high–heeled shoes in the event of a meeting.
Are we horrified by the Taliban’s behaviour towards women in Afghanistan but comfortable with brushing past this uncivilised cartoonish behaviour?
Separate from the outrageous acts of defiance reportedly being investigated, we should consider how we respond to these reports. We are witnessing a grotesque culture; this is not the case of just a few boys being boys.
The Express story informed that three heavily armed men on the boat were policemen from the same Legal Unit. The Newsday story reported that a police officer was transferred out of the Unit because he raised concerns about the powers wielded by the same boat owner/Unit head.
In the 80s, women wore power suits and padded shoulders as they entered the corporate world. Some are now more confident, and their dress code has morphed to a more relaxed look. Yet, we still see some women trying to please their male bosses by wearing bunion–inducing high heels and tight skirts.
Why are men still insisting that our women be held to a different standard?
Once a man wears a jacket and maybe a tie, he could be a slob, and nobody would care. Is enforcing a mandatory woman’s dress code really about business, or is it the policing and sexualising of women?
Are we reverting to the times when foot-binding practices were acceptable? Does the wearing of the heels switch on the brains of the lawyers? Do women have to litigate for every step of progress?
What is the value of this chauvinistic directive? Why must non-uniformed colleagues wear high heeled shoes or be disciplined?
According to Newsday, this discrimination is acceptable to the Police Association, which is only concerned about the police officers and not civilians who work alongside them. The boss could do whatever pleases him with those women.
Professional norms can easily slip into boorish, sexualised behaviour when the women are young professionals.
Hiring women and allowing the harassment to continue is no different from having pin-up models on the wall. This is akin to Trumpian ‘locker room culture’, which leads to ‘grabbing them by the pxxxy’!
It is difficult to recognise when women are mistreated in a sexist way in hierarchical environments since power shields the men from scrutiny and criticism, enabling them to do as they want. Such men are highly likely to exploit women.
In their world, power and sex are closely linked. When the perpetrator holds the keys to your professional future, it is hard to come forward or speak up. That power can lead to that predator misbehaving, lacking empathy and engaging in socially inappropriate behaviour.
To break this cycle, another higher up has to intervene. In the Express report, the young complainant was fortunate to have the telephone number of such a person.
Does ‘no’ revert to consent because the location is a pleasure craft? Why did the armed policemen not make the scared woman feel secure?
Did they not undergo sensitivity training from the newly minted Gender-Based Violence Unit of the TTPS? Or are they the same as their peers who face the courts for spousal abuse? Are our policemen undercover terrorists?
It appears that these men were ‘just’ following their leader, who brazenly defied the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard. The good thing? There is value in the Coastal and Riverine Police—they can stop fellow officers from misbehaving!
The ugly taken-for-granted sexism is still present in our everyday life. One hopes the women on the boat speak up, but the onus should not be on our women to fix the ugliness. Men should do the right thing.
Organisational leaders need to send a clear and consistent anti-harassment message via actions. This is where the rubber meets the road. In this case, the leader made no such statement.
Sadly, the road ahead is still long.