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The problem with ‘choosing your men wisely’ in T&T’s cutass, misogynistic, mentally ill culture

“[…] Our pre-colonial ancestors never beat our children. You are not supposed to use violence against those weaker than you. 

“We learned that crap from our enslavers and colonial masters, with their bullying, might is right culture. Ever since, we have been rearing bullies and their victims. 

“We teach so many women from young that it is okay to be physically abused by someone who says they are only doing it for their own good—because, ‘I love you darling so much!’—that they learned love comes with abuse…”

Photo: A scene from acclaimed movie ’12 Years A Slave’.

DISCLAIMER: This article focuses specifically on one kind of domestic violence; the kind in heterosexual relationships that results in our high rates of femicide. 

This article isolates this specific dynamic for deeper exploration of how Trinbagonian women are raised to select men. However, it was not written without an active awareness that domestic abuse victims come from all sexes, gender identities and sexual orientations. 

This article is not meant to paint a picture that domestic violence only happens in heterosexual relationships. This article does not postulate that only men can be perpetrators or that men are never victims of domestic violence at the hands of women or other men. 

When there are articles on male victims of abuse or injustice I honour that space, I listen, show solidarity, and call out toxic feminine behaviours.

Therefore, I request the same of all reading this. Deflection, defensiveness are all conversation enders and attempts to silence.

Photo: A woman marches to highlight gender-based violence.
(via Amnesty International)

In February of 2017, after a spate of domestic abuse headlines, stalking incidents, assaults, and killings of women who simply wanted out of their unhappy and/or unhealthy relationships with Trinbagonian men, the public outcry reached our Prime Minister, The Honourable Dr Keith Rowley. 

His response: “I am not in your bedroom, I am not in your choice of men.” He then admonished the women of Trinidad and Tobago to ‘choose your men wisely!’ 

Domestic and intimate partner violence accounts for more than one-third of violent crimes committed in Trinidad and Tobago. Many persons who work integrally with abuse victims and possess training in psychology were dismayed, though not surprised, by the lack of empathy and intelligence in his answer. 

Some of you reading this may be scratching your heads as to why so many felt the PM’s response lacked empathy and intelligence. After all, at the very rudimentary level, the PM’s retort is a correct pragmatic answer.

But that is only if taken in isolationfrom how dire things are and always have been in this country when it comes to male-female relationships and people’s mental health and emotional attachment behaviours. 

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and wife, Sharon, at the 2019 Independence Day celebrations.
(via Office of the Prime Minister)

His answer assumes that Trinbagonian women were raised in a culture that breeds in them the capacity to recognise deeply toxic people and prioritise their own self-preservation. If it truly was a matter of simple choice, ideally, no woman would ever choose to marry a man who flies off the handle and maims them for serving patchoi for dinner. 

Those on the frontlines of gender-relations in our culture are aware of the subversion of wisdom in women and men to the absurdities promoted in pop culture, religion and tradition. If you ever doubt this, just look at the comment section of any news report on a woman being killed or maimed or raped. 

Activists working within the sphere DV and GBV are aware of Stockholm Syndrome and the impacts of skilled manipulators. They know women are making decisions based on shame and fear, not rationality and logic—because girls in this country are reared and groomed to be anything but wise.

But are now being asked to…

‘Choose wisely’.

Photo: Reshma Kanchan, 25, was hacked to death on 29 September 2020.
Police arrested her former husband.

The Prime Minister seems unaware that we are a nation which has been observed by more than one psychologist to have one of the highest numbers of civilian PTSD, undiagnosed personality disorders, attachment disorders, untreated addictions and emotional damage from generational trauma. I wonder if he read this report on the state of mental health in our country, done by his own Administration.

From the highest offices of the land to the lowliest gutters and back alleys, we are awash with addicts, narcissists, sociopaths, psychopaths, borderline personality and depressive disorders. 

Even greater is the cross-section of people who, though not diagnosable for any disorders in the DSM, have deep emotional attachment issues and/or extremely low emotional intelligence (EQ) due to childhoods that stripped them of their empathy and trained them, Pavlov-style like brutish beasts, to respond only to authoritarianism:

‘Might is right’, ‘do as I say (not necessarily as I do)’, and be overly embarrassed and fearful of shame and the ‘how it go look?’ backlash. 

Yet our women are being asked to… choose wisely.

Photo: A victim of domestic abuse.

Ours is also a misogynistic culture. You only have to look at the hostility received by David Samuel, an Indo-Trini academic who bravely tried to start a conversation on 29 March—a few weeks before this murder suicide tragedy—about how Indian women are treated within the traditional Hindu community in Trinidad. 

The fact is that girls typically do not get inheritance when there are boy children, even if they slaved away helping to build the family business. Divorce is not recognised under traditional Hindu rites and is a source of great shame and stigma for any Indian woman who seeks it. 

There is a horrible, near incestuous relationship certain Indian mothers-in-law have with their sons whom they often join in abusing their daughters-in-law. There is a lack of support for Indian women wanting safety from their abusive marriages. While modern, educated, independent Indo-Trini women applauded Mr Samuel for raising it, the majority of Indo-Trini men on his thread were livid.

Let us also not forget which party opposed ending child marriage in our country, even though the Hindu women of that party wanted to end it.

Photo: Child marriage is alive and well in Yemen.

So, even when they have strength in numbers, are organised, mobilised and have international law on their side, our Indian women in Trinidad and Tobago are faced with what seems to be insurmountable misogyny within their community.

It never dawns on these men that increasing numbers of tertiary educated, travelled, economically independent Indian women are choosing to not marry Indian men because they do not want the life their mothers and aunties had.

This was something I pointed out when I responded to a 25 January Sunday Guardian article by Anand Ramlogan, which lamented the fact that Indo-Trini women were rejecting Indian men and traditional Hindu matrimonial expectations. 

Rather than revolutionise their culture, they increase the stigma on unmarried Indian women. In this backlash, we are asking women to…

Choose wisely. 

Photo: Amar Deobarran (right) murdered his estranged wife, Omatie, before killing himself on 1 April 2022.

Before anyone accuses me of picking on the ‘Ganges’ out of some imagined racism, just know my gloves are doubly off for the ‘Nile’. Don’t even get me started on the Trinis who follow any Biblicist-cult denomination out of the USA. 

I grew up in an Evangelical cult where sisters in the congregation who were victims of rape and even children who were molested had to prove to the elders (all male, of course!) that they had sufficiently resisted and fought the attack or they would be accused of fornication and disfellowshipped. 

Many churches do not recognise divorce even for domestic violence and women are routinely advised to return to their abusive husbands once the abuser did performative repentance to the clergy’s satisfaction—even though they are not the ones who have to live with the abuser day in and day out. 

Saving the marriage is more important than saving the woman’s health and life. Women who refuse to comply with clergy rulings on their marriage can end up losing their entire religious community and being branded in every which way.

Photo: One of the most overlooked feminist films of the 21st Century, Chocolat, portrays an abuse victim Josephine (Lena Olin) who has zero allies in the church as The Count’s (Alfred Molina) only mission is to reunite her with her abusive husband for the sake of show and sanctimony.
The film is set in the 1950s but this kind of nonsense still happens right now in the 21st Century.

Selected passages on submission—written by a celibate, marriage-averse, ascetic Jewish scribe, Paul, who never married and was addressing congregations in the 1st Century in a Greco-Roman culture, where women had next to no rights, were almost always illiterate and completely under male guardianship—are quote-mined and force-fitted to 21st Century women. 

Meanwhile, his other verses telling husbands to love and sacrifice for their wives and never hurt them are mentioned far less often. 

In this unwise application of scripture, we want women to…

Choose wisely.

We have subsumed toxic mentalities and resulting toxic behaviours into our culture and justify them with outmoded traditions and misapplied scripture.

Image: Domestic violence continues to persist within families across the globe.

We have people thinking the ‘rod’ in Proverbs is a literal big stick to beat a child with. Any Hebrew scholar will tell you the ‘rod’ in the poetic Davidian-Solomon texts, is a metaphorical one: 

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me’ — Psalms 23 

In the Davidian-Solomon, poetic texts, the shepherd’s rod is a metaphor for divine wisdom, protection and leadership. It makes the sheep feel safe and comforted. 

It is very obvious the rod of discipline is not a literal rod because there is a verse saying, ‘… if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die’. 

Being beaten with a literal rod can and does kill. According to the National Library of Medicine, corporal punishment kills around 100 children per year. 

Photo: Earlier this week, Alliyah Alexander, 15, was killed by a close relative entrusted with the responsibility of ‘disciplining’ her.
(via Trinidad Express)

A shepherd’s rod is used to guide (not hit) the sheep. As a wise shepherd is to his/her sheep, so should a parent be to his/her child.  

Our ancestral West African culture would concur. Our pre-colonial ancestors never beat our children. You are not supposed to use violence against those weaker than you. 

We learned that crap from our enslavers and colonial masters, with their bullying, might is right culture. Ever since, we have been rearing bullies and their victims. 

We teach so many women from young that it is okay to be physically abused by someone who says they are only doing it for their own good—because, ‘I love you, darling, so much!’—that they learned love comes with abuse. 

They then have to select from men raised with abuse. But we want women to…

Choose wisely.

Photo: A scene depicting the relationship between abuser and victim.
(Copyright Buzz-Caribbean)

Their Trinbagonian bullies who are not very bright and/or not socially savvy enough to be likeable and/or are from the wrong side of the class divide where bribery and connections work to smooth over and silence or inherited a very imperfect golden ratio and no sporting or musical talents have a higher chance of being punished and de-fanged.  

It is the high functioning, talented, successful, class-privileged, well-liked, attractive and respectable bullies we need to worry about.

They are smart enough to identify their prey, triangulate (manipulate allies to better isolate a victim), love-bomb and groom their victims into accepting the abuse. They ensure to only abuse those under their roof and/or under their control while treating everyone else so splendidly, everyone vouches for them and nobody speaks up.  

It is easy to gaslight their victims. If they ever slip up and reveal themselves, they are protected by several layers of political, social and economic privilege.

(The vital importance of women speaking among themselves, as in the above clip from Game of Thrones, and sharing the truth about men who have a lot of power and protection but are in fact monsters cannot be overstated. Mothers need to snitch on their terrible sons. This does not happen nearly enough. Our culture protects these men, covers for them, even promotes them.)

We have raised women in a culture that has a fixation on the superficial trappings of success, decorum and popularity, so any man deemed ‘respectable’ by colleagues, community and family is one women will trample over each other to snag as a husband. 

They believe with all their heart that they are choosing wisely. Nobody will help them even if they know they are picking a secret Joffrey Baratheon. 

Many mothers will sit back and watch women choose their monstrous sons and never warn them. But we want women to…

Choose wisely.

Photo: Abusive King Joffrey Baratheon (right) his mother Cersei Lannister (centre) and his fiancée Sansa Stark in a scene in Game of Thrones.

So many girls are raised to believe that it is a man—not her academic/athletic/artistic talents, not her entrepreneurship, not her extended communal group/family—that is the key to gaining respect, a name for herself and economic security. 

In a country where girls are raised to be strangers to their own bodies, betrayers of their own mind, hobbled and incapable of self-sufficiency…

In a culture where people expect girls to go from naïve, innocent virgins directly into marriage without seeing what is what both outside and inside themselves…

In a culture where a woman is a vicious, ungrateful bitch and punished if she dares break off an engagement or changes her mind because of a red flag or even incompatibility she cannot ignore—especially after he ‘invested’ money—we want women to…

Choose wisely.

Photo: A demonstration against gender-based violence.
(Copyright Getty)

We have a culture of desperation and catfighting and suspicion of unmarried women and casting them out of the sisterhood (especially if they are sexy) because insecure married women see them as a threat unless they too become a man’s property.

But we want women to…

Choose wisely.

Okay then! Despite our women not being raised in a ‘wise culture’, I am up for a challenge. I will attempt to help women make that wise choice within our cutass, bullying, misogynistic and mentally ill culture, which clings to the Eve stigma that women are the all-powerful Satan, responsible for all of men’s mistakes—whether assault, abuse or slapping a comedian on stage.

The onus is always on the woman. When she is a victim of violence at the hands of a man, she must have earned it. When we cannot fault her for ‘driving a poor, witless man to his limit’, then we fault her for not being psychic enough to see that her Prince Charming would transform into a beast after he got her right where he wanted her.

Photo: Actress Jada Pinkett-Smith (left) congratulates her husband Will Smith on winning his Oscar, just minutes after he had assaulted comedian Chris Rock on stage–supposedly for mocking his wife.

Women are in a ‘damned if we do, damned if we don’t’ situation. There is only one way forward when it is impossible to satisfy others. You focus entirely on satisfying yourself first.

It is time for women to make the hard choices we need to in order to enjoy maximum freedom, health, safety and happiness. I will outline what those choices are next.

Editor’s Note: Click HERE for Part Two of Jessica Joseph’s piece on domestic violence.

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  1. This is a thought-provoking article. i was looking fwd to part 2