It appears that our underlying misogynistic culture is always eager to grab an opportunity to rear its ugly head. The ignorance that shapes such a culture is not restricted to just the masses. Oh no! This time it spewed forth its verbal diarrhea from the mouth of a supposed aristocrat – the mayor of Port of Spain, who, in an attempt to clean up the mess he initially caused, spewed forth something resembling an apology, which only made such diarrhea more painful to stomach.
Social media has been abuzz with Mayor Tim Kee’s initial address regarding the death of Japanese native, Asami Nagakiya, who was found dead in the Queen’s Park Savannah while still clad in her carnival costume. His address encapsulated the very essence of our rape culture with brief highlights of his own personal views on Carnival and ‘wining’. The Mayor appeared quite confident rambling on with his assumptions regarding the incident, letting his own “imagination run”, rebuking the behavioral “routines” that women engage in and reminding us that he spoke on lewdness and vulgarity before. The worst of his utterances however, came when he stated that “women have the responsibility to ensure that they are not abused.” This, of course, is as ludicrous as telling someone that they are responsible for experiencing racism because they are colored, and in order to avoid racism, they should immediately take responsibility by no longer being colored. What is most interesting though is that this concept of holding women accountable for violence against them is quite the standard in our society and perhaps, the Mayor’s misguided words can provide us with the opportunity to engage in more fruitful discussions on the wider issue.
Our prevalent rape culture with its victim-blaming practices not only places the responsibility of avoiding violence on women, but this very practice rapes the victim again, murders them again, makes them a victim again, takes away their dignity again, sabotages the probability of some form of recovery and ultimately abuses them in the most cruel of ways – by crippling them emotionally and psychologically. Yet, this happens so often that it appears normalized in many other cases. To illustrate, when we recently witnessed a viral video of a man violently beating a woman with a piece of iron at a bar in Arima and we took to social media to post vehement comments that “she stupid for going back with him” and “she should get more licks”, we too, like the Mayor, engaged in victim-blaming, without knowing the victim or understanding her circumstances and fears. Similarly, each time that a woman is raped and we attribute the cause of attack to her outfit or to her being out late at night, rather than demanding that the monster who believed that he had rights over her body is brought to justice, then we too, engage in victim-blaming. Most of us can agree that victim-blaming mentally and emotionally violates an already distraught individual, while also highlighting our lack of empathy and humanity. What most of us are oblivious to however, is that the practice of victim-blaming is also a colossal disrespect and insult to men, for it inherently assumes men to be irrational, mindless and animalistic monsters who are controlled only by an appendage dangling in their pants – quite a contrary perspective, considering that we usually label men as the logical sex. So is it that we make women responsible because we assume that men are stupid and cannot think? If so, that’s a dangerous stance to take.
Returning to the specific issue at hand, many persons were outraged that such comments came from a public official, in a forum that showcased our banana republic mentally for the world to see. What the mayor needs to understand is that carnival is a celebration of freedom and expression, and using patriarchal religious doctrine to make judgments of “lewd” and “vulgar” behavior is far from being objective. Men are also half-naked during Carnival and they also dance in the same “lewd” and “vulgar” way – but in our misogynistic culture we seek to blame and control only the actions of women. Tim Kee must also be made aware that a “wine” or a sexy outfit is not an invitation, nor should nudity automatically be assumed as sexual. Our officials need to understand the necessity in distinguishing between church and state, and they must understand that their duty lies in implementing human rights, rather than imposing subjective views on morality.
There are tribes in the Amazon and Africa – you know, the ones we call primitive – that live in perpetual nakedness, yet rape is not an issue there. Why? Because for them, masculinity is not defined by violence, aggression, the size of their manhood, achieving sexual domination over women or any of the other ridiculous standards that we define masculinity by. They also do not attempt to make women feel ashamed of their bodies as we do in the western world. When you consider things holistically, you come to realize that the restrictive ways in which we define masculinity (and consequentially oppress femininity) is often reason for much of the negatives we face in society. Limiting masculinity to only power and aggression is often the basis for the creation of gangs as institutions that provide young men with validation of their masculinity, because after all, since women are merely sexual currency, only men can validate other men. Nothing, not even the mayor’s ignorant comments, occurs in a vacuum.
All these repeated instances of misogyny show us that much education is needed in our society – for both men and women. Boys and men alike need to be taught to see the humanity in women and they need to be held accountable for their actions. Women do not rape or otherwise abuse themselves, so violence against women is not an issue for women to fix. Men need to be heavily engaged in these conversations and we need to start raising our boys more consciously, lest we desire more Tim Kees in the future. Women in turn, must understand that what a woman chooses to do with her body is her choice and it is unacceptable to degrade and judge other women in order to validate oneself. The Mayor’s apology, punctuated with the famous “BUT”, which would annihilate any apology, shows that he is genuinely very confused. ‘How can I be wrong, if there are women who called and agreed with me?’ he must have thought, without understanding that there are many women that are just a misguided and brainwashed by a patriarchal society as he is.
It was quite refreshing to see that many persons on social media understood that the Mayor’s thinking is dangerous and wrong. However, many of these same persons have not been able to identify misogyny in its other previous manifestations, and it is critical that they become more able to do so. So here’s a brief recap: (1) a young woman is brutally beaten by a man in a bar in Arima, and we call her stupid and deserving of more licks. It’s is her fault this happened (2) another woman follows the dress code of a night club, but has her own style of dress that is deemed not feminine enough to satisfy the sexual appetite of the heterosexual male, and we fervently agree that she deserved to be humiliated and punished with “man price”. It is her fault that she experienced such emotional abuse (3) a West Indian cricketer refuses to acknowledge the intelligence of a journalist posing professional questions to him on live TV, opting instead to talk about how much he wanted to see her eyes, and we agree that it’s no big deal for a woman to receive unwelcomed remarks (4)and in our latest installment, a mayor overtly states that women are responsible for their abuse. Still think that we live in a non-misogynistic society that truly respects and values women? Think again. As for the Mayor, he needs to be remitted to a mandatory Gender 101 class and be made to issue a REAL apology to the entire female population of Japan and Trinidad and Tobago – whether some of our local women are aware that they deserve such an apology or not. He also needs to apologize to men for inadvertently assuming that they are all dumb, mindless, animalistic creatures,who are incapable of rational thought, sexual and emotional control.
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