Making a Mountain out of a Slightly Smaller Mountain

Just a while ago I sat reading An Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory in Juici Patties on campus and managed to overhear two children arguing in the booth opposite.

The little girl was debating hotly for some reason or the other, trying to trace off the boy but he was having none of it, replying to her remarks in standard English and invoking the good old ‘sticks and stones’ adage.

When an adult approached to tell them to settle down now and behave the girl, frustrated, burst out with “But him jus a gwaan like some gyal!”

Fellow Jamaicans can well imagine her tone of voice when I say that she made our patois version of “girl” sound like a bad word. Like it was the most horrible thing a man or boy could ever, ever be. So of course my socio-cultural/quasi-feminist antenna popped right up. 

Gender norms aside – yes, yes masculinity is a Big Deal in Jamaica; boys must be tough (whatever that means) – the equality (or rather equity, as Kat so painstakingly continues to remind me) of our sexes is at stake. When a girl uses her gender as an insult that’s the worst kind of bigotry. She’s saying “How dare you be a girl, how dare you descend to such an undesirable state”. Never mind that that is the state she herself is in.

I suppose she could also have been saying “How dare you trespass on my gender norms; only girls are allowed to speak Standard English and not get upset when we’re insulted”. But I think this interpretation is far less likely (and still not very fair to the genders).

It’s been pointed out to me that I like to seek out these points of debate, these underdog causes to champion, that I deliberately read too much into things. Everyone needs something to complain about I guess. When it’s not the lack of strong female leads in movies, it’s our lack of awareness of gender-based power struggles. 

The situation I described is a common one. Everybody’s heard a variation and you’ve probably even agreed that yes, this man really is behaving too much like a girl. Whatever that means. Our ideas of what men and women should and shouldn’t do are inextricably bound up in our social navigation, we don’t even notice them. But they are archaic at best and irreversibly damaging at worst.

The most important point of discussion is how do we fix them? How do we rid women and girls and men and boys of the notion that one gender is intrinsically superior to the other and, to take this a step further, how do we eliminate the notion that behaviour is gender-limited? 

The subtlety of socialization precludes mere academic intervention. Members of a society are taught how to behave by the society itself, not by books or Powerpoint presentations. We learn from our parents and other adults, from our friends. But how do we effect a change across these expansive  institutions of socialization?

In a recent post, Petchary quoted Marian Wright Edelman who said “You just need to be a flea against injustice. Enough committed fleas biting strategically can make even the biggest dog uncomfortable and transform even the biggest nation.

Maybe that’s all we need. More fleas.

{fiction} The Road Not Taken

“Come on,” he cajoles, “be a mensch.”

I hesitate for a moment. Looking beyond the young man standing in front of me, I spot his friends walking away. Probably still talking about extra-terrestrials and string theory. I wonder, why me.

“Do I know you?” I ask politely, but firmly.

“Nope, I’m just making conversation. Was I creepy?”

“A bit, yeah.” 

I smile. “Sure.”

I follow the three guys, barely out of their teens, back through the campus gates into one of several waiting taxis.

“We’re bored, so we’re just walking around,” he tells me without my asking. “We might end up at this Arab place, learn some Arabian culture.”

“Fascinating,” I reply. I really mean it. 

The taxi makes some twists and turns that are foreign to me, but then everything is foreign to me in this new city that is not the city of my birth but a city that I must reside in and get used to and perhaps one day grow to like. But that day is not today.

I begin to realize several things almost at once.

The streets outside the taxi window are unfamiliar. I do not recall the taxi having a red plate. The driver and the front seat passenger – one of the three young men I have so blithely followed – are having a whispered conversation. I am in the middle in the back, between the young man who told me to be a mensch and the one who mentioned String Theory. The windows are wound up. The radio is not playing. The driver is slowing down, and I do not see an Arabian place in sight. I do not see much of anything because I am being pushed down into the lap of the mensch who holds my wrists with a grip of steel while String Theory hauls my ankles onto the seat so he can control my legs despite my fierce, panicked struggling.

I yank one ankle free to kick him in the face and am rewarded by the mensch pressing his elbow into my throat. String Theory begins to force my thighs apart. My throat burns while my eyes sting with tears. Desperately I wonder, why me.

I am staring at the man who wants me to be a mensch.

“That sounds great,” I hear myself say. “But maybe some other time. I’ve got plans tonight.”

He looks disappointed, but brushes off my rejection with a terse “Whatever.”

We walk away. I am flattered, and strangely relieved.

Dear Lord, what are we WEARING?

I had an exam today. Let’s not talk about it.

 

I had three distinct WTF moments while walking through the streets of downtown Mobay this evening.

 

I was walking behind a cruff (translation: young Jamaican male with pants at his knees walking with a limping ‘bad man’ gait) when a girl passed him going in the opposite direction. He put his hand out and let it trail along the girl’s body as she walked by, and she turned around to look at him. Now I imagine at that point, she had one of two things on her mind: “Ah smaddy mi know dis?” or (and her subsequent expression makes this one more likely) “Wha dis eediat bwai ah come touch me up fa?”

 

Carey is shown at a picnic with the computer e...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At the same time, the “eediat bwai” is throwing her the most pitiful ‘come hither’ look I have ever had the misfortune to witness, almost like he’s saying “I know you want some of this.” What? No. No, thank you. Ever. Guys, have more class! Girls, don’t be afraid to tell a boy some bad words when he puts a hand on you without your permission!

 

The next two WTF moments are actually the same thing, occurring hours apart. I passed two girls on different streets wearing what was basically a shirt and panties. I could see their butt cheeks jiggling from under the hem of the shorts spanky pants.  I know it’s summer, and I know we’re a tropical country and it feels like the sun has a personal vendetta against anyone who steps outdoors, but for the love of all that is decent please do not put your jiggly bits on display. Especially when they’re unattractive.

And that was my evening. After walking out of that exam, my day couldn’t go anywhere but up.

 

Are you as grossed out as I am by people who wear revealing clothing? What about guys who touch girls they don’t know (and the girls who let them)?