a word on checkpoints and the assailing of women’s bodies

The State of Emergency is now in its tenth month. Violent crime levels appear unabated. Every issue of the Western Mirror carries a front page headline on some gruesome murder or gunfight.

Twice daily checkpoints are my new normal, since I live and work in two separate parishes. I drive through, waving to the unlucky soldiers assigned to stand in the middle of the road in the grueling summer heat, and smile.

At first I would approach each checkpoint with a sense of trepidation. Would they stop me to search my car? And then annoyance. Would they stop me to try and get my number? My experience was getting harassed by soldiers and police officers alike who appeared to have no other reason to stop me than to chat me up like a man in a bar. It was unprofessional and frustrating.

I used to slow and stop so that the officer or soldier could peer into the car, but these days I slow down just enough to give a brisk wave unless I’m told otherwise. This is just another way one learns to navigate social conventions as a person of the feminine gender.

After a while, when my frustration had faded to good-natured acceptance, I started to notice female soldiers now deployed to man the line. One day while cruising through at my snail pace, I overheard a bus driver call out a raunchy greeting to the lady soldier standing in the road. I cringed, and questioned.

Beyond the sexism that exists among one’s professional colleagues, a sexism that can potentially be challenged and eroded by professional success, is there a deeper and more pervasive sexism in society at large that undermines the execution of professional ‘gender roles’?

Is there a certain level of respect accorded to soldiers and police officers? Do we accord that same respect when the soldier or police officer is a woman? And does the change in tone when addressing a female member of the armed forces imply a lack of respect, or is it simply a neutral cultural phenomenon?

I’m pretty sure that woman was used to getting catcalls in her line of duty, and many women are. Some find it annoying, some find it flattering, and for some it’s just a part of life, neither good nor bad. In my culture there are many things that my liberal ideology struggles to accept, and this is one of them.

Is it inappropriate and unacceptable for a man to calls out ‘Psst, babes‘ when a woman walks by? Is it only inappropriate when he does it to certain Women, or in certain Spaces? Does the acceptability depend on the man’s intention: to objectify and assault, or to compliment and affirm? If the action is allowed, is there an expected response? Is it rude to ignore them? It certainly seems that way.

And is it really such a big deal?

In some spaces it can be. As a general rule I ignore the leaking air and the catcalls, but on certain streets I make damn sure to respond with a polite greeting. At issue here is the concept of danger. On main roads I feel safe enough to ignore the calls; on side streets I am too aware of my vulnerability to invite an uncertain threat. I fear, so I conform. But does this make me complicit in a social norm I desperately wish would change?

I don’t have the answers, but I think it’s important that we start talking somewhere. A catcall on a lonely avenue isn’t the same as being sexually assaulted, but the threads of gender-based violence run deep. Until we can pick up the ends, wherever they are scattered, we will never begin to untangle that knot.

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homophobia at utech: my very visceral reaction

Last week the UWI allowed a group of people who believed humans were created by alien scientists to have a seminar on their campus. This wasn’t handled very well by most of the students in attendance.

Last week also, two male students at UTECH were caught in a bathroom in what is rumoured to be a ‘compromising position’. This was handled even worse.

The issue at hand is our extreme intolerance of anything different or other. It’s not that the students were right in fraternizing (or whatever it is they were doing) in a public place, but that’s not why one of them was attacked. If we’re going to be entirely honest, everyone knows that if he had been caught with a girl whoever found them would have simply looked the other way. Maybe even shared a knowing look with him afterwards. The incident would have probably sent his ratings up a bit.

But because of the who and not the what, this young man was held against his will by the same security guards he ran to for help. He was abused physically and verbally by the persons whose job it is to ensure the safety of all UTECH students. But there is something about the Jamaican mind that can conveniently separate the homosexual from the rest of humanity (aided by the derogatory words we call them) therefore making it okay to treat them like crap.

When you listen to the video, it’s all ‘battyman’ and ‘fish’ and some student telling the guards that they can’t have all the fun. All any of the observers cares about is that he’s gay, not that he was caught in a public bathroom doing something he probably shouldn’t have been doing.

On the other hand (and I’m probably going to get a lot of flak for this): these guys must have been either really brave or really stupid to do their business in a public bathroom in one of the most violently homophobic countries in the world.

ETA: 
Just to keep you informed:

  • There was a petition floating around to get the security guard fired (he has been).
  • Observer and Gleaner had been following the story up until three days ago, but I don’t see anything new. This is the shortest 9 day wonder like, ever.
  • The delightful Carla Moore has a (rather lengthy) spiel on the whole incident in which she tries to decode the “bun battyman” mentality of Jamaicans. And I love her for it.