A few weeks have gone by since two popular male Bajan entertainers voiced their opinions on Facebook on topics which pertained to the social behaviour of women and how we are perceived by men in light of our actions. Having read both posts, some of the comments and several conversations with friends later, I wanted to join the discussion. Am I too late? OhwellIdontcare…
According to the Oxford Dictionary, the word “manners” is described as “Polite or well-bred social behaviour.”
Barbadians, similarly to persons who are raised in the southern United States (based on my own experience and reading a recent post on one of my favourite social commentary sites verysmartbrothas.the.root.com) are raised to add the prefix of “good” to what ever time of day it is when they enter a room, get on the bus and generally enter into confined spaces which happen to be inhabited or occupied by other humans. We have a habit of smiling or nodding at someone when we pass them in close proximity while walking on the road. We even “beep” our horns or wave our hands outside of car windows if we are giving way to let a driver turn into a road or if the same courtesy has been extended to us.
Heaven forbid we do not follow these social mores and we are labelled with the dreaded Bajanism, “unmannerly”, DUN DUN DUNNNNNN. Note that I have met some very “unmannerly” people while traveling overseas and learnt quickly that cultural behaviour varies greatly on this topic. In some places, the Bajan Way can result in an odd look, a blank stare, a flinch, or a kidnapping.
Holding the Door
Now on to this door issue. Disclosure: I open doors for men and women. If you are close enough behind me I will not leave the door to slam in your face. I do it because that was how I was raised. I don’t wait to hear thank you. I just do it because I can. What I’ve noticed is that men usually give me a quizzical look when I do it, especially older men, because I suppose the action is generally seen as something a man does for a woman. I also say thanks and move quickly along because I just do. No small talk.
My observations on the Facebook post: (1) a small sample size was used, (2) a short time period was used, (3) there are many layers to a Barbadian woman’s reasons for deciding to exchange pleasantries with a man.
Let’s deal with number (3). It doesn’t matter who the door opener is. That being said, while it is culturally accepted that a person should say thank you or good (insert time of day) if someone opens the door for you, doesn’t mean they will or even have to. There is also the choice of not opening a door for someone. The women who didn’t say thanks could have been (a) preoccupied, (b) “unmannerly”, (c) in a hurry (d) not a proponent of the Bajan Way or (e) hesitant to engage in conversation because of the perceived outcome.
So on to (e), Perceived outcome. So many of us are constantly in fear of a simple “good morning” or “thank you” leading to unwanted comments about our bodies. We are simply TIRED of the bullshit that spews from the mouths of many men we encounter on a daily basis. Personally, it has gotten to a point of just wanting to avoid certain situations altogether for the sake of not being harrassed. We just want to go into the gas station mini mart, pick up a snack and head back out. That is all. It is therefore expected that some reactions to the first post would lead to discussion and argument about gender relations in Barbados. This is because the post hit a particularly frayed nerve because for the most part, our communication methods are in the toilet.
That leads me to the next post…
Woman, respect yourself
I could get “ingrunt” and say that for a week all Bajan women should cover from head to toe when they leave home. If we go to parties, no “splitting in de middle”, enjoy yourself but don’t move your hips, don’t wine “too tough” as some of my Jamaican friends would say. Ensure that you are the woman that the man would like to “wife”. Oh, and make sure that a smile is plastered on your face when out in public. That way, you wouldn’t have to hear “My friend, why you doan smile?” Let’s see if that would result in a week’s reprieve from unwanted gestures and comments, rapes and assaults.
I’m not going to do that though. I would rather reiterate some of the points I saw raised in response to the post with some of my thoughts added into the mix. If this entertainer’s thoughts were in response to the photo taken at a fete of a woman’s butt crack which I saw reach as far as a Nigerian social media page, my thoughts are that the photographer shouldn’t have uploaded it. Simple right? Obviously not. Summary of comments I saw from men and women: (1) She was at a party “getting on” and should have known how her body looked so should have worn more appropriate attire, (2) She should have “respected herself” enough not to be dancing “like that”, (3) She should have an unmarked butt crack”. Look, I saw a video the other day of someone who had just gotten into a car accident and died, one of many videos that circulate in Barbados because of people who lack sensitivity and taste. Why do people cry down these videos but want to make a joke of the photo of the woman at the fete? All are bad. ALL.
I know why, she is a woman. She should know better right? I am TIRED of hearing men placing the blame game at the feet of women in a soggy cardboard box. A woman is killed at Trinidad carnival? The mayor says something to the effect that her carnival costume was an invitation for her to be attacked and killed. A woman wears a pair of tight jeans or a short dress? If a woman is raped or she is “kissed at” or “called at”, she was “asking for it”.
How about men controlling themselves. How about men discouraging their friends from saying something to every woman who passes them or does business with them on a daily basis? Women are being bombarded with the messages of being a “lady in the streets and a freak in the sheets” and if anyyy of the “freak” eases out during working hours we are whores and sluts. Puh-lease.
I am a lawyer. I was asked many years ago by a senior male lawyer why was I participating in the “Lawyers Under Christmas Lights” show. He asked further if I would go to my doctor if I knew she was dancing and singing at a concert. I said yes, because it would mean that she was human.
I’ve stood with my friends just before going on stage at Girlfriends Expo to do my pole fitness routine that I was so excited about and told by a man who was one of the managers of the fashion show that what we were about to do was wrong and that we were behaving like strippers, I’ve had a work colleague ask me if my boss knew I was doing pole classes. I’ve been harassed on the street while wearing a shapeless pantsuit, on the beach as a teen in a bikini in the presence of my father, while with a boyfriend, kadooment day, in a government office as a young intern. I’ve had pregnant friends who were harassed while going about their business and similarly, friends out and about with their children in tow.
If there are women out there who respond to catcalls or behaviour that other women may find unacceptable, that is their business. It doesn’t mean that that is the way to approach all women. What it has done is resulted in a kind of PTSD that is manifested as not saying “good morning”, zipping past groups of men while pretending to be on your phone or feeling dirty when you actually do have to say “hello” or “thank you”, the list goes on.
Oh, and about respecting yourself. If I wanted to drop in a full split (I never mastered it) at a fete I will do it. It doesn’t mean that I don’t respect myself. I don’t wish to violate any laws relating to indecent exposure so I will cover my body as required by law. How are the women who go to parties and “shell” different from a performer’s backup dancers, some of whom are mothers, office workers and hold other “respectable” roles in society but dance as a second source of income?
If you honestly believe that a “respectable” woman who you can “take home to your mother” is restricted to the one who checks a specific set of boxes while others who may be good partners but you will never know because they are unable to check those boxes for whatever reason, you are sadly mistaken.