Posts Tagged ‘Jamaica’

What a teacher decided that she could do to a 3 year old child

That’s the forearm of a 3 year-old boy.

2015 - 3 year old boy with cuts from a belt

That’s the forearm of a 3 year-old boy who doesn’t like to go to his school in Milk River

That’s the forearm of a 3 year-old boy who doesn’t like to go to his school in Milk River where he was beaten by his teacher.

That’s the forearm of a 3 year-old boy who doesn’t like to go to his school in Milk River where he was beaten by his teacher who said she didn’t think that the belt would have cut the child.

On Thursday, April 23, the child’s parent posted this note on Facebook: “when i went to pick up my 3 year old baby from school this is what he show mi say him teacher beat him when mi go to her about it this woman a go tell mi say she didnt know say it did a go cut him…tell what a baby could have done fi this happen to him you know say this little boy always a tell mi him dont want to go to school i always a say him dont like school i didnt know say a these things a go on make the baby dont want to go school……if mi fi beat the shit out a that bitch you would hear how mi go on like mi bad…….and yes this happen in milk river…..people please share this because it need to stop help mi protect the youths”

The responses were full of outrage, expressed in characteristically violent Jamaican ways:

“Mi belly move. If a even one rass lick mi would a afi get off a dah teacher deh. one good one, weh is ider it cripple had har or it make she feel some sort a constant pain so every time she try lick another baby she rem. And if mi fi go a jail mi naan stay long and daddy will take care till mi cum back”

“Weh teacher cud ah tell me seh ah baby do that u beat him an cut him oh fada god u see an u know smh an sigh”

“I’d find somebody to hold her and beat her cut up her skin same way”

“Me nuh done wid you bitch me a beat you, me sister dem a beat you, you a get a box each from me brother dem a throw give me mother after mek she screw out you fucking head and throw it back give you.”

“she should b glad its u because me nah ask no question one bcl lick she a pick up inna a rass face….. at ma son school if him run a drop dem have fi call and explain… me no run joke wit ma son yuh madddd.”

“If it was me like tht mother god know seh prison wouldn’t mis mi when mi done with that teacher caz what mek the situation even worst is the teacher facety comment, if a did mi she tell bout she never know seh it would cut the bby!!!!! God know seh mi would just Tek something an mash up r face”

Whether the commenters advocated for or rejected giving the teacher a physical taste of her own medicine, responses actively called for the parent to report the situation to the police, principal, Ministry of Education, and Office of Children’s Advocacy, they all called for *action*.

I don’t know what the parent has done since then since he has not posted anything.  He did note that he declined to tell his mother about the situation, for fear or exacerbating her health condition.

At any rate, you can read all the responses here:

I feel angry about what the teacher has done to that child: she has been busy trying to break his spirit – and that of the other children, for a while now.  Honestly, if that were my child, I would have had to take several deep breaths when that teacher said what she did.  I most certainly would have wanted to wring her neck and slap her into next year, much like the commenters have expressed.

But I already know that seeking redress in all kinds of other ways would be far more effective and long-lasting.

I also know that she’s a creature of the system.

As such, empathy goes only so far: I know that this type of harm would not come to my child. He’s not in that kind of system; other types of harm, for sure, but not this.

I know that this happened to this man’s son because the schooling system in Jamaica has regularly and consistently treated the children of the working classes in dehumanizing ways. Our elders recount stories and legends of teachers who used to cane, whip, and otherwise physically maim the children who came from the less-privileged groups.

Some commenters shared their own stories:

“Teach that teacher a lesson and others because she is not going to stop it happened to me when I was in grade 1 I am in my 30s and I remember my parents is Christians so they didn’t take it up every time I remember my eye that she lick me in hurts abuse is going on in school has well teachers doing it

And yet, the current Minister of Education, Ronald Thwaites flip-flops on an issue that is already enshrined in The Child Care and Protection Act.  In November 2012, he took one stance on the situation; In February 2015 he stated that it is ok for schools – principals, not teachers – to treat children in these degrading ways.

Not surprisingly, even the parents sometimes give the teachers permission to beat the children.  It’s what they know, understand, experienced, and uncritically accept.   Doing violence to children is traditional.

I feel really sad for this parent who feels like he has such limited options in seeking justice for his child.  Clearly, educating parents about their rights and responsibilities is not part of what this – o any? – basic school in Jamaica does.

Turning to Facebook and “calling dung crowd” to bear witness to both the harm done to his child, and his hurt and righteous anger as a father who loves his child makes sense in this digital age.  His stated aim is to prevent this from happening to other children.  By his own admission, he has seen it happen at this school before:

“but i said something and i went the b4 and next teacher was beating a next kid and i said something but now its my kid

Interestingly, he’s counting on the post becoming viral and thus reaching the eyes and ears of the Ministry of Education, instead of trying to contact them directly.  He didn’t publish the name of the school, or any information that people can act on.  Nobody can directly call or visit to pressure the principal to do something.  Mind you, Milk River is small so there could only be a few basic schools there.  Notably, he was cautioned by one person to report the station, but not to do anything that would cause the teacher to lose her job:

“Take it up with the principal and make sure the incident is documented. Also make sure the incident is reported at the police station but don’t file any charges. Time is hard and you don’t want the teacher to be fired. Maybe this will be her wake up call that she should never do something like this again”

But that’s exactly what should happen – she does not need to work with any children again.

In a way though, I feel sad for the teacher who is so limited and simple-minded that she could not even see why her actions are hostile and harmful to all children and counterproductive to their education.

But what’s troubling to me is this:

1) The fact that the child told his parent that he did not want to go to school, but the parent chose not to listen. What did the child see or experience at school to lead him to feel this way?  The parent doesn’t ask. Instead, he takes for granted that he knows best, that the school is the best and safest place for the child, and brings the child to the school anyway, right into harm’s way. And the harm is physical as well as psychological:

“the sad thing about it the boy dont like go school because him say him a go get beating”

At the age of 3 years old, children should see school as fun, not as a place where they are going to be tortured with rote memorization or with a belt.  That is simply unacceptable and the Early Childhood Commission needs to step in and say something about this!

Whether we are talking about teachers mistreating children, or adults sexually violating children, the issue is the same:  many, I would argue most, working-class Jamaican parents do not listen to their children, do not respect their children’s voices, feelings and views, and often, albeit unintentionally, both affirm and contribute to the harm that their children are experiencing.  This is a legacy of plantation slavery and our colonial past, a reflection of the deep commitment to social hierarchies that we have inherited and accepted. The ugly social truth is that we only listen and pay attention to our social equals and those above us. Everyone else is dismissed, their concerns trivialized.

Children are not perceived or treated as the social equals of adults. Instead, we assume they know and understand nothing separate from what they are taught by adults.  And so, when it comes to adults’ relationship to children, it is sad and painful to watch the way that adults dismiss children: Hush up, yuh chat tummuch!  Nuh badda mi – yuh ask tummuch question! Guh siddung an tap i nize a mi head! And when they become adults, they often turn around and treat their children the same way.

If there’s anything to be learned from this situation, it is that adults in Jamaica need to show *all* children respect. We need to listen. No matter how much this father loves his son, and no matter that he provides emotional and financial support for them, the one thing that his children need more than anything is to be able to count on him for protection.  In his own quiet moments, I can’t imagine that he feels great about not having listened in the first place.  But I hope that he learns this very important lesson: he cannot protect his child from what he doesn’t know about.  The only way to know is to ask questions and listen carefully.

2) Despite the clear evidence of harm to this child, this parent and many of the commenters still believe, just like the teacher does, that beating children is ok, just not too hard, in the right places, and only the ones who deserve it.

Says the parent: “if you did know this little boy you would see whats wrong with it if you talk loud to him he cry and him twin brother stay cry to so there was no need to beat mi baby”

Really? So if he was not a sensitive child, he would deserve to be beaten?
There is actually a “need” to beat other children?

Others respond similarly: “I don support ppl putting mark on kids body like that dose not matter circumstances don hit a child like that”

“If She Even A Slap Him She Can Do It Inna Him Hand Middle!! This Hurt Me I Swear, A Teacher Did This To Me When I Was 6 And I Had A Big Dark Mark On My Hand For 5 Years”

My favorite comment was this one:

“Am not saying she have any right to beat that kindergarten child.. she is wrong, bt I think corporal punishment should b in school.. these last a days students don’t have any manners what’s to ever . Look at the rate our education level at, they r more prostitutes,lesbians,gays and don in schools than in the working world.. again am not saying she have any right to hit that baby she’s wrong”

In other words, don’t throw the system of cruelty out just because we don’t like what happened to one child that we know and like. It’s still important to beat the “bad” ones; save the good ones.

Well, the teacher felt the same way.

By her response, you understand that:
– this little boy was one of the bad ones at the moment
– she beat him because he deserved it
– her only regret is that she hit him too hard, not that she hit him at all
– next time, she will do it softer and in a place that won’t bear the marks

This is the kind of fucked-up logic that Jamaican people use to hold on to this barbaric practice of beating children.  But, at least, the commenters were being consistent in their commitment to violence. Beat the “bad” children *and* beat the teacher who beat the “good” children. The take-home message?  Violence is the answer for anything that bothers you.

There are a lot of issues in here that need to be fleshed out.

But at this point, suffice it to say that Jamaican working-class parents really need to transform the role that they play in the education system and how they relate to their children’s education.  They also need to have a strong voice in schools and promote just and ethical treatment of their children in schools.

The mis-directives from the Ministry of Education continue to create the perfect scenario for teachers to abuse children and to get away with it.

All of this makes me think that there needs to be serious examination of how Jamaican adults think about children in the first place.


The ‘Big Man’ and The ‘Schoolgirl’

Schoolgirls by Rick Elkins

If you want to understand the gap – chasm, really – between law and public morality in Jamaica, look no further than to any discussion about sexual arrangements between men and women.  The specific forms – in this case, sexual liaisons between adult men and adolescent girls – provide a clear view of the muddy waters that Jamaican folks are wading in the minute they get up on a soapbox about this issue.

Consider the following conversation that emerged on in a FB group of 22,000+ Jamaicans over a 5-hour period on February 21, 2012.  At the time of this writing on the same day, there was a total of 66 responses.  Undoubtedly, there are more now.

A woman posed the following question:  Do you think a big man should date a school girl?

If you’re at all familiar with the social attitudes of Jamaicans, you should be able to predict the flow and content.  But, here goes:

  • (W) School girls should be focusing on their education. so no !
  • (W) No man…….dat outta order
  • (M) like high skool girl or college? cause high skool a no
  • (W)Its high school girls…..those girls neva stay wit di man fi long
  • (W) y would a man inna him high age wah date pickney him daughter age?
  •  cuz most of a dem jus disgustin, an some a di gal dem too licky- licky
  • (W) W-e-l-l, let’s see……hmmm…….#1. He’s gett’n old and he wants to feel young,#2. Havin’ a young girl arond boosts his “EGO” especially amongst his frenz.#3. Men have been doing this for centuries, and you can’t change the genes of the species.#4. A womans biological clock starts tickin’ as her age comes off the calender while a man at 75yrs of age can get an 18yr old girl pregnant .#5. Majority of men see nothing wrong with it.#6. When a woman goes out with a younger guy, ppl talk and stare and say that it’s not right.#7. As much as us women hate to admit it, there is a double standard and there are things that men can do and we’ll never be able to do it in a million yrs, and The list goes on and on of the things men do that us women are against but can’t put a stop to….
  • (M) In Canada, usa, uk and many other countries you go to jail. It takes a community with good morals to raise a child correctly and teach that child wrong from right. Adults should be protecting the children of their community not exploiting them.
  • (W) HELL NO!!!
  • (M) Why not?
  • (W) of couse not! [to man] pervert, tek wey uself!!
  • (W) That’s like unnuh man have friend and dem watch u daughter grow from baby then wah date one of her school friend ah nastiness dat man…….ppl morals gawn outta de door all de toilet cah hole dem nasty morals…..kmrt

    (W) wen my dawta was 15 , her dad come 2 me nd bawl murrrhhhhhdah she deh wid wah ole man !! nuh amt a cutliss an hoe an pikaxe stick gadda up fi go beat di man !! wen mi jump fi go talk 2 har , ongle fi fine di man a tremble unda di olda sista bed ( she had her own apt ) di ‘ ole ‘ man was 25 an fraid fi him loife ,mi decide fi talk 2 di fada an calm him dung ( inna my mind mi seh nuh rush dem , dem wi eventually leff ) well him neva tek mi advice so him sen threat an show up a di man house . fast fawud , mi a talk 2 har an mi hear di man vice an ax him if mi nay talk 2 him years earlier , him same 1 !! big weddin a plan , pa a gi har weh , mi a plan fi remine him bout it afta di ‘i dos ‘ wen him unda him juice
  • (M) when Satan take over a person heart and mind morals get left behind. No God fearing person live them nasty life. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.
  • (W) [to M] I know hun..but ah still nastiness…
  • (W) [to W].she was young yes but me ah talk dem man inna dem 40/50’s ah ah run dung 15/16 yr old dem fe humble dem self
  • (W) Why can’t he date someone closer to his age?
  • (W) Big ole hawd back ashy kin man dem need fi leave people gyal pickney alone.
  • (W) Dem wah string up…dem ting deh sicken me tomach ….
  • (W) dutty pervert dem an some a di gal dem juss as bad…pure slackness
  • (W) Dis man muss a buy di young girl wha she want, dats why she deh wid him. Di man like di likkle girl cause she young an impressionable. Him nuh waan nobody him age cause him cyaan fool dem. A hope she have enough sense fi use protection an birth control so she nuh catch no diseases or go breed, cause as soon as dat happen the wutlis man a guh run leff har.

At this point, I honestly could not believe what I was reading.  To me, the question was posed in a way as to seem no different from the “do you think it’s ok to flush a sanitary napkin?”  sort.  Not a SINGLE person noted that there was a tiny not inconsequential matter of the legality of such.  I’m no “law and order” type, but here, it seemed to me anyway, that one might at least hint at awareness that such sexual relations are regulated? Not so.  Trying to contain my irritation, and 4 hours into the conversation, I decided to make an intervention of sorts:

  • ME: What you mean by “big man”? A man who is older than 21 years, or any man with money?

    That you are posing this AS a question, goes to the heart of why girls continue to be sexually exploited and ADULTS are not doing shit about it. What we think ought not to matter; there is a clear law that says that any person who has sexual relationships with a girl under SIXTEEN YEARS OLD is committing a criminal offense.See’t deh – read it. 10, Section 8 & 9. According to the law, when you see an adult man either courting or touching a child under 16 years old, you are watching criminalized behaviour in process. When you see a pregnant girl who is still in school, you are looking at someone who has been victimized sexually. She does NOT have the right to consent if she is under 16 years old, no matter if she wants to. The only male persons who can potentially get away with it are those who are under 23 years old. BUT they have to be able to prove that they believed she was at least 16 years old.You know what would put a serious dent in the amount of child sexual violence? Threatening these boys and men and letting them know they are going to go to jail if they even so much as look. Tek pickcha a dem an dem license plate and sen’ it guh gi police. Si how fast dem tings stop…Wi need a “School Yard Crew” fi deal wid dem.
  • (M) Ladies and gentlemen a lot of these school girls are the one doing the chasing because financially they know they can get what they want. Are they dirty and immoral also? [to me]

    do you have any idea the amount of law suite that that scenario would create? So a 17 year old school girl is ok to deal with because it is not against the law
  • (W) to [sic] intimate ,,casual is best for first date. That’s my opinion
  • (W) hell no,him mus go look him dam size
  • (M) As long as it is not illegal do what you do.

    (W) No..But then again am old fashion & still living in the middle…
  • (W) but some of these school girls are very BRITE,and dem nuh want school bwoy a big man dem a look
  • (W) STOP BLAMING THE UNDERAGE KIDS !! ( Typical J’cans kmft )
  • (W) I am a big woman and i don’t believe that i should be in any arguement with no school girl over my man,so if my so call man decided that he is gonna get involve with a school girl,then he can go cause i CAN definately do without his sorry ASS…
  • (M) mi old fashion and is a man of principle….nau, go tek yu book…..and try spell you name lickle gal….
  • (M) I would not call it dating.
  • (M) Bigman nuffi dey wid pinkiney period..aldwo me lickle an love big oman lol lol…frm dem ena dem teens frm 11teen to 19 is lickle pickiney datm..a big man who is 40 add mus dey wid no girls in dem teens cos that teen could be his dauter or neice..
  • ME [to M] – what does anything of this have to do with “dirty” and “immoral”?? Maybe you are missing something: does the law say anywhere that the problem of statutory rape depends on who does the chasing?what scenario? The School Yard Crew? Girls 16 years old and older can consent to sex, yes.
  • (M) Looking for some clarity on the law. Is 17 ok by law? The scenario of taking pictures of men talking to school girls and using it to prosecute them.
  • ME Unnu whe’h deh debate this missing the point: there is no room to negotiate who him can deh wid or not. If she’s under 16, back the fuck off or go to jail. A unnu whe’h deh gwaan like seh dis is a matta of opinion a create di problem, an a mek it look like seh if HIM want to, is fi him biznis, an’ ef SHE want to, is fi har bizniz. Not a baxide. Unnu need fi know what is what suh unnu can know what is *a matter of opinion* and what is *law*. If you think the law is not a good or just one, then that’s another thing. But this isn’t a moral issue; it’s a legal one. Separate the two.  [This comment got the highest number of “likes”]
  • ME (to M) did you go read the statute? You need to do that. It says that no child under 16 years old can consent to sex. Anybody who engages in sexual intercourse or play with a child under 16 is liable to criminal charges. That’s it.  Laws don’t tell you what TO do; they tell you what NOT to do, and the consequence of such.
  • (M) My question on the law pertains to a girl who is 17 not 16.  [I couldn’t tell whether he was being daft or what…]
  • ME (to M) And I answered it quite clearly. Once a girl is 16 years or older, she is presumed to be able to consent to sexual intercourse. In other words, YOU need to figure out what you want to know, and how the law speaks to that, or not
  • (M) Stop talking is riddles and answer the question. Is 17 the legal age of consent. A yes or no will suffice.  [Riddles??? Ok, so he IS a little slow on the uptake it seems]
  • (M) [to ME] not unda my roof lol den again, wey me knw..(Take ten men wid dauter n ask dem the consent ? An den you tell me the ansa) den you take 10 man wey nuh ave nun n see wey dem caah guess dem ansa ” dem nuh pardon nutten”…”16″ me lookin at how hard we afi go work fi sen R go high skool..NO sa tel him fi come ask me fi consent”fi R..”smiling evilously”
  • ME [to M] No. 16 years old is the legal age of consent.
  • (M) So then it is not a legal issue but a moral one. So any big man can date a school girl 16 or over and he cannot be prosecuted. Under 16 and it becomes a crime. Thanks.
  • ME [ to M] “What” is a moral issue?
  • (M) Dating a girl 16 and over.
  • ME [to M] – the law covers that. If she is under 16 years old and anyone above that negotiates sex with or for her, dem a deal inna criminal ting too. “Age of consent” means that she cannot consent and nobody else except the STATE can consent for her. Suh according to the law, di faada need fi guh aks di Prime Minister, or the Governor-General ef some odda man can have sex wid him 15 year old daughter.
  • ME [to M] ok. yes. That is, most people would find it more acceptable if she was dating someone her age or two years older, but not if she was in a sexual relationship with an adult. In fact, the law creates a moral “gray area” between 16 and 23 years old, where she might be able to consent to sex, but there is a question about whether someone over 23 years old should be involved with a 16 year old.
  • (M) Aal wen me read dem comments yaah enuh only mek me sharpen me cuban till it white fi jig saw up somebody…me sey “18”…an triple s ask sey if bigman fi date skool girls NO.NO.NO you knw hard the father or madda afi work and sacrifices n help frm plp fi dem reach dem age den dem ole rustykin ole man dey see dem n waah give dem argument..”0,0″ me naah go tek too good paah me heart lol
  • Me [to M]  – so now you know exactly what to say without having to use that Cuban:

    1) under 16 years is against the law of the land, and which will get you jail time;
    2) under 18 years is against the law of [M], and that will get you coffin time
  • (W) nope, nope…big is the operative word…while girls is the other…
  • (W) Bwoy wat a way di man dem a look fi loophole inna di law fi date the likkle girls, KMT.
  • ME (to W) You see’t tuh???? What a baxide deh pon di lan!
  • (W) Whether us women like it or not. When the day arrives that our age is no longer on the calender, many of us will be pissed that the man you are with cheats/cheated or has left the relationship for a younger woman. Whether she be 16 or 25, you are now old and not as much fun anymore and he see’s sup’m in her that you used to be. I think as women we shud enjoy our lives no matter what age we are. As for a man in his 40’s or 50’s wanting a girl 16,17,18,19,20.#1. He can impress her,#2. When he does something nice for her, the delight she shows makes him feel like a “GIANT.” I hate to sound like a broken record…. No matter how much we women hate it and some of us will not admit it, but one day we are all gonna get old and your man will either leave you for/cheat on you with/keep/ admire or want a younger woman….. As a matter of fact men always want younger women.
  • (W) We simply need to start talking to our girls – AND boys, about what’s out there, how to be alert and how valuable they are….creeps of all ages usually go after girls (esp.) that can be fooled, have low self esteem or are unloved/unvalued.
  • (W) Its di big ole perverts dem mek mi neva like guh a shop fi mi granny even when was 11 and 12 and reach puberty. You could just feel dem staring you down…waiting fi yuh turn 16 fi pounce. Nasty bugga dem.

To summarize:

most of the women expressed disgust at such relationships, recognised that girls are acting on and expressing sexual desire in ways that men took advantage of, acknowledged the transactional nature of such relationships, and ultimately concluded that this was just the way things have worked from time immemorial.

The few men who participated were of two minds: complete rejection of such relationships from their stances as fathers or potential lovers, with a minority seeking ways to justify [their own interest in] sexual liaisons with school-age girls.

The social scientist in me makes me want to parse the information in many ways: where do the participants in this conversation live? Ages? Age of first sexual experience? etc.   But, this is a blog post.

What’s striking, but perhaps unremarkable, is that at no point do the responses recognise the type of sexual relations as problematic for legal reasons.   On the other hand, discussions about homosexual sex – and many of such have prevailed on the particular FB page – are often framed in both moral and legal terms i.e. many argue that sex between men is illegal because it is immoral, and even if it were to be made legal, it would still be immoral.   No such luck on this topic.  Heterosexual sex – even if it is between persons who are unequal in power and ability to give consent – is given broad latitude, no matter who it harms.   And that kind of response – trying to come up with explanations for it and ignoring the broader context for such – is fairly typical of how Jamaicans approach this issue.   An article in the Jamaica Gleaner from a couple years ago gives you a good idea of what this kind of argumentation looks like.

The other thing that stands out is how few responses and participants there were.  On the buggery question, one could easily sees hundreds of responses within hours; that has happened several times in the past two months.   In fact, even people who never respond often feel the need to put in their two cents, which is most likely to be a strong condemnation of such.

Even as I’m making distinction between the ‘moral’ and the ‘legal’, I’m also saying to myself, but how can I really justify drawing this difference so as to privilege the ‘legal’ when I don’t believe that the ‘legal’ is pure in intent or application anyway?  In the same group of statutes called the “Sexual Offenses Against the Person” Act, there is at least one other clause that I find both morally and legally problematic (i.e. the buggery law).  While I do recognise that the buggery law is part of the legal framework, I certainly don’t tell people to obey it, or encourage it to be taken seriously, the way I am doing in this conversation.  I don’t feel the same about the clause regarding statutory rape; this is a law that I think should be made to work.   In this case, I feel that one law (buggery) actually sets out to harm people; the statutory rape law sets out to protect people.   Some might argue that the buggery law is intended to “protect” people too, but there’s nothing in the actual language and practice of the law that suggest how otherwise vulnerable persons might be harmed by the sexual behaviours under scrutiny.

My presumption is that children are vulnerable before entering the space of the law, while boys/men are being made vulnerable through applying this law.  I think I need to write more about this.   Clearly, there’s something there that requires some teasing out, if only to explain why there is so little recognition and observance of *the fact of the law* that speaks directly to the sexual abuse of girls.

Comparing public and political responses to buggery and child abuse might be the best way to understand the gap that exists between public knowledge (i.e. everyday understandings of sexual practice), public policy (i.e. law) and social practice (what people are actually doing).   The gap doesn’t seem to be fixed.  That is, people are not always ignoring the laws, nor are the laws always triumphing over ‘commonsense’ approaches.  Instead, there’s another factor at work:  the gap changes based on cultural ideals.   That is, specific sexual values have been normalized through cultural practice and become hegemonic; the laws only seems to matter to and for people to the extent that the statutes reinforce those values.   When the law seems to go against those values, people simply ignore the law and defend the “culture”.

This raises an important question: which sexual values and which cultural practices (regarding sexuality, but not only that) are at work through Jamaican law?  At what point does cultural practice (re: sexuality) become institutionalized in law?  Big questions, but there must be specific cases that can speak to these processes.   I need to look into this more, if only to figure out what can be done to promote sexual values that do not cause harm or aim to disempower girls and women.

I also find it problematic that there’s no recognition in the conversation – or in most of the other studies, columns, news articles etc. – that girls are experiencing normal sexual desires AND that those can be channeled in ways that don’t hurt them.

The blaming of schoolgirls for participating in illicit sexual encounters with adult men presumes that girls should not have those desires to begin with, nor should they express them at all!   The “tek up yuh book” approach to dealing with sexual desire, where education should become their focus instead of finding a love interest with whom to explore those desires is not exactly helpful, especially to those who are already alienated from their education.   What exactly is there in the current educational scenario that is remotely engaging to the students?  So, that’s hardly helpful advice that all girls could connect to.

Arguing that girls are the problem does not exactly work against men’s interests either.  Men (especially those who do not have daughters) are probably just as likely to claim that they are powerless when confronted with their own sexual desires.   Never mind that they invest time and energy in cultivating those desires – one just has to see how they behave around the bus stops and vicinities They must act on it or they may die, or something equally dramatic.   So, telling men to redirect their adult desires towards someone their own age is only going to make them more anxious to exploit girls.  Getting girls to stop seeing adult men as worthy objects of desire is not easy to do.   And it has to be done in a way that men get the message before they become adults.

Similarly, getting adult women to see the problem as men’s misdirected desires instead of focusing on girls as nubile temptresses is yet another part of the story that has to be addressed.  Every time I hear about a fully grown sexually experienced woman fighting a high school girl over a man, I think of plantation slavery.  Where else would such fights be seen as important to have??

This sense of competition between adult women and adolescent girls also says something about the predominance of cultural values about youth and aging in relation to femininity, and where girls & women see their “market value” declining as they get older and develop more sexual experience.   In the Jamaican context, it’s not makeup, cosmetic surgery, fancy clothes, economic status or even skin color that determines a woman’s value; it’s her ability to perform sexually and to satisfy her lover’s sexual desires.  It’s how men perceive and project their desires onto her physical body.  Men’s desires are treated as a constant, pulsating social and metaphysical force that is literally carved into the landscape – just look how many go-go clubs exist, notice all the half-naked women painted on walls, plastered on the billboards, television and mobile phone screens, when men congregate in public, their collective visual field become something akin to a brothel or auction where women and girls are being tested or appraised for fitness.  All females are required to respond, no matter what their age.  If that’s the context in which women and girls are operating in Jamaica, then what any individual girl/woman can deliver is immaterial.

The difficult truth is that girls and women can never win at a game where they are interchangeable and disposable.   As long as they believe they can win, however, they will continue to engage in dubious acts  of self-promotion to project the idea that their sexual performance is worth testing.  But at the end of the day however, what women say about the tightness of their pumpum doesn’t really matter; it’s what men think and do with women’s bodies that count.   Jamaica might as well not have an age of consent.  Men don’t care one bit, and they haven’t been made to care.  And that’s what needs to change.

Phibbah on IRIE-FM

September 11, 2006

To Whom It May Concern:

I have been listening to IRIE-FM for a few months now, and it has functioned as mostly background noise for me.  So, for the past few days, I have been quite surprised — pleasantly so — to hear such discussion about the essay competition on Phibbah.  But, today, while listening to the DJ on the radio — I don’t know what her name is; broadcast around now, 1:30 — it became apparent that she did not fully understand the real impact and import of Phibbah’s experiences, or how to translate important dimensions of that history/knowledge into contemporary times.  The trajectory of her commentary went as such: she attempted to translate the formal history into Jamaican Creole by synthesizing the known history of Thistlewood raping Phibbah in the following way – “im musse did tink sey a’ ‘im ooman but ah rape im did a rape ‘ar”, and “memba di name Thistlewood, so if you si anybody wid dat name you can sey hmm…is im generation dem”.  She then went on to that while listeners might want to blame Phibba for putting up with being raped, they needed to recognize that she had few options because she was a slave (owned by Thistlewood); however, she was able to buy land, etc. etc. once she took the money he gave her to and became a free woman.  Immediately following, she referred to community activities in Westmoreland to build/renovate a center for adolescent mothers, and mentioned a monument to be built for Phibba. The segment ends with the song “Woman you get standing ovation.”

Now, it is itself remarkable that this is the first opportunity that we have had as a nation to use the historical experiences of Jamaican women to generate productive public discourse about the ways that rape and sexual terrorism continue to limit the lives of Jamaican women and girls.  However, it is not simply a moment to glorify Phibbah for eventually getting on with her life — that too is important — but to take stock of how power inequalities in the society based on gender and class still make the lives of many women and children so difficult that, in many ways, they are enslaved.  The psychological and physical trauma robs our society of women who could otherwise make important contributions, without waiting for the “ded-lef” of the men or the policies that traumatized them in the first place.   I believe that we as Jamaicans have a collective responsibilty to deal with this issue in an intelligent and creative fashion.

Downplaying the horrible experiences of rape — whether historical or contemporary, as the DJ did, only allows the stigma and the violence to flourish.  Women and girls can convince themselves that they can get on with their lives eventually, that there is really no harm done, and really, it is their business, not a reflection of the collective experiences and daily lives of the women who live in that society.  Men can convince themselves that since its their wife/girlfriend/cousin they really didnt’ do anything wrong.  Downplaying rape as a historical and contemporary reality of WOMEN – not just Phibbah and not just the latest victim reported in the Gleaner — allows us to “feel sorry” for the poor ting who this happen to and to ask “wha ki’na mn woulda do dat?” but ignore the ways in which our institutions — like IRIE FM — often conspire against us through their reluctance to call sexual violence against women for exactly what it is.  There are hundreds of Phibbas among us today, and few will get such a lucky break in a time when “owners/slaveholders” come in many stripes these days — fathers, boyfriends, dons, etc.

By ignoring or not recognizing the opportunity before us to condemn sexual violence and to generate new, vibrant debate and solutions about dealing with sexual violence in Jamaican society, we are conceding that rape and sexual violence is not really a problem, when in fact it is the the hidden crisis; just because Minister of National Security and Mr. Police Commissioner has shown little or no  interest in it [can we report sexual predators to Kingfish?] doesn’t mean that this form of violence does not also need national attention and resources. I know that, with effort and awareness, IRIE-FM can do much better to honor Phibba’s legacy.  I am counting on it.