By IAN BETHEL BENNETT
Driving along Boyd Road the other day, the vehicle in front of me came to an almost complete stop. The driver, an older man, had drawn up alongside a young woman who was walking on the side of the road. He rolled down his window and began to speak to the young woman, who, from where I sat, ignored him completely. He then opened the door of his vehicle and started to lean out while proceeding extremely slowly. Of course, traffic was backed up behind me because of him. People blew their horns, but he paid no attention.
He talked to the young woman in her tight jeans, and weave piled high atop her head, walking as if to work. She continued to ignore him for her part, yet he insisted that she come with him. He could give her a lift. I was intrigued by this entire exchange. I thought, what if this were my daughter? I also thought, what if this were his daughter and some other hardback, rusty old man were accosting her in this way, what would he do/think? Did he do this because she had on tight jeans? Does she not have the right to wear what she wishes without fear of being accosted on the road by the likes of men like him?
What gave him licence to ignore this young woman’s ignoring him and insist that she would be “blessed” if she went with him? Why is it that men like him think that they are god’s gift to the world, and that they have the right to accost, shower with unwanted praise, and then berate if they are not “appreciated”, any young woman who walks the road simply because she is walking, she is a woman and he is a man?
I had to stop and think, how is it that we raise our daughters? Further, how do we raise our sons? Where does the distinction lay between my daughter and someone else’s daughter? The research indicates now that some men are very happy to break in their own daughters. In fact, they feel that it is their right as father to be their daughter’s first experience. This often happens when the girl is barely into puberty at somewhere around thirteen. In fact, according to some, this practice is fast becoming a norm in this country. When did this happen? It had always been that daughters were doted on by their fathers, and any man had to measure up to a father’s idea of what a protector was.
To be sure, this was problematic as it meant that women were not allowed to make their own choices. It also meant, however, that father’s were not sexually exploiting their daughters. However, still more research indicates that once “broken in”, daughters are being sent out to bring in the bacon for the family. This trend is often blamed on migration and immigration, though. Notwithstanding the blame game, these trends speak to a very callous society.
The man in the vehicle in front of me did everything but jump out and pull the young woman into the vehicle by her hair. This would have been the typical cave man mentality: I see something I like so I take it, notwithstanding any of society’s civil codes. It showed that despite us claiming that we are such a Christian nation and that we respect women and want our daughters to be honoured and respected, we are willing to do anything to gratify ego.
The experience was disturbing, not because it was uncommon, but because it was the second or third time in as many weeks that I had seen a somewhat similar exchange. One was with a schoolgirl walking to school. She was forced to get into the car as the man argued that if she thought she was too good for him, he would teach her. Obviously, we are not teaching our children to be safe. Also, we are clearly exposing them to great danger when they walk from home to school and back again. Worse than this, they are exposed to great danger in the home if it is that fathers see it as their right to take their daughters once they have reached an age where they are at the risk of having their first sexual experience outside of the family.
These matters speak to serious power inequalities, but more than that, they speak to young women being very unsafe. It is not surprising, given all of this, that the Bahamas has one of the highest sexual assault rates in the region. What is sexual assault? Is it only an assault when a man touches a woman against her wishes? Or, is it also assault when a woman is accosted on the road and she is detained from walking on her way because a man is expressing interest in her? If a man is expressing interest in a woman, she must, apparently, stop and agree to whatever his terms and desires are. The fact why so many students say that they feel most unsafe walking between home and school becomes obvious. How do we change this when the very people who are meant to be creating a safe environment are those who are sullying that same space? Are we saying that women simply do not have the right to walk unaccompanied on the roads without opening themselves to assault? Or are we saying that men have the right to simply insinuate themselves on any woman they feel they might like and expect her to reciprocate? What if she were your daughter?