By RUPERT MISSICK Jr
A DEMOCRACY lives and dies on the outrage of it’s citizenry. That is, it thrives based on the signals the people of that democracy send to their leadership. The level of what is acceptable in their society, or even what their leaders can get away with, rises and falls on how the public responds to the actions and words of their political, civic and religious leaders.
That is why it was good and proper that the public was upset by Tall Pines MP Leslie Miller’s gallows humour in the House of Assembly last week.
As he was criticising the FNM for what he described as them not looking out for the best interests of fishermen while they were in government, he likened the previous Ingraham administration’s relationship with fishermen to a woman being abused.
“That’s like beating your wife or your girlfriend every time you go home, you just beat her for looking at her. I love you. Boom, boom, boom. I had a girlfriend like that. When I didn’t beat her she used to tell me I ain’t love her no more cause I don’t hit her.
“But seriously I had one like that. I had one. She used to tell me...”
At that moment, House Speaker Dr Kendal Major interjected stating: “We know that you are joking with that.”
However, Mr Miller continued: “No I serious with that. I tell her I get tired man. My hands hurting a little bit, give me a break.
“I am telling you the truth. One thing I don’t do is lie.”
During Wednesday’s session, however, he insisted that he had “never abused a woman in my entire life” and that his comments were spoken in “jest”.
Our politicians are notoriously tone deaf. As a matter of fact, they seem to enjoy that state of existence. It was absolutely sickening to hear some of his colleagues chortling at this “joke” and absolutely pathetic that not more of them publicly voiced their disapproval.
We should be embarrassed for the women who did not speak out and question the manhood of the “honourable” men who enjoyed the “joke”.
How a member of parliament can forget the kind of society they live in and serve is a dazzling study in how the supposed philosopher kings of a nation can be so far removed from the reality of the people under their care.
Not only are the number of reported rapes and instances of domestic violence high in The Bahamas for the size of its population, but domestic violence is the leading reason behind why a woman can be murdered in this county.
Even more confusing than why Mr Miller thought these comments were funny, was why he decided at his next opportunity in the House to lash out against the media for reporting it and Deputy FNM Leader Loretta Butler for chastising him.
The Tall Pines MP had many opportunities while making the comments to stop where he was and make it clear that he was drawing an analogy, albeit an highly inappropriate one, but he chose to let the Speaker end the session of the House without doing so.
The Bahamas Crisis Centre (BCC), the grossly unappreciated organisation at the fore of the fight against domestic abuse in the country was critical of parliamentarians for making “a mockery of domestic violence”.
In the absence of a unanimous rebuke from MPs of Mr Miller’s remarks the BCC said, “The actions of our leaders only served to reaffirm the dysfunctional thinking that women like abuse and like to be beaten. The fact that women sometimes stay in abusive relationships depends on a range of factors, including: fear, financial dependence, lack of self-worth, shame, traditional thinking, lack of support resources, and societal apathy. Added to this, the abuser often minimises the abuse to further confuse the victim.
“Research shows that women often leave and return to abusive relationships seven times before they leave for good. There is nothing funny about domestic violence and we as a society must create a supportive environment for women as they wade through the various issues that keep them trapped.”
As the BCC’s statement says, Mr Miller’s reckless comments as a leader who many look up to, did suggest that beating a woman was not only okay, but also implies that sometimes they do “ask for it.”
Even Mr Miller’s colleague in Social Services Minister Melanie Griffin couldn’t let Mr Miller’s comments slide. Last week she maintained that the government did not condone violence against women in any form.
“Hundreds of women in The Bahamas,” said Mrs Griffin, “face situations that cause serious distress, pain and frustrations to them and their children and households, generally. Since returning to office in May 2012, I have actively participated in many international and local meetings and conferences addressing the issue of violence against women and girls.
“Through the Bureau of Women’s Affairs, the Gender-Based Violence Task Force and partnerships with various governmental and non-governmental organisations, my Ministry continues to highlight this serious scourge in our communities providing public education and services.
“By mid-June, through the work of the Gender-based Violence Task Force and the results of a study being funded by UNWomen, we hope to have a strategic plan to strengthen the coordination of the various agencies that provide services to both victims and perpetrators and eventually to eradicate this ugly menace from our shores.”
Mrs Griffin added: “We must not be distracted and we must continue to work together to make our families strong, safe and free from all forms of violence.”
It was a bad week for Mr Miller but a good week for The Bahamas. The Bahamian public, often accused of passivity and turning a blind eye to the “slackness” of their leaders made noise and were heard all through social media, the radio and letters to the editor.
Much respect and kudos goes out to every public figure who spoke out on this issue but in the end no political, civic or religious leader spoke more loudly than the Bahamian public. Their outrage was what was needed to prompt Mr Miller’s mea culpa.
It was the people’s own revulsion to his comment that made their public servant bend to their will.
There are those who wish to congratulate Mr Miller for making the apology, but we congratulate people too often and quickly for doing what they are supposed to do, instead we say Mr Miller should be taken at his word that his comments were made in jest until somehow it is proven that they were not.
Mr Miller heretofore has enjoyed much public support and if he takes the criticism personally its only just as the reality of domestics abuse is a personal reality for so many.