By Dr Ian Bethell-Bennett
The Bahamas boasts an environment that is kind and a people that are friendly. People want to come and visit here, although we have far fewer stay over visitors than we did 20 years ago, and those are the people who leave money in the local economy.
At the same time, we are quickly becoming a very unkind, violent place. This unkindness is seen these days especially in the children as they express themselves over social media and on playgrounds.
Recently, yet another disturbing video has appeared on social media. This time a young primary school girl who is very large and towers over the boys she is near is slapped repeatedly by a young boy who claims he wants lunch money. The tragic thing is that she simply stands there and takes it. This says a lot about our society, like it or not.
As we continue to debate whether women should have similar rights to men, we head further down a path where women are treated as if they were subhuman, less than people and exploitable. Studies demonstrate that the more young children witness violence in their homes and lives, the more likely they are to understand that violence is normal and to behave violently towards others. This kind of reinforcement is only worsened by the politicians who consider it a public service to boast about beating women and as well as to not seeing why women should have equal rights to men.
According to many members of the clergy as well, women should only submit to their husbands. They must be submissive and allow themselves to be exploited by these men. They can be bought for a song and simply destroyed by the misogynistic society we inhabit. The messages are clear: women must allow men to be violent towards them. It is also clear that there is little political will to change this kind of thinking or behaviour.
We must start to talk about violence in terms that make it clear to young people that it is not normal to be beaten by someone. We must engage in the retraining of young people to understand that women are not made to submit as so many pastors want to read from the pulpit but never finish the quote or contextualise the reading.
We must submit one to the other in love, not through violence and insult. We must start to talk to young boys about respecting young girls.
This kind of behaviour actually though begins at home. School can only reinforce behaviour that is modelled in the home. Without a positive home life, school can do little to unlearn in students what has been taught to them through day to day exposure.
Many times, the nonverbal messages we send children are stronger than the words we use. How often do children hear a man say to a woman that he loves her and then slaps her silly? What message is left from that schizophrenic scene?
This relationship between violence and female submission is of course even further complicated by a society that sees nothing wrong in arguing that women are worth less than men. That a woman’s role is to receive abuse, to cook, clean and have children while the man leads the family. It is also further entrenched by violent misogynistic lyrics in many songs. These songs render women and girls as the absolute lowest in society. Yet we claim that we love them.
Former US President Jimmy Carter recently discussed how he gave up his religion or place in the Southern Baptist family because of their attitudes to women and girls. They refused to allow women to be equal in the church. He finds such patriarchal bigotry to be unacceptable. Yet here in the Bahamas we celebrate this kind if inhuman treatment of women and girls.
Young girls like the one in the video will have some serious scars after they grow up. Society has done little to work to rid these girls of the oppressive threat of violence that will follow them every day. We have, in fact, inculcated in them that as girls they must stand and submit to male domination and violence. They must also accept if a man assaults them on the street. How absolutely dehumanising for a young woman to not only be slapped by some boy publicly, but to also have the event recorded and then shared over social media. The damage is not only tenfold for her but also for all other young people who see the video.
We tell young women that men can slap them for nothing and that they must simply submit. At the same time, we tell young men that young women must be slapped. In order to handle ‘ya woman’, you must put licks on her. When the culture of the society is so unequal and abhorrently anti-equality, what hope is there for true success and Christianity?
These days we complain about the level of violence in our streets, but we do not see the link between what we are doing to our children and their behaviour. Through the traumas implanted in their souls by witnessing domestic and gender-based violence and their acting out violent public behaviour that allows them to shoot and kill anyone who does not do as they say, we must understand that what we sow so shall we reap.