By DR IAN BETHELL-BENNETT
Popular culture provides a plethora of examples of the understanding that women should be beaten, tapped up, gently scolded. Consider the lyrics for the Calypso song "Mighty Sparrow": Black up their eyes, bruise up their knee and then dey love you eternally." Or the duet between Eminem and Rihanna, "Love the Way you Lie', but of course these are old now, and though still damaging and popular, are outdone by more recent lyrics of "bitches, hoes, sluts and slags". Dudes are ns, gangsters and thugs; there are no positive influences here, yet this is what we as communities reduce ourselves to.
The very images and messages being received from these videos and lyrics are negative and harmful. Yet we think nothing of this. Once women are objectified, dehumanised through being made possessions of men, and men are likewise minimised to servile, violent beings, we have serious social problems that will continue to spiral out of control as much as we talk about improving the 'bad' situation.
The state as well as the nation have to be prepared to change the way we do business, how we behave and think in order to eliminate violence. If, for example, we continue to celebrate a development model that feminises labour, reduces the living wage to an unlivable pittance, and court exclusively non-Bahamian companies through foreign-focused legislation like the Hotels Encouragement Act, the Family Island Development Act, various chapters in the Penal Code - all of which serve to decivilise the local population - we promote prostitution, as other tourism-based areas will attest.
Denise Brennan's "What's Love Got to do With It" (2004) study of sex tourism shines some light on this. Of course the causes of gender-based violence, violence against women, and the desire to infantalise women are multifaceted and often invisible to the untrained eye, they are also normalised and so appear to be what we believe and live.
As the International Day for Eliminating Violence Against Women is upon us once again, we find ourselves in yet another interesting place internationally as well as locally. We often argue about eliminating violence, but we hardly ever discuss how many different kinds of violence we need to eliminate and how destructive these types of violence are to society as a whole, not just to women, who are usually most negatively influenced.
Focus on the physical
We often limit our interpretation of violence to someone punching, beating, slapping, kicking another person. In this area, our society ranks very high. We apparently celebrate the punishment of women for what they did wrong. When a man beats his wife or girlfriend, we often hear other women say things like, "She looked for that; she must have done something wrong; she was cheating on him."
In fact, I have heard women say she was bossy and abusive so he killed her. This is really a mental and attitudinal social normalisation and perpetuation of violence that should be shocking, but is not. Some police refrain from becoming involved in "domestic" situations that result in serious physical injury to women or men because they claim that the charges will be dropped the next day. Should their intervention not be a matter of course though?
It has become common to see young women in abusive relationships claim afterwards that they themselves were shocked that they stayed. They stayed because they thought it would get better, but it only ever got worse. Control, we are told, is love, but control is power, and not love. When someone slaps you because you were late, that is control. A young girl was informed by the police that her ex-boyfriend slapping her across the face and fracturing her jaw, was not an assault. The physical is obviously a small part of the problem. The state has failed to protect or even assist. Not only is the slap violence and an assault, it has been condoned by the state's refusal to address it for what it is.
What is an assault? How do women seek assistance under the law? How do families work to heal the traumas of what is so gently named but massively destructive? How can they count on state assistance through the avenues that are mandated to assist them when those are abruptly closed to them by patriarchal hegemonic thought? We often turn to the church.
Ironically, though many churches be peopled by women, the institution tends to be most anti-woman in its approach to and understanding of dogma and social control. Some parts of the Christian family interpret old texts that were used to guide communities as condoning control and, should it be warranted, violence (male power). We can then justify violence against women, domestic violence and marital rape through some renderings of scripture that afford women less status than men. When women are wedded to men, according to some branches of the church, they become their husband's property. They are chattels, much like enslaved Africans were. Once emancipation happened in the 1800s, blacks were apparently freed, but women, according to this belief system, remained enslaved forever. Some branches of the church even argue that women should not have rights to their own bodies or money, they must remain either subject to their fathers, brothers, uncles, or to their husbands.
Structural and cultural violence are justified
Attitudes are not formed overnight, nor do they change overnight; they have taken long years to form and normalise themselves. The same way Bahamian society tends to see it as normal now that tourism be almost exclusively a foreign-generated and owned industry, is the same way that we understand women in matrimony to be inferior to men. We understand that the man, even if he not being responsible, nor being an active provider in the home, should be able to enter and leave and inflict control over his woman and children as he deems appropriate and this is supported by legislation and hegemonic religious doctrine. Today, we can still argue that even though we can change the laws to empower women, we should not because the referendum failed to do so, yet the referendum's message was distorted to have been exclusively about same-sex marriage. Now that the state narrows the focus to remove obstacles to women's greater functioning in society, we still resist the change. This speaks volumes about women's position in society and entrenched attitudes that wish to keep them in "their place".