The Bahamas Weekly Facebook The Bahamas Weekly Twitter
Columns : Genderational - Alicia Wallace Last Updated: Feb 13, 2017 - 1:45:37 AM

The Classing of Bahamian Women
By Alicia Wallace
Oct 30, 2015 - 2:42:00 PM

Email this article
 Mobile friendly page

“Girls should be seen and not heard.”

“Dress the way you want to be addressed.”

These are some of the ways we control and class women and girls, blaming them for acts of violence against them before they even occur.

With a constitution that gives men greater citizenship that women, laws that fail to protect married women from rape by their husbands, and policies that put women at a disadvantage, misogyny is alive and well in The Bahamas, practiced by many on a daily basis. The nationwide hatred of women has become so commonplace that many do not bat an eyelash at blatant acts of violence against them. Moreover, people boldly defend the acts of abusers, casting blame on women by assigning them tiers and levels of womanhood ranging from cutta to lady.

In recent social media news, a woman presented her father with a purity certificate on her wedding day, attempting to proven her virginity and the keeping of a promise she made to her parents. This family thought it was appropriate for the father to be more than a little interested in his daughter’s hymen. While it is a woman’s right to choose to abstain from sexual activity, lauding it as the best option for everyone and putting her on a pedestal based on that decision is a way of belittling and devaluing those who make other choices. It perpetuates the idea that women who are virgins when they marry are more valuable and, therefore, worthy of the happily ever after so many deem marriage to be.

We are quick to make judgments of women based on their appearance, style of dress, location, network, and perceived sexuality. “Cutta” has become a common term used to demean women for their engagement in sexual activity. Men assign this term to women who engage in casual sex. They joke that these women are willing to have sex in exchange for a cheap meal, specifically identified and obtained from a particular takeaway. This “joke”, like so many others, serves to devalue women, erasing the rest of their stories. It does not take into consideration that women head 47% of households below the poverty line, and suffer a higher rate - almost 2% more - of poverty than households headed by men. No thought is given to the financial position of a “cutta” or her responsibilities and she is reduced to an object, a joke, and a low-tier woman. No one is concerned about the children she may go home to feed with the thigh snack so many find it easy to laugh about. A new television show even dedicated an entire episode to the “cutta special”. Competitors were challenged to prepare the meal, but it didn’t stop there. The episode was littered with tasteless cutta-related “jokes”.

Respectability politics is a tool for victim blaming. It seeks to place blame squarely on the shoulders of victims of injustice based solely on the way they present themselves. Skirt lengths, pant waist locations, pedestrian coordinates, hairstyles, and use of language are used to assess and repress minorities, especially women and people of color. Respectability politics prompts us to strip ourselves of individuality, preferences, and style, eliminating “bad” traits to create a more homogenous society. It often requires us to find ways to do things that are unnatural and/or unachievable for us. It is personified by police officers who chase young black men out of the downtown area because, assuming they have no business there and asserting that they do not belong. It is exercised by school administrators who send children home for having unapproved hairstyles. It exists within institutions, both formal and informal, and in our personal lives.

In the case of gender, respectability politics is treated as a common sense clause to existing as a woman.

Don’t want to be harassed? Don’t wear revealing clothing.

Don’t want to be raped? Don’t consume alcohol in public.

Want to get a job? Wear a suit, straighten your hair, and put on makeup.

Don’t want to be called a slut? Don’t have sex. With anyone. Ever.

Respectability politics makes judgment easy. It makes casting blame a natural response. It keeps people in boxes, makes them more cautious, and is meant to police their actions. When a woman refuses to follow the rules, the worst among us rate her respectability. If the level isn’t high enough, it tries to make her pay. Such was the case when an investigative journalist broke a story that wasn’t pleasing to a particular group of people. All of a sudden, her sexual history became the topic of discussion. Detractors attempted to discredit a professional by playing on the negative connotations society attaches to the sexuality of women. Respectability politics moves the focus from pervasive and systemic issues, diverting it to the personal lives of those who threaten systems that benefit the powerful.

As has been noted on many occasions, there is a double standard when it comes to sexuality and the way it is expressed by men and women. Women are expected to be demure and innocent, refraining - or at least seeming to refrain - from sexual activity. Men, on the other hand, are encouraged to exercise their (hyper)masculinity by dominating women in various ways, not the least of which being sexually. Women are told that they gain mileage while men are told to get as many notches in their belts as possible. The question in this heteronormative society, however, is where are men to find these notches when the women are supposed to remain pure?

We make it too easy for people - misogynistic, racist, sexist, and classist people - to manipulate us by slight of hand. We’re too busy focusing on the distraction they create to recognize their motives. We focus on the cellphone a black student was using in class instead of recognizing being flipped and dragged by a white police officer as an act of violence against her and an example of institutional racism. We pay attention the waist of a young man’s jeans instead of the unfounded harassment by police, the clothing of a young woman instead of the threats of violence against her, and the appearance of the poor rather than their lack of access to resources. We are being distracted by our own pretentious, elitist, sexist, racist ideas of the way people should look and behave, missing the obvious issues. Privilege is not considered. We’re so busy trying to meet unreasonable standards, all in an attempt to blend in, that we lose perspective. We contribute to this patriarchal, misogynistic, racist, classist society by trying to measure up, and evaluating everyone else, many of whom did not buy into this losing game. When will we see the truth?

It’s been said a million times before, but this may be the time someone finally gets it. There’s nothing respectable about respectability politics. It only keeps us from paying attention to the things we’re not meant to see.

Alicia Wallace is a Bahamian writer, blogger, and social and political commentator. She holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree from St. Mary's University, Halifax, NS. She is a women's rights activist, passionate about public education, community engagement, and the empowerment of women and girls. Alicia is the Director of Hollaback! Bahamas- part of a global movement to end street harassment - and Co-founder of the Coalition to End Gender-based Violence & Discrimination. She serves as the Youth Ambassador for The Bahamas to End Sexual Violence, and is one of 60 recipients of the Queen's Young Leaders Award in 2015. Alicia lives in Nassau, Bahamas.  Connect with her on Facebook Or  equalitybahamas@gmail.com



Bookmark and Share

© Copyright 2015 by thebahamasweekly.com

Top of Page

Receive our Top Stories

Preview | Powered by CommandBlast

Genderational - Alicia Wallace
Latest Headlines
Disappointment in Butler-Turner's Senate Appointments
#WeMarch - A Revolution?
Alicia Wallace talks with Erin Greene on Bill #4
#FreeThePuff, Free the Mind
Alicia Wallace: My Queen's Young Leaders Experience