Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival has spurred an explosion of
conversation on culture, music, gender, sexuality, and tourism since its
conception. It has become clear that there are disparate views on the festival,
springing like weeds from foundations of religion, economic development,
tourism, morality, and societal norms. While there are many aspects of this new
festival that are deserving of scrutiny, it is imperative that we focus on the
issues raised by the Bahamas Christian Council - expressed by Dr. Ranford Patterson in January
2015 - before going any further.
Any Bahamian paying attention to current events, news reports,
and the bodies tasked with responding to the same expected a statement from the
Bahamas Christian Council. As the self-appointed moral police of the nation,
frequently supported and enabled by the government, the Council sees it as its
duty to provide direction to the country and its leaders, supposedly driven by
the tenets of The Bible. Regardless of one’s religious belief or moral position
- and opinion on Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival - the fallacies of the argument put
forth by the Council must be identified, examined, and disproved.
Dr. Patterson’s chief concern appeared to be the effects of
“immodest costumes” which, according to him, include promiscuity, fornication,
rape, incest, and other sins of the flesh. Without delving into the issues of
nationwide forced compliance with the interpreted rules of a particular
religion, a critical assessment of the Council’s view of women’s bodies and
violence enacted against them must be undertaken.
The idea that women and girls invite acts of sexual violence
against them is being promoted by the Bahamas Christian Council, thereby
perpetuating rape culture. Whether or not he realizes it, Dr. Patterson’s
comments serve to normalize and excuse the acts he seeks to prevent by policing
women’s bodies. The stance he has taken, on behalf of the entire Council,
serves to sexualize rape while blaming victims and attributing the injustices
they suffer to the choices they have the right make without fear of judgment or
Women and girls live in a world where they are constantly
watched, assessed, policed, shamed, and blamed, and by no fault of their own.
They endure sexual harassment in the workplace, school, streets, and other
public spaces. They are expected to smile on demand, have sex with their
husbands as commanded, keep their problems to themselves, and struggle silently
as they navigate a world clearly built for men.
Perhaps one of the most egregious errors made by Dr. Patterson
was born of his lack of understanding of sexual violence. Rape is not simply a
result of sexual desire. While sex is sometimes is an objective, in the case of
rape, it is often a tool used to achieve another objective. Rape is an
expression of power, and an attempt to gain control. It is used as compensation
for a deficiency, to prove superiority, or as an act of revenge. Violence, both
sexual and otherwise, is used as a method of social control. In this way, it is
similar to oppression.
It is unclear whether or not Dr. Patterson is aware of the
oppression implied by his objection to this new festival which is specific to
the attire of women. Through his message, he seeks to take away women’s right
to choose - the definition of oppression. Women and girls already live on the
edge of society, but are still being pushed further and further away from the
center, and into a realm of invisibility.
“No, you can’t wear that!” they say.
“No, you can’t dance like that!” they say.
“No, you can’t participate in this event!” they say.
“No, you can’t consume this product!” they say.
Society says to women, “This is where you belong, this is what
you can do, and this is what others can do to you,” while corralling them to
the margins. “If you don’t follow these rules,” it warns, “bad things will
happen to you, and it will be your own fault. The people at the center can’t
control themselves, so you have to compensate by disappearing, remaining
silent, and submitting to the rules.”
A new direction must be taken by those purporting to protect
vulnerable members of society. Rape cannot be prevented by warning women to
dress for a blizzard at all times, refrain from going out at night, and avoid
carnival costumes and dancing at all costs. The message is constantly directed
at the wrong group of people. Women and girls do not need to be taught to avoid
rape. Their lived experiences teach them what the Bahamas Christian Council and
the Royal Bahamas Police Force could never accurately fit into an instruction
sheet. Living with the perpetual fear of rape creates an inherent ability to
think, rethink, and overthink decisions. There is no need for institutions and
people in positions of power to exercise further control over the oppressed.
Rather than policing potential victims, energies should be shifted to
addressing potential rapists.
The Bahamas Christian Council has a wide reach, but fails to
use it appropriately. We hear little from the Council and its members when
church leaders are on trial for acts of sexual violence. We don’t see them when
young people suffer publicly, images of them circulated among the young and old
alike. Their morality does not hit the pages of the newspaper or televised news
reports in these instances. They are selective in their participation in
national dialogues, and rear their heads when it is convenient for them.
If members of the Bahamas Christian Council are committed to
the protection of women and girls, they will educate themselves on the
definition, causes, and effects of sexual violence. They will focus on
preventive measures which address the cause of such acts - the perpetrators,
not the victims. They will:
participate in conversations about consent
cease to perpetuate rape culture
recognize women and girls as humans with rights that exist even after “becoming one” with a man through marriage
avoid using The Bible for the proliferation of misogyny
recognize women and girls as equal to men and boys
address men and boys on these important issues
offer organizations and experts the time and space to engage their congregations
The Bahamas Christian Council must recognize that violent masculinity and men’s ideas about women, manhood, and power are the issues it needs to address. It has the physical space, platform, media access, funding, and access to resources including Coalition to End Gender-based Violence & Discrimination, Youth to End Sexual Violence, and Bahamas Crisis Centre to design, manage, house, and promote necessary programming. More effective work can be done when a concerted effort is made to collaborate with organizations - equipped with resources and expertise - already working in these areas. The Council must recognize that it is not the authority on every issue, and its treatment of women and girls will not go unnoticed. It needs to recognize and acknowledge its error, retract the previous statement, and move forward with facts supported by the evidence of decades of work in the area of sexual violence.
Wallace is a 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 ser
ves 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. Connect with her on Facebook.