An Open Letter to Caribbean Men on Gender-based Violence

Patrice Daniel, Youth Network Coordinator

Dear Caribbean Men,

We do not have to smile for you. Our smiles are our own. Our lips are our own and our smiles are a celebration of our happiness. We do not have to smile on command. We are not pretty, little, Black dolls whose smiles were painted on with red paint and a plastic brush. Sometimes, we’re busy. We’re busy thinking about geo-political trends, the next ten-mile run, and the latest cricket match. We’re too busy to be the smiling decoration that we, as women, are expected to be. Our faces can be thoughtful, angry, sad, peaceful, meditative, or bored. So stop, Caribbean men. Stop walking up to us, harassing us, and demanding that we smile. We do not have to smile for you. Our smiles are our own.

We do not have to answer you. Our names are our own. We were not christened, “Eh! Baby!” We do not have to turn around and pretend that we enjoy being summoned like pets. We are not charmed when you follow us and invade our space. We do not have to make conversation with you as you block our paths. We do not feel flattered when you stand in a group and leer at our figures, competing to see who can make the vilest remark. We do not take it as a compliment when you comment on our bodies and tell us what you intend to do with them. So stop, Caribbean men. Stop making us feel uncomfortable, afraid to walk the streets of our homelands alone. We do not have to answer you. Our names are our own.

We do not have to dance with you. Our hips are our own. Your admission to the fete did not include an all-access pass to our waists, breasts, behinds. When we walked through the gates, we did not sign permission slips. You don’t get to be angry because we don’t want you as a permanent appendage. You don’t get to grab us, restrain us, and force your bodies against ours. Our role at the fete is not to amuse, entertain, or provide you with a grinding post. Dare to imagine that we enjoy dancing alone. Dare to imagine that we enjoy dancing with our friends. Just because we dance with other guys doesn’t mean we now owe you. So stop, Caribbean men. Stop degrading us and insisting we accept your advances. We do not have to dance with you. Our hips are our own.

We do not dress for you. Our bodies are our own. The length of a skirt is not a personal message to you. Cleavage is not an invitation. Like most shoes, ours can’t speak. So, our heels don’t say, “Do me.” Our legs are not dinner bells, loudly chiming, “Come and get it!” You don’t get to say our bare skin provoked you. You don’t get to say you lost control. Take responsibility for your behaviors just as we take responsibility for ours. And stop, Caribbean men. Stop using our clothes as an excuse when you rape or violate us. We do not dress for you. Our bodies are our own.

Sincerely,
Caribbean Women


Related:
My Mexican Manifesta against Gender-based Violence

Comments

Sean Macleish

Don't tell women how to dress, tell men not to rape.

Sonya Sanchez Arias

Well written - but there's another side to this letter that needs to be addressed, especially with regards to the following words: "We do not dress for you. Our bodies are our own." - Really? Then why do so many of my Caribbean sisters disrespect their own bodies by wearing vulgar clothes that leave nothing to the imagination? Why is stripper clothing becoming mainstream? And please explain the excessive popularity of the new style of dancing called "twerking". Please tell me who was that dance was invented for - our sisters? Why are young women 'twerking' and bending over on all fours inviting men to 'jam' them from behind - who is that behavior a message for? Dressing sexy or vulgar and not expecting a caribbean man to 'soot' or comment is no different - than covering your entire body with tattoos and piercings and not expecting anyone to stare. It's just not going to happen! The way you dress and carry yourself, your body language, the way you speak or respond in a conversation, your manners, your dignity, your self respect, it all sends a message. Everyone in society should be a role model, not only for their own self-respect, but to inspire respect from others.

Nyma Bee

The problem with “respectability” politics is that a woman’s alleged vulgarity is often used to rationalize harassment and assault. Harassment, by definition, is unwanted attention. If a woman is behaving in a particular way in order to get a man’s attention then that, by definition, is not harassment so I don’t see that as the subject of this piece since this explicitly addresses harassment. A woman can, and should, expect that her clothing and actions will not be used as an excuse and justification for harassment. A woman has the right to wear what she wants and dance in any way that she wants. Period. We walk a very slippery slope when we suggest that a woman essentially “invited” harassment by something she did or did not do. Harassment is the fault of the perpetrator and no one else, certainly not the victim. A woman, like a man, should be able to walk around happily and freely without her clothing being indicted. Moreover, assault and rape are rampant in conservative cultures where women dress extremely modestly as well. So a long skirt will not protect a woman. Men can choose not to harass, even if a woman is standing in a bikini. We need to stop giving harassers a free pass by implying that they cannot help it. The men that choose to harass CAN help it. Harassment is a conscious decision, not a must. Indeed, there are many men who make the choice not to harass a woman. A woman’s safety, security and peace of mind should never be dependent on an arbitrary assessment of her respectability. A life free of harassment is every woman’s right. The way she dances or moves or dresses should never negate that. Ever.

Adler Bynoe

This is a truly well written piece that appropriately highlights a major aspect of the existing gender relations in so many of our Caribbean countries. It highlights the sexualized conduct of many of our Caribbean men towards our Caribbean women as well as the machoism that young Caribbean men are sometimes expected to confirm to. It says what so many Caribbean women have always wanted to say and – yes – it forces the Caribbean man to reassess his actions and those of his fellow Caribbean men and to think of how his actions can be more respectful of the Caribbean woman. Well done Patrice!

Jeanette McEwen (Grenada)

An excellently written piece that has captured not only the thoughts every woman has wanted to say but dare not, - or if ever tried was shot down with further offences, but this open letter also expresses the thoughts so perfect in a language that cannot be mistaken or misinterpreted, in an everyMAN language. I am sure (pray) there are many Caribbean men that will read this and consider their actions. We must continue to communicate from woman to man, and vice versa, on these matters. Well done to Patrice, if you are the author. :)

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