‘…a bhutto (Jamaican word for crass ignoramus) in a [Mercedes] Benz, is still a bhutto…! – Professor Rex Nettleford, n.d.
Happy New Year, Reader!
2016 has begun with a bang! There can be no doubts about that. Since the beginning of the new year, there have been at least three different stories all concerning Feminism and, to a lesser extent, sexism, as well as Jamaicans.
Note, not all have been about Jamaica or Jamaicans but certainly that which I wish to highlight today has been. It concerns the fining of onetime West Indian Cricket Captain, Jamaican, Chris Gayle, who also now plays for Australian Cricket Club, Melbourne Renegades.
The others concern a local newspaper story about schoolgirls ‘stalking’ male teachers in the classrooms, in Jamaican high schools and another about Bill Cosby, about which I also posted some initial reactions on Facebook, at the start of the year.
However, let’s quickly address today’s issue, primarily, through the title of the blog: ‘Feminism is not the enemy, bad behaviour is!’ Given how contested the word Feminism is, allow me to use a very brief, but relevant definition, as offered by African-American scholar, feminist activist and cultural critic bell hooks, in her book ‘Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics‘.
According to hooks, ‘Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexual exploitation and oppression‘. This simply means that, regarding practise and ideology, Feminism aims to include ALL people and to end ALL forms of oppression, including prejudices such as racism, classism, ethno-centrism and, yes, even sexism.
So, that leads to the matter of what is sexism and what might have motivated the charging and subsequent fining of Chris Gayle for these comments? (And it is not the first time that he has done so, either).
Well, for starters, the comments are not (just) about flirting, at least not in the strictest sense in which the two or more people involved are vested. No. It is about Gayle announcing his intentions towards the women in question, in what might be considered as an aggressively sexual way, that is neither flattering nor invited.
Note that, in both instances, he was being asked specifically about cricket. Gayle, however, chose to ignore – at least for the moment – the questions asked by the reporters and posited a sexual proposition instead. He felt that on both occasions this was entirely within the remit of appropriateness and never appeared concerned either about the timing or the place of his remarks.
It was, in effect, all about Chris Gayle being Chris Gayle, at least, given what we know of his public persona. Significantly, Gayle would not have done so with a male reporter. Nor would he have even considered it.
And that is not just because he positions himself as a virile and, obviously, sexually available heterosexual. No. It is the because the reporters are women. Gayle feels that because of this he is well within his right to bring up and further carry out a proposition about sex or entertainment which has no place in the conversation.
Female reporters are, according to this logic, in a lesser class than their male colleagues. They are women first, last and always. Reporting is only incidental to their purposes for being present, especially in Gayle’s presence. That it was an interview about cricket, in the first instance, is of minor consideration and also a press conference about cricket in the other did not appear to matter to him either. No.
He had to get his jollies off. And, as attractive and, evidently, ‘sexually available’ women were present, that is always the right time to announce his intentions. They ought to consider themselves lucky to have hit such amazing jackpot. They, therefore, need look no further for their ‘dance partners’ for the evening; that is, presuming they were, in fact, seeking dance partners. Or, that they had an interest in men. Or even in Chris, for that matter.
But none of that mattered to him. He was present. So that meant all able bodied women, presumably of consenting age, in the immediate vicinity should drop what they are doing and immediately acquiesce to his ‘charms’ – albeit, completely unsophisticated.
No need to talk about how women have had to fight to be taken seriously as journalists in a domain such as sports which is still considered the bastion of male power and patriarchal dominance. Women must engage with comments about their eyes, breasts, dress as well as other parts of their anatomies all the time, whereas men are not required to express that same level of care.
Men earn their positions simply by having a penis. They are naturally ‘gifted’ to carry out the very difficult task of reporting about sports. Women, however, are not. They have vaginas. That is the ultimate handicap and, for which, they require the aid of men, who MUST assist them with this ‘weakness’, by calling attention to their bodies, even in really professional and serious settings…What a drag it must be to be a woman!
Consequently, women must prove they can ‘run with the boys’ and still not be deterred by ‘jokes’ about how they look, as well as other unsolicited invitations to dinner, coffee and whatever else. Indeed, even as I say this, I am aware that not all men get treated the same way by patriarchal culture and that not all women are affronted by these remarks, as can be gleaned from various social media discussions about the issue.
However, it would behoove us to also reflect on the fact that, at least forty percent of underage girls and, in many cases boys, are violently initiated into sex in Jamaica. In this culture and society where all kinds of premiums are placed on a certain representation of masculinity, women and girls, especially, are forced to deal with men and their aggressive displays of sexuality at all times and in various ways, regardless of the consequences.
For instance, community dons – heads of violent criminal networks, routinely send for underage girls in certain communities, as a way of staking their claims to power. This extends to control of the adolescent female bodies and sexualities within their remit. Fathers and older male caregivers or even random strangers, routinely, do the same as well.
It is all part of a culture of excess. A claim to a notion of the man as the ultimate conqueror. One in whom all powers rest and who must have access to all resources, including those embodied within the personages of the people who surround them, in this case women and girls.
And, note, I am not suggesting that all forms of flirting are to be thus scrutinised. Hardly. On the contrary, I am speaking to how elements of this behaviour may be construed as offensive and even dangerous.
This is especially when we also consider how factors of race, ethnicity and culture might well impact how such overtures of masculinity are received in foreign spaces. Not all people get it that our men need this kind of validation – and by that I mean Gayle’s seemingly constant need to advertise his sexual availability in inappropriate places.
Perhaps rooted in a history of subjection on the plantation and the violence of the encounter with European masculinities, or as an effort to eke out a similar sense of power, Jamaican men are wont to prove they are ‘real men’. Dancehall and other popular expressions of culture in Jamaica are replete with the ideas of uncontrollable, violent and, oddly enough, desirable masculinities.
These are routinely paraded as a form of ideal to which boys are to aspire and to which women are expected to acquiesce, without complaint. Little wonder there is moral outrage about Gayle being fined for his ‘pick-up’ of Ten Network presenter, Mel McLaughlin, at Blundstone Arena, Hobart, Australia, on Monday, January 4, 2016.
Little wonder, we are still considering this as part of a ‘classically Jamaican’ brand of wooing desirable women. They must be thankful for the attention and are not expected to complain.
We conveniently forget, however, that even women not traditionally considered desirable also have to deal with this kind of harassment. The case of a teenaged girl believed to be mentally ill and who was gang-raped by a group of boys in Westmoreland, Jamaica, last July, makes the case all too well. It should give us pause in our defense of bad behaviour, whether as ‘culture’ or ‘harmless’ (flirting).
The point is that, not everyone finds this approach – such as it is, either appealing or necessarily desirable. Not all women will view this as something to look forward to, whether on their walk to work, in the office or, in this case, at an interview about a cricket match on live TV.
We may want to rethink this ‘Jamaican culture’ brand that has been tagged to Gayle’s clearly out-of-line and out-of-place remarks and consider, for a moment, how we have blithely ignored various forms of sexual harassment, almost as if it were a standard part of male-female relations, in the public domain.
And, note, this is not to say that men do not reserve the right to pick-up women and vice versa, at whichever points that fall within the boundaries of the law. No.
It is simply to highlight that, not only is there a time and a place for everything but also that certain things have the potential to escalate into very serious forms of violence and may be considered as being (very) aggressive.
Jamaicans already have multiple marks against us as a violent people. What need is there to further these ideas by inviting said criticism and so distastefully, at that?
I am completely at a loss by this round of ‘cultural ambassadorship’ displayed by the estimable and, no doubt, accomplished Mr. Gayle. Professor Rex Nettleford, of blessed memory, himself a former cultural critic, creative artist, dancer and accomplished academic seemed to have to hit the nail on the head, perfectly, with his quote above concerning bad behaviour by crass ignoramuses.
Regardless of the state of your material well-being ‘bhutto’ behaviour, no matter how dressed up, is still very much that – wrong, and ought not to be accepted as any form of cultural badge of honour, to which anyone should aim aspire!
…Walk good! We talk, next time!