Mon | Jan 21, 2019

The fabric of respectability

Published:Friday | February 6, 2015 | 12:00 AMZaneta Scott

I read the vitriolic diatribe of one of Jamaica's most beloved Jesuit priests last Friday from the perspective of a woman on a burgeoning career path in a country recently heralded as the place most likely to have women managers. I read also as an evangelist for the extinction of that jarring label of 'female' to describe women in a way that falls just short of conveying humanity to the female counterpart of a human male.

My identity, the composite of qualities that make me who I am, bears two unique profiles: woman and Christian. Often, I have had reason to contemplate how these two identities and their attendant ideologies negotiate with one another, how my feminist politics and personal theology dovetail and juxtapose each other to make the whole. I have parsed through enough daily occurrences, slights and pleasantries to conclude that the two are not always at odds. And so I read to the end, praying to reach logic, but finding none.

It would have been too easy to merely admit a feeling of disappointment at the near-canonised Jamaican public figure. It would have been too easy to arrive at the conclusion that this was about a swimsuit and propriety. Conversely, it would be even harder to prove an argument for poor government performance (the leaps and bounds the author made rivalled any Jamaican track team). Instead, the words read like a study in respectability politics - a rhetoric usually foisted by its apologists on to an unbothered subject.

Father Ho Lung begins by (rightly) calling out the Government for serving a diet of despair and hardship to a dispirited public, while announcing hope is ever present on the menu. From his singular perspective as a missionary and humanitarian, he heaves a collective sigh on behalf of the nation's poorest and often forgotten. The main course hasn't yet come, but we, the public, are left to pick up the tab.

His critique carefully avoids ascribing the blame for the country's development failures to the current administration wholesale, or, more specifically, to the minister in whose portfolio the economy rests. There was no public rebuke left in the bag for even the commander-in-chief herself. There was no analysis of the policies and performance of the Ministry of Youth and Culture. This was not, and failed to be, a thoughtful reflection on the shortcomings of a nation clawing her way and her dollar to stability.

If one can even begin to hinge the paragraphs together to form any logical conclusion, it was that respectability can be slipped on and stripped off as loosely as garments hang on our backs. It was that a nation's performances (and hopes) are pinned to the cotton and spandex choices that public officials make in their free time.

Describing a favourable, even gratuitous, relationship with the media as some sort of long-form selfie was a curious interpretation. That, coupled with the ascription of 'queen of politics' to someone other than the female head of state, makes the writer an eccentric citizen of a monarchy whose queen has not called for such a coronation. Perhaps he meant to say 'beauty queen' in a reductive way. Because, the implication follows, this queen is not capable of ruling her kingdom (MYC) because her monarchical lens has not widened from the view of a pageant stage.


Women's fashion


This holds further implications for what rational conclusions one can make about a woman's fashion choices and how respect can be tugged like a rug from under her feet. This is the seed that germinates a culture of spirit-crushing street harassment - that certain snide comments from men are justified because of the way a woman dresses. We will reap the whirlwind.

But this is where the feminism and faith meet in the crossroads of my mind.

Before we face our Maker, we are called to reflect Him here on earth. Missionaries of the Poor accomplish this in a way that many contemporary Christians do not ("If you love me ... feed my sheep" - St John 21:17). But the mission of love is also embedded in the way we articulate His heart and love for people. That article - the levying of a singular and personal affront and ululations for a burning at the stake of a myopic brand of righteousness - did not convey that kind of love to me.

It is still very early out in the year, but evidently not too early for clerical disappointments.

Perhaps Minister Hanna's handling of her dual identity as a government minister and a public persona is a little clumsy, such as the conjunction of her name and portfolio to create an Instagram user name for a personal account. But the dual roles - of minister and mother, politician and person, are not interchangeable.

Her humanity is not stripped away at the donning of a swimsuit; certainly not in exchange for an other-worldly form the likes of Lucifer himself. And perhaps, it would interest the Father to peruse @lisahannamyc for unmatched sartorial cues in white linen.

n Zaneta Scott is an environmental planner in the housing sector. Email feedback to or tweet Zaneta at @zanii_zan.