Thu | Mar 30, 2017

Annie Paul | Men and women

Published:Wednesday | January 11, 2017 | 1:00 AM

Years ago, when I lived in Rio de Janeiro, a neighbour who was a high school teacher was brought before the disciplinary committee at her school for having sex with one of her students, a 15-16-year-old boy. "I generally eat steak," she said in explanation, "but once in a while I like veal."

If you find that shocking and unacceptable, but think the Moravian pastor, Reverend Clarke, who allegedly slept with a 15-year-old girl, is facing unfair criticism, you're a hypocrite, if not a downright sexist. But it's a well-known fact that despite what the proverb says, what's good for the goose is NOT good for the gander. Us women are used to such double standards.

And if, hypothetically speaking, the alleged victim was a 15-year-old boy rather than a girl, the outrage would no doubt have been unanimous and dog nyam the pastor's supper. Not a soul would have stood up for him much less gone to court to shield him from the media. He would have been torn to shreds on the spot.

 

UNCOMMON PRACTICE

 

Despite the instance of the Brazilian schoolteacher, it's not common for grown women of 50 or 60 to seek out schoolboys as sexual partners. As Shadine Rosanna commented on Facebook, "I still haven't met the 'force ripe' 15 yr old boy whom I'm attracted to and can't wait to bed." And as mentioned earlier, the patriarchal society we live in would be far less tolerant of such misconduct.

Yet shockingly, a large number of churchgoers and other stalwarts have come out in support of Reverend Clarke, showing a callous disregard for the well-being of the young girl.

While Jamaicans try to come to terms with their patriarchal prejudice and paternalism, a related scenario has riven the public sphere in India. On New Year's Eve, a number of young women celebrating in a highly policed public space in Bangalore (the city I'm currently in) were groped and molested by a mob of young men. That it happened in this cosmopolitan, genteel Southern city was half the shock, the other half prompted by the systematic denial of the incidents by police until CCTV footage emerged showing graphic instances of women being molested.

Even then, several prominent politicians and city officials were inclined to pooh-pooh the men's misbehaviour, suggesting that the women might have invited their advances by being dressed in revealing, Western clothes and revelling in public after midnight ("Are Indian men so pathetic and weak that when they see a woman in Western clothes on a day of revelry, they get out of control?" asked the chair of the National Commission for Women).

 

SIMILAR CULTURES

 

Patriarchal responses to the abuse of women run deep in societies like Jamaica and India, in short, in patriarchal societies. In the wake of Bangalore's 'night of horror' and the outrage it generated, one of India's public intellectuals, Ramachandra Guha, recounted an incident that occurred 88 years ago involving Mahatma Gandhi.

In 1938, a Punjabi college girl had complained about the teasing and harassment she and her companions experienced at the hands of 'prowling young men'. She asked how in the face of such provocation women could respond with non-violence. Gandhi agreed that it would be difficult to do so, recommending young women learn martial arts to defend themselves, but then going on to say, in true patriarchal fashion, that women's dress codes might be to blame: "The modern girl dresses not to protect herself from wind, rain and sun but to attract attention. She improves upon nature by painting herself and looking extraordinary."

Keep in mind that in 1938, women in Punjab were not dressing like Westerners, in fact, they would have been covered from head to toe. Yet that didn't prevent some men from harassing women. In 1905, a Muslim Indian writer wrote a story about a female utopia where the roles were reversed and men were kept indoors, confined to harems, while women walked around free. The rationale was that like dangerous animals who are kept in cages men needed to be kept from wandering around harming unsuspecting females.

 

FEMALE UTOPIA

 

"You need not be afraid of coming across a man here. This is Ladyland, free from sin and harm. Virtue herself reigns here," said a citizen of this utopia to a female visitor from the patriarchal world. "Men, we find, are rather of lower morals and so we do not like dealing with them."

Women run everything, using science and technology to better the world in this amazing story written by Rokeya Shekhawat Hossein in 1905.

Ladyland. Surely, we don't have to go that far to live without fear of sexual violation in this day and age?

- Annie Paul is a writer and critic based at the University of the West Indies and author of the blog, Active Voice (anniepaul.net). Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com or tweet @anniepaul.