Annie Paul | Uncivil disobedience
It all started with UWI anthropologist Herbert Gayle saying that in his not-so-humble opinion, there is no such thing as violence against women. The Gleaner followed that up with a 24-page supplement this January titled 'Light on Violence', based on Gayle's research. Naturally, there was no mention in it of violence against women because, as has been made clear, in the Gayle universe, such a thing doesn't exist.
While I can understand and sympathise with the desire to push back at UN-dictated terms of reference in the funding of social research, I thought putting out a 24-page document on violence in Jamaica with not one page or section referring to the violence women face daily was going too far. A section called 'Four forms of violence we need to worry about' doesn't identify violence against women or domestic violence as one, despite the fact that in the months preceding this publication and the weeks immediately following it, the news was filled with reports of horrific murders of women very often by men they were close to.
In addition, the number of women and children routinely being raped points to a pervasive 'rape culture' that is so deeply ingrained and accepted that there is hardly any outcry against it. A blogger calling herself Natural Icon Beauty recalls at the age of six reporting to the family helper that she had been molested by the next-door neighbour and being told that this was normal, that the helper had gone through this, too, as a child, and that it was probably because the man's wife was away(!)
Because nine out of 10 times this is the reaction of adults to whom a child confesses his or her violation, the conviction rate for rape and sexual abuse is abominably low. Most women don't even bother to report their rapes because of the tortuous procedures involved that make them relive the trauma in the process of being interviewed by police and legal personnel bristling with disbelief and completely lacking in empathy.
So much for the worry that women are going to come out of the woodwork making false accusations when evidence shows that even when there IS a case, they are routinely dissuaded from reporting rape or are reluctant to do so because of the loss of reputation they suffer in the process.
Take Larissa Rhone, who gathered the courage after 30 years to bring her grandmother's husband to court in Jamaica for systematically violating her from the age of five to 16. For this she was vilified by the defence lawyer, as well as by her grandmother and others who called her wicked for 'ruining' an old man's life, completely oblivious to the number of young lives his marauding libido had wrecked, for it wasn't just Larissa but her younger siblings, cousins and even her own mother who had been violated by this man. Yet she and the other victims were all urged to remain silent about their trauma.
Matters were bound to come to a head. On March 11, women dubbing themselves survivors, marched in Kingston and all over the Caribbean protesting the violence routinely meted out to them. In Kingston, the march was organised under the aegis of a new organisation calling itself Tambourine Army. The protest was preceded by much disgruntlement and cass-cass within the activist community between what someone referred to as an older, more 'staid' form of activism and the bolder, more risk-taking approach of younger activists fed up of a violent status quo immune to the tactics of older activists.
The newcomers were accused of being too angry, emotional and confrontational. Worse, they had no qualms about lobbing profanities. But, as singer Tanya Stephens, herself a survivor, retorted: "The question is not why am I so angry. The question is why the f*%$ aren't you?"
To the criticism that the Tambourine Army was born out of an act of violence (what Global Voices called the bonking on the head of one of the accused with a tambourine), Stephens says: "Yes, guys, the Tambourine Army was formed around an act of violence. That act of violence was RAPE."
It was writer Kei Miller who neatly put his finger on what is important about Tambourine Army's modus operandi.
"What is truly radical about the Tambourine Army and the #SayTheirNames campaign is not that a raping parson did get kuff by a tambourine, or that they took to the streets to march and make up noise, or that one of their leaders got thrown in jail. All of that is par for the course in social-justice movements. So, no. The most radical thing about this movement is the simple belief at the heart of their campaign. 'I choose to believe you.' Just that. So simple. If you are a victim of rape, and you come to me, 'I choose to believe you.'"
In the meantime, to quote Stella Gibson, the alter ego of Latoya Nugent, who was arrested under the Cybercrimes Act for naming alleged sexual predators: "I stand with survivors because 'enough is b0#$%&#@t enough'."
To my mind, the burning question we are left with is this: What exactly are we doing as a society when we penalise the use of words like 'f*&^%#g' while systematically deflecting punishment from the men f*&^%#g underage girls and raping women?
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @anniepaul.