Carolyn Cooper | Delroy Chuck’s ‘overpass at the cashier’
I feel so sorry for Delroy Chuck. He has been forced to apologise for who he really is. As a teenager growing up in Jamaica in the 1960s, Chuck would have been socialised to believe that boys are entitled to proposition girls. Or, as we say in Jamaican, to put question! The answer would depend on the kind of girl who was asked. Bad girls would say yes; good girls would say no, or maybe.
Chuck is now a senior citizen, and he doesn’t seem to think much differently about girls or women than the average schoolboy of the 1960s. His disparaging remarks in Parliament last month on the Sexual Harassment Act confirm his presumption that the long-lasting effects of abuse should be disregarded. What makes Chuck’s mocking comments particularly troubling is that he’s the minister of justice!
This is how Chuck put it: “We don’t want the situation that now happens in the #MeToo Movement in the US, where 30 years later you, you talk about, ‘I was harassed in the elevator’. Heh, heh, heh, heh, heh! No! If you don’t complain within 12 months, please, you know, cut it out.” Who is the “we” on whose behalf Chuck pontificates? Is it privileged men like himself? And who, exactly, is the “you” and the “I” he chastises? Powerless women who are supposed to submit to abuse? And why a 12-month statute of limitations on sexual harassment? Who decides when “it” should be cut out?
This is not the first time that the minister has made a mockery of the Sexual Harassment Act. At another meeting of the joint select committee in January, he turned the debate into a laughing matter: “You take, for instance, I mean, a supermarket as you quite rightly put it. And you have a nice cashier there and customers come and make overpass at the cashier. What can the employer do? Heh, heh! Tell, I mean, put up a sign to say, ‘Don’t harass the cashier’? Heh, heh, heh!”
The owner of a supermarket should not need a sign forbidding male customers from harassing female employees. But, ridiculous as it may seem to Chuck, a sign is, in fact, necessary. And that sign should be a law. It would be a powerful deterrent to juveniles of all ages who presume that a vulnerable cashier has no choice but to submit to unwelcome advances.
Chuck’s peculiar word, “overpass”, is revealing. I think he must have meant just ‘pass’. The insertion of ‘over’ seems to be a Freudian slip. It suggests that Chuck subconsciously concedes that making a pass at a nice cashier is an act that crosses over the line of decency. A cashier ought to be able to do her job without having to be bothered with unwanted passes from customers. But this repressed insight has not penetrated Chuck’s consciousness.
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Not surprisingly, even women defended Chuck’s derogatory remarks. It’s a familiar syndrome. Insecure women sucking up to powerful men! Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte told Chuck not to “stress” over the widespread condemnation of his vile statement. She backtracked on the dubious grounds that she “thought the complaint related to something done in his sectoral presentation”. Really?
Chuck has issued two apologies. The first did not go far enough to appease angry protesters who want him fired from his post as justice minister. So he did an updated video version. That was a rather unconvincing performance. He looked like a schoolboy in detention, forced to say what the headmaster demanded. The apology appeared to be nothing more than a public relations gesture.
Instead of pretending, Chuck should face the music like a big man. He should admit that he actually believes what he says. Sexual harassment is an issue that some men of a certain age simply don’t understand. As far as they are concerned, women always welcome an overpass. It never occurs to them that they could possibly not be desirable.
An apology, by its very nature, cannot be legislated. All the same, here’s my script for Delroy Chuck’s third apology: “I am a senior citizen who has long been out of touch with reality. I honestly thought the #MeToo Movement in the US was not relevant in Jamaica. I assumed that our women know the difference between harassment and a compliment. And I expected that if a woman was actually harassed, she would make a complaint right away. She would not put it off for 30 years.
“The outrage my ill-considered comments have provoked has forced me to examine my assumptions. I now see that sexual harassment is not a joke. I apologise to all women who are still traumatised, decades after suffering from sexual abuse. I am ready to go into therapy to learn how to surrender the patriarchal entitlement I’ve enjoyed for so long as a man living in Jamaica. I believe counselling will help me to see that these are modern times and the old way of thinking is no longer relevant. I must cut it out.” That’s an apology I would believe.