By Nordia Henry, Staff Reporter
"DON'T CALL me sweetheart. I'm not your sweetheart," fumes Angela Browningbefore hanging up the telephone. "I know who I want to call me sweetheart and it's not him," complained Browning, a Kingston-based writer.
She explained that this was a business call with a man she was speaking to for the first time and that she resented being called sweetheart, baby, and other such names by men she did not know and who did not have her permission to address her on such intimate terms.
"I think it's out of order and a sign of disrespect," she continued.
She's not alone in this summary. The September 28, issue of The Sunday Gleaner carried a story about a garage worker who got into hot water for calling out to a female judge: "Judgie, Judgie, Judgie. Sexy, come here nuh." He was
In a world where men often address women, known to them or not, as darling, baby and other terms of endearment, some men and women do not understand what the fuss is about.
In response to the Sunday Gleaner story a letter in last Tuesday's paper questioned the grounds for the arrest. "I am confused about the action of the police officer and the subsequent defence of his actions by your newspaper in the editorial of September 30, 2003," wrote George Young. Among his points, he noted: "I am not aware of any law on the books in Jamaica that stipulates that a man or woman cannot freely address each other as 'sexy'."
MEN OUT OF LINE
Men need to know their boundaries, explains Angella Worges, a psychologist at Family Life Ministries in Kingston. "Women are seen as sex objects so these men are not aware of the severe pressure or repercussions sexual harassment has on women -especially when they address them in this impolite way," said Worges. "You may see a calm woman walking on the road, a woman who has been sexually molested and when you refer to her in this manner it just brings back the trauma that she has been through and she becomes fierce and defensive."
Men calling out to women on the streets describing their bodies and telling them what they would like to do is also common in today's Jamaica. That's because "it has been accepted in society for men to be outspoken, talking to women about their bodies, it is heard in the lyrics of songs," explained Hillary Nicholson, co-ordinator of Women's Media Watch. "Men have the notion that women's bodies are there to be talked about and dissected like meat. There are women who don't like it but the men don't stop to find this out.
"If I see a man on the street and I say to him, 'Yuh look good but yuh penis too short,' he would be mortified."
Actress Audrey Reid says she's appalled by the way these men approach women. "I find it offensive when a man hails me as 'yow'. 'Hello, lady' is more appropriate. The 'buff bay, big bumper girl' I find quite degrading and from this you can know the kind of relationship you will end up in with this person. I think the men need to show ladies more respect."
CATCHING THE EYE
Still, to some women, being called sexy, big bumper and other such names is, if not welcome, at least a sign that they're still catching the eye of the opposite sex. Colleen Douglas-Thompson, public education and information manager at the Bureau of Women's Affairs in Kingston, tells this story: "I have a friend who is living abroad, while I was talking to her the other day she said, 'I miss Jamaican men'. So I inquired why she would say something like that. She replied, 'No one notices me'.
"From this I can clearly say that our culture celebrates this kind of thing and it's the norm for Jamaican men. They like to say something to someone whose look they appreciate."
While "nothing is wrong with giving someone a compliment, it's how the words are coined," noted Douglas-Thompson. "Some words that are used to compliment women are coined so that they give a negative vibe even if the giver of the compliment does not mean it that way. If someone calls me 'sexy' I say thanks and go on."
Says Nicholson: "Nothing is wrong with a man giving a woman a compliment, but it is considered sexual harassment when the receiver feels offended and uncomfortable. But to (men) talking about women's bodies is one of the many ways of saying, 'I have a right to talk about your body'."
OFFENDED BY STATUS
Controversial TVJ sportscaster Oral Tracey reckons there's nothing wrong with a man calling a woman sexy or paying other such compliments. Tracey believes that the case involving the judge and the garage worker was handled in the way it was "because judges are status driven and so she thinks, 'who is a common mechanic that he should call to me?'
"Most of the boasie, stush women in our society believe that a commoner like a garage worker does not have the right to call to them. They are more offend by the status of the person calling to them rather than the content of what the person says. Nothing is wrong with a man saying, 'Hi, sexy'... If I am walking on the road and someone says 'hi handsome' I would not take offence."
A POWER THING
Nicholson, isn't buying that argument, however. "In the Caribbean, society expects boys to be sexually aggressive and if they don't portray this attitude they are seen as weaklings."
Neither is Angela Browning. "I think it's a power thing these compliments of endearments to women, they don't know. It's a way of keeping women in their place and it's just as bad as calling out all kinds of names to women on the street."
Worges explained why she believed some men behave the way they do. "The values of family have broken down and men are not taught. For example, men are no longer standing as the head of their households, so the boys growing up are not taught... they don't have enough men to emulate."