Tuesday, 24 March 2009

It is when there are no words that words are most important

I have two older sisters who are proof of the idea that some people, like me, are just born into exceptionally lucky circumstances. I just spent the last few hours talking and laughing and mmm-ing and ahh-ing with them on the phone. They're in Barbados and I'm here, so after we've caught up on all our respective goings-on and yelled about who wet the bed the longest and who used to eat Bournvita from the tin, they eventually get around to relating the local happenings that haven't shown up in the online newspapers.

They told me about a new local TV series called Bajan Women, in which the presenter each week investigates issues affecting women and includes person-on-the-street perspectives as well as studio panel commentary. In the last programme, they looked at domestic violence, and interviewed a man on the street whose contribution I'm going to report now. Now I don't have a transcript of the show, and what I'm about to tell you is not only paraphrased from someone else's account, but also redacted a touch to account for his Bajan vernacular.

The man declared that he does in fact beat his partner ("I does have to share licks") because she provokes him. He said that by wiggling her fingers suggestively in his presence as a way of waving to friends, as opposed to just shaking her hand from side to side, she was driving him to beat her. He said that he would see her talking to men in the neighbourhood, which is also grounds for a beating. My sisters related how in telling his story, the man was so gripped with anger at the effrontery of this woman, that his lips were trembling with rage as he spoke. In their analysis, he was doling out punishment for perceived wrongs. He was, in fact, the victim, who was now labouring under the added burden of having to perpetually abuse a disrespectful partner until such time as she was set right.

"What did the women on the panel say?" I asked them. I was imagining all the discussion that could be teased out of this account, about the notion of women as property; the acceptance of violence as the only way to correct "uppity women" in a rabidly patriarchal society; the lack of self-censorship in expressing these ideas that should be overwhelmingly embarrassing for this man to express - but that he is not ashamed of because he enjoys tacit support from the rest of the society.

"They didn't say anything really," they said. "They pretty much just laughed it off. I think they were embarrassed."

So now we're embarrassed on behalf of people who should be ashamed to leave their homes, to say nothing of appearing on camera, when those people in fact have no compunction at all about bragging about their criminal activity. And we, given an opportunity to categorically reject everything that this man represents, to say something on behalf of that terrorized woman who is as that show is airing also being laid bare and placed in the most horrifyingly vulnerable position before her community, choose instead to be embarrassed, to laugh it off and then tell more polite, more appropriate stories.

I can't comment on the rest of the show. I'm glad it at least exists, but I've already said enough about something I didn't witness firsthand. I simply could not let this go uncommented. Because at some point, someone has to stop laughing and blushing and being embarrassed, and start helping to save some lives.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Creative Commons License
This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Licence