Everyday instances of sexism and sexual harrasment are still common in Cayman. I’m used to the catcalls I hear when I’m out for a run; I try not to let it get to me (most days) because as irritating and degrading as it might be, I need to choose which battles I pick. And when I’m on the road alone, I don’t pick that battle. Instead, I turn my music up and run harder.
But today, I’m picking a battle. Because yesterday, when I was just out living my life, going around town running errands, I dealt with a lot of patriarchal bullshit… and it’s not okay.
First up, 8:45 AM: I meet with a driving instructor before I go take my road test (yep, finally). The first thing he (middle aged man) says to me is “well, you’re a beautiful girl, so you’ll be fine.” Is that supposed to ease my nerves? It has the opposite effect.
9:15 AM: Road test time. Driving examiner (different middle aged man) “jokingly” tells me he’s single. Then asks who my family is. Of course he knows my dad, and says “Well, I better not say anything else to you because your father would come looking for me.” Yeah, he would. And you shouldn’t be saying anything to me in the first place!!! (I still fail my road test)
12:30 PM: In a shop with dad. See someone he knows on our way out (of course). This guy (yet another middle aged man) says “Is she your daughter? She must have gotten her looks from her mom!” This happens each time I meet one of my dad’s acquaintances. It’s the same joke every time. Wasn’t funny the first time, even less so now. He then proceeds to ask my father questions about me, while I am standing right there. He doesn’t look at me, or ask me any questions directly. I am a trophy daughter. I am humiliated.
1:30 PM: Sitting in a waiting room. A man is next to me, reading the paper. The frontpage headline shows the new Miss Cayman who was crowned on Saturday night. He makes a comment about her weight. I scold him. He asks, “Well, what do you think about her?” to which I reply that I don’t know what I think about her because I haven’t been paying attention, since I don’t agree with the institution of beauty pageants and think they should do away with them altogether. He back-pedals and agrees with me.
So, this was just half a day dealing with demeaning, objectifying comments from numerous men, under the most mundane circumstances. Comments made in passing, as if they were nothing. Comments made as jokes, as if they were funny.
Examples like these don’t even begin to scratch the surface of the ongoing issues of gender discrimination and gender-based violence so prevalent throughout the Caribbean. It’s been normalised in our culture(s). But, the thing about culture is: it’s learned. It changes over time.
And it is beginning to change. The #LifeinLeggings movement is a brilliant example of this: what started as a hashtag for Caribbean women to share their experiences of sexual harassment on social media has blossomed into a full-on registered charity in Barbados, “dedicated to tackling gender based violence and assault,” through numerous projects, including a regional women’s solidarity march.
Next week is the premier of a new film about the women’s suffrage movement in Cayman. Watching the trailer, my heart swelled with pride and adoration for the women who came before me and worked diligently to achieve gender equality. But we still need to work on it, because legislation is one thing, and culture is another.
So Cayman, we need to change the way we speak to and about women. We need to pay attention to the words we speak, and hold ourselves and those around us accountable for those words. It may be difficult and uncomfortable to do so, but it’s much more difficult and uncomfortable to be on the receiving end of those derogatory comments.
My great grandmother fought for gender quality. I shouldn’t have to fight the same battle she did.
Love and light ALWAYS.