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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Here We Are, Here We Are


Dr. Lester CN Simon

Once upon a time, a few years ago, at a university graduation ceremony, I became a fortune teller. No, I was not awarded a degree in astrology. Yes, I sat in disbelief as groups, nests, hordes and rows of female graduates jumped for joy on hearing that the gross number of female graduates had exceeded, by far, the number of the male graduates.

You do not have to be a real fortune teller to predict the future. If a woman’s place is in the house (Government House or the Houses of Parliament) because she is qualified, suitable, ready, willing and able to be there, what will happen to the domestic house, the home and the community from which she is being emancipated?

In matters of gender politics, you have to be very careful that some females do not confuse statement of fact and statement of causation. A very brave friend of mine (Dorbrene O’Marde) was nailed to the cross and given a shot of vinegar one night on radio when two women thought he had crossed them after he made a statement of fact. Neither am I braver nor do I have a better palate for vinegar than he but let me say that the emancipation of women without due and proper attention to social re-engineering will lead to the utter destruction of society as we know it and, more importantly, to the absolute impossibility of achieving the society we so richly deserve.

We have to start with the immense, invaluable contribution of black women to slave, colonial and post colonial society in order to understand what the emancipation of the black women means. There was a time when we fought for our women to stay at home to mind our children instead of being forced into another kind of hard labour. That is precisely the eternal paradox of all women and the double paradox of black women. Very few black males accepted traditional house work and the caring of ones own children and the whole ton of pikiniega from all over the place as real hard labour. It was in fact the bedrock of our family and community, the primordial, constitutive element and matrix of our society.

Economics and the liberation movement moved women out of the home and away from the traditional, sacrificial role. Actually, many women are trying to grapple with a dual, even manifold role. The emancipation of women surrounds a fundamental fact. Women in general and black women in particular come face to face with the abject fact that even if they wished to sacrifice themselves in traditional roles, self development is a prerequisite for effective, knowing, true self sacrifice. Indeed, to fulfill the golden rule that tells us to love others as we love ourselves, women must develop and know and establish that self first.

We have unwittingly thrown out the baby, the bathwater, the bath and the entire bathroom. The preponderance of women in both the school and the civil service is coincidentally linked with the poor state of boys in school and the poor state of the civil service. The other incident to coincide with this is of course the exit of male teachers from school and men from the civil service. Before I get a second dose of vinegar, let me hasten to add that these statements of fact do not infer causation.

Every school boy I knew was in love with their best female teacher and wanted to marry her or someone like her. My primary school teacher was the pluperfect BOAC stewardess waiting to fly away with no one else but me. Every school boy I knew wanted to be a composite of his best male teachers. Many of us were taught by two of the best math teachers this country produced, Ms. James and Mr. Bennett. We revered them equally, but we saw ourselves as a Mr. Bennett simply because he was a man.

In third form, we thought poetry was feminine until one day the tall, strong and circumscribing, Mr. Tim Hector marched in with, “And God stepped out on space”, the opening line of the poem, Creation, by James Weldon Johnson. The entire class had to learn and recite every stanza in tandem. At the end of it all, he added that the poem was written by a black man. Poetry became overtly masculine.

When we replace men in school and men in the civil service with women, without attending to the comprehensive needs of society, we are expecting an orchestra devoid of some of its master players, key instruments and essential accessories to produce meaningful sounds of music. The deafening irony is that we are a people with a very strong tradition of kinship. We underwent involuntary separation during slavery and now female liberation and economics (economics again, dear Eric Williams!) have forced some women into voluntary separation which is misguided in some, albeit relatively few, cases.

We have to restructure and re-engineer society so that the traditional role of caring by women not only becomes everybody’s business but so that the accoutrements of care are brought close to and inside the very workplace. Places where children can go after school to do their home work and play must be close to or easily accessible from work places. The work sites need more green places for leisure, friends and family, social gathering and promenades during lunch and breaks if only because, “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures”.

And so, my dear good people, it is right, good and proper that we have a woman in government house for the first time. The daughters must stand and take their rightful places. But if we do not deliberately and wittingly reconstruct society to redefine our extended family and our extended home, the cheese will not be the only one that stands alone.

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