The trend in Barbados currently seems to be that older women are dating younger men. Not that a movie like How Stella Got her Groove Back had any bearing on that at all! Seriously!! It is simply that Barbadian young men are breaking the traditional male chauvinist moulds that make some of their older counterparts seem so rigid and removed from the progress that women have made in the country and in the world.
Young Barbadian men have been raised with mothers who were independent women in their own right. Hence, their concept of what a ‘good’ woman is and what is her place is much more fluid than with older Barbadian males. That is refreshing to me and several Barbadian women.
Alas, there remains a significant taboo about older women who date younger men. It is a part of the inherent hypocritical dichotomy of contradictions that we nurse on this sweet Island. Whereas there is sometimes as much as 30 clear years between a man and his lover or partner, for a woman to be as much as four years older than her love interest is sinful.
The construction of woman as needing guidance and not able to guide, as well as the belief that a man’s headship is tied to his ability to provide financially for his ‘woman’, are the ingredients which come together to make older woman/younger man partnerships unacceptable. There is so much to do in the quest to deconstruct and reconstruct the ‘woman’ in Barbados that I sometimes wonder if I am repetitive in this space but I remain so aware of the painfully slow progress we seem to be making.
In every partnership, there is a dominant and latent partner whether the couple is same aged or not. One person tends to take the lead in terms of what are the goals of the partnership and how those goals are to be reached. While the old fashioned orientation in me tends to give away to the view that the man is to take the role of dominant partner, this is not always the case.
Come to think of the historical reality of this country, I am not sure that a man normally took the dominant role in a relationship traditionally. First, the remnants of the plantation model have left a fiercely strong and independent woman as the Caribbean matriarch. Men were seen as ‘big children’ and women have always been able to ‘plot and scheme’, both in benign and sinister ways, to get what they want from men.
Secondly, the sons of fiercely strong Caribbean women end up being some of the weakest men. This obviously spills into their own relationships. My personal and very subjective theory goes something like the son of the Caribbean woman becomes her man and her world after his own father leaves. She pampers the son to the finest detail. She makes all his decisions and does not let him go at the appropriate time because her own life has a void where his father left and which was never replaced, in most instances, with another happy and healthy relationship.
Those sons later go into partnerships completely ill prepared to make a decision for themselves far less one for a partner. The bottom line seems to be that neither Caribbean women nor men have been socialized or trained to be parts of functional partnerships. If we are going to change some of the recurring ills in Caribbean family life, we have to accept that and find remedies.
Where there is an age disparity in a relationship, one partner will not necessarily but usually have more life experience than the other. Where that occurs, the older partner assumes somewhat of a nurturing role. That is not to say that the nurturing older partner is necessarily the dominant partner. It is possible to be a latent nurturer. In the case where the nurturer is the dominant partner, however, why can’t a woman lead a partnership if it works for the partners?
Readers may be able to offer greater perspectives about why a partnership involving an older woman and a younger man remains ill-advised in our society. For now, I suspect that if I do take any serious kind of stab at a partnership again, it will have to be with one of the younger, better adjusted Barbadian ‘handsomes’ we have on this beautiful island.
I remain flabbergasted when such taboos remain so firmly entrenched in this society. Even among the younger generations, I am sometimes awed at how firmly implanted is control of the female form as well as the refusal of relinquishment of power to control the female form. The society maintains its right to tell women how old their partner should be; when they should have sex, why and with whom. Young Barbadian women are sometimes guilty of consuming the male-derived do’s and don’ts without the relevant analysis. For instance, the other day, a young sister posted an article which condemned sex during menstruation as a dirty and ‘worthless’ endeavour.
I joined the debate simply to find out how her thinking had been formed and it went down the line of menses being ‘dirty’ and ‘smelling nasty’ etc. I have a problem when another few generations of Barbadian females are leaving school guidance classes still feeling like menstruation is a ‘dirty’ ‘problematic’ burden. So you are telling me that we can discuss gay marriage and the right to pleasure by any form of sex before we negotiate sex during menstruation? I am not saying that we should not discuss gay marriage or gay sexual pleasure. I am just amazed that we can do that freely while holding onto sex during menstruation as taboo.
Based on the number of stories I have heard from male friends about encounters with older women, this is nothing Stella introduced to our islandscape. But then again, Stella was a prominent name among our foremother! By keeping taboos firmly entrenched over time, we do not stop our young people from exploring or meeting the situations. We just take away their ability to feel like they can talk and question to find information in safe and healthy places.
I’m sorry if I mashed the crease today but I solemnly believe it is time to liberate the female and her body. Is that asking too much?
(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and part-time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)