Sometimes as a social commentator, you wonder if you are seen as repetitive. Especially with what are core issues or pet peeve beliefs you often try to refrain from launching off because invariably you’ve said it or written it all already.
The flipside, though, is that every time your pet issues arise, you also do not want to lose an opportunity to put an opinion on the table. You hope beyond hope that this time reason prevails. You hope that this is the time you can write just enough or say just enough to get the discussion moving in a direction that can actually yield returns.
So here we go. Let us use this space to examine the recent comments made by the about the behaviour of young Barbadian women. It is seemingly now alarming to the Attorney General that smoking and drinking excessively can have ramifications on the society. It is not alarming because, for years, we have had too much consumption of alcohol and smoking as a part of our cultural norms in Barbados. It is alarming because women are now in on the act.
Whether a person happens to be male or female, excessive consumption of too much of any substance is bad. The smoking and drinking which, I would agree, seem to be at high levels among certain socio-economic brackets in Barbados, is problematic for any number of reasons. However, it is absolute bullocks to frame that argument by ‘oh my….look the girls are in it too, we have a problem’.
We perhaps have issues. Suppose the behaviour we see in certain socio-economic brackets is characteristic of a general type of behaviour in Barbadian young people? Suppose other youth from other socio-economic groups are partaking in as much drinking and smoking, but we are not seeing them because they have safe enclosed spaces. If we did a simple examination of those youth being charged for ganja possession before the courts, we could perhaps say that there is enough cause for a national intervention about why and how our youth are engaged with marijuana.
Given the statistics put out about the age of marijuana use being as low as nine, we could perhaps spend time understanding how Barbadian youth are interacting with the herb. Is this use of a sacrament? Is it addiction and abuse? Is it recreation? Understanding the motivations for marijuana use could then assist us in formulating a tangible and sensible national policy on the herb. These questions are the valid types of things you want to hear your governmental leaders put forward.
You are less excited, however, when your leaders come and drop a colossal red herring on the national debating stage about girls in Barbados being as aggressive as boys. You wonder what century you are in when the Attorney General announces the end of the family structure in Barbados because without mothers to guide the growth and development of the next generation, all is lost.
You begin to wonder how many more people in Barbados and the Caribbean are going to the University of the West Indies, doing undergraduate and graduate work, returning to society in high ranking positions without a clue about the society they are trying to serve. The aggression exhibited by Barbadian women is nothing new. Although it can be a challenging characteristic in our women, it should by no means be seen as a negative characteristic.
The descendants of the enchained Africans who were brought to Barbados in the 1600s were not encouraged to have family lives. More than that, the women were not just seen as the chattel of their masters, but their sexual property as well. We have never spent time to reshape our perceptions about women and family as the Barbadian society matures.
Many women in Barbados do not know how to relate to men in personal roles like father or husband. Women in Barbados are ‘hard’ because they have to struggle and they work through exceedingly difficult realities to this day due to our historical legacy. Should Barbadian women be different? How do we reshape our realities and societies to make Barbadian women become different in their mannerisms? We could have national discussion on this. Certainly we expect this type of social engineering to be the remit of our governmental leaders. Unfortunately, we are still stuck somewhere very far from this.
The state of women and the role models that we set in place for Barbadian girls must be a deliberate action if we are serious about changing how our Barbadian girls see themselves and their roles. We must ensure that the women we have in political leadership, the leadership of the church and other sectors understand their places and position. They must be willing to engage women’s issues and, by their efforts, make tangible changes in the lives of women and girls in Barbados. If none of this is happening, the Attorney General of our country should perhaps look for a safer sound bite.
The eyes of the Attorney General are apparently closed to the reality facing young women who find themselves in juvenile detention or engaged in deviant subcultures. In fact, in our usual Barbadian style, we have all swept the issue of sexual abuse under the national rug. Many of the girls engaged in deviant subcultures are the victims of sexual abuse who are reconciling their experiences through their behaviours.
If the Attorney General is serious, these are the issues which he must find solutions for. We must question cultural phenomena like the ‘outside woman’. We must ask ourselves what message are we sending to our young girls about their worth and value when our political systems, social systems and our culture reinforce at many turns that sex is a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder in exchange for tangibles.
When our school system does not offer options to girls to become functional members of society, what do we really expect? Women who are not valuable for their ability to carry children and rear another generation alone. Women are intrinsically significant. If there are perceived issues that women and girls are facing in Barbados, we owe women and girls solutions. I suspect that the young girls in Barbados are as tired as the rest of us in being parts of a farcical display. Their deviance could be rooted in sheer boredom and disconnect as a mechanism to protect themselves and their emotions.
Is that really so hard to fathom?
(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)