On the same day that the master revolutionary, Fidel Castro, went to the spiritual realm, a social revolution started among the women of Barbados. The wave started with a video posted by one popular Facebook blogger who frequently interrogates female issues.
Under the video, in the comments section, men started about their women hating and body policing and the Life in Leggings movement germinated as a flat rebuttal to the misogyny exhibited. Alarmed by the lack of understanding, compassion and caring in the men who commented, another few Facebook women warriors came up with a hashtag to create a space for women to talk about their experiences as Barbadian women.
In a single instance, and I think quite coincidentally, the first weekend of the 16 Days of Activism for the Elimination of all Forms of Violence against Women and Girls has seen the rise of a new women’s movement in Barbados. One that is challenging Barbadian men to do better, but one that is also telling the old guard of women’s issues in Barbados that young women are tired of them being complicit and non-militant in their approach to women’s concerns.
Countless stories of abuse have flooded the Life in Leggings space, from experiences of women walking town and being verbally assaulted to accounts of girls being raped in what are supposed to be safe spaces such as the home and school. Many people have chosen to write off the accounts as fake. While there will be ‘bandwagoners’ in every movement, that reality cannot be used to fully dismiss the magnitude of what the Life in Leggings movement has unfolded.
Stories are pouring into the personal inboxes of the various women who started the movement. A few victims have even reached out to me. In some cases, the same name of a single perpetrator is common, a certain school’s name recurs or a certain behavioural pattern. It would be hard for women reaching out from New York and all over the world to say, “yes me” and then create the exact or similar scenario as women who have reached out to your inbox earlier.
Life in Leggings actually got harder and more real for me when I chatted with two very disconnected women and got a single name of a perpetrator and jarringly similar details. Before that, I too had the privilege of others to dismiss what I was reading as giant-sized imagination conjuring fairy tales.
Who is not engaging the movement and who is engaging in the movement speaks as much volume. Only one politician, Dr Maria Agard, has shown up to offer open support and indeed share her own experiences. The other politicians are deafeningly silent.
This points to the reality of exactly how complicit the ‘system’ is with the abuse of women and girls in Barbados. Many of the men and women who currently make up the Government on both sides of the divide do not have the capital it takes to engage the issues of abuse of women and girls.
We all live on this small space. We are the best at keeping open secrets. There are many, many rules and regulations which hinder us from ‘slandering’ people’s names but we all hear the stories and we all know why it would be difficult for many politicians to feel comfortable to engage the issues brought up on Life in Leggings.
Step down the tier of Barbadian society a bit more. I’ve not heard doctors and lawyers supporting the Life in Leggings movement en masse. Again here, we know that many of these professionals also do not have the capital needed to invest in this movement because we have heard those stories too. We have seen some play out on Life in Leggings.
The police, silent, teachers, silent, workers’ unions, nothing. When we read the gamut of the stories on Life in Leggings, we understand why. In order for the changes which are necessary to protect women and girls in Barbados to take place, there will need to be a complete purge of societal norms and values we now hold dear.
We will have to be willing to admit that we have kept unhealthy elements of kinship patterns and sexuality from the days of African enslavement. We have to find new uses for our women, new definitions of the importance of women so that our views of them can change. We will have to accept that women do not get raped because they wear short skirts or are ‘wild’.
The new movement is asking us to believe victims of abuse without judgement or victim shaming. It is also asking us not to be dismissive and refuse to address the ugliness in our society because ‘Jesus can fix it’.
It is because the movement is asking for so much that it is uncomfortable. It is because it seems to deviate from the norms in such a drastic way that causes some to hope that Life in Leggings becomes a nine day wonder and fizzles out.
It is because I know how fundamental the change Life in Leggings is in ensuring my daughter and new generations of Barbadian women, that I am committed to not letting the movement be without my own support and my own voice.
The movement now must find a way to institutionalize and reach wider audiences than those on Facebook. The leaders must create lobby structures where the groups who refuse to interact willingly can be flatly called out. They will have to embrace international support and lobby, but ensure that this international hand holding does not result in any hijacking of their original agenda.
For years, Caribbean sexuality has been shrouded in shame and secrecy. In unpacking the abuse of women and girls, we perhaps come to some of the explanations and root causes of many behaviours. We are at the stage where we can rewrite the narrative.
We as a society have enabled pedophilia and the sexual, verbal and emotional abuse of women. The carpet was rudely yanked off with the Life in Leggings movement. What we need to press on with now is burning the rug so that is forever irreplaceable and we need to rummage through the dirtiness, pain and bad memories to salvage as many of the lives which have been affected by the atrocities.
Press on ladies! #lifeinleggings.
(Marsha Hinds-Layne is full-time mummy and part-time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies.