When the French existentialist philosopher, political activist and social theorist Simone de Beauvoir wrote The Second Sex in 1949, it was one of the most important steps on the journey to women’s rights.
De Beauvior wrote of the difficulty talented women had in becoming successful, and the obstacles they faced, including their inability to make as much money as men who had the same profession, their domestic responsibilities, the lack of support from the wider society, and the fear that success would lead to an annoyed husband or prevent them from even finding one.
After women rediscovered the book in 1968 and began reading it again, it gave impetus to second wave feminism that lasted well into the early 1980s.
Since then, Barbados has made tremendous progress on women’s rights issues and many of our women have carved their names into immortality, including in politics, religion, education, sports, culture and entertainment. And not all of them have been mothers or wives.
Therefore, it was most disturbing and surprising when Member of Parliament for St John Mara Thompson, in an obvious attempt at embarrassing two members of the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) over the appearance of a 13-year-old boy on stage at the recent March of Disgust, chose to criticize them for being “childless”.
In an obvious reference to BLP Leader Mia Mottley and Leader of Opposition Business in the House Santia Bradshaw, Ms Thompson charged that the Opposition party was being led “by someone who does not have children”, adding, that “she who sits beside her [meaning Bradshaw] was the same thing”.
“But I appeal to the parents among you, I really think that you should have guided your leader in that situation,” Thompson added.
It was the sort of comment that should cause a knot in the stomach of any right-thinking person, man or women, parent or not, and as many commentators on the blogs have said, it was an attack on every woman.
This is politics, we know, and unfortunately it is a profession that has sunk so low that senseless personal attacks and septic vitriol have become acceptable, and the Houses of Parliament have become marketplaces for tasteless bile.
However, there is no place – not even in politics – for such attacks on women.
Ms Thompson may be naïve. After all, she was thrust into a situation with which she was unfamiliar, forced into a role with which she seems uncomfortable, and may have wandered into a place she does not know.
Surely, she must have been unaware of one of most progressive, talented and inspiring women this country has ever given to the world: Dame Nita Barrow, who served as Governor General from 1990 until her death in 1995.
Long before Ms Thompson was riding bicycles as a 13-year-old on the streets of Castries, Dame Nita was blazing trails for Barbadian women and women around the world.
Whether it was through her service as an instructor at the West Indies School of Public Health in Jamaica, or as the first West Indian matron of the University College Hospital, the first principal nursing officer of Jamaica, or the director of a research project in nursing in the Commonwealth Caribbean, Dame Nita was an exemplary woman.
She was director of the Christian Medical Commission of the World Council of Churches, president of the International Council of Adult Education, and convenor of the conference marking the end of the United Nations Decade for Women in 1985, which led to her being nominated as the only woman on the eminent persons group set up to visit South Africa in 1986 and “encourage through all practicable ways the evolution of [that] necessary process of political change . . .”
Through it all, she was passionate about advancing the status of women and never missed an opportunity to do so.
And as an active member of UNIFEM and similar women’s organizations, her counsel was sought worldwide.
Yet, Dame Nita had no children.
Being from St Lucia, Ms Thompson must also be aware that just north of her, the Caribbean’s first female prime minister, Dame Eugenia Charles of Dominica, had no children of her own, but was seen by her compatriots as their mother.
Ms Thompson must know that there are hundreds of “childless” women who mother thousands of students every day, there are many more who take on the responsibility to mother the children of relatives, neighbours and friends.
And yet. Somehow, Ms Thompson has managed to expose either her ignorance of the fact that we have long moved on from the days when women were considered little more than producers of offspring for the gratification of men, or her disregard for the rights of women to choose whether or not they will get married and/or have children.
Her attack on the two female parliamentarians was nothing short of simplistic incendiary rhetoric, and we hope she would wish her words had never been uttered.
We also believe that the man of the House – no, the men of the House – should have, and must condemn it. For this sort of behaviour can only thrive in simplicity and hollowness. Our representatives are not expected to be either.