By Corey Gilkes
May 15, 2014
How nobody eh pick up on this one, jred? Or maybe someone did and I jes eh see it. So much things going on eh, I almost forget this gem of an article that came out in the Jamaican Gleaner on March 30th. I had to read it several times just to make sure the writer, one Milton Wray, wasn’t using irony – a dying skill in vocabulary of late I gather.
The good Mr Wray, in an article titled “Are Women Natural Leaders?” was commenting on the vexing issue of gender equality. Now for those who believe subjects like history has no importance, this article is proof that for Caribbean people seeking to create what some call a Caribbean civilisation, history, structured to focus on the advancement of humanity, should be compulsory if even only up to secondary level – so articles like this one will not be written again because in 2014 we can really do without such ignorance.
Essentially, according to the article, society is in the decadent mess that it’s in because women want gender equality. Reading through the article, one gets the impression that in the mind of Mr Wray, once women are sent back to their rightful place in the home to rear children and defer to men’s authority and acknowledge the legitimacy of men’s (read public) spaces, all will be well with the world. Throughout, one detects an air of entitlement affected by challenges by women. One will be forgiven for wondering if the many advances in human and women’s rights, if the many, many developments and discoveries in biblical scholarship and archaeology occurred in a different universe in which the Caribbean simply does not exist or have access to.
Of course, that’s not totally fair since the level of chauvinism, misogyny and flat out stupidity seen in this article is very much present in fundamentalist Muslim and Hindu regions and all across the bible belt of the US – where most Caribbean evangelical Christians orient their religious ideas. Ironically, as I read the article, even though the writer made some references to biblical authority, almost every single thing he said seemed to mirror the words of the misogynist philosophers of ancient pagan Greece and Rome who influenced the writers of that Old and New Testament – yet they pontificate with bible in hand that the world is becoming decadent because people turned away from the “living god” and participating in pagan, hedonism and carnality.
Let Marcus Porcius Cato set the tone for Wray’s article; he writes in the year 195 BCE:
“(I)f every married man had made sure that his own wife looked up to him and respected his marital authority, we should not have half this trouble with women…(H)aving let female insubordination triumph first in our homes, we find our privileges trodden and trampled on in the public forum. We have failed to control each woman individually, and we find ourselves quailing before a body of them….Woman is a violent and uncontrolled animal, and it is useless to let go the reins and then not expect her to kick over the traces…Women want total freedom or rather – to call things by their names – total license. If you allow them to achieve complete equality with men, do you think they will be easier to live with? Not at all. Once they have achieved equality, they will be your masters”
Now don’t get me wrong, I myself have had issues with certain schools of feminist thought and action in the Caribbean context; I felt that some of it was overly rooted in Euro-American rhetoric and models. As such they seemingly overlooked the fact that in spite of colonial indoctrination, cultural retentions of the customs that denoted the centrality of African femininity from which others could study and emulate still could be located. As such, some of the reactions to patricentrism perhaps went too far when it didn’t necessarily need to. That being said, Wray’s position that women, femininity and calls for gender equality are the root causes for the sorry state of many Caribbean societies today – dem oman just simply eh know dey damn place and some men (I guess that’ll be men like me) caused it by not standing up for what was “right” – is even more nonsensical.
Take one of his opening salvos:
“Nature’s evidence strongly suggests that she never intended the genders to be on equal footing. In fact, the concept of gender equality is the greatest threat to family life.”
He adds to this further down in the article by stating:
“For any institution or organised entity to function, a leader is an absolute necessity. The family structure is no exception. Either the male or female of the family will be the natural leader of the household. Leadership does not translate to authoritarianism, but the buck must stop with one or the other. A hierarchical structure is inescapable. And once the need for a leader is accepted, there can be no equality. If not the male, is it the female who must be the designated/natural leader of the household?”
I’d like to see this evidence of which he speaks. In fact, I’d really like to know who was his lecturer in social history because my research – is true I never went to university so most likely is me who dead wrong – and readings of scholars like Ifi Amadiume, Cheikh Anta Diop, Charles S Finch MD, Gloria Thompson-Emeagwali, John Henrik Clarke, Merlin Stone, William Irwin Thompson, Jean Markale, Ivan Van Sertima, Gerda Lerner, Raphael Patai and Evelyn Reed shows that human societies and civilisations were matricentric much, much longer than they were patriarchal. And lest ignoramuses like Wray assume that that means these were female versions of all-dominating patriarchs, the evidence points to styles of governance in which the male and female principles balanced and complemented each other rather than the authoritarian top-down model found in Europe. The gender roles although ultimately deferring to matrifocality, nonetheless exercised forms of participatory governing from the grassroots level. So much so that many early social scientists, commenting on these societies, ignorantly referred to them as “chiefless” societies (they were in fact decentralised). This was true democratic principles functioning hundreds of years before the Greeks got around to naming it. It also shows that that maximum leader that Wray feels is an absolute necessity was not as necessary as he deludes himself into thinking.
Unsurprisingly, Wray doesn’t waste much time in reminding us of that age-old advice that women’s place is in the home and he explicitly says as much after conceding that corporate business and institutions benefitted from women’s inherent “diligence and drive – at the expense of the abandonment of her intended natural role of family nurture and support. In blunt terms, the woman’s place is truly in the home”. He goes on to tell us “Of course, the home she was intended for is a more controlled environment, since she cannot be left up to her own devices – evidenced by the fact that as it relates to fidelity…” I’ll come back to his main message here – the sexual looseness of uncontrolled women – in a bit. The main point here is that the woman who has arrogated unto herself positions in the business and political world left the home and family “to bleed” as he put it. No mention of the historical structuring of Caribbean society in keeping with European ideas that the only important sphere is the public sphere and that was assigned to men in their society. No mention that in spite of this, economic policies played a part in forcing women out of that domestic sphere, so as to make ends meet, and then castigating them for “abandoning” the home. Definitely no mention that that domestic sphere in the Eurocentric context was little more than a prison. Who the hell needs historical context? The Americans don’t – look at their pronouncements of the situation in the Ukraine – so why should we?
Mind you, the issue of women in the home is one of those things I often take many Caribbean feminists to task over. In my opinion, they unwittingly play into the hands of the same patriarchists they supposedly oppose when, following their counterparts in the US and Europe, many will cuss you out at the mere mention that a place for women is in the home. Why? In my experience many have bought into the diminished view of the home in Eurocentric thought. In what I like to call the Athenian model – Athens being the ideological base for much of what we consider our system of values, including the so-called Christian ones, and a city-state where ancient women really ketch dey arse – the home was little more than a sheltered, sequestered place where the wife of a Greek citizen could raise the children sired by him. The home was nowhere near the autonomous centre of production, entrepreneurship and the nucleus of the political power base it was for women as what we find in many pre-colonial African territorial-states or in Southern Asia. I often wonder when I hear people saying “ah oman place is in de home!” how many of them would still be saying that if, rooted in the “Afric/Asian model,” Caribbean housewives’ autonomous economic activities brought in as much income and even more, than what men brought in.
But of course, an independent woman is exactly what constitutes Wray’s worst nightmares; how else am I to interpret some of the things he writes like when, in his version of being fair, he directs some of his vitriol at “some lazy, lackadaisical and unambitious men (who) have ceded space to the usually power-hungry, ambitious woman…”
“[A]ny investigative exercise will show that the vast majority of powerful or successful career women have been unable to balance careers with successful marriages/relationships. They just were not naturally designed for it. The success and authority vested in the woman at work is usually brought home, upending the authority of the natural male leader”
“Ceded” space?! Upending the authority of the natural male leader?! Does this willing slave even know of the history of how women and progressive men fought to bring about such progress in the Caribbean? Does it make any sense teaching someone thinking like that that for thousands of years in Africa alone, women stood at the head of armies and were heads of territorial-states, functioned as ambassadors – ALL with the support of men? Is it of any use to show how they balanced commercial activities and families not only in precolonial Africa but in cottage industries in colonial and post-colonial Caribbean? He probably may not have heard of Thelma Williams, Elma Francois and Jim Barrette, but what about Amy Jacques Garvey and Amy Ashwood Garvey? Hell, no less than Malcolm X argued for women’s rights. Then again I suppose that’s the logical thing for Wray to say and think given that the central tenet of patriarchal thought and culture is complete and absolute control. Any ceding of space puts us on a slippery slope to social anarchy. Plato and Aristotle said so 2000-odd years ago and Western thought has been obsessed with that egregious idea ever since, hence semi-literate Jurassics like Milton Wray.
ANYWAY, moving along, Wray doesn’t waste much time either before he conjures up an even older spectre: the untrustworthy, sexually loose and wanton woman. NOW he displays his real colours. Throughout the article implicit and explicit references are made of a woman’s innate immorality, promiscuity and corrupting influence (kinda like the pontificators I hear every year before, during and after Carnival here in Trinidad). But let the good man speak for himself:
“[T]he concept of gender equality is the greatest threat to family life. It has resulted in dysfunctional families, the degradation of societal mores, and even sexual perversions”
“As she asserts her supposed equality and stands at the pinnacle of independence, any wishes from the man for fidelity can be barely whispered. She holds the purse strings now, being so mighty and powerful that he dare not require her to be faithful to him. And so she runs wild, out of control, bereft of the expected self-imposed dignity.”
“[T]he home she was intended for is a more controlled environment, since she cannot be left up to her own devices – evidenced by the fact that as it relates to fidelity, the modern woman is generally non-trustworthy. If today’s woman, on track record, had proven herself to be inherently trustworthy, unfaithfulness would not be the greatest fear of almost every male mate on earth”
“Ladies are held to higher standards of self-worth. As more comeliness is expected of the woman outwardly, so is a greater degree of self-respect expected inwardly. Men are dogs and men accept it. Men surely do not want their women to be dogs like them. Unfortunately, this female doggish behaviour (there’s a word for it) is now with us, resultant from the concept of gender equality.”
So, there you have it folks. This is the real root of the problem: women sleeping around like men. The modern women is inherently untrustworthy, bossy…..and promiscuous. Kinda like the ancient women too eh Wray? I mean, you cannot help but agree with him: we men give allyuh oman this one simple thing to do, keep allyuh legs together, get married and raise we children to take over we wuk. Allyuh took our jobs, our places in university, in the boardroom, in Parliament…..and on top of all that yuh want to screw around like a man too?! Wha it is going on here in true? Nah, dais it dey.
Get it straight women, yuh married ok? You are supposed to remain monogamous and exclusive to your husband and to him alone, emotionally and most definitely sexually. Even if you’re not married, once you’re dating you are beholden to him alone. That is how it is supposed to be, that is how it has always been since the beginning of time. Even the very language shows us this: words like “loyal,” “faithful” being “true,” “fidelity” reinforce the “natural” order of exclusive, monogamous sexual interactions.
Except that it is NOT natural, it was almost NEVER like that and its origins had nothing to do with any god or respect for the sanctity of marriage. It had to do with masculine arrogations of authority and legitimacy. It had to do with masculine insecurity that the men of Eurasian societies redirected onto the women. It had to do with the emergence of ideas over three thousand years ago about private property; ideas that came to include “lesser” human beings and women’s bodies and their reproductive organs as part of those private possessions men owned (“adultery” apparently comes from ad alterum se conferre – to confer property on another). It never changed over the centuries and came to be included in elitist and racist narratives about peasant and lower income women (and men) who simply didn’t want to work, were having too much sex and yet wanted the State to take care of them.
Further, masculine anxieties and sexual insecurities were redirected and projected onto women who were blamed for being sexual, thereby corrupting men and enticing them away from their noble tasks of building and maintaining lasting societies. To understand Wray’s written effluence one has to examine the pillars of Eurocentric ideas. Don’t take my word for it, read the works of Plato, Socrates, Hesiod, Augustine, Cyprian, Tertullian, Jerome. Here is an admonition from one of the main architects of Christianity, Tertullian. He writes in “On the Apparel of Women:”
“[D]o you not know that you are (each) an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the devil’s gateway: you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law: you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man.”
And another thing, the part where Wray says that “men are dogs and men accept it” was also highly insulting to us men as well – not to mention scientifically invalid. It’s already an uphill struggle to have Caribbean people come to terms with and understand their ancestral cultural approach to sexuality, which was somewhat more open and more enlightened, in an environment where that is distorted by Western pseudo-intellect that perpetuate ad nauseum notions of the hypersexuality of people of colour. Here we have one of our own parroting the same execrable nonsense. Almost every day scientific studies are confirming what many have known for years, there is not one shred of evidence that humans are naturally monogamous or exclusive, that women possess the same sexual desires as men and vice versa, that a more open sexual culture free of guilt is a culture less neurotic, violent and yes, less deviant. Does the Gleaner or any other media house really need to have this clown in possession of a keyboard?
Additionally, whenever I hear people coming with words like “self-respect,” “self-worth,” “sanctity” and “sacred” regarding sex – particularly women’s sexuality, I know 99% of them on crap. These sentiments come from the cultural ideas of patricentric Eurasia that viewed sex as dirty, nasty, sinful and polluting. The human body was seen with scorn and by the time Europe became Christianised, sex was considered a secret, private thing to be hidden away. I’m not necessarily saying that today everyone must just wantonly screw around with whomever and in the town square, but public display of sexuality is in and of itself no indicator of savagery, immorality, lack of self-worth or any such rubbish.
But sex, you see, is the main source of patricentric anxiety and angst. It is intricately tied to superstitious ideas and beliefs of death, annihilation and therefore, vanishing as if one didn’t exist. It is connected with the natural world which, if Diop, Bradley, Welsing, French and Ruether are correct, was viewed with terror and hostility because of its wintry barrenness at a certain historical epoch. So sex ultimately became the principal gauge by which whether or not a woman was deserving of respect. Sex, not war, not theft, not dishonesty or corruption, was the paramount activity patriarchists felt would bring about destruction and death. And women were the natural purveyors of it.
So, according to their reasoning, only men possess certain qualities such as reason, aggressiveness, forthrightness, courage and honour. So if a woman becomes vocal, or enters public spaces where money and property transacted, laws are debated and speeches made so that the ideas behind those speeches and debates influence public opinion and action – remember these spaces were reserved in Athens for men –, if she openly speaks on public issues or engages in financial transactions without the authorisation of a man, then she is behaving in the independent way only a man is allowed to behave. If so, then she is felt to be behaving sexually in the same way and so her sexuality is once again unbridled by man and therefore, she is not virtuous. Aischron, the term used in the Pauline biblical passage where it is a disgrace for women to speak in public, referred to sexual indiscretion when it was applied to women.
It is on this basis that the Vatican in its 1976 Declaration on the Question of Admitting Women to the Priesthood rejected any such idea. The woman’s body does not resemble the male body of Christ, so the reasoning goes. Taking the cue from pre-Christian Greek philosophical thought, a woman, unlike a man is apparently inseparable from her sexual nature and as such, if ordained a priest, would be bringing her sexuality into a sacred space and we all know in a sacred space you can’t be sexual (never mind that in ancient pre-Christian cultures that worshipped feminine principles alongside masculine and were thus more egalitarian, sex was part of the religious rites…then again, they pagan so that’s why Christianity and Islam replaced them, stupid me)
And of course, what chauvinist article would be complete without a comment on the state of marriages? Milton informs us that:
“When women accepted their men as their leader and subdued to that leadership as suggested by the Christian Bible, the odds for successful marriages, relationships and families were far greater. In today’s modernity, because of the woman’s challenge to masculinity, marriages and relationships have become short-lived, disposable associations. Female promiscuity results, further whittling away the female dignity that ought to be maintained.”
It goes without saying that you can’t overemphasise the connection between independent women and promiscuity and for that matter public women and promiscuity, vocal women and promiscuity, single women and promiscuity…… But besides that, the point is that marriage is in crisis and so too society because women no longer accept men as their leader as suggested – actually it was expressly stated, Wray, along with the fact that they are to stay silent. Check yuh bible.
The problem with this assertion was that the ideal of lifelong marriages is at best horribly misunderstood in contemporary times. The life span for many people up until about 200 years ago was about 45 so “till death us do part” really wasn’t that very long when compared to the lifespan of people within the last 80 or so years. Further, the ideal of lifelong union in Christian families, along with exclusive monogamy, came about largely through Augustine as a means of limiting the “sin” of sex. This was the same man who f***ed through half of Numidia until he saw the apparent error of his ways and that “error” was sex. Brilliant.
This ideal of marriage has a long history in Europe and must be seen, in spite of its cloak of morality, in profoundly racist and elitist contexts, particularly as it pertains to African and Asian peoples in post-Emancipation and colonial society. Marriage – read the patriarchal nuclear model – was projected as a mark of being civilised and moral. Caribbean schooling, churching and social indoctrination, run by Christian missionaries steeped in Victorian values and ideas as well as nationalist worldviews, were at the time contending with having to incorporate dark-skinned peoples, formerly property and always considered savage, into “free” societies intended to be European, patriarchal, Christian and commercial. Various organisations were set up to push colonised, lower-income people into narrow models of marriage where the men would be breadwinners and the women housewives bearing children to be future labour forces…..as it was idealised in Eurocentric societal values. That ethic was maintained after independence and evolved as societies became more urbanised. Now the social and economic conditions, controlled still by Europe and Euro-America, created conditions that forced women out of the same sequestered households into the workforce and yet blame them for “abandoning” their homes. The only difference was that back then the bigoted hypocrite doing the blaming was white.
Anyway, I always chuckle when I hear people complain about “disposable marriages” and long for the time when, like Milton says, the odds for successful marriages were far greater because women accepted their roles and stayed married. Well, first off the idea of a long lasting relationship or marriage is a beautiful notion. My own parents were married for 36 years. It can work and has worked. But will NOT work is the projection of that as the model for all marriages to emulate. That’s just more egregious rubbish. People are very different, diverse and are constantly evolving. So what may have drawn someone to another person early on can be the same thing that destroys the relationship as the years pass. Further the romanticising of the older people and their long marriages is just that. A great many people who today are in their 70s and 80s, especially the women, would tell you that if they could have gotten the hell out of their marriages they would have. The reality, Milton Wray, was the social pressures were greater and the options as a divorced or single woman were a lot less 50, 60+ years ago. THAT part you conveniently overlook.
I suppose it’s not entirely his own fault that he is this steeped in ignorance; we are products of a certain type of “education” – to be more precise, schooling and churching – and since the end of the Cold War, Western, particularly US-based, media has made less and less of a pretence of balanced, deeply researched content. So there is an increasing obscurantism that bears especially troubling implications in a region where critical thinking is not exactly, ahm, culturally embedded. But I’ve always felt that once you’re a person of influence and regularly write or speak publicly, whether to academics or to “black hen chicken,” you need to be well and widely read so as to lift conversations above the emotive, pop-talk sound bites pretty much prevalent in the electronic media. That was visibly absent here. If indeed Wray wants women to return to the home, where in the article is there any call for adaptations of the “African” model of the home where it is once again a center of production? It’s not like we’ll be starting from scratch; the Caribbean has had a long tradition of cottage industries that have been expanded from time to time by people attempting progressive change (think about the Guyanese Co-operatives or the Women’s Co-operatives in Grenada under Bishop). What instead we have here is a more explicit version of the patriarchal family-values hollow rhetoric coming out of conservative US politics. At least they are kind enough to couch it in nice-sounding words.
See his article for yourself: