Monday, 28 July 2014

Dear Jamaican Men and Dear Jamaican Women: A Word


Social Media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, can get very noisy. And, when people are passionate about certain issues, even more so. The good thing with the way these platforms are, however, is that you can take in the information or points of view one at a time - if at all. You can always opt not to check out the issue being discussed or the contributions from other authors. When you're good and ready, in your quiet place, you can peruse and scroll to your heart's content.

Some folks have mastered the art of speaking passionately via these media without having their points misinterpreted. The quick posts come a-mile-a-minute, saying exactly what they wish to say. That's good. What is even better, is being able to engage respectfully with people with whom they do not share a particular point of view. I've seen such well-mannered exchanges between folks at opposite ends of a spectrum. On Twitter. The zoo-like, mean streets of Twitter! Such admirable exchanges are a thing of beauty to read. They always remind me that, even though we are behind computer/phone screens, we can be civil. All is not lost.

The Art and Joy of Words
But, some of it is. I've shared a bit of a quote by C.S. Lewis in a previous post regarding the "art and joy of words." There is more to the quote, and, in its entirety, it gets to the heart of what makes saying or writing "exactly what you wish to say" a sometimes uncomfortable thing. A part of the struggle is not about whether you will offend. No. Such an outcome in today's world is, to wit, expected. For, as long as you create/write/say/stand up for/take a position on something, people are gonna pull up their soapboxes and criticize your work/opinion/position, etc. That's a given. It's not even the fear of being labelled a pariah. The part of the struggle that spells discomfort is the knowledge that there are those who will not pause long enough to listen or read through; who will not try to understand a conflicting (worse, less than savoury) point of view. In articulating your own thoughts, you come up against opinions set in stone, which is a part of a bigger stone - a wall, if you will. And, when this meets that, there's little point in adding to the noise. But, a thing that need be said can do no other than to find an outlet.

"Often when he was teaching me to write in Greek the Fox would say, “Child, to say the very thing you really mean, the whole of it, nothing more or less or other than what you really mean; that is the whole art and joy of words." A glib saying. When the time comes to u at which u will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the centre of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll not talk about joy of words." - C.S. Lewis

These thoughts came to mind last week as I witnessed the unfolding of a sexual harassment awareness campaign on Twitter. (As you know, with Social Media, campaigns are no longer solely the purview of organizations and their marketing teams. Anyone can start a conversation and, if it catches on, it goes viral - takes on multiple shares or retweets - in no time.) A Jamaican man suggested the use of the hashtag #DearJamaicanMen on Wednesday, July 22. The idea was to help make people aware of the verbal (and sometimes, physical) harassment many Jamaican women are subjected to as they go about their daily lives.  And so they did - and how! The tweets were authentic, passionate, no-holds-barred. I had to take it in, in pieces. Many tweets were being published in a short space of time and it was a lot to take in. Women recounted episodes upon episodes of unwelcome advances; crass behaviour; crude language, and the like, from those men.

The Medium. The Message.
One of my concerns was how to now go about reaching and changing the habits of those men. After all, as that Jamaican proverb goes, "Wha bawn inna kid, dead inna goat." Or, "you can't teach an old dog new tricks." But, we have to believe that there are exceptions to the rule. After all, would we then be saying that people...adults, are unteachable? That's not what adult-learner-based courses presume. How, then, do we go about impressing what is acceptable behaviour upon these minds, and making it stick? Social media provide such avenues.

Is the target group on Twitter? Perhaps there's a presence, yes. The campaign raised awareness, and it was also a call-to-action. Twitter may have been a great starting point. But, needless to say, other media - including (if not especially) word-of-mouth - are critical to the cause.

Respect Due
It would not only be a rather tedious one, but, as well, a very frustrating exercise for Jamaican women to keep reminding/correcting those men each and every single time they are confronted with such crass approaches and, in some cases, inappropriate touches/sexual harassment. Every. Single. Time. This might give the impression that women are saying they meet upon these offences ten times per day. In a word, no. In another word: Thatisnothepoint. What is real, however, is that meeting upon such an offence even once a week is too often. The frequency is one thing; what comes out of the mouths of those men is another. Worse, the touch. The question is what makes them think it is okay? The answer(s) may be varied and may make sense to them. Want to know which answer will not make the cut? "I did not know any better." So, knowing better is one thing. Doing what they do is another. Doing what they do because they know they will face no consequences is yet another.

Those men, in most cases, are strangers to the women they call out to or try to touch or hold. They don't know them from Eve! But, as the saying goes, "Respect due!" Human to human, respect is due. The ugly truth is (although the physical appearance of the truth is irrelevant) we don't always get the respect we deserve. And it is folly to think that we are going to get it from some perv or crass so-and-so on the street. We have zero control over the words that come out of a person's mouth. As crass and crude as they are, trying to control another's words is like trying to take just the right amount of air from a bubble. Even speech writers will tell you they're never 100% successful. (The client/boss will ad lib - sometimes ad nauseam. Smh.) But touching? Nay nay! I get the feeling I should include these reminders a few times in this post; sprinkle them around like Parmesan cheese:

Touching a woman in a sexual way
Without her consent
Is never okay.

It does not matter if she chooses to walk the street clad solely in nipple covers and a skin-toned thong. It. Does. Not. Matter. No one has a right to touch her in a sexual way because she chooses to walk the street half or 90% naked. Whether her elevator goes all the way to the top is another matter entirely. Dressing and showing a lot of skin is not my thing. It's how I was brought up and doing so makes me uncomfortable. But, again, people choose how they want to dress. It is not an invitation for non-consensual sexual touch. So, if one of those men decides to reach out and touch in a sexual way (and, given the context, we're talking without the woman's consent), it just got real. Not only is that scary, it is sexual harassment and it should be reported to the police. I know. I know. "But, this is Jamaica," you say. I know. I know. For one, there's no anti-crass legislation, and, for two, our judicial system is backed up with cases from Whappie killed Phillup. And the jury is still out on that. So, for the system to be "burdened" with these "cho-a-nuh-nutten-dat" cases of sexual harassment, may not be a welcome notion for the long arm of the law.

What also came to mind is that some Jamaican women make it bad for others, in seeing nothing distasteful or wrong with these kinds of approaches. By extension, they encourage this kind of behaviour. Sadly, the message some men get is that it is okay. Encouragement might also come from certain songs/chunes and the like. (That debate continues. Talk amongst yourselves...) As we have called on the men we know to relay to the one or two breddrin they know who fall in the those men category, my dear Jamaican women should also have a word with the one or two sistren we know who encourage "this kind of behaviour". There's a campaign on for good manners in Jamaica. Yes, it's now requiring a movement. There's also the Respect movement. I'm not sure whether there is offline presence, however, Respect Jamaica is all about the message of having and showing respect for one another. Respect for self; respect for others; respect for life. It goes for both men and women. R-E-S-P-E-C-T is a two-way street.

Sigh. For now, it seems "the crass we have always with us." Hopefully, not for much longer. Wouldn't it be great if we could run them out of the gene pool? Just saying. While we work on getting to that point where the awareness and lessons about impact lead to a change in mind and behaviour, let's try not to let it consume us. By the way, if we have to start demanding respect from the men in our lives - the men who really matter - then, Houston, we have a problem.

Self-defence
We are often advised not to take the law into our own hands. In a physical encounter that threatens to hurt you or take your life, defensive action is reflexive. No one has to tell you to try to defend yourself. I'm not going to stay too long on this point because (1) I don't know too much about this (2) The Internet, movies and self-defence classes abound, and (3) The little that I do know, I ponder. Yeah. I imagine that it would be helpful to be mentally prepared for any "light" or serious encounter. We're not able to stop bullets with our teeth. However, it is not sufficient to simply walk with key in hand as I sometimes do - depending. It is important to be prepared to use that key in a way that will incapacitate the person who's physically harassing or attacking you. For instance, you could plan to apply a side kick to an attacker's knee. Would you be mentally prepared to hear it crack? And, knowing you've done some damage to render him immovable, hightail it out of there instead of being paralyzed with fear? How are you with the sight of blood spewing? It is also advised that you make a sound; a shout, even a guttural noise of some sort when fighting off an attacker. So much adrenaline is coursing through you, you need a release. I understand that that is one of the reasons police officers shout their commands: "Hands up!" "Get down!" And so on. If all that is pent up, you might suffer a mild stroke. (The noise you make may even alert someone.) In some jurisdictions, if you apply more force than necessary beyond simply defending yourself, you may end up in court. The goal, as is often said, is to get out of that situation alive. You may get hurt. After all, the person is trying to overpower you. But your goal is to get out with your life. So, be mentally prepared to hurt or outsmart the person enough to achieve that goal.

Needless to say, that goes for anyone - not just women.

Touching a man in a sexual way
Without his consent
Is never okay.

I searched for and found a lil something to get those thoughts a-flowing. This one goes out to my Dear Jamaican People:


(Image found via Google search. If it's yours, I'd be happy to give credit.)


Foreseen Response
But, the messaging continues. Those on Twitter still do. And, like all messages, they earn feedback/responses/criticisms. One of the ones many saw coming was the #DearJamaicanWomen hashtag. It would have been naive to think that that was not going to happen. It would also have been naive to think that people won't and don't appropriate their own meanings to linguistic constructs and even end up turning the original on its head. Again, no control over that. Plus, it's Twitter. The similarity of the workings of the human mind is on fine display. Create an "original" hashtag and you discover it has already been used dozens of times. Also, it may have been used to convey an entirely different thought or used within an entirely different context altogether. So, you put something out there and hope for that folks will stick with the theme.

Upon the creation of the new hashtag, I figured, as many others must have, that the two would not be comparable. Statistically, women are way more on the receiving end of these unsavoury comments  and approaches than men. But, I also figured that the users of the DJW hashtag would use it to express their annoyance with some habits of Jamaican women. That happened. And, believe it or not, they had a right to do it, as the women (and some men) did with the DJM hashtag. My interpretation of that move was: "We know it can't compare, but this is our chance and avenue to express our concerns and annoyances." The subject matter was not the same - and they knew it. But, some of them also came from a place of what was real to them. True, there was little regard to time and place and courtesy/netiquette. However, should their views be discounted or should we close our ears to what they were saying because their views didn't fit the theme; the timing? Some of them tried to turn it into a positive for Jamaican women. And a few of them were just plain stupid. And crass.

Literary Tropes
One comment was that those men should not have to see these women as their family members before showing respect. However, it may very well take a comparison between other women and their mothers, sisters, aunts..., to trigger a change in thinking and behaviour. For some folks, their tropic (trope-ic) view of the world is heavily based on metaphors. They are better able to grasp a concept through association using specific analogies. (Similar to this is metonymy - association based on general understanding. "The beautiful game" is a widely accepted reference to football.) Another trope is synecdoche (not the place in New York). This is where people tend to refer to the part for the whole: "Oh, you've got a new set of wheels!" Or, the whole for the part: "The long arm of the law finally caught up with you!" (Instead of saying the police stopped you for speeding.) Where was I going with this? Yes. So, perhaps, for some of those men, metaphors/associations would resonate more with them. We would like them to exhibit a change in behaviour; get to a higher level. Are we dictating how they get there? Or should we appreciate that they would be choosing to change; making an effort, and that that's a starting point for them?

Ladies and Gentlemen
The task is a challenging one, but it is necessary to begin - if we have not already begun - to raise our little girls and little boys to be ladies and gentlemen. If we don't take the time to do it, they will be raised by wolves. We could leave them to the (societal) elements, be ├╝ber-liberal in a hands-off approach and simply hope for the best. And it's fine to talk about being prudish, until the day you realize it's your son or your daughter who's being a menace to society. Yes. The same wolf-esque society to which he/she was left to be groomed. As was told to us as students at Wolmer's Girls', "What you will be, you are now becoming."

Here's the thing: Values and principles remain a thing. And, here's another thing: People differ in their definition of values and principles, etc. It's as though we all make it up as we go along. We've made such a descent, and are now we've found ourselves up that creek - without a paddle. But, we gotta find a common standard, man. We all must be able to agree that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable; is wrong. Why can't we all just get along? (Sorry. It's been a long post.)

Decency is not just something to do to get something in return. You could "Good morning, Miss," til you're blue in the face, it doesn't necessarily mean the woman will hand over her telephone number. No, just be decent because it makes you a better you. It helps you on the journey to living a fulfilling and rewarding life - in Jamaica or in Australia or wherever. (I was gonna say "successful life", but the definition of success is not the same for everyone.) You may have heard the saying, "We hire for aptitude. We fire for attitude." Yeah. That.

A Word: Respect
The conversation continues, no doubt, online and offline. The message needs to get through to minds and hearts, and a huge part of that message is Respect.

(Note: Thanks to sis, Durie, for her feedback on the draft of this post. Much appreciated!)


Claudia
www.cyopro.com
www.twitter.com/cyopro








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