From very early in Jamaica you learn that as a girl, as a woman, your body is not yours. Somehow, you learn that you were born for men and boys to practice their masculinity on. You were a part of their coming of age story. Young men started practicing to be abusive in groups. These were the same boys you went to school with, or the older teen boys that were your older brother’s friends. It was the young men who you watched as an eight year old girl as they reached puberty and started to mature as young men. It might even have been the older men who were your father’s colleagues. It doesnt matter, Jamaican men figure that a young woman should be the subject of their amusement, their need to prove themselves to their friends, to their peer group, their brethren on the corner.
I can’t pinpoint exactly when I recognize that abusive behaviour towards women was accepted as part of the national identity of Jamaican men. I am not sure if it was when I turned ten and men in my community started telling me “I was ready to go on the cutting table” or if it was by the time I got to 12 and they said “how old yuh be now?” I responded 12 and they said “Anything past 12 is lunch.” I didnt even understand what that meant. Or perhaps it was when they told me that my headlights looked good; referring to my breats when I was 14 years old. By the time I got to sixteen, I was touched, groped, felt up, pulled into corners; I was told at least twice a day what men wanted to do to me. I remember going to visit my sister at her business place in my school uniform, I was about 14 years old and on my way a man crossed the street to stand in front of me and explain in detail what he wanted to do to my 14 year old vagina. I was left speechless, I had never heard those things before. I felt unsafe and afraid and violated. I was suppose to help her that day. I quickly took the bus and went home. I couldnt go anywhere else. After the fellow who had verbally assaulted me walked away from me, he went to his friends and obviously told them what he told me and they all began laughing. I was looking back and running at the same time. They were happy, he had proven himself to be a man. This is what men do, I imagine, they terrorize women and then go to their friends for validation and vindication. They call it normal male behaviour.
I remember sitting in my office and one of the graduate students who assisted me in the delivery of the leadership programme left for her class in the Faculty of Humanities and Education. Within a couple minutes she was back sitting in my office, I asked her what happened, and she said miserably, I cant do it today. When I enquired what exactly had happened, she told me about the group of young men who were gathered at the bus stop just outside of Mary Seacole Hall who narrated her walk and described her body in detail and what they wanted to do to it. That day she went to class late, she sat and waited until the men had left and went to her class late.
I remember one day I was teaching in one of the N rooms at UWI. I was just walking over to Mary Seacole and was heading for the walk way. Some men were there standing, they seemed to have been making deliveries. They obviously saw me walking in their direction and moved to the walkway and stood on both sides. I had encountered this before I knew what they were up to. They stopped talking and started to stare at me. I assessed the situation and thought I would walk through the carpark instead. But then I decided, I was going in for the confrontation. I walked up to the four men and I began to cuss. I realized that I was as angry as hell. I got in their faces and I was intent on blasting each and everyone of them. I could see the absolute shame on their faces. I wanted to slap all four of them. I asked them why they thought I didnt have the same rights to navigate public spaces. I asked them what exactly made them more impo6and more valuable than me. I asked them how they thought I felt when I saw the four of them deciding to intimidate and scare me. I asked them what they were getting out of it. They said nothing. They could say nothing.
I have a solution. Since the government is incapable of helping women to deal with men’s violence and attacks on us, women must learn to fight. Women must learn to defend themselves. We are going to have to learn to throw stones, to carry knives and be able to use them in defense of us and our children. We will need to apply for our gun licenses and resort to other kinds of self defense. Men are saying they cant help being violent to us women. We must know that we have the right to self-defense. This country is officially stating that women are at risk. Men have stated that they intend to kill. There is agreement among numerous men from all quarters that women will be killed. Women need to start thinking through how they will defend themselves. Part of that of course is voting out or not voting in the political party which seems less interested in the well-being of women. We have to learn to stand in defense of us.