The caricatured woman

I’m going to start off with some interconnected questions that I want you to think about for a few seconds. What does the term “letting yourself go” mean as it relates to the context of women after marriage and childbirth? What does it mean when men tell women that not because they might have birthed a child or married someone that they should not stop ‘dabbling around in makeup and treating themselves to shopping therapy?’ What constitutes our self and is that self tethered to materialism and aesthetics? Finally, what does it mean to be a woman in Guyanese society and how are we challenging or upholding the caricatures of womanhood set out for us?

As women, it is more than likely that many of us would have at some point in our lives been told that we are letting ourselves go, particularly when we begin tending to more traditional duties that exist within domestic life. The phrase is meant to tell a woman that by society’s dominant definition of how she should look, she is falling significantly far from the bar that was set for her.

We have come a long way in demolishing the set ideals of womanhood and the roles we are expected to play in the home and society but the work is far from done. This was seen when government propagandist and sexist apologizer, Gordon Moseley felt the need to tell women, particularly married women and mothers, that they should stop letting themselves go.

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He claimed that he was “seeing way too many women letting themselves go after marriage or a child,” and urged them to “still dress and look good.” What that post and the comments stemming from it revealed, is a truth that has long been known, both men and women are complicit in the sexism that is perpetuated within society.

When he was called out for this sexist rhetoric, he claimed that the point of the post was being misunderstood and that those who objected were mere attention seekers. No one is saying that you cannot offer advice on things, even if you yourself are in no fit position to offer that advice. When one insinuates however, that a woman cannot truly be considered a woman if she does not fit certain ideals, then whatever good intentions one might have had has now been replaced by the insidious sexism ingrained within your psyche.

It might not have been his intent to belittle women for not conforming to beauty standards, but in a way, that makes it worse for me. It is men like this who feel they are ‘looking out’ for women but are in fact just apologizers for sexism who are a threat. They are so invested in the idea that they are doing good that they refuse to see how problematic their rhetoric and actions are and how it perpetuates harmful notions.

When he realized that persons refused to allow his sexism to pass, his line of defense began to run something like this, ‘Oprah said it, so can I.’ The piece he references does talk about women taking care of themselves yes, but Moseley’s context is entirely different, whether he meant it to be or not. The piece on which he so religiously bases his defense on does not insinuate that a woman’s worth or a woman taking care of herself is tantamount to wearing makeup, getting her hair done or even spending money.

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Oprah’s main contention was that women should stop keeping themselves on the back burner. Firstly, Oprah is a woman using her platform to speak to women. Do not presume that you know enough about the struggles of the marginalized to tell them how they should be without taking in the structural and societal barriers to achieving those things.

Even if your intent is to encourage women to take better care of their selves, there is a way to do that. There is a way to tell women that they deserve to give themselves the same care and respect they might give to their families and loved ones. However, when that unasked for advice treads the ground of telling women to dress, go shopping and keep themselves “nicely groomed,” that is when I begin to question both your motives and intellectualism. When one is asked to ‘stay true to ourselves,’ is the only way to do that through defined gender aesthetics? I am a mother of one. On the surface, I have not entirely let myself go. But, I eat unhealthy, I never exercise and I don’t get enough sleep. These things are all very bad for me but no one tells me that I’m letting myself go because: One, I to some extent conforms to beauty standards. Two, anyone who knows me knows that they cannot tell me what sort of woman I should be and not be shot down for it because we as women are not here to satisfy the male gaze or to conform to ingrained ideas of femininity.

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On why I’ve never ‘come out’

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It has been four years since I knew that I was genuinely attracted to women and three years since I’ve accepted the emotional and sexual fluidity that bisexuality allows me. Despite never hiding my sexuality since then however, I have never really come out of the proverbial closet and I think because of this, many persons view me as the hot-tempered heterosexual writer girl, who may be a LGBT sympathizer but does not particularly belong to them.

In a way, I guess this can be seen as a ‘coming out’ of sorts and to my friends and family learning about a part of me through this post, I’m sorry that I’ve had to become a label to justify my queerness to you. Hopefully, we can continue to have the same strained conversations we have all grown so accustomed to over the years- But let me for a minute explain why I’ve never come out.

Honestly, I think the whole thing is a bit too dramatic. I just could not see myself having a sit down with family and friends to tell them I ‘like like’ women. Awkward. I know it may sound weird but for some reason I felt, and still feel as if me having to officially announce my sexuality to individuals somehow gives off the vibe than I am ashamed of who I am when in actually it is something I revel in.

Another reason I’ve never seen the necessity of it was that I generally don’t understand the pressure persons belonging to the LGBT community face to come out because their sexuality is not considered normal and as such, needs to come with theatrics. My reasoning is, if you’ve never had to come out as heterosexual to me, I should not be pressured to come out as queer to you because my sexuality does not define who I am. You feel me?

I do not want to be known as that bi girl and oddly, I feel that when you come out as part of the LGBT community to people, they tend to dehumanise you. You are no longer a person, you are a sexuality, one either to be fetishized over or to be angry and hateful towards.

I realise I’m beginning to sound like one of those persons who encourages others to keep their sexual identity to themselves but that is very far from what I am trying to say in this somewhat incoherent post. Many of my friends and family realised I was interested in women from the smallest of things, a facebook post, a casual comment, seeing me flirt with or kiss a girl in front of them. Legit, me casually kissing a girl in front of her was how one of my friends found out and I was secretly so happy and proud when she didn’t ask any questions and just went along with it.

Anyway, I think that’s the way it should be. We shouldn’t be pressured to justify and made to feel tremendous guilt at our sexuality, it should be a normal part of our lives, because believe it or not, we are pretty normal-sometimes boringly so.

 

 

 

 

The right to bare arms

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(Yes, this was the dress I wore)

I know, I’ve written on this topic already but I believe in continuous comments on rules that are nonsensical. Even if no substantial changes are being made, rules such as the dress code implemented in so many buildings across Guyana should continue to be challenged.

Today, forgetting once again that we are a country still trapped with a colonial mentality when even our colonizers have grown from that, I went to the National Communications Network (NCN) for an interview in a dress that dared not have sleeves.

There I was met with two guards, one of whom told me that I could not enter the premises as my dress had no sleeves. (Yes, my arms were that arousing.) I pointed out to him that the sign he was so diligently referring to made absolutely no mention of armless clothes not being permitted.

The other guard after checking the sign told him that I was right, but the guard probably feeling as if I threatened the small modicum of power he possessed refused to hear reason and insisted I not go in.

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I began to speak to him like the fool he was because he could not understand the rules he was so tirelessly trying to uphold. I only later saw that Sonia Yarde, well known dramatist also had on armless and passed by the same guard but she had no problem entering. Why are we at the whims of irrational beings who cannot even stick to their nonsensical belief systems about how a woman should or should not dress is beyond me.

(See below photo of skunthole guard)

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Finally, an NCN staffer came down and offered me her blazer. Realising that I stood no chance in reasoning with an idiot, I pulled it on so that I could leave the guard hut. As soon as I was through however, I shirked it and dared him to come remove me from the compound and continued to refuse to don it again in spite of the many admonitions.

The thing that bothered me with the rule however, was not really the attitude of the airheaded guard, but rather, the attitude of the women who worked in the facility. Yes, they all agreed that it was a stupid archaic rule, but calmly advised me to don the blazer once again. After all, that was the rule and how dare I, a common citizen question that.

I await the day with glee when a government agency will begin turning away Sandra Granger or female parliamentarians from entering buildings just because they dared bare their arm to the public. Maybe only then will women earn the right to bare arms in public venues and not be condescendingly told that those are the rules because by then we would know that often, rules need changing.

 

The Orlando shooting

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With every mass shooting, bombings or acts of hate and terror in countries such as the U.S and U.K, the world watches in grief as the often-grisly murders are explained to them. Often, these killings overshadow similar ones in continents such as Africa and Asia as mainstream media decides who gets our sympathies and who does not.

Whether it is acknowledged or not, the attitudes and opinions we hold on certain tragic matters are largely influenced by the media and the stories they harp upon.

This is one reason why we hardly heard a peep about the 49 persons who died in Syria and the 35 others who were injured in shooting and shelling and hardly anything about the rise of Boko Haram and their countless victims.

Before I go on, I should say that I am in no way trying to undermine the brutality of the act of hate mixed with self loathing which resulted in the death of 49 persons and injuries of over 50.

The speculated reasons behind the assault are many, with the most popular one of late being that the shooter himself was gay and was struggling with an identity he was conditioned to hate from childhood.

To an extent, it can even be considered an act of terror, which was very particular in its nature, as was the case with the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

It should be noted that the shooters ghastly act not only wounded the gay community but also served to add fire to the proverbial flames of anti- Muslim sentiments in a time when followers of Islam have been singled out for hateful political rhetoric.

Whatever the reason behind the work of that deranged mind however, I know that the attack has caused LBGT persons in the U.S and around the rest of the world to feel less safe than they had just a few days ago.

Even here in Guyana the tension and unease amongst the gay community can be seen and felt as many persons openly share their sentiments which are largely urged on by religious views, that the man’s act was justified.

For every one of these bible thumpers however, there are maybe five who are sympathetic to the shooting. The sympathy and expressions of condemnation have been so overwhelming that it has caused me to wonder whether us Guyanese would have the same sympathetic response had such a shooting against LBGT members occurred here.

While we have never had such a mass shooting, over the years there has been a continuous rise in violent attacks often resulting in death against homosexual men, particularly those who are transgender.

Despite the deaths of these men, public response to these murders were miniscule at best with only a selective few seeing the clear trend of hate driven crimes that was forming. The years, 2013 through to 15 saw these targeted murders rising but yet, the larger public remained oblivious and even the police force did not seem to see the significance in the crimes nor the need to actively pursue and solve them.

In 2014, there was even a march against the slothful way in which the police were attempting to probe into the murders of several homosexual men with several citing the reasons for sloth as being trans-phobia and homophobia deeply ingrained within the psyche of the police officers.

While it is no laughing matter, I cannot help but find it amusing when I heard some of our nations leaders protest against the shooting and comment upon the need for tolerance and acceptance when nothing substantial is being done to protect those belonging to the LBGT group in their own country and removing outdated and dangerous legislation which makes criminals out of otherwise law abiding citizens.

If nothing else, this tragedy has offered us at home and abroad the opportunity to confront the often-unchallenged anti-gay rhetoric and actions touted and carried by friends, family and acquaintances. When these views remain unchallenged all they serve to do is contribute to the acceptance of hatred and violence against those in who their distaste lies with. Too often, these messages of hate and discrimination come from our churches pulpits and podiums when there is an urgent need for messages of love and acceptance. Too often, these messages of hate are passed down to the minds of our children. Regardless of what religion one belongs to, efforts should be made to ensure harmful ideologies, which discriminate against each other are not adapted.

The beauty concept

Yesterday at a Café house, I met up with a group of friends whom I had not seen for a while. We caught up on each other’s personal lives and began some harmless bantering and then our conversation inexplicably steered to beauty. Here was a group of intelligent young people but no one could agree on what beauty was.

Eventually, for lack of a compromise, we moved to other topics to entertain ourselves but still, the beauty concept stuck with me. Almost everyone in the world has their own notions about what beauty is and what it is not. Due to this reason, judgements on beauty broadly vary across societies and cultures. In short, most of us can quickly say that X is beautiful but we struggle to say why we believe so in truly acceptable terms.

The belief that beauty is subjective is perhaps best exemplified in the popular phrase, “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.” This belief made me wonder as to whether beauty is what convention may have told us from childhood; that beauty is dependent on individual personality or whether there is a universal physical idea which determines beauty.

I would not be hypocritical and say that everyone is physically attractive, as I find some persons more aesthetically pleasing than others. What I can say however is that beauty is not wholly objective, as I have sometimes found persons attractive whom others may have believed to be plain or average; some part of their physicality or personality appealed to me.

According to Aristotle in his book, “Poetics,”, “To be beautiful, a living creature, and every whole made up of parts must present a certain order in its arrangement of parts.” Here, Aristotle equates beauty with symmetry, further suggesting that true beauty lies in one’s geometric composition. Beauty according to this theory then can be said to be composed of our values, morals and the Golden ratio.

Despite the steady changing of the beauty standard in the world, the one element which has remained intact as suggesting true beauty is the Golden ratio, also known as the “divine proportion” or more commonly, “phi.” It is stated that the more ones face adheres to phi, the more attractive that person is. This can be debated however. Actor, Denzel Washington has a near perfect facial symmetry and was once named sexiest man alive by “People Magazine.” He is without doubt a handsome man. Let us look at rapper, Jay-Z now. The rapper has a perfectly symmetrical face yet he is not considered beautiful by most in today’s society. Even with the “divine propertion” there seems room for debate.

Despite the fact however, that beauty; even objective beauty cannot accurately be defined, due to the mass media and books which sexualize the human face and body, we are in an age where beauty is normally measured solely on ones outward appearance. I suppose we come back to the premise that beauty is indeed in the eyes of the beholder but we can go further and say that what defines beauty is the multiple lenses through which that eye perceives that beauty- social conditioning, sexuality, cultural practices, other characteristics of the beheld and the direct preconceived prejudices of the beholder