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Jaded by everyday sexism
Bowspring Yoga class at Akasha studios in Maraval. A group of women in a studio exaggerate curves, build momentum, arms turn wings, spring forward on all fours like panthers follow their instructor gliding, landing softly as if in snow. We (all ages, shapes, colours, sizes) are invited to keep our throats open, be accountable to ourselves, hold space for others beyond the class.
In the absence of the male gaze we are free. Freer than the woman in the hijab who was turned away from a Hindu school. Freer than the women who spend hours on their appearance, an investment to find and keep the right man.
After a challenging pose, the instructor says ‘no one is walking out of here feeling bad about themselves’. Everyone, from the 20-year-old to 80-year-old woman does an inversion, a handstand, with another woman, often a stranger literally having our backs.
As I made my way out of the yoga class on the path of the little garden amongst fireflies on one of these hot evening into what felt like pitch darkness towards the car park my zen moment turned into dread, my relaxed palms clutched my keys, alert to a probable assailant.
A woman from the class caught up with me to our mutual relief. She said without any introduction, as if taking up a previously incomplete conversation (the dark and our fear bound us) that she didn’t understand male aggression. She swerved last week, she said, to give room to a runner and he swore at her. She seemed shaken. We silently agreed that a male runner wouldn’t have abused a male driver.
At home, I talked to my niece who was shaken by a man who followed her after an accident that didn’t happen, forcing her to engage. He saw a petite, pretty woman he could push around.
The following morning I observe a woman, like the many invisibles you see coming out of middle/upper-class communities, having spent the day cooking, cleaning, caring for families not their own. That day there was something fragile about her eyes, her collarbones sticking out. I nabbed her. A blood test alarmed my GP, then the hematologist. She doesn’t need cancer. She buried a son ten years back, a boy who drowned in the reservoir while she was serving ladies tea and sandwiches. She’s been raped twice in Laventille near her home. Her husband has long defected. It’s the women of ‘high-risk’ areas and not the chattering classes like us yogis (as frightened as we are, as jaded, by everyday sexism) feel the blunt force of crime. You won’t see her now. She can’t work. She told me she hasn’t got a dollar to her name. Up and down the scale, from education, to jobs, to her private life, sexism has struck into the heart of her.
When sexism accelerates to aggression it’s murder. Fifteen women have been murdered for this year. The latest headline says a spurned suitor bashed a woman’s head in.
Sister of a murdered victim of domestic violence: “No suspect in any of these murders is another woman. We are being killed by men. Our men seem to be hunting us for sport. The men for whom we bear children, sacrifice careers, the men whom we support and defend.”
I remembered the woman who, some years back, stripped naked in the middle of a traffic jam in Port-of-Spain, which made her the victim of further ridicule, gave further credence to male dictum that women are often ‘crazy.’
You know what’s crazy, the society. I knew it when a literature professor at UWI alluded to a tribe in an African country where women get naked as a form of protest. That wilful act of nudity shames the men for their misdeeds, places the blame squarely where it belongs.
I’m still waiting, thinking of womens’ open throats, like lambs ready for slaughter, of that naked woman stripped of her senses by a slow-drip sexism, and probable everyday terror, still waiting, for men who don’t support their women, instead terrorise them to own their shame.
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