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Women speak out
The internet hashtag #LifeinLeggings started in late November in Barbados, and since then it has released a torrent of (largely younger) women’s stories and brief Twitter anecdotes, all based on uncensored personal experiences of womens’ demeaning experiences at the hands of men. (Older women, it seems, don’t use Facebook or Twitter so much, or are more reticent about public sharing of private experiences.)
The stories or brief statements being shared are disturbing.
From insulting heckling on the road, to harassment at work, to sexual abuse of girls and reprehensible behaviour of victim-shaming and protecting male abusers through a conspiracy of silence, some of the shared experiences are graphic, and they paint a dirty, violent picture of T&T and Caribbean society.
The anecdotes reveal that even though many T&T/Caribbean women may live independently, and may have a good education and a job, in the transactions of daily living they must still deal with pervasive sexism, gender prejudice entrenched deep within the culture, and active ill treatment from many men.
Such men may routinely demean women, see women as inferior, and feel they have the right to control them, use them or abuse them.
The heartfelt nature of the negative experiences being shared on #LifeinLeggings has triggered some heated public discussions in reaction to issues raised.
Issues include verbal and physical harassment of females by men; violence to women by men; sexual exploitation of females by men; a perceived rape culture in T&T and the Caribbean; and the culture of shame and silence within families and communities, a culture that often protects male abusers while shaming or further traumatising female victims of abuse.
‘Not enough being done’
The T&T Guardian spoke by phone last week with Ronelle King in Barbados, the co-founder of the social media hashtag #LifeinLeggings, to ask her why she started it.
“I started the movement based on my personal experiences with sexual harassment and sexual abuse,” she said.
“It became a breaking point...most movements come from a breaking point of injustice, with not enough being done about it.”
So she contacted her best friend, Allyson Benn, with the suggestion to start a movement to create a safe space for women who have been sexually harassed or abused, to share their experiences.
The hashtag idea was born, with Life in Leggings chosen as a catchy name.
King commented that “urban women are constantly thrown under the bus” when people say their mode of dress invites abuse.
“That’s not true. Sexual harassment has nothing to do with your clothing... To perpetuate that myth is very, very harmful: it victim-blames the actual victims of sexual harassment and abuse”, instead of holding the actual abusers accountable for their actions, said King.
King feels the social media hashtag is expanding into a grassroots movement.
“It literally took off the next day,” said King, with women posting from Barbados, Trinidad, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Antigua, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Guyana, Belize, and other places.
Dominica soon started its own hashtag—#LévéDomnik—which translated from Créole, means “Stand up/Wake up Dominica” (see http://embracedominica.com/blog/levedomnik/ for abuse stories shared there).
And participants are also coming from the US, Canada and the UK, said King. “We’ve got pings as far as Japan and China,” she commented.
The popularity of the hashtag has led other groups to weigh in, including the Barbados group Gays, Lesbians and All-sexuals against Discrimination (B-GLAD), whose co-founder, Ro-Ann Mohammed, recently told reporter Kerri Gooding:
“The #LifeinLeggings hashtag is more than just another social media trend.
“What it is doing is exposing the insidiousness of misogyny within our culture and its effects on women and girls from all walks of life, sexual orientations and all socio-economic backgrounds.” (Loop News, posted December 15).
King, in her interview with the Guardian, noted that ill-treatment of women happens all over the world, but our own history plays a unique role:
“It’s a global problem. But I believe our experience within the Caribbean differs a little from the international, because of our colonial past and how women were more seen as property than as people,” she said.
“Our culture really allows grown men to sexually abuse young girls. Especially minivan (or maxi taxi) culture... And when those things come to light, you hear: ‘She too faas. She force-ripe.’ They don’t ever look at the fact that these underage girls are raped because they are too young to give consent.”
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