Not Even One Token Woman!

This month it’s black history; next month it’s women’s history.  Women, like black people, now get a whole month in which to celebrate our collective contribution to world culture.  What a ‘poppyshow’!  Like black history, women’s history really ought to be everyday history.  But it is not.

In most societies, it is men who make history. And men also write or speak history.  So, naturally, men are the prime subjects of history.  Women end up on the margins or are completely written out of the story. So we women – especially black women – still have to put up a fight to insert ourselves into history.

Sojourner Truth

Last week Sunday, ‘mi head tek mi’ when I saw the poster for the conference on “Collective Responsibility for the 21st Century” jointly hosted by CARICOM, the University of the West Indies and the Commonwealth Secretariat.

I simply couldn’t believe it. The advertisement featured eleven men.  Not even one token woman!  Nor a single young man. The combined age of those poster patriarchs for CARICOM and the UWI had to be no less than 700 years!  Not quite Methuselah, but still.  The face of Caribbean regional integration was completely male and totally old.

I immediately sent off a despondent email to head office:  “I despair for our university and the region:  The flyer for the conference features 11 men!  Is there not one woman whose face can be used to advertise the conference?  Are any women slated to speak?  I would very much appreciate seeing the full programme.  Was there a call for papers sent out for this conference?  Or is this a closed shop?

At this very late stage, I’m offering a paper for the panel on “People-Centred Development”:  “Representations of Caribbean Regional Integration in Jamaican Popular Culture.”  It would be based on my essay published in Caribbean Imperatives:  Regional Governance and Integrated Development.  I’ve copied this email to the vice-chancellor but just in case he doesn’t see it, I would appreciate your bringing my concerns to his attention.”

Appalling gender ratio

Kamla Persad-Bissessar and comrades

I got an apologetic response.  The Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, had been invited to be the keynote speaker but she couldn’t come after all.  And most of the other women who had been asked to participate declined for one reason or another. The gender ratio of speakers was appalling; 23 male:  2 female.

I was offered the option of chairing the panel on “People-Centred Development”, which I graciously declined.  I was settling for nothing less than giving a paper.   My persistence paid off and I was allowed to speak on the panel, “Regional Integration:  Commonwealth Perspectives.” But I felt as if I’d committed a rapacious act.  Forcibly penetrating the programme.  Why couldn’t a call for papers have been issued so that potential participants, both male and female, could have felt free to offer their contribution?

That’s the nature of patriarchy.  Privilege is not readily surrendered.  The authority to invite participation guarantees complete control of the agenda.  Of course, my being permitted to speak confirms the fact that patriarchy can afford to be indulgent while still holding on to absolute power.  Indeed, my insistent recommendation that another, younger female scholar be invited to chair the panel I’d been offered was disregarded.

Against my explicit wishes, my name appeared on the programme as chair of the panel on “People-Centred Development.”  Resigned to my role, I decided to not look a gift horse in the mouth.  In my capacity as moderator, I took the opportunity to elaborate my dismay at the patriarchal politics of the conference.

Prof Joycelin Massiah

More than three decades after the path-breaking ‘Women in the Caribbean Project’, headed by Professor Joycelin Massiah; and more than a decade and half since the establishment of the regional Centre for Gender and Development Studies at UWI, women were still being marginalised in a most vulgar way.

The flyer advertising the conference, as well as the gross gender imbalance in the selection of speakers, was a slap in the face of Caribbean women and perceptive men who fully understand the need to undermine patriarchy.  This kind of psychological violence can be even more destructive than physical abuse.

Men ‘run tings’

These days, when I hear that tired story about the gender ‘imbalance’ between male and female students at the University of the West Indies, especially at Mona, I just kiss my teeth.  I know that gender imbalance is not a problem at the higher reaches of university administration.  Men still ‘run tings’ at the University of the West Indies.

It is true that a few token women have been appointed as administrators.  But do they really challenge patriarchy?  Or are they complicit with the system?  For example, the post of Deputy Principal seems to be reserved for women:  close enough to power but not really in the driver’s seat.

It was the calypsonian Penguin who mischievously proposed that “a deputy essential to keep you feeling vital.”  If women keep settling for deputy we will certainly ensure the continued vitality of patriarchy.   Quite frankly, I was most surprised that the female Deputy Principal who addressed the topic “The Politics and Economics of Gender in Regional Integration and Development” did not speak in any fulsome way about the gender politics of the conference itself.  But, perhaps, it was not politic to do so.

I keep wondering when the patriarchs at the University of the West Indies will relinquish their hold on power – if ever.  Mouthing gender equity and setting up a regional Institute on Gender and Development Studies is no substitute for what is actually needed:  a radical transformation of gender relations that will allow the best ‘man’ to rise to the top.  Even if it’s a woman.

Prof Simmons-McDonald, Principal of the Open Campus

An astute male colleague brought to my attention the delicious irony that only three of the four UWI Campus principals were represented on that now infamous conference flyer.  I myself was so vexed I didn’t even notice that the principal of the Open Campus, who happens to be a woman, was excluded from the portrait of the Old Boys’ Club! This speaks volumes about how the fledgling Open Campus is perceived:  decidedly peripheral.  And is it by accident or design that the most marginal (and impoverished) of the UWI campuses is headed by a woman?


In my paper on “Representations of Caribbean Regional Integration in Jamaican Popular Culture” I highlighted George Lamming’s rejection of the identity of ‘West Indian’.  In The Pleasures of Exile, published in 1960, Lamming declares:   “I refrain from saying that I am from the West Indies, for it implies a British colonial limitation. I say, rather, I am from the Caribbean, hoping the picture of French and Spanish West Indies will be taken for granted.”

George Lamming

Lamming’s identification with the multi-lingual Caribbean affirms an immediate regional affiliation beyond the ironically narrow ambit of the British Commonwealth.  Emancipating himself from the mental slavery of historically defined colonialist identities, Lamming claims a new language to name himself.

Indeed, language – both literal and symbolic – is a primary means through which regional integration is manifested; for example, the language of music.  Hybrid musical forms such as socareggae, dancehall soca, chutney soca, reggaezouk, reggaeton have emerged out of the wide circulation of popular culture in the entire Caribbean region.

While academics and politicians keep on talking in circles to each other about their ‘top down’ models of regional integration, the people of the Caribbean are happily ‘wining’ to a common beat.


8 thoughts on “Not Even One Token Woman!

  1. Mi Teach
    I am going to start a fire!!!!!
    Lawd missis how you so eeks up and push up eena the people dem sumting!?

    (I am sure you know why you selected these from the umpteen you have)
    You seemed to have made a phallic thrust in the virginal places of the male dominated universe and that is indeed rapacious!

    Power gives nothing unless it is to more power. Next time get the power, or ease into it gently. Do not force anything in.!!!

    Consider what you would do, if someone you thought did not belong, decided by himself(yes a man) that they do belong and stormed a place you considered sacrosanct!!!

    One has to know how to engage power – there are many wrong ways (wrong because of results) one right way and a few close ones.
    Close can be good. We can be satisfied with close.
    You were not even close.

    You must enbrace the struggle.
    You should not be given any position because you are of that gender, unless it is for the gender that you represent, and you MUST deserve that too.
    Expect the fight!!!! Expect to be beaten and cast off as offal.
    Get up if you can and on your own, not by the help of any man.
    In this fight that you have taken upon yourself, do not seek help from the enemy. And when the help is not forthcoming, do not whine, or blog. 🙂

    It is not rocket science. It is war and you may be killed by a man swinging a club, or his lady friend (with a lock of hair with broken nail on its end!) who is well heeled and dangerous like you are, but she is protecting her security, which you seem to want to remove from her.
    Wage the war alone.

    Seems to me we want to be given gender rights as well as afforded the ease of access, by virtue of being of that gender.

    There is no equality anywhere.
    Man is not equal to man, woman to woman, women to men.
    There is none and there will never be any equality between any of the creation. We all have less and more than others.
    And if you want a personal lesson in IN-Equality and how the world is not fair.

    Had any other woman in Jamaica written that letter there would be no response – NONE…
    Grin and bear it, it is what it is and you are favoured among our women.

    MEN RULE ( of course, the idea that women do is a polite lie.)
    That willl never change, neither willl the lie.
    Some will say, that you should not want to rule, but to control your circumstance. Anything more that controlling your own circumstance is again indulging in that first rapacious phallic thrust in the nether places of the male anatomical domain. Men should not be expected to stand or indeed bend for that. Man an man ah Man!!!

    Some will venture even furtther and say that wanting to rule means you wnat to rule men. If that is not as bad as men ruling over women it is worst.
    Women cannot rule men, neither by education or power. There is no empirical evidence of that happening successfully in a household, country or anywhere, that has not shown the imbalances created in the local space and the wider social structure.
    Men will not allow this rule and we can advance any number of reasons.

    Something defines gender and that is hooked to a brain function we have no control over.
    Roles are defined first by gender.
    Gender defines physique.
    Physique defines activities
    Women are nurturers of the next generation.
    If you think going to work beside a man or ruling him, you have been a victim of the the marketing (by men) that took women from the household and pushed them into the world of work, where they would have no time for children and the family unit would suffer.
    If you only knew how successful men have been at liberating women, only to corral them in another place.
    It is from that place that many feminists write.
    It is like democracy, you think you have chosen because someone tells you so.
    What you are not smart enough to find out is that he controls both sides
    and you have lost anyway and he has won anyway, but you are happy with the myth and lie of choice.
    Feminism is the same, it was started by men, paid for by men, and is still controlled by men for men for men against women.
    Women are removed from their men in the home. There ideas and motivations it other-imspired and supported and the unit between a man and hs woman is broken and there is an other induced warfare in the homes and in the world which is monetized.

    Unwittingly, you are a partner in your own imprisonment and partner with the enemy too.

    It will never change.

    And so we come fulll circle to history.
    History may be kind to you and remember you and men may write that history, because you are no more and they heap praises on the people they take out because they are no threat anymore.
    Bob, Peter, Malcolm, Martin….

    There is the story of the great storm in which the Oak and the Bamboo found themselves.
    The mighty Oak, stood its ground in the face of the mighty rushing wind and called attention to his strength and bravado.
    The svelte Bamboo, having no equal (No one is equal) strength or bravado, swayed with the winds.
    At the end of the storm, it was the little Bamboo, who told the story of the mighty Oak and the last stand in the fierce storm.
    You can be either Oak or bamboo….
    Where do you want to GROW today!!!


    I would love to see what you would write had there been several token women there because believe me, if they were there – it would have been token!!!!

  2. Carolyn, you are expecting a lot from the “powers that be”. Well over half a century after “the grand idea” we cannot even get regionalism right, and the institution which was once the bastion of regionalism is losing its regional essence.

    Woman is a much bigger question, or better yet, an answer that no one wants to hear. Our leaders are not really interested in building from the bottom up, because that will take away the only thing that separates them from “the others”. This goes for politics and patriarchy and the politics of patriarchy and the many insecurities which drive them.

    It is good to see that you are moving “uman lok” from the proverbial “dongl iip” and putting it in the middle of the highway.

  3. Carolyn is right – the Caribbean Methuselahs are in charge and pity the poor woman or young man or woman who wants to be a part of the PM and DM process – you might catch their eye, but for all the wrong reasons! These men are in charge of everything up and down the Region and no one else is expected to gatecrash this particular party because the pickings are so rich – consultancies galore until you literally drop dead from the weight of the money you have accumulated from the likes of Caricom, the CommSec, UWI and international organizations with largesse to divest and settle their balance sheets. Carolyn is right -being Methuselahs, not even the young get a look in – and these are the people whose futures these geriatrics are trying to commandeer and manage for them.

    Sir Shridath and his ilk do not know when to stop and bow out gracefully – kind of like those boxers who come out of retirement at 55 to find themselves pummelled, punched, outclassed and out of date but still believing that they have a point to prove. Embarassing spectacle for all concerned – did their part, were recognised amply for it, but still want to feed at the trough in the guise of ‘Caribbean Elder Statesmen’. So now we have the cushy prospect of yet another commission (on Migration) bearing the stamp of the Ramphal Centre, and financed by the hapless CommSec – with all sorts of ‘old boys’ from the Commonwealth dishing out advice as our elder and wise statesmen – I haven’t seen any old men migrating recently, have you? Im sure Sir Shridath and the boys are in touch with 21st century Caribbean reality when they take some time off from their busy schedules and will dispense loads more wisdom to clog up the bookshelves of even more Caribbean libraries. Make space for new wine in new bottles, boys! You’ve had your fair share! Open the door, let the women and young people in, then leave with dignity.

    There really is no shame about it – and in fact a lot of righteous indignation – as I’m sure she will get – when one has the temerity to disturb/question the ‘party’. Number One they don’t like being called ‘Old’ and Number Two they really believe that the solutions need to be found by them and them alone. Funny thing is, if they were so good – and as we all know, these guys have been at it for donkeys years – where are the results? Limited to say the least and they then lay it at the door of the leaders. The leaders can carry a significant portion of the blame but our ‘Methuselahs certainly need to be put out to pasture by now. They really are way past their ‘sell by date’. Bring on the women and the young people – maybe an intellectual Jasmine revolution in the region might be the thing we need….

  4. It’s funny that you’ve written on this issue and it’s published now. Here is a nice story: just last week I had to sever the urge to comment on another prominent Jamaican intellectual’s blog – I had been doing rather well till last week! – because I made pretty much the same points:
    1) Lamming’s comment about ‘West Indies vs ‘Caribbean’: in response to the larger-than-life and ubiquitous Sir Shridath’s ‘Is the West Indies West Indian’ speech, I stated that I was under the assumption that we had moved on from the term ‘West Indies’ towards a wider ‘Caribbean’ view of ourselves;
    2) I questioned the ideas raised as the views of ‘romantic, old, middle class Caribbean males’ which I guess he did not like too much, being one himself (it was not even meant to be rude or disrespectful, simply the need for a massive thrust towards fresh ideas and younger people; I think my now former friend took it to mean a disrespect for the Caricom Colossuses who bestrode the stage and just want to keep going and going like Duracell Energizers until they burn out and flop over;
    3) In a previous comment on the former Caricom SG, I commented that he was another of these dinosaurs who was way past his sell by date a long time ago, having been in the hot seat for eighteen (18!) years, (I was accused in big bold letters of kicking a man when he was down) – not good for fresh thinking/new blood especially when the region (and the Caricom Secretariat ‘jobs for the boys’ bureaucracy/mentality) is in the parlous state that it finds itself in.
    Needless to say, our blogger, also a notable worthy and contemporary of some of these ‘old boys’ did not take too kindly to my gentle, sarcasm-laden ribbing, refused to publish, and effectively assured that I should be able to find alternative places to share my views/comments. Hmmm, Houston (or is that Georgetown?), we have a problem…

  5. Fire!!!!!!
    Its a game. It is all a game.
    Two or many can play
    We all seem to think we are going to get someone to push us in the pool, after the angel has troubled the water.
    It would serves us better to take up our beds and walk.

    Too many stay on the sidelines and gripe – they do not even learn the game while standing on the sidelines.
    In the meantime, the young do get in, and usually the young are a few smart insiders, from the connected families or outsiders.!
    Usually they learn the game and benefit from it and come to control it after the Methuselahs have passed on.

    Reminds me of an occasion.
    I am thirteen – been doing holiday work at Woolworths for six holidays already in one for or another.
    A group of us are workers children and friends of workers children.
    We have become so good at stocking Christmas, and Back To School Shelves that we are called and retained specially for that event.
    We are never paid more, we just work longer and get food.
    During one of these occasions one of the more vocal ones ( he eventually ended up a big man in the local union movement) started saying we should get more, for this work.
    We all agreed.
    Then from somewhere the question was worded
    Who is going to talk to Peter “T” the owner of the franchise.
    There was queit, we heard successive pins fall, roll and stop and then roll again, it seemed forever.
    Then someone whispered. Lets all go…!!!
    So we all went.
    Then we stopped, someone said we need a leader, who is goint to talk to Peter “T”?
    Ok so this was now a problem – we needed a leader.
    I said OK, I will go to the head of the line and I did.

    It was decided to go after work when Peter “T” was in the best mood
    The time came and we went with me at the head of the line and the others at the tail dwindling with every step.
    There was seventeen of us when we had the idea.
    There were fifteen when we started, one had to go home early and the other promised to come after he went to the bathroom.
    By the time we got to Peter “Ts” Door, (his office was upstairs Woolworth) there were six of us.
    The others did not bother to provide a reason for their vanishing act.

    I went to the door and knocked anf figured, well we have six.!!!
    The door was opened and I stepped in said evening Mr “T”, we have come to talk about packing shelves and some more pay sir.
    He said we who, I said me and Mike and Tony and Harold and Chris and Danny Sir!
    He said where are they.
    I started to say, here they are ….
    I would have finished with Sir, except I wondered why a man like Mr “T” would ask such a foolish question, after all we were all standing before him.
    Then I looked around – I was alone.
    Alone in Peter “Ts” Office!!!!
    My stomach sank through the floor and my body was following it!

    I started to think, he will think I am lying, he will think I am a trouble maker, this is my last day here!!!!
    What will my parents say, where will I get lunch money and pocket money and matinee money, yes where will I get matinee money, I have to work for matinee money, till it reach about 50% and then my parents will give me the next 50% or the whole fare, but I have to show them mine first.
    My matinee days were shot.
    I had a plan.
    I know what I will do, I will beat each of these guys up one by one before school opens, that is what I will do – I know where they lived and I will bust some heads too. (bust head was the in-thing then)
    Then I heard a voice laughing, and that put a stop to my beating up plans…

    Mr “T” said do not worry, I understand.
    Here is what I will do, I will raise your payment to double what you are getting, do not tell your friends, if they come to me together or individually, I will also raise the pay of the ones who come.
    Young man you will go very far, keep it up.
    I have never forgotten that experience. I allowed it to shape me.
    Well I am writing this from Asia today.
    I kept my word and my mouth – I never told my friends, (I also never beat them up too bad – come on I had to, but no busted heads).
    I did tell my parents though and they warned me to keep away from company, or they will get me in trouble.

    Mr “T” gave my mother a present
    To make a long story short…
    I kept my job at Woolworth, until I was 18, I went to many stores for window dressing and shelf packing, got lots of matinee money.
    No one ever led me after that and I avoided groups and group action like the plague – I am a lone wolf.

    I can never understand why in world without morals and ethics, persons without morals and ethics themselves want others without morals and ethics to hand over the cushy positions of power to them.
    Perhaps if I hang around this blog, I will be shown the error of my ways and will learn a thing or two.

    I have a theory, usually the one set are lazy in a great part of it.
    Lazy in thought and indeed in deed!!!
    And the gripe goes on!!!

    Who will be the first to get up and take the walking Stick from the Methuselahs, so he can fall and break a hip.
    Are you game to get him lame – Are You????

  6. I think the point BN Firestarter is making – in his/her own inimitable style – is actually a sound one: for the loudmouth people that we pride ourselves in being Caribbean, when it comes to actively agitating and directly challenging the self-appointed ‘Wise Old Methuselahs’, we are as quiet as mice. Until Carolyn’s blog a couple days ago, I cannot recall anyone (man, woman or young person or intellectual) actively taking on these guys and challenging them openly. Almost all of our commentators to a man (and woman) just assume that its the status quo and Firestarter is right – they just moan and moan but nobody has not done a methodical tearing down of this ‘wall’ of Methuselan proportions. All of the blogs reflect this sad state of affairs. So maybe, just maybe Carolyn, your article can be the start of a new reclamation of that space with an open challenge to these dinosaurs. One can only hope that we hear more of this critical (and v constructive) thinking aired out loud more and more. Maybe then we can have the major overhaul that we have been dreaming of for so may years…

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