No Pussyfooting in Cock Tales

 

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It takes a lot of spunk to call your play Cock Tales. And then to tack on “Shame on Me!” Exclamation mark! This clearly shows you’re not ashamed at all. You’re brazening it out. That’s Debra Ehrhardt for you. This cocky Jamaican playwright and actress is certainly not afraid to talk up di tings. After the spectacular success of her brilliant one-woman play, Jamaica Farewell, Debra’s back with another winner.

Cock Tales is about penises and the men attached to them. It’s also about how one woman deals with the penises she unexpectedly comes upon. From childhood to adulthood! But, as Debra coyly admitted on ‘CVM at Sunrise’ last Thursday, it’s not all that many penises.

In the programme notes, Debra reveals her husband’s reaction to Cock Tales: “When my husband heard the name of my new show, he about lost his mind. I gently explained that his penis was not the first I’d encountered in my life, and that Cock Tales and all my one-woman shows have come from my own life experiences.”

Debra’s play addresses serious social issues such as sexual abuse of girls and sexual repression in Christian families. But there’s also lots of humour. When a well-dressed man on a train in New York invites Debra to view his penis, she raucously exposes him, much to the delight of the audience on the train and in the theatre. Debra skilfully seduces us to laugh even when she’s dealing with trauma. It’s a subtle art. Laughter often masks pain. And it also helps us cope with pain.

PASTOR COULDA NEVER DO DAT!

th-1Debra grew up in a Seventh-day Adventist home. The church doesn’t come off so well in the play. Pastor White offers the young girl a ride home. In the seclusion of the car, he grabs her hand and places it on his penis. She knows it’s a sin and puts up loud resistance. And she tells her mother.

Fortunately for Debra, her mother believes her. They dash off to the pastor’s home to confront him. Many abused girls aren’t so lucky. Their mothers refuse to even consider the possibility that the child is a victim of abuse. Not if the predator is an upstanding member of the community. And certainly not if he brings groceries regularly! No sah! Pastor coulda never do dat!

Cock Tales makes us contemplate the shame that victims of abuse often endure. That’s the other meaning of “Shame on Me!” It’s the victim who feels shame. Not the heartless attacker. And no matter how innocent the child, she is tainted by abuse. And it can mark her for life. Yu never hear what happen to her? Poor thing! Her life mash up now. She done fah. And the perpetrator of the crime often gets off scot-free.

Of course, I’m not going to tell you all the tales in Debra’s play. You have to go and see for yourself. The play opened last Wednesday at the Jamaican Shopping Club Theatre, formerly Green Gables, on Cargill Avenue. It’s on from Wednesday to Sunday until the 19th of February. Seventh-day Adventists should turn out in large numbers to look in Debra’s mirror. It’s an opportunity for reflection. I hope it’s not still a sin to go to the theatre.

FOUR CAN’T PLAY

Cock Tales isn’t the only play in town that’s dealing with men out of control. Basil Dawkins’ Four Can’t Play is on at the Little Little Theatre. It stars Oliver Samuels. He’s not the bad guy. His only problem is a very bad case of snoring. The villain is an irrationally jealous man who attacks anyone he thinks is attracted to his wife. He ends up in prison. Again, the play’s serious message is delivered with much humour.

Then there’s Tek Yuh Han Off A Mi, written by Michael Dawson, the local producer of Cock Tales. He also wrote the song of the same name that’s performed by Queen Ifrica. The play deals with domestic violence. And it attempts to free men and women trapped in co-dependence. It’s on today at 6 o’clock at the Jamaican Shopping Club Theatre.

blow-the-whistle-for-truth-t-shirts-mens-premium-t-shirtDebra Ehrhardt’s Cock Tales couldn’t have come to Jamaica at a better time. The constant abuse of girls by powerful men in and out of the Church has now provoked national condemnation. I hope it’s not a nine-day wonder. The abuse of children really isn’t news. We’ve long known about it. But it’s often hushed up. Debra has certainly blown the whistle on this nasty issue. Very loudly!

The Bible says, “A whistling woman and a crowing hen are an abomination to the Lord.” Actually, no! That sentence does not appear anywhere in the Bible. It sounds like it should be in the Book of Proverbs. But it’s not.

Donald Trump’s right-hand woman, Kellyanne Conway, might very well insist that it’s there in the Bible. But that would be an ‘alternative fact’ – a downright lie from a shameless con artist.

Even though the Bible doesn’t condemn whistling women or crowing hens, supposedly holy men of God have used the ancient book for centuries to silence women and keep us in our subservient place. But women keep on putting up resistance fearlessly. In Cock Tales, Debra doesn’t pussyfoot around. She stamps on abusers and shamelessly crows down deviant men: Cock-a-doodle don’t!

Those Backward Adventists

Backward-Forward-web-695x463As a born and bred Seventh-Day Adventist, I’m thoroughly ashamed of the church of my youth. To think that in the 21st century Adventists cannot agree that women are eligible for ordination as ministers! It’s completely incomprehensible in this day and age.

Admittedly, I’m no longer a member ‘in good and regular standing’, as they say. I go to church irregularly for weddings and funerals. As a child, I got enough church to last me for the rest of my life. I’m a post-Adventist but I do pay sceptical attention to what’s happening in the church: Let’s see what they’re up to now!

On some issues, the Adventist church is reasonably progressive. Education and health are top priorities. In many countries, it is the educational system that attracts members. At the elementary and secondary level, Adventist education is quite respectable. But, to be frank, at the tertiary level, it can be decidedly anti-intellectual. No questions asked.

Adventists confidently know ‘the truth’. And this is non-negotiable. If, as a young adult with an inquiring mind, you ask difficult questions, you get into trouble. Take, for instance, the problem of the ‘mission story’. Each Sabbath, we were told the story of someone from an ‘unenlightened’ culture who was dissatisfied with his or her religion.

That unhappy individual would explore other religions, seeking ‘the truth’. Inevitably, they would find it in the Adventist church. So I wondered aloud if Adventists shouldn’t also question their own religion and go searching for something better. That, of course, was a sacrilegious proposition. Adventists already had the truth so there was no point in looking further.

AN UNGODLY PLACE

As a graduate student at the University of Toronto in the 1970s, I was fortunate to be offered a job at a Seventh-Day Adventist college. Those days, teaching jobs were scarce, particularly in the humanities. So I was tempted. But I wondered how I would manage in an intellectually conservative culture.

images-1I was reassured when the head of department conspiratorially told me that I didn’t need to wear anything ‘special’ for the interview. She’d anticipated that I would have been carefully considering the appropriate costume for my role as a prospective teacher at an Adventist college. As it turned out, she was pleased to have a new member of staff who had not been inbred at an Adventist institution.

But it was a challenge. One of my students from deep rural Maine refused to read fiction because it was a lie. Then there were Caribbean students from New York who had a hard time adjusting to rural life. They were happy to have a teacher who understood their culture. I once took some of them into the city to see The Harder They Come.

I was summoned by the Dean of Academic Affairs and reprimanded. It didn’t matter that I had screened the same movie on campus in a course on Caribbean culture. The issue was that students had gone to an ungodly place – a movie theatre. That was four decades ago. Things must have changed.

FALLEN BY THE WAYSIDE

Gender politics is still very conservative in the Adventist church. True, women can now be ministers. But they can only be ‘commissioned’, not ‘ordained’. The distinction between commissioning and ordination is at the heart of the current debate in the church about the role of women.

It seems as if ordination requires a higher level of sanctity than mere commissioning. And women are, apparently, unable to achieve this level of holiness. Men are genetically disposed to piety, it would seem. But the evidence is disputable. I can recall whispered stories of late-night re-baptisms of ordained ministers who had fallen by the wayside.

Usually, it was a very attractive female member of the flock who magnetically drew the man of God from the path of righteousness. Of course, in some instances, the ordained minister actively put himself in the path of the attractive woman. And suffered the pleasurable consequences. Man is human and flesh is frail – especially when you have a substantial lot of it in your arms.

Seriously, though, the issue of ordaining women is not about the spiritual inferiority of women. It’s just another version of the age-old story of discrimination against women based purely on gender. But there’s a twist to the tale. North American Adventists are, in general, quite liberal about ordaining women. In fact, in 2012, church leaders in two regions voted in support of the proposal. This was seen as divisive.

Status-Quo-432x320It is Adventists in the global South who are most committed to keeping women in their place. In the Caribbean, even women believe that God does not sanction the ordination of female ministers. And young people are no less backward. A male student at a secular university quoted 1 Timothy 2:12 to make his case to me: “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.”

The Adventist church started in the US. But the growth rate there is relatively slow. It is in the global South that the Adventist church continues to grow rapidly. So the vexing issue of the ordination of women will only be resolved when Adventists outside North America are good and ready. Until then, dedicated commissioned female ministers will simply have to submit to the status quo, whether or not it’s divinely ordained.

Putting Vaginas (And Penises) In Focus

UnknownNewspaper headlines are designed to grab your attention, if not your crotch. So I completely understand why the sensational ‘vagina’ – and not the more neutral ‘body’ – was used by the In Focus editor to brand Ms Karen Lloyd’s provocative column, ‘My vagina isn’t public property’ (Sunday Gleaner, August 3, 2014). Sex sells. Titillation, too.

I had a feeling that the hotty-hotty vaginal headline was going to backfire. It struck me that if your vagina really isn’t public property, perhaps, you wouldn’t want to expose it in print. Of course, that’s not the same as uncovering it in the flesh. All the same, as hard-core pornographers know, the thought of sex can be just as exciting as the real thing. Sometimes, even more so with the right visual stimulation.

Once I got past the seductive headline, I realised it was a case of bait and switch. The primary focus of Ms Lloyd’s perceptive column wasn’t her vagina after all. It was the persistent problem of verbal and physical abuse of girls and women in Jamaica. Across the board: uptown and downtown; black, white and brown; every single ethnic group. All our talk of independence, both national and personal, means absolutely nothing if we can’t cure this widespread sickness.

MALE BACKLASH

images-1Mr Bertlan Reynolds’ letter to the editor, published on Independence Day, is a classic example of abusive male backlash against women who dare to speak uncomfortable truths. The headline, ‘Vaginas public property on ‘Back Road’,’ maliciously challenges Ms Lloyd’s perfectly reasonable claims about a vagina’s right to privacy.

Mr Reynolds, who seems to be thinking with the head of his penis, completely misses the point. Unlike Ms Lloyd, the women on ‘Back Road’ are selling sex. Even so, the vagina of a female sex worker is not public property. It may be turned into a commodity and graphically put on display, as described in such detail by Mr Reynolds:

“Not too long ago, an event was taking place on this renowned road popularly called ‘Back Road’ that caused vehicular traffic to come to a virtual stop. A group of women presented themselves in an almost nude state banging on the cars of male drivers, gyrating and virtually ‘swiping’ the cars, including mine, with their private parts. This was certainly not a clever way to marketise their dismal future.”

FRONT-ROOM SEX WORKERS

Cleverly marketed or not, the vagina of a female sex worker is a private body part. And its owner has the right to determine its use and value. She is entitled to pick and choose her clients even in desperate economic circumstances. Sex workers have rights. They have the fundamental right to be protected from sexual abuse. And selling sex does not mean you give up all claims to be treated with dignity.

Dignity1Self-righteous, judgemental souls like Mr Reynolds don’t seem to understand this basic principle. And they certainly don’t grasp the economics of survival in Jamaica today. You cannot assume that sex workers willingly choose the world’s oldest profession. It’s usually a last resort, especially in societies like ours where poor women do face a dismal future.

And Mr Reynolds ought to know that sex workers come in all grades and stations: from ‘Back Road’ to front rooms in upscale, gated communities. Class covers a multitude of sins. The way some uptown ladies gyrate in public for carnival, they might as well be swiping their private parts on ‘Back Road’!

A SLAP FOR A SQUEEZE

I’m so glad Ms Lloyd had the presence of mind to slap the man who squeezed her breast. I’m sure he’ll think twice about attacking another woman. And his claim that he was only romping with her because she looked so good is outrageous. Presumably, an attractive woman must take full responsibility for provoking unwanted attention.

This is the identical assumption that the self-proclaimed “old fogey”, Mr Cedric Richards, makes in his letter to the editor, published on August 5. The headline is vexing: ‘Vagina not public property, but are women asking for it?’ And what, exactly, is ‘it’? Verbal abuse? Rape? These are acts of power, control and violence.

How would Mr Richards feel if a man grabbed his crotch in public? Would he concede that he’d been asking for it because he was dressed attractively? In a satirical letter to the editor, published on August 5, Ms Meng Na mocks heterosexual men who are afraid of being “checked” out by gay men but think it’s perfectly ‘natural’ for women to be groped.

safe_image.phpThe old fogey ends his letter with an irritating question: “Do the ladies have a responsibility to be more modest in their attire?” It’s not about how women dress. Even in societies where women are covered from head to toe, sexual abuse is a constant threat. Men have a responsibility to exercise self-control and keep their hands and penises under manners.

Instead of falling into the trap of thinking that unwanted sexual attention is a compliment, women must fight back. We cannot passively see ourselves as victims. We have to let men know that they are not entitled to romp with us against our will. And an unexpected response to sexual harassment – whether verbal or physical – can be a most effective deterrent.

On my walk one morning, a man called out to me, “Hi, sexy girl!” To be honest, I think he intended it as an innocent compliment. All the same, I thought I should put him in my place. I pleasantly replied, “Hi, sexy boy!” He almost fell off his bicycle.

High Time Fi Woman Bishop

Two spelling systems are used for the Jamaican language below. The first, which I call ‘chaka-chaka’, is based on English spelling. The second, ‘prapa-prapa’, is the specialist phonetic system designed by the Jamaican linguist Frederic Cassidy. It has been updated by the Jamaican Language Unit at the University of the West Indies, Mona. After the two Jamaican versions, there’s an English translation.

CHAKA-CHAKA SPELLING

Look how long woman a run church a Jamaica! An it tek two thousand year an more fi di Anglican dem inna England decide dem mind fi mek woman turn bishop. Wat a sinting! An some a di man dem – an all woman too – bex, bex, bex.

Unknown-1Di bishop dem claims seh dem a tan up inna one long, long line weh go right back to Jesus an im twelve disciple. From man to man come down. Dem call it ‘apostolic succession’. Dem seh Jesus never have no woman disciple. A so-so man. So a man fi run tings ina di church. Woman no business fi waan turn no bishop. Unu tink it easy?

Di Anglican church do have woman bishop inna odder country laka Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Merica an Swaziland. But no inna England. Dem a hold on pon ole-time sinting. Some a di man priest dem so harden, dem seh if a no man bishop ordain dem, dem no ordain fi true. Wat a way dem backward! Mi sorry fi dem.

WOMAN LUCK

Tings an times a change. An all who naa change a go get lef. Anyhow, it look like seh di one dem weh waan bring een di woman bishop dem a try see wid dem odder one weh no ready. Dem no waan di church mash up. So hear wa dem a go do. All who no waan no woman bishop can aks fi one man.

imagesMi no know how dem a go manage if half a dem waan man an di next half waan woman. Dem mussi a go end up wid two bishop inna di one district weh dem call ‘diocese’. Then mek mi gi unu lickle joke. Di word bishop come from Greek: episkopos. Di epi part mean pon top; an skopos mean fi look. So bishop a overseer.

See ya! We done know bout overseer. Not a nice sinting fi a beat people fi work out dem soul case fi nutten. But dem ya holy-holy overseer supposen fi a look after wi soul an wi soul case. So wat happen to woman soul an soul case? Wi a no smaddy? Wa mek wi cyaan oversee fi wi owna soul an case? An fi di man dem to? Wa mek a ongle man can oversee?

Then through di Anglican church a di official church a England, di woman-bishop vote ha fi go a Parliament. An if it pass deh so, then di woman dem gone clear. An member seh it never easy fi woman turn priest. A no til 1994 dem ordain di first woman priest dem. Mi no understand wa mek it so hard fi Christian see seh man an woman supposen fi have di said same rights.

Old-time people seh, ‘woman luck deh a dungle heap; fowl cratch i out’. Dat simple mean seh good luck can drop pon woman anywhere. All inna dungle. Mi naa seh Anglican church a dungle. Mi no waan no overseer beat out mi soul case. But it look like seh nuff cratch-cratch a gwaan inna dat deh chuch fi root out some a di man dem an mek space fi woman. After all!

PRAPA-PRAPA SPELIN

15anglican-master315Luk ou lang uman a ron choch a Jamieka! An it tek tuu touzn ier an muor fi di Anglikan dem ina Inglan disaid dem main fi mek uman ton bishop. Wat a sinting! An som a di man dem – an aal uman tu – beks, beks, beks.

Di bishop dem kliemz se dem a tan op ina wan lang, lang lain we go rait bak tu Jiizas an im twelv disaipl. Fram man tu man kom dong. Dem kaal it ‘apostolic succession’. Dem se Jiizas neva av no uman disaipl. A suo-so man. So a man fi ron tingz ina di choch. Uman no bizniz fi waahn ton no bishop. Unu tingk it iizi?

Di Anglikan choch duu av uman bishop ina som ada konchri laka Aaschrielya, Nyuu Ziilan, Kyanada, Merika an Swaazilan. Bot no ina Inglan. Dem a uol aan pan uol-taim sinting. Som a di man priis dem so aadn, dem se if a no man bishop aadien dem, dem no aadien fi chruu. Wat a wie dem bakwod! Mi sari fi dem.

UMAN LOK

Tingz an taimz a chienj. An aal uu naa chienj a go get lef. Eni-ou it luk laik se di wan dem we waahn bring iin di uman bishop dem a chrai si wid dem ada wan we no redi. Dem no waahn di choch mash op. So ier wa dem a go du. Aal uu no waahn no uman bishop kyan aks fi wan man.

Mi no nuo ou dem a go manij ef aaf a dem waahn man an di neks aaf waahn uman. Dem mosi a go en op wid tuu bishop ina di wan dischrik we dem kaal ‘diocese’. Den mek mi gi unu likl juok. Di wod bishop kom fram Griik: episkopos. Di epi paat miin pan tap; an skopos miin fi luk. So bishop a uovasiya!

100_9513_midSi ya! Wii don nuo bout uovasiya. Nat a nais sinting fi a biit piipl fi wok out dem suol kies fi notn. Bot dem ya uoli-uoli uovasiya sopuozn fi a luk aafta wi suol an wi suol kies. So wat apn tu uman suol an suol kies? Wi a no smadi? Wa mek wi kyaahn uovasi fi wi uona suol an kies? An fi di man dem tu? Wa mek a ongl man kyan uovasi?

Den chruu di Anglikan choch a di ofishal choch a Inglan, di uman-bishop vuot a fi go a Paaliment. An if it paas de so, den di uman dem gaan klier. An memba se it neva iizi fi uman ton priis. A no til 1994 dem aadien di fos uman priis dem. Mi no andastan wa mek it so aad fi Krischan si se man an uman supuozn fi av di sed siem raits.

Uol-taim piipl se, ‘uman lok de a dongl iip; foul krach i out’. Dat simpl miin se gud lok kyan jrap pan uman eniwe. Aal ina dongl. Mi naa se Anglikan choch a dongl. Mi no waahn no uovasiya biit out mi soul kies. Bot it luk laik se nof krach-krach a gwaan ina dat de choch fi ruut out som a di man dem an mek spies fi uman. Aafta raal!

ENGLISH

UnknownWe’ve had women in charge of churches in Jamaica for so long! And it has taken more than two thousand years for the Anglicans in England to agree that women can be bishops. What a thing! And some men – and even women, too – are quite angry.

The bishops claim that their authority was established with Jesus and his twelve disciples. From man to man right down the line. They call it ‘apostolic succession’. They say Jesus did not have any female disciples. Only men. So it is men who must be leaders of the church. Women should not even want to be bishops. Can you believe it?

The Anglican church does have female bishops in some other countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the U.S. and Swaziland. But not in England. They are hanging on to tradition. Some of the male priests are so stubborn they argue that if they are not ordained by a male bishop, their priesthood is not legitimate. They are so backward! Too bad for them.

WOMAN’S LUCK

Things and times are changing. And all those who don’t want to change are going to be left behind. Anyhow, it seems as if those who support the proposal to make women bishops are trying to compromise with those who don’t. They don’t want the church to break up. So this is what they’ve decided to do. Those congregations that don’t want a female bishop can request a male.

I don’t know how they’re going to manage if half of them want a man and the other half want a woman. They’re going to end up with two bishops in one diocese, as they call the district for which a bishop is responsible. Then this is so funny. The word bishop comes from Greek: episkopos. Epi means above; and skopos means looking. So a bishop is an overseer!

Look here! We do know about this overseer business. It’s not a nice thing to have to beat people to exhaustion, body and soul, forcing them to work for nothing. But these sanctified overseers are supposed to look after both body and soul. So what’s the story with woman’s soul and body? Aren’t we human? Why can’t we overseer our own soul and body? And the men’s as well? Why is it that only men can be overseers?

ANGLICAN-master675Then because the Anglican church is the official church of England, the issue of female bishops has to be put to the vote in Parliament. And if it passes there, then the women would be free to take up office. And, remember, it wasn’t easy for women to become priests. It wasn’t until 1994 that the first female priest was ordained. I don’t understand why it’s so hard for Christians to accept that men and woman are supposed to have equal rights.

Traditional wisdom declares, ‘woman’s luck is in the garbage heap; the fowl scratches it out’. That simply means good fortune can fall on woman anywhere. Even in the dump. I’m not saying that the Anglican church is a dump. I don’t want to be beaten by any overseer. But it seems as if a lot of digging up is being done in that church to uproot some of the men and make space for women. After all!

On Guard Against Lagarde

img_53b00b821b2cdLast month, as I listened to Christine Lagarde lecture at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, I felt a rush of old-fashioned feminist pride. Here was a woman who had made it to the top of a decidedly patriarchal institution, the International Monetary Fund (IMF). And that wasn’t all.

Forbes magazine ranks Lagarde as the fifth most powerful woman in the world! I wondered how much clawing and scratching, or worse, she’d had to do. Or if men yielded gracefully once they recognised her commanding abilities.

novelettegrant_1Unfortunately, in some quarters, it’s still news that women are capable of leadership at the very highest levels of both public- and private-sector organisations. Like the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). I certainly hope Assistant Commissioner Novelette Grant is on the list of possible replacements for Owen Ellington, who has retired so precipitously. It’s as if he just fell over a precipice.

ACP Grant has paid her dues and she’s ready for the top job. She can definitely do far more than just assist. She can take charge. That loaded word, ‘charge’, is of French origin, meaning ‘burden’. Women can assume the responsibilities of leadership if they are given the opportunity. But the JCF is, unquestionably, a male-dominated institution.

CLOSING GENDER GAP

UnknownIn 1999, the University of the West Indies Press published a book by Sergeant Gladys Brown-Campbell titled Patriarchy in the Jamaica Constabulary Force: Its Impact on Gender Equality. She’s the first policewoman to earn a law degree, building on the foundation of her bachelor’s degree in English. I had the pleasure of teaching her at UWI and I’m quite proud of her accomplishments.

In the ‘Introduction’ to the book, Brown-Campbell outlines her objectives: “To investigate the extent to which patriarchy informs women’s opportunities for career advancement and to discover the extent to which biology influences notions of (in)equality in the organisation.” She comes to an unsurprising conclusion: Men discriminate against women in the JCF. And, even worse, women often sell themselves short. Not wanting to antagonise their male colleagues, they settle for less than they’re worth.

A decade and a half after the publication of that book, some progress must have been made in closing the gender gap in the police force. But is it enough? Are we ready for a female commissioner? And if not, why not? Why can’t a talawa Jamaican woman lead the JCF? Queen Nanny has long been a compelling model of female military might. It’s not enough that she’s a national hero. Her true legacy is the value we place on women’s abilities today in all spheres.

BEEN THERE, DONE THAT

imf-logoI have to admit that the hot flash of pride in Lagarde did cool down quite quickly. Because of the IMF. An apparently powerful woman who leads a patriarchal organisation like that can only do so much to transform the culture of gender inequality. And we can’t assume that such a woman actually wants things to change. She can so easily get sucked into the politics of divide and rule. She can end up thinking she’s made it because she’s an ‘exceptional’ woman. But all women have the potential to be ‘exceptional’, given the right opportunities.

slavery_2849118bGender politics aside, what made me put my guard back up was Lagarde’s troubling message. After all, she’s the rather pleasant face of the heartless IMF. What we’re being told repeatedly is that one of the major planks of Jamaica’s economic recovery is devaluation of the dollar. I’m no economist. But as I understand it, here’s how the argument goes: A weak dollar will attract foreign investors who will make a killing. We’ll be so grateful for the jobs they bring, we’ll work for next to nothing. Been there and done that! So we’re not going back there if we can help it.

Furthermore, a weak dollar will make imported goods so expensive we’ll just have to do without them. We’ll be forced to produce more. But this is where it gets tricky. Production costs, such as imported energy, will continue to increase as the value of the dollar decreases. So businesses will collapse and jobs will disappear. And there will be less money in circulation. We’ll be right back to where we started. Pauperised.

imagesInstead of deliberately weakening the dollar and reducing the buying power of Jamaican consumers, we need to launch a public-education campaign to help us wisely spend the little money we do have. Why do we need so many foreign goods? And when are we going to start placing high value on our natural resources? In this stifling season of drought, we’ve all been feeling the power of the sun. Why have we taken so long to harness this free source of energy? Yes, the infrastructure is expensive, but it will quickly pay for itself.

images-1From the luxury of her job as managing director of the IMF, Christine Lagarde can tell us with great authority that more poverty is the route to economic security for us. We know better than that. Nutten no go so. Lagarde is the Fund’s guard. That’s what her name means. We had better watch over our lickle money.

If Men Could Get Pregnant …

UnknownMinister Lisa Hanna is absolutely right. It’s high time for us to review the backward law that turns women into criminals because they choose to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. The law also criminalises medical doctors and unlicensed practitioners of various sorts who assist women in getting abortions.

It’s a highly emotional issue, especially in a fundamentalist Christian society like ours. After all, the Bible says, “Thou shalt not kill.” And abortion is murder. But is it? A foetus is not a human being, in much the same way that an egg is not a chicken. The egg does, indeed, have the potential to become a chicken. But if it’s eaten for breakfast, that’s that. It’s a pity some of us aren’t rational enough to see the difference between a foetus and an actual child.

hard_labour_by_rotwang1979-d5ay0v4According to the 1864 Offences Against the Person Act, a pregnant woman who tries to abort the foetus in her own body is guilty of a felony and, if convicted, is liable to be imprisoned for life, with or without hard labour. No pun intended, I suppose. If anyone attempts to help her with the abortion, that person is also guilty of a felony and is liable to be similarly sentenced. The ‘druggist’ who supplies any ‘noxious thing’ to be used for the abortion, or even the bearer of the thing to facilitate the process, is also liable to be imprisoned.

This piece of legislation is truly remarkable, especially bearing in mind the history of our country. The act was passed a mere 30 years after the abolition of slavery. All of a sudden, a foetus (not a ‘child’) was much more valuable than millions of enslaved Africans who were seen as beasts of burden and, therefore, entirely fit subjects for protracted abuse. Their lives needed no protection. An unborn ‘person’ now had more rights than actual persons, many of whom still had vivid memories of being brutalised by enslavement. Did this act have any moral authority? Or was it intended to ensure the availability of an unending supply of cheap labour?

THE UGLY ISSUE OF CLASS

7374820-oppression-just-ahead-green-road-sign-with-dramatic-storm-clouds-and-sky-300x200It took more than a century for Jamaica’s oppressive abortion law to be modified. In 1975, the Ministry of Health, in a Statement of Policy on abortion, declared that it was now “lawful for a registered medical practitioner, acting in good faith to take steps to terminate the pregnancy of any woman if … he forms the opinion that the continuation of the pregnancy would be likely to constitute a threat to the life of the woman or inure [work] to the detriment of her mental and physical health”. Note the gendered language: the medical practitioner is presumed to be male.

The Statement of Policy called for amendment of the Offences Against the Person Act (1864) in order to clarify the circumstances in which abortion could be deemed lawful in Jamaica – such as in cases of rape, carnal abuse and incest. Thirty-eight years later, the antiquated act has still not been amended. And what about much broader reproductive rights?

choice-300x300-1Lisa Hanna must be congratulated for boldly daring to put on the agenda the contentious matter of decriminalising abortion. And she raises the ugly issue of class. As she perceptively observes, “Abortion is still illegal in this country, and a woman’s right to choose whether or not to keep her pregnancy is, in effect, exercised only by those who can afford a private doctor.”

Quite early in my career at the University of the West Indies, a student fearfully confided that she was pregnant. One of the challenges of being a teacher, even at the tertiary level, is that students expect advice quite unrelated to academic matters. I immediately asked the distraught young woman if she had told her mother. She said she was afraid to tell her. I reassured her that her mother would certainly understand. In two twos, she had an abortion and hardly missed any classes.

ECONOMICS, NOT MORALITY

0e2cbec33784484476_ram6b5siaIf all the middle-class women in Jamaica who have had abortions would speak out on behalf of their poorer sisters who have limited access to safe terminations, the law would have to be changed. But so often in these matters, there is one standard for the rich and another for the poor. If you can afford to pay for a safe abortion, this somehow makes you superior to women who can’t. It’s no longer a matter of morality; it’s all about economics.

Data from the Ministry of Health confirm that approximately 1,200 women are treated each year for complications arising from unsafe abortions. And those are just the official figures. In the 21st century, poor women in Jamaica are still risking their lives in order to claim reproductive rights that middle-class women simply take for granted.

Lisa Hanna has been viciously attacked, particularly by men who seem to presume that they are divinely ordained to exercise control over the bodies of women. Last Wednesday, The Gleaner published a letter by a cowardly writer, most likely a man, hiding under the false name, ‘Oxy Moron’. Headlined ‘Let’s kill every poor pickney’, the truly moronic load of drivel was elevated to the status of Letter of the Day.

Distorting Ms Hanna’s plea for reform, the moron pretends that the minister is proposing mass murder: “Go and fetch every woman and every girl who is pregnant, but lacks parenting skills, and exterminate their babies, even the pretty ones who could become Miss World!” Of course, the reproductive rights of women are not about killing ‘poor pickney’, pretty or not. In Jamaica, it’s ‘rich pickney’ who are aborted.

Florynce_Kennedy_publicity_pic

Florynce Kennedy

The African-American lawyer, civil-rights activist and feminist Florynce Kennedy famously declared, “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.” What is now a badge of shame for women would become a sacred rite of passage marking the transition from childhood to adulthood. But since it’s women who do get pregnant, we have to turn shame into pride as we claim the right to control our own bodies.

Night Work For Women

images-1It sounds like progress. An old-fashioned law that curtails the freedom of women to choose the time of day (or night) they wish to work is under review. The 1942 Women (Employment of) Act says a lot about both class and gender politics in Jamaica. The act prohibits night work for women. And it’s not about prostitution. These days, sex work is no longer gender-specific. And it isn’t necessarily done only at night.

The act defines ‘night’ as “a period of at least 11 consecutive hours, including the interval between 10 o’clock in the evening and 5 o’clock in the morning”. Work is described as “every business or undertaking carried on for gain, except a business or undertaking in which only the members of the family of the owner or proprietor are employed”. I wonder why women in family businesses are exempted.

In exceptional circumstances, women are allowed to work at night. This is what the act says:

“No woman shall be employed in night work except where the night work is:

(a) for the purpose of completing work commenced by day and interrupted by some unforeseeable cause which could not be prevented by reasonable care; or

PERISHABLE-GOODS(b) necessary to preserve raw materials, subject to rapid deterioration, from certain loss; or

(c) that of a responsible position of management held by a woman who is not ordinarily engaged in manual work; or

(d) carried on in connection with the preparation, treatment, packing, transportation or shipment of fresh fruit; or

(e) that of nursing and of caring for the sick; or

(f) carried on in a cinematograph or other theatre while such theatre is open to the public; or

(g) carried on in connection with a hotel or guest house, or with a bar, restaurant or club; or

(h) carried on by a pharmacist registered under the Pharmacy Act.”

THE BOTTOM LINE

bottomlineThese ‘exceptional’ circumstances are quite a peculiar mix. Nursing and pharmacy I understand. These are life-saving professions. And fresh fruit and raw materials do have a short lifespan. But what’s so special about women working in theatres, hotels, guest houses, bars, restaurants and clubs? Are these night jobs similar to the world’s oldest profession? Making money all through the night clearly takes precedence over protecting supposedly vulnerable women. The law keeps its eye firmly fixed on the bottom line.

And why are women in management exempted? It looks like a class issue. Women who are “ordinarily engaged in manual work” are not allowed to do night work. But better-off women are? Or is this exemption really just a sick joke? In 1942, how many women actually held “a responsible position of management” in any “industrial undertaking” in Jamaica? Relatively few, I suppose. So why make such a big issue of exempting them?

In 1961, new trades and occupations were added to the list of exceptional jobs that women could do at night. It all seems quite random: for example, manufacturing of sugar, rum, cigars, cigarettes, cordage, rope, twine, butter, cheese, condensed milk, soap, margarine, lard compound, edible oil, textiles and paper. The list goes on and on without apparent rhyme or reason.

images-4The only occupations on the new list that obviously provide essential services are in civil aviation, public passenger transport, telecommunications, and the fire brigade. Newspaper publishing is also exempted, but some sceptics will say that journalism these days is not an essential service; it’s more entertainment and less hard-core news reporting and analysis.

 

EXPLOITING CHEAP LABOUR

At the rate the Women (Employment of) Act is going, we might as well speed it into extinction. On the face of it, amending the old law is a good idea. In these enlightened times, women ought to be free to choose when they work. But there’s definitely a downside to freeing up women for night work. It’s not all about emancipation.

In fact, night work seems to be just another form of exploitation of cheap labour. A few years ago, I met a female security guard at Devon House who was on the last of three consecutive 12-hour shifts. Yes, 36 hours straight, day and night! Talk about ‘pop down’. She could barely keep her eyes open. She explained that she was doing it for the money. She had children to look after.

images-2Is there a hidden motivation behind the seemingly progressive plan to remove the restrictions prohibiting night work for women? And will all women, rich and poor, equally benefit from the new legislation? Not likely! The revision of the act seems to be intended to force poorly paid women to work for 12 hours at a stretch – without the full benefit of overtime pay as usual. It’s all about flexiwork.

The present labour laws require an employer to pay time and a half on Saturday and double time on Sundays. In the new flexiweek, overtime will be calculated only after 40 hours of work. So, in effect, you could employ someone for two 12-hour shifts with no ‘overtime’, then exploit them further by employing them on weekends and not paying overtime. This is a total reversal of all the labour rights our foremothers and forefathers struggled for.

Not surprisingly, David Wan, president of the Jamaica Employers’ Federation, enthusiastically supports the proposed amendment of the act, as reported in a Gleaner article by Daraine Luton, published on June 5: “Take it off the books! This is a different day, different time.” But how different are these times? With our long history of exploiting cheap labour, we should be very cautious about enacting legislation that threatens to weaken workers.

123According to Labour Minister Derrick Kellier, flexiwork will increase productivity. But at what price? Will physically and emotionally exhausted workers actually be more productive than healthy ones? And will poor women doing night work for next to nothing be better off now than in the old days? “Jackass seh di world no level.” It’s a pity that jackasses of the human kind refuse to listen.