Historically women in Guyana have suffered none of the disadvantages associated with real misogyny

Dear Editor,

Just read, without real surprise, that “misogyny”, the hatred or contempt of women is a part of the culture of Guyana. I do not agree.

In my opinion such a cultural characteristic is not perceptible on any significant scale in the country. On the contrary, women , historically, have suffered none of the disadvantages associated with real misogyny. Women in Guyana have generally occupied an honourable place and have been exemplary as participants and beneficiaries, in the conquest of the political and social space both before and after independence. We are unaware that an argument could convincingly be made that the sex (or gender) were restrained in their “actualisation” by the prejudices that came with cultures in much of Europe or the United States.

In fact women were rarely denied some forms of employment because of sex. The ‘women’s place is in the kitchen, etc,’ never had application here. It was the great house or field for the female slave and the weeding gang or creole gang for the indentured.

Their liberation and enfranchisement began with the transit of the Africans off the estates in large measure, and the creation of an idealised creole female as pupil/teacher, teacher, and nurse, ward sister, etc. The place of the Afro-female was, with Guyanisation, as much in the government offices as their male counterparts. Our governments so organised it that female pilots, army officers, engineers, even females in traditional male jobs were promoted and boasted about. In times when professional options were limited and, for much of the Afro-population, the choice was government service, women were well represented. There were discriminatory laws one is certain. But the political philosophy that animated the nationalists of the PPP, and then after the split, the PPP and PNC were progressive. There were strong female figures in both camps as well as in the United Force. Our history has nothing to do with the feminist discourse originating in other climes and cultures.

Here is a quote from Professor Christina Sommers on the debilities that have come to dominate some ‘feminist’ discourse in the United States: “The orthodox feminists are so carried away with victimology, with a rhetoric of male bashing. On the campuses they are fed a kind of catechism of oppression. They are taught ‘one in four of you have been victims of rape or attempted rape…you are suffering massive loss of self-esteem…” Sommers speaks of the myths and “grotesque exaggerations” that come with the feminist dose.

The Caribbean Creole woman is in an entirely other category. Often, in the majority black camp, the centre of  matrifocal families, the power is not distributed in the domestic space as it would be in a nuclear family in the West or other parts of the world. The dysfunctional family generates different types of victims… marginalised men, batterred kids, maltreated dogs… let us say the patriarchal model does not apply.

Caribbean women are not at all generally victims of brutality and sexual assault. Such cases are still statistically to be measured against the rise in other kinds of crime and aggression. Caribbean women, and here the specific cases of ethnic minorities are not considered, often benefit from the respect due mother figures and the idealisation of potential sexual or life partners.

So while there is some ‘objectifying’ of women as sexual beings, the process occurs in a much more confused context to which women themselves contribute.

As for the history of Indo-Guyanese women, there is an interesting treatment, with citations, by Janet Naidu in a magazine called Indo-Caribbean Heritage, available on the web with .com attached to the title. The role of women in Afro-Creole culture has a long reading list starting, for me, with a book my family insisted that I read as a teen, My mother who fathered me. by Edith Clarke. It deals with Jamaica but reflects interestingly on many communities in the region.

All of which is to say that in the same way that one finds revolting the importation of  the pro-gay rhetoric, care must be taken that other forms of contradiction and confusion are not replanted here in other guise. We need to note that, as a whole, the political and social philosophy of our leaders and intellectuals of the 1940s and onwards still remains generally valid to these days. The gaps in their thinking are still as obvious. The work to be done still evident. Importing a sickness of rhetoric from a society that sees itself as entitled to impose its own backwardness on the world is not what we should leave to our successors.

Yours faithfully,
Abu Bakr

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