“You wutless!”

One of the latest phrases directed to me as I stood on Lamaha Street a few days ago. It came from one of two males who were driving along in a truck. They laughed and were off.

20160213mosa telford logoClad in knee length gym pants, a tee and my gym bag on my shoulder, I took a few seconds to look at myself trying to figure if my privates were in some way exposed. Of course not.

Then I thought, “Oh it continues.”

It was just one out of a series of derogatory terms heard daily from men. I figure most of the attention from these males is not meant to be disrespectful. The only problem is that most times it is.

“Girl if you know wha’ I would do to you if I ketch you alone.”

“I could beat up duh thing fuh you.”

“Wha! Look at duh! I could sleep and live in duh.”

They stare at you and smack their lips. They show you sexual gestures. Recently, I even had a homeless man trying to expose himself to me as I walked along the pavement by the Guyana Post Office.

I have been harassed for my contact information by men who don’t seem to understand the word no. Men in their vehicles or on foot have followed me to my gate after I clearly stated that I was not interested. Recently, I had an experience where a uniformed member of the joint services reversed the government vehicle he was driving and turned into the street I was walking on to drive alongside me while seeking my contact information. This was early night and for a little while there was a bit of fear in me. I thought, ‘what if this man reached for his gun because I was not giving him what he wanted?’ Maybe I am a bit paranoid but as a woman simply walking down the street I should never be made to feel any kind of fear from anyone.

Still, I consider these men to be a minority, since on a daily basis I also interact with wonderful men who are polite and considerate to women. These are men who greet you with a smile or a pleasant “good morning” or “good afternoon.” Or, they might pay you a compliment. I applaud these men. We need more of them.

And then there are “the others,” which is how I refer to the obnoxious ones. I often find myself questioning whether these men were really born of women. Whether they have wives, sisters and daughters. Sadly, most times they do. You wonder how they interact with the females in their families, since this section of Guyanese men seem to feel it is their right to talk to women anyhow they please.

I wonder if the humiliation that men suffered during slavery and indentureship has anything to do with what has passed down to this generation. Historically, the man who was enslaved was just a fragment of himself. He was beaten, used like a mule and often times would have been humiliated by massa in front of the woman. The indentured labourer would have had a different experience as he was brought to work for a period of time and was paid. However, he too would have encountered ill treatment, which included whippings and, more than likely, women would have seen this. Imagine the shame our male ancestors must have felt. Could it be that they fought for the respect of the woman and their fight for dignity resulted in them finding ways to belittle the woman?

The belittlement of women is also ingrained in some of the core beliefs in our society. I don’t live my life based on any religion but we live in a society that is largely male-dominated and aspects of some of the major religions support the patriarchy. For example, one of the major religions practiced in Guyana is Christianity and we often hear that Eve ate the fruit that got her and Adam kicked out of the Garden Eden. For some of the people who believe this story to be history, this made the woman forever evil. The Bible also offers contradictory views on the treatment of women.

Also worth considering is the nurturing of the boy child. The boy child, like all children new to the world, is like a sponge, open to be shaped by the experiences in his path.

According to a 2001 UNICEF State of the World’s Children report, titled Early Childhood Development, “Early childhood is a crucial stage of development that forms the foundation for children’s future wellbeing and learning. Research has shown that half of a person’s intelligence potential is developed by age four and that early childhood interventions have a lasting effect on intellectual capacity, personality and social behavior.”

In Guyana, on a large scale, women have great influence on boys in their early years. The very nature of the woman, as the one who carries the child for nine months and then nurtures him, puts her as a figure of authority in the life of the boy child. The teachers that the boy child encounters are also more likely to be women. Therefore, the woman has to be very careful in her actions and in how she communicates with that child.

The man in the boy child’s life also has responsibilities. He has to teach the boy to be respectful to women by how he communicates with women. He has to demonstrate to the boy child that his mother is queen and that women are to be treated as royalty.

But what happens when links are missing? What happens when a single mother is raising the boy child? What happens when his father has rejected him? What happens when the father is there but has no regard for the mother–he verbally abuses her or beats her–and the boy child witnesses this? What happens when the woman who is supposed to take care of the boy child humiliates him?

I cannot count the number of times when I have witnessed women embarrassing little boys on the road in the name of discipline. Of course, discipline should not be thrown out the window when children err, but the rights of the child must be respected. If children are humiliated in public or in front of their peers, it damages their self-esteem. It is also sad to note that many times when women humiliate little boys on the road, it is done for laughs. Can we say that such occurrences do not cause permanent damage to the boys who experience this and in some cases disdain for women?

Of course, all children are not the same. Many of the respectful men who are wonderful fathers and husbands were raised under some of the same circumstances. However, at some point, a choice has to be made. At some point, all of us, as human beings, have to decide which path we want to take. We can let the bad experiences define us or we can learn from them and vow not to carry on the cycle.

I believe that we can pull from the above-mentioned facts to have a clearer understanding as to what might have led to the kind of men who see it fit to insult women on the road daily.

Some women respond to the insults with like disrespect, while some encourage it by thinking it is somehow funny. They laugh and even stop to talk with their harassers. It leaves me to think that these women either have no idea that they are being insulted, somehow think that it is normal behaviour or have very low self-esteem.

I am one of the women who, in the majority of cases, responds with silence. But when I think about it, is silence really going to solve this problem? Is my remaining silent somehow saying that I am okay with being belittled? And if I am to respond, what do I say? Some of the times when I have tried to reason with some it bore no fruit.

Nonetheless, we need to continue the conversation that has been going on for some time about the attitudes of men who harass women on the street. Women must use their voices to speak against the despicable behaviour. The women who find the behaviour acceptable must be reminded of their worth. The women in the lives of boy children have the responsibility to treat them with love, care and understanding. The adult male and female in the boy child’s life need to work together to help shape him into the kind of man who would know that the place of woman is beside and not beneath him. The adult males and females who need to seek healing must find it and bonds that reflect harmony and mutual respect must thrive.

Perhaps we need a reworking or new interpretation of some basic religious beliefs that will seek to create more balance as to the value of male and female. Perhaps we also need to broaden our knowledge to include other concepts that are not male-dominated, but where the woman is also seen as God. Dare I dream?