Whether one is male or female is not only a biological fact, it assigns one to membership of one of two social groups, known as ‘gender’. Social, economic and political consequences flow from this membership. Women and men, boys and girls, are treated differently, have different experiences at school, home and work, they do different things and different things are expected of them. There is a universal fear by men of the power of women and this results in attempts to justify the denigration and control of women and their sexuality. Thus women are often punished, reduced to servitude and mutilated because of this fear. I recently read an article where an Indonesian group amputates the fingers of women when a loved one dies. The men remain intact. There is an African group where during an initiation ritual, the young men have to jump over five cows without falling; the women in attendance are beaten with whips and scarred for life. In Muslim societies, both men and women cover their heads as a sign of modesty, but a woman also uses her headcloth as a veil to hide her shame and her modesty about her sexuality in front of men. In the Western tradition, it is Eve who disobeyed God and thus is responsible for the loss of immortality for all humans.
I was traveling in a taxi recently and heard the song ‘Blow’ playing on the radio. I was stunned by the lyrics. By stating that all women give ‘blow’ (whether they go to church or not or where they come from or their shade of skin colour) could never be true – it is a song based on stereotypes which is a simplistic, but quick and convenient way of classifying the world. The uneasiness of the song is that it verbalizes not only the fear that Guyanese men have of a woman’s sexuality, but it expresses the truth that many women are using their sexuality to be able to survive in our society which for decades has had a high level of poverty. The fundamental problem, then, is that Guyanese men are no longer able to control the bodies of women. The lack of control over the sexuality of women seems to be therefore reversing the power structure in the society and women are beaten and mutilated as a consequence. Women must know their place in the power structure. There is not only sexual activity in women’s natural interest in self-preservation, but there is also ‘hand-fare’ – that is, just simply asking men for money. The fact that there is a word for the activity means that it is an important means of survival for some Guyanese women. However, the devices that some women have adopted for survival in the society have driven more fear of female sexuality into men (hence the content of the song ‘Blow’) and thus fear of the power of women.
The apparent reversal of the power structure may have also played a role in the perceived rise in the sexual assault of children; some men feel that they no longer have power over women, so they turn to the group over whom they have control, that is, children.
To reduce the threat that a woman’s sexuality poses for men and the consequent abuse and mutilation of women, more is needed from the government in job creation, training and other economic opportunities for women in the society. I am not only observing the spreading and deepening of poverty in Guyana, but I note the President is showing his power by renovating government buildings that he may or may not be occupying in colours that are similar to those of his political party. The people of Guyana need more than a show of the President’s power.
Professor Kean Gibson