“Zita’s Slippery Slope”

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By  Tricia Reddock

Black women have found the idea of feminism and the feminist movement to be uncomfortable bedfellows.

Aside from sharing patriarchy as an enemy, there’s very little common ground. Black women have always toiled side by side with men during slavery and colonization.

So we do not need to prove that we are capable or strong enough to be valuable contributors in all areas of life and living.

In fact, there’s an unspoken competition as it appears that white feminists seemed to have joined forces with the abolitionists attempting to piggyback off their growing momentum in the US during  their own march to emancipation.

Caribbean women are even further removed from feminist ideology as Caribbean society is, and has always been, heavily reliant on the labor and contributions of women in the communities.

Former Senator Marcia “Zita” Barnwell placed herself on a slippery slope when she decided to embrace the feminist mantra.

This ideology led her to run unsuccessfully for a seat on NDPs executive committee twice during her three year stint.

Her feminist message somehow didn’t resonate with the party faithful, irrespective of gender.

It did not help that it appears she did not solidify relationships with women at a grassroots level both in the community, or within the party itself.

Her second run garnered a dismal 40 votes.

According to IWN, her supporters were mostly controversial men and infamous alpha females who form the hard right fringe of the party, achieving notoriety with abrasive and questionable online and media chatter.

“But Barnwell, and her supporters, who include the controversial Luzette King — who was removed from NICE Radio because of irresponsible comments that exposed the station to litigation — and Jeffery Providence who is known for extreme commentary with doubtful overtones, in addition to former head of the NDP’s Youth Arm, Nick Francis, have been making a case for a woman as a vice-president, in arguments that border on the same tokenism that was largely responsible for Barnwell being a senator in the first place, notwithstanding her merit.”

Feminism, as commonly understood, does not inhabit a permanent space in Vincentian collective psyche or culture.

There isn’t a societal push for the typical feminist ideology that mostly demands a place for women in traditional male spaces.

Representation through affirmative action styled policies are a foreign concept. It is rather alien, this idea that one must balance the ratio of men to women in leadership for the sake of optics.

We tend to not use quotas as an indicator of progress.

Our emerging post colonial society still grapples with the remnants of what once was a deeply entrenched class system compounded by a conservative Christian mentality which continues to influence our rules of engagement.

Women’s issues on SVG are complex, nuanced and multidimensional skirting around religious, colonial, racist, colorist and sexist themes.

Women, like children, are relegated to what makes up the indistinct, fuzzy background of a stage that prominently features and displays the antics of men.

Women and girls are treated as commodity and children should be seen and not heard.

These norms are aggressively enforced, often using the violence that is our colonial legacy.

It is our culture to beat black and brown women and children into submission.

Vincentian society collectively continue perpetrating that terrible colonial legacy of physical and sexual aggression towards black women and children.

These behaviors are codified and supported by outdated colonial laws, as well as the social and religious institutions.

At the same time, the nation has been under international scrutiny for the our high rate of domestic and sexual violence against women.

A widely circulated report by Toronto Star out of Ontario, Canada called SVG the most dangerous place on earth for women.

Barnwell somehow missed, or chose to ignore all these undercurrents and subtle nuances that frame gender issues on SVG.

According to IWN, her appointment by Eustace in 2015 was in response to pressure from party insiders to choose a woman. This was the beginning of her particular brand of tokenism, masquerading as feminism.

Tokenism demands a seat at the table, regardless of qualifications, experience or level of passion for what is at stake.

Tokenism gifts us with pleasant imagery and fosters comfortable illusions.

We can look and see an attractive, well spoken, dark, black woman in parliament espousing feminist ideals and allow this mirage to erase the harsh everyday reality of exploited Vincentian women and girls who are raped, murdered, verbally abused, sexually assaulted, physically assaulted and violated all day, everyday in neighborhoods and communities across the land.

Tokenism operates in a parallel universe that says Barnwell’s position as a Senator and possibly a member of the executive board of the Opposition will somehow fix all that.

Tokenism comes with a sense of entitlement that demands access to whereever it wishes, because presence is the only requirement that needs to be fulfilled.

In the case of Barnwell, not even her presence in parliament was required after her party staged that ill fated boycott attempt, just days after she was sworn in to uphold her responsibilities to the people of St. Vincent through her senatorial appointment.

Through this blatant exercise in tokenism masquerading as feminism, again NDP failed to follow through on challenging the current status quo by presenting Vincentians with a viable alternative to the good ole boys club.