On our way to pick up a friend for brunch, my (Haitian) girlfriend and I were discussing relationships and she brought up a gentleman whose name I had not heard before. I inquired as to whom she was referring and she replied in the most cavalier way, ” J. Doe man, the one that kinda raped me that time.” Slightly puzzled, I asked, “kinda what?” My manner was not telling for either of us at the time, as I, for some reason was not jarred by the comment; and she did not find it significant enough to digress from the original thread of the conversation. After a few seconds passed, I giggled and interjected, “Wait, wah u mean kinda raped.” She countered, “You know what I mean. You didn’t really want to but it was already in there so you just went with it.” I nodded in agreement. And like nothing, the leading conversation went on as is and we never regarded it an issue worth revisiting.
That was approximately 2 years ago.
Since then, many of my girlfriends, and/or friends of friends, have sporadically shared similar experiences; none of whom, for one wayward reason or another considered themselves victims of assault. It made me wonder, what get’s some Caribbean women to this resolve of “I don’t want this, but it’s already in, let me just go with it?” Why is an otherwise serious issue seemingly placated by these women? What is this absurd notion of being low-key, kinda raped. Is it that it is too jarring an experience to acknowledge or is it that the latter decision to just go with it overshadows the grotesque nature of the act. Perhaps it is because the circumstances under which the violation took place were not deemed grotesque enough? When I asked these women if they considered the men they had non-consensual relations with to be rapist, not one person did. But why?
This is not just a post about the objectifying of women, or an effort to propagate a “no means no” campaign. Neither is it a vehicle for demonstrating how to perceive or deal with sexual assault. All of which are exceedingly important but not the cornerstone of what I’m sharing in this particular piece. It is instead. or rather in adjunct to these things, a conversation piece about and the islanders perceptions of these occurrences, and a call for cultural self-reflection that for all intents and purposes still asks, “was I asking for it?” even when the answer is a resounding always “no.”
Does our culture hinder our perceptions of sexuality to the point that we are unable to identify assault?
Video includes graphic language
Many Americans consider Caribbean cultures quite hyper-sexualized. Every time I prepare to go to any carnival, or return with a slew of pictures, I am welcomed with perplexing statements and assumptions as though I had just attended some kind of orgy fest. “Come on,” they’d say, “there’s no way you guys are grinding half-naked on each other and not having sex.” Uh, we’re not though. “What about all this diving off speakers and landing on top of women the Jamaican people are doing.” “Well that, I can’t say much about.” In all its vulgarity it is a social norm in certain settings. It is not a representation of all Jamaican people but I won’t lie and pretend that I, like many of my friends, don’t find the heights of the vulgarity entertaining, The bubbling and gyrating is reduced to simply being our culture. And in no way should suggest a woman is “asking for it.” But does it in some way impact the ways in which we view sex. We are a culture of women who are used to take-charge men and in some ways encourage domineering behaviors. (That by no means infers that to encourage dominance, is to encourage assault). Would it then stand reasonable to believe that Caribbean men are simply acting based on these cues?
Sexual assault is a very serious matter. An intolerable imposition that strips a person of so much more than its physical violation. There are countless grey area scenarios in which both males and females denounce the accusations of sexual wrong doing. A grey area meant to be absolved by the mere expression of discomfort or any interpretation of a “no.” It should be that simple. Yet, for some persons, it’s not. Despite ones culture it often seems that if women are not physically hurt or experience “little” emotional trauma, it is easier to resolve that it wasn’t really that bad. Rape after all is such a vile act. Such a despicable, earth-shattering thing, that it would not be possible to bounce back so easily from it. I/she stopped fighting so it wasn’t..? If I really was raped, I should be traumatized right? I should be physically hurt? Is it really so black and white as, “I said no?” Well it is. There’s either sex you consented to or sex you didn’t. All the other factors truly don’t matter.
Many island women would never find themselves atop speakers or spread eagle in the middle of a dance floor. But that does not mean we are not influenced by decades long chauvinism? Why are we more entertained than outraged when we see a woman lighting her own crotch on fire? Why would a party go on after a man has doused a woman’s backside with gasoline and set her on fire? Why do we brush off or attempt to gauge sexual assault?
What are your thoughts on this issue? Are Caribbean Natives hyper-sexualized? Is assault different for islanders?