A scholar makes an insightful link Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
July 15, 2002

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ARE eruptions of domestic violence more than just the phenomenon of power relations between men and women? To what extent is gender violence a negative manifestation of the vestiges of imperialism upon the psyche of the Caribbean man? This is the type of questions that Caribbean scholar Dr Rhoda Reddock explores in her ongoing research into gender relations in ethnically-cleaved societies such as her homeland Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana. Ms Reddock, who was the seventh person to be decorated with the CARICOM Triennial Award for Women on Wednesday, July 3, made this line of her thinking known during an excellent interview conducted by GTV’s Ms Wendy Hermonstine.

Professor Reddock, who is the head of the Centre for Gender and Development Studies at the St Augustine, Trinidad Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI), was explaining some of the ways in which she researched and taught gender studies, and of her plans for introducing in 2003 a new course, which is likely to be called ‘Race, Gender and Violence’. In recent years, she disclosed, she has been trying to integrate gender studies into analyses of race and class in Caribbean societies. There are groups of men who feel emasculated in post-colonial society and many manifestations of their violent behaviours result from their innate desire to prove themselves. Unfortunately, this impulse is more often than not expressed in physical violence directed at their womenfolk. Other men are over-protective of their women because they do not want their womenfolk to be violated by men of other races. In situations of ethnic conflict, she explained, women fare the worse.

Asked about some of her publications, Dr Reddock spoke of Elma Francois, who was originally from St Vincent and who, in the years of the 20th century settled in Trinidad and Tobago and from then on made a wonderful contribution to the civic life in that territory. Ms Reddock’s book based on the life of Elma Francois was introduced as a text in the school curriculum of Trinidad and Tobago. And since then, Elma Francois has become a national hero of that twin-island Republic. Further, the art students of the University of the West Indies developed a play based on the book and that drama was so successful that it received 13 Cacique awards.

With her ground-breaking investigations into Caribbean societies, Professor Reddock follows closely on the heels of Dr Lucille Mathurin Mair, another distinguished academic and CARICOM Triennial awardee. Dr Mathurin Mair, who once held the post of Jamaican Ambassador to the United Nations, published in the mid-1970s “Rebel Woman of the British West Indies during Slavery”. That publication, which was part of a larger investigation entitled “Reluctant Matriarchs”, documented the myriad instances in which women went against the grain of their oppressed existence by defying some rule or maxim of the slave-owner or overseer. Although the recalcitrant slave women were routinely beaten and punished for disobedience, insubordination or for breaking the rules of the plantation, they found ingenious ways of expressing their wills and striking back at the system that held them in bondage. Dr Mathurin Mair, in explaining her research nearly 30 years ago, would point out that the women who were noticed and commented on by the law-enforcing agents of the plantocracy were not the compliant and obedient slaves. They were the women that deliberately stepped out of line fully aware that upon being found out, they would be severely punished. Those who were pregnant were made to lie on the ground with their swollen bellies in holes so that the flogging would not harm the foetus. After all, the birth of every slave baby translated into greater wealth for the master.

Whenever a Caribbean scholar delves into the history of any aspect of these scattered, but inter-related societies, and comes up with evidence that helps explain to the broader populace the reasons for certain behaviours or traditions they help to promote greater understanding and tolerance among peoples. They also give Caribbean societies hope and inspiration for positive evolution.