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There should be no competition between the sexes



The centenary celebrations of the Girls’ High School were launched in fine style last weekend with a torch relay that passed through almost every island, town and village in the country. This was symbolic of the impact that the school has had on our nation’s development.{{more}}

Tens of thousands of girls from throughout the country have been educated at this sterling institution. An even greater number of our citizens have benefitted in some way, indirectly, by virtue of their grandmothers, mothers, wives, aunts, sisters, daughters and cousins having been moulded at this institution.

The school is known to emphasise not only academics, but also fundamental values of decency and discipline, and to expose its girls to a range of opportunities for all-round development. The school has been a pioneer in the education and development of women in our country. This centenary is a significant milestone not just for the school but certainly for our entire nation.

In spite of the strides made in the education and development of our women, however, the scourge of violence against women continues to rear its ugly head in our society. All too frequently, news reports tell of gruesome and cruel acts perpetrated against women. In the recent past, a young woman was beheaded at the Kingstown bus terminal by a male acquaintance; a mother of two was left paralysed by wounds allegedly inflicted by her partner; and just last week it was reported that a school girl was the victim of a cutlass attack which left her barely alive. Unbelievable, but this is a reality in our society. These incidents capture widespread attention because of their sensationalism and depravity.

Abuse of women, though, has many and even subtle manifestations, and takes place in the home, on the streets and in the workplace. Even women who are well accomplished professionally are victims of exploitation and discrimination meted out by male counterparts. Are these acts of violence and other forms of abuse and mistreatment committed to prove the manhood of the perpetrator?

Traditionally, we have been socialised into accepting male domination and the subordinate status of women. It still obtains in some homes, for instance, that only the women are expected to prepare and serve meals and provide other domestic services.

Although there has been improvement in recent times, it is an age-old tradition that it is the woman’s job to raise, feed and dress the children, clean, do laundry and cook. Oftentimes, the woman carries these responsibilities alone while holding a full-time job. Could it be that this tradition of “servitude” has fostered among some men a deep and abiding disrespect for women?

It is very interesting that Dr. Cecil Cyrus, a well-respected retired medical practitioner, has suggested that teenage boys would have a completely different perspective of and a new-found respect for women if they were to observe the miracle of birth by natural means. This was proposed during the discussion following the inaugural lecture of the year-long lecture series which is a part of the Girls’ High School celebrations. Dr. Peggy Gibbs-Antrobus, who presented the lecture which was titled “Contexts 1911 – 2011: Remembering the Past, Reflecting on the Present, Imagining the Future,” cited gender issues as one of the current-day challenges that graduates of the school face. While she is a proponent for single-sex schools, Dr. Antrobus feels that boys would benefit from training in the domestic sciences, which they have not traditionally pursued. During the discussion, the question was also raised as to whether the strides made by women educationally and professionally have engendered resentment in the opposite sex. In answer to this, Dr. Antrobus suggested that the solution to problems of gender biases lies in developing a culture where there is not competition between genders, but an understanding, appreciation and acceptance of the varied roles that men and women can and are playing.

Men must begin to take responsibility for their own negative attitudes towards women, and curb their desire to control and “keep women in their place”. Women, too, should examine themselves in an effort to rid themselves of a generalized resentment and hostility to the men around them. Just as women want to be respected, they should show appreciation and respect for the men in their lives who are shouldering their responsibilities.

At the same time, both men and women must stop the cycle of abuse and discrimination against women by the way we raise our boys and girls. Stop the stereotyping in the home that propagates these dysfunctional values of manhood and distinctions between the sexes. No gender is of lesser value than the other. We must ponder on what kind of society and country we wish to build and leave for our children and grandchildren in the next hundred years.