My #LifeInLeggings in the Caribbean

The Bajan movement that started a revolution and reached Trinidad.

lifeinleggings

At first, this hashtag started off subtly, with references to Trinidadian culture we choose as women, to ignore daily. #LifeInLeggings has become a voice for so many people who have been voiceless. In a matter of hours, my timeline was flooded with confessions from women of abuse at the hands of strangers, family members, and their closest friends. The worst part of all is that I fit right in there with them. In the hours to come, the harsh realization that negative memories that I chose to suppress, were memories many other Caribbean women shared. The truth was, after all was said, it was apparent in my mind that Trinidadian culture seemed to be a breeding ground for sexual assault, both verbally and physically, with no accountability in my opinion.

How did we get here? Shops are selling pepper spray illegally and we hold keys between our fingers when walking to our cars. For some of us, we’re afraid to trust men as guy friends because one went too far, and we also fear that if we respond to the words of sexual acts that men wish to do to us in the street, it will end with violence. Working in Port of Spain has taught me this much; walk with haste, ignore, ignore, and ignore. We should not be made to feel this way, but we are. Can we talk about how we dress when we know we’re going to enter these areas as well? Surely I am not the only one who has shied away from skin hugging outfits in an attempt to not draw attention to myself and save myself from a fearful, uncomfortable male interaction. For anyone that needs clarification, yes boys and girls, these low class men don’t harass you based solely based on your outfit, they harass you period because they’re low class men. The disappointing mentality of ‘what we wear’ encouraging this inappropriate behaviour goes hand in hand with experiences at clubs and fetes. It was at my first Carnival cooler fete that I realised many Trinidadian men do not know their place when it comes to respecting a woman’s body. Groping is not okay, slapping someone’s ass is not okay, insisting you buy us a drink is not okay, when we’ve politely declined, hurling nasty remarks at us when we choose not to dance with you is not okay, and lastly dropping a drug in our drink is not okay. We are women, not products for your consumption at will. This is not Burger King, you cannot always “have it your way”.

Where did we go wrong? In situations where my friends were assaulted like I was, whether it was a kiss, being drugged, other assaults or being raped, I questioned how this abuse has become a part of our daily lives. I find myself wondering what went wrong in these abusers minds for them to hurl the nastiest of comments in the streets at you, or take advantage of you without your consent. Surely, I can say with total confidence no man who ever told you they wanted to fuck you in the street got through.

The fact is, we know why we’ve gotten where we are. We lack the justice system to protect our children and ourselves from these abusers. Further to this, we cannot ignore the fact that there are people in our country with psychological disorders that are not being addressed. We as a country, are lacking the facilities to deal with people with sexually-related psychological disorders, who have exercised their interest to interfere with people of varying ages, including children.

Where is the accountability? It is difficult to feel safe as a woman in a country where there is no public sex offenders registry and authority figures question what ‘role’ we had to play in such traumatic incidents. If #LifeInLeggings isn’t enough evidence that victim blaming is commonplace, I don’t know what is. It is quite apparent that Trinidadian women are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Until now, many of us kept our stories to ourselves. We do not come forward about actions done to us in a place that to date, is still predominantly a patriarchal society. I, like many, will not name the person who assaulted me because our society is so small it seems that everyone knows everyone, and in turn, their business. Naming this person would just prove to be more of an uncomfortable situation for me, no matter how long ago it was. If we are not systematically protected from abuse and subject to considerable gossip and scrutiny, we surely are not going to go out of our way to relive any discomfort associated with it.

Let’s take a moment to address those who think sexually charged comments directed at women are A-OK, that the #LifeInLeggings movement was a cry for attention, and that the acts of abuse towards women were likely asked for based on their actions and attire. Let’s get something straight here, the time for women to be submissive to men has long been over. If you find the hashtag off-putting by the fact that women feel discomfort at the hands of men daily, you need to reevaluate what you think are appropriate ways to treat a woman. Also, for those women out there who had issues with these women sharing their stories, you are part of the problem. You are not only behind the patriarchal policing of women’s bodies but also the reason many women will never tell their stories, for fear of ridicule.

We are mammals, yes. But the reason we are at the top of the food chain is because evolution has provided us with the skills and intelligence to adapt to our physical environment. If your excuse is that “I’m a man, I can’t control myself”, that is pitiful. You cannot shirk the responsibilities of your actions when your biological makeup clearly indicates you have the ability to express self-control. Admit it, you’re selfish. Anyone who engages in non-consensual consent against anyone is.

To date, every woman in Trinidad that I know has been sexually assaulted in one way or another. While we are surrounded by many men who don’t engage is such acts, the men that do have significantly affected our ability to feel safe. The #LifeInLeggings movement has sparked an important conversation and my hope is that Gen Ys intolerance and anger towards such treatment will fuel the fire for the progression of a better Trinidad.

Editor’s Note: 

We embrace the bravery our writer, who has chosen to remain anonymous, and for all those who have come forward to share their stories because of this movement. This has sparked a much needed conversation about the culture of sexual assault in the Caribbean. For those seeking immediate help, please know that you are not alone. We encourage you to reach out to crisis centres that can help guide you, such as RAINN that has a 24-7 live chat option and the Rape Crisis Society of Trinidad & Tobago that lists a 24-7 hotline at 868-657-5355. For any comments and questions for our writer, or if you would like to share your story with us, we invite you to reach out at hello@bessguide.com.