The women of the Barbados Professional Women’s Group of Barbados were encouraged recently to not be afraid to be power hungry.
But Justice Jacqueline Cornelius, who gave the advice, told the women that groups like theirs was proof that power did not have to be destructive, as has become the misconception and association with perhaps misuse of power in the Caribbean.
“As women we are not encouraged to exercise it … political, sexual, vaginal — even though the third is exclusive to us as women and we are often led to believe that the exercise of power must be destructive and abusive, when power can be creative, compassionate and revolutionary.
“The concept of power is one that lies uneasily with us in the Caribbean. Our understanding of power is so tied up with the repressive, violent domination of our colonial past that to speak of empowerment, especially of women, is to risk being subversive and revolutionary, and also to risk being called a lesbian for some reason. But gender equality is subversive and revolutionary and it involves a rebalancing of accepted societal structures and the release of often long held patriarchal privileges.
“Those with power, and this is a fact of life, control resources and benefits of development and the state and exclude the powerless from decision-making,” she said.
She was speaking at the group’s induction ceremony for new members at the Barbados Golf Club on Monday night.
The judge, who was appointed in 2006 after 18 years of practicing law, quoted one of her favourite authors, Bell Hooks as she told BPW that it was easy for women or oppressed groups to become “complicit in the structures of domination using power”.
“[M]en as well as women have actively maintained and perpetuated the current value system of our society, which privileges violence and domination as the most effective tool of coercive control in human interaction.
“We emphasise discipline, coercive control is what we mean as the key to social order, not tolerance, not self-esteem, not kindness, not compassion, and as a result many women are afraid of power of any kind.”
She said some women preferred to even use sexual power instead, telling the BPW that their cause on behalf of women, abused and otherwise, was a noble one and they should not feel afraid to speak for them.
“There is nothing wrong with being power hungry in this regard,” she challenged. “You have to be comfortable with exercising the power to create opportunities and change lives.”
They should also not feel conflicted about having programmes catering to women, she added, noting that recent debates have suggested that any attempts to push female rights had somehow been seen as indecent.
“I know it is popular to deny that one is a feminist as if there is something particularly indecent about it when in fact all of the rights which women now enjoy, which you have taken for granted from the time you were born, have been fought for with some blood, sweat and tears, primarily by women who demanded equal rights as citizens. That those who now enjoy those rights seek to distance themselves from the philosophies which birth them is disappointing but it is human nature. But I don’t want you to be afraid to be called feminists.” (LB)