Today’s Woman – To the mum of yesteryear
Today’s Barbadian woman is the offspring of yesteryear’s Barbadian woman. One of the first signs that one is coming of age is when you find yourself reminiscing and reflecting on the past and just what it means in your life.
When I search my mind about yesterday’s woman who mothered Today’s Woman, I have a picture that includes seamstresses, field labourers, helpers, tourism workers, church women, teachers and women who hawked to provide for their children. Children seemed to take a place of value in their lives, and we were always provided with the attention of some mother figure, whether she was maternal mother, paternal or maternal grandmother, aunt or a female neighbour or relative who shared in the shaping of us the girls.
I remember these women managing to impart little morsels of values. I would be exaggerating if I said we had heart-to-heart conversations or explanations about life’s issues, but these women were so sure of themselves that they exuded what they stood for and what they knew just in the way they lived.
Granny never told me to care for those in greater need, but every day she cooked a pot of food that included a meal for whoever was passing. My mother used freshly reaped carrots and beets to make juices for her workmates. The lessons were lived.
Clothes came from the bigger cousins to the smaller ones; and space was made for visiting relatives.
I thought it only fitting that since this column will focus on a female perspective on a range of issues, I should start with paying tribute to the women who mothered today’s woman.
I respect that many of them have made sacrifices which we still do not know of and probably will never understand. I respect that they provided us with the opportunity to walk farther along the path of success than some of them were able to. I respect that although their lives were not fully perfect, they provided us with enough of a foundation to be counted as a set of well educated, savvy women with a wider range of options and fewer ceilings.
As I reflect on the contribution of these foremothers, I am disappointed at what the womanist movement in Barbados has become. I will be the first to admit I expected it to be wider and bigger. Feminism and the broader agendas, dictated largely by overseas international agencies, overtook the womanist agenda and in Barbados the result is that womanism was underplayed and feminism became a middle and upper class endeavour.
The mass base of support needed for the womanist lobby to become real in the lives of today’s woman never materialized. The internationally set culture and agenda around feminism seemed to deter mass participation. The result is that there is still lukewarm outrage over women’s issues, including access to maintenance for children, domestic safety and financial empowerment of women.
The laws on this island still discriminate against females with respect to granting citizenship. Women are still treated to better legal processes for dissolving relationships and getting access to maintenance for their children based on if they were married . . . . There are myriad challenges with the court system that affect women needing protection orders or other types of family services. And yet the female lobby and its supporters in Barbados are deathly silent.
Women were affected by the recent Government retrenchment process disproportionately. They were the ones having sole responsibility for households in several instances –– and yet the female lobby and its supporters said nothing.
There are so many issues that beg for a womanist lobby with strong backbone! I believe it is because yesterday’s woman made it possible for such a lobby to exist that we should be disappointed with the progress of today’s woman. For some reason we have forfeited the foundation that yesterday’s woman left.
Children are not getting the full benefit of having mothers who make them a foremost priority in life. Husbands and mates are not benefiting from the type of woman who can embrace and assert her empowerment while at the same time fitting (even if adjusted) roles in womanhood, parenthood and partnerships.
I think it is time to ask today’s woman to reset the agenda of what it means to be a Barbadian woman, because to request a shift in boundaries of this concept seems to conjure up a blurry image.
I wish to thank Barbados TODAY for the opportunity to present my thoughts in this space. Wherever possible, I will try to bring a balanced perspective, but I do accept that a person’s life biases will certainly influence a personal opinion piece. Where we agree, I ask for your support in rebuilding a womanist agenda and lobby in Barbados. Where we disagree, I ask you to find ways to use Barbados TODAY’S feedback mechanisms to bounce your ideas.
If my daughter takes over this task from me one day and is able to feel justified and catapulted by my contribution in the same way I felt the need to start from a place of thanks to my foremothers, then I would feel like Today’s Woman had contributed to what tomorrow’s would have become. However, if she starts her reflctions with some kind of contextualization like “owing to the economic recession pervading 2014 Barbados, women of my mother’s generation were . . .”, I would feel like a failure.
Whatever yesterday’s woman had or did not have; whatever she had to do in the dark, one thing she never relented on was her sense of uprightness and responsibility as a mother. It is because of that that today’s woman stands on the cusp of our 48th year of Independence with a sense of purpose –– with work to be done, but also with enough capacity to be completed.
(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and a part-time lecturer in communication at the University of the West Indies. She is a social commentator and community worker.)