A focus on women’s bodies

Recently there has been some national discussion about women’s bodies, child rearing and Crop Over lewdness.  It is the old policing of women’s bodies under the guise of new issues.

Let us take the issue of having more babies.  By delaying pregnancies, women in Barbados have put themselves in a position where they can build wealth or at least if not build wealth, break the generational trends of poverty and dependence in families.  They are then able to focus on job mobility or training and education.

I do not think, having seen the benefits of planning and managing conception, that women will easily return to having large numbers of children without some formalized kind of social safety net.  Various societies around the world have worked out strategies to encourage families to have more children in response to falling birth rates.

However, the first point of difference between those societies and Barbados is that they have not viewed the issue as one which women are tasked with fixing.  Most metropolitan countries are approaching the issue of low birth rates as a family issue.  Barbados has not moved to the point where we view children as the responsibility of two adult people.

Thus, the government authorities talking about the issue are focusing on women and their need to conceive more babies. This is against a backdrop where far from a scaling up of incentives, the Barbados government has rolled back free access to education at the point of delivery and women’s healthcare is stuck in the 1930s.

Whereas metropolitan countries have continued advances in women’s healthcare and specifically in reproductive health, I am challenged to easily call to mind five advances in Barbados.

Canada, America and England have all moved to establishing birthing centres where women can have babies in a less medically-oriented environment.  Home birthing has also made a resurgence as a popular and viable way of delivery. The other day I read a piece of research coming out of a birthing clinic about the abolition of pushing as a labour practice.

To show the glaring disparity between what is happening nationally in women’s health and the desire for a higher birth rate, consider the issue of contraception.  Again in metropolitan countries, there is a move away from hormone based contraception.  Especially for couples who are not opposed to a pregnancy at some point, there are natural methods such as the Justisse method being encouraged. Many women in Barbados do not even know how to adequately count and record their cycles.

There is also no broad-based discussion about the pros and cons of hormone based vs. natural contraception.  No such information and research is coming out of the maternal space in Barbados, specific to our population.  There has been no national discussion or policy change in many areas of contraception, conception, labouring and birth in Barbados for eons.

If the progenitors of the debate about Barbadian women having more children are serious, then there is much work to be done in terms of making the maternal and birthing space more ‘femalecentric’.  Certainly the government ministers making the pronouncements know that the hegemony is still alive and well at the lone state-run hospital with respect to the appointment of obstetricians/gynaecologists.

They must realize that Barbadian women, like their counterparts in other countries, want the full gamut of choice about maternal care including choosing home births and being attended only by midwives if the pregnancy risk level allows. Dropping sound bite remarks about the issue of our declining birth rate in Barbados is unfortunate and inane.

The only discussion that is more puerile is perhaps the one surrounding nakedness and Crop OverCrop Over is a performance.  It is a celebration of life and it is a celebration of bodies, sex and sexuality.  Perhaps that is why we are so uncomfortable with the expression because everybody knows we want more births in Barbados but we absolutely do not have sex.  We do not get naked and we certainly do not like our bodies.

I am no fan of Crop Over and I am not a lover of calypso.  Having said that, I feel no need to police the activities from my place of non-participation.  My issue with nakedness is not whether or not people choose to be naked for one day in celebration, my issue is with the agency resulting in nakedness.

Women are now choosing to jump for Crop Over in paint covered bodies with a minimum of clothing. I feel like the paint covered naked reveler is more empowered and in control of her choice of nakedness than the woman who is dancing for $1 500 in a queen of ‘wuk up’ competition.

The latter woman’s choice may be partly encouraged by social and economic factors which keep her embedded in the patriarchal hegemony not as a full willing participant to nakedness but for the enjoyment of others. More than nakedness itself, these underlying controls are perhaps of greater concern but simplistic, nugatory views of the issues which can emerge out of our celebrations of sex, nakedness and sexuality won’t help us in more positive directions.

As with many of our national issues , there is need for coherence and clear forward movement for solution building. How many of us can really afford pampers after July 1st, though? Or costumes, for that matter!

 (Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and part-time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill. Email: mhindslayne@gmail.com)

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