What happened in Irwin, Jamaica…some thoughts on why

Photo credit: Ricardo Makyn/Jamaica Gleaber

I wish I could stop thinking about it, but I can’t get it out of my head.

It’s a lump in my throat. It’s a burning in my chest.

The story of the rape of five women from one family in Irwin, St. James in Jamaica is so horrifying that I can’t get past it. It’s haunting my days, particularly the gruesome reality that an 8 year old was among those raped and had to be hospitalized and undergo emergency surgery for her injuries from the brutal attack.

As a woman and as a mother, tears come to my eyes every time I think of it. So I’ve been crying a lot.

Obviously, I have a personal stake in this. Being half-Jamaican and having spent my university years there, it is all over my Facebook feeds, my bb updates – statuses filled with sorrow and horror and the lingering questions Jamaicans always seem to end up asking “What the hell is wrong with us?”

That is the thing about some of the mind-boggling violence that comes out of Jamaica all too often. It seems so random, so excessive, so utterly without context or reason that you start to wonder… “is something wrong with us?”

My answer – and this is going to be pretty damn unpopular but…yes.

But let me hasten to add, many of the factors that I’m going to list don’t just apply to Jamaica. It’s all of us in the West Indies. Some of these things though, are amplified in Jamaica.

As far as this islandista sees it, our main issue is our culture towards womanhood in the Caribbean. We do not value or cherish our women.

Peculiar, since we are also an intensely matriarchal society and we looooove our mothers. We value and cherish women in their matriarchal form but we do not value and cherish our women in their romantic form – as wives and lovers.

This is why the same artist Sizzla who sang “Thank you mumma for the nine months you carried me” could also sing “Pump up har pum-pum, mash up har womb.”

Seriously? Even as a shallow 18 year old who would overlook a lot of brutal dancehall lyrics in the heat of ‘di session’, I could never bring myself to dance to that when I heard that remix.

“Mash up my womb?”

The same womb that would later carry a child for nine months?

Is my womb not a precious and life-giving force? Why would you even think the idea of mashing it up is sexy?

Why all this hostility in love-making? Is it even love-making when you want to pump her up, stab up her meat, flatten beds etc?

You cannot tell me that this violent sexual imagery, this outright hostility to vaginas, does not have an effect. Particularly when this same music then abhors and decries doing something much more gentle and tender to a pum-pum.

But I’m no dancehall prude nor will I dump all the blame on it. Music can only ever be the tip of the iceberg. It hints at what lies below the surface.

And something clearly lies below the surface. Where would such a horrific crime come from? You usually hear about these kinds of things happening in countries that are at war, like the Congo or Yugoslavia or the comfort women brutality during WWII.

But Jamaica is not at war. So where would such brutality come from? While this crime is an exception in its scope and brutality, I think  we cannot discount the fact that our culture devalues women.

Our men love their mothers but for some reason – many reasons actually, it does not translate to them loving the women whom they would make mothers.

It is the norm now in Caribbean society for men to nag their girlfriends to have a baby for them but to be loathe to marry the same woman.

You don’t cherish your woman enough to want to live with her as man and wife and take on the responsibilities of being a husband but you want her to have a child for you? It begs the old Bee Gees question – how deep is your love?

I’ve had a child. Giving birth is no mock sport t’ing.

If you do not love a woman enough to marry her and claim her before all and reject all others for her, why should she love you enough to go through anywhere from 3 to 36 hours of excruciating pain and then despite being exhausted, find the energy to push the equivalent of a pumpkin through a very small hole? And that’s just the easy part.  There’s episiotomies and enemas and checking for dilation – which all sound like very prim and professional processes but are horrid and embarrassing.

And then of course, there is the child-rearing itself which in Caribbean society is largely done by women and is a non-stop, 24/7, demanding, full-time job.

But it has come to pass now in Caribbean society that we value women so little that this is not valued when a woman other than our own mother does it. It is a puzzling dichotomy.

Further proof that we don’t value and cherish our women lies in our domestic violence statistics.

A journey to UNIFEM’s website tells us this:

Three Caribbean countries are among the top 10 for reported incidences of rape. All Caribbean countries (where comparable data is available) have higher than the global average for rape. One in three women in the Caribbean on average will experience domestic violence.

But you know what’s worse? It is that so often when our islandistas are treated with brutality and violence, people leap to the defence of their brutalisers.

Look at the Jah Cure case. People have created all kinds of myths and legends to get around the fact that the man is a convicted rapist. And if you dare bring it up, you are attacked in turn – take a look at some of the comments on this Urban Islandz story. Is he really the one we should be defending?

But it’s not just the stars who are defended. Look at this story from the Gleaner where an 11 year old girl who was molested and impregnated by her great-aunt’s common law husband – only for the great aunt to defend the man in the face of a child who literally trembled at the sight of him.

We don’t cherish or value our females and this horrible crime in Irwin is an extreme expression of this culture.

The good thing out of all of this is that it has opened our eyes somewhat. Hard-to-shock Jamaicans are rightly appalled and outraged and kudos to the police who have moved with great swiftness in investigating the crime.

But how much have our eyes been opened? How deep are we willing to look into the root causes of this horrific crime? And how willing are we to change the woman-beating, the pum-pum pumping lyrics, the ‘baby modda’ lifestyle that are all part of this culture?

They may seem harmless enough on their own as isolated incidents in our own lives or on the fringes of our lives but when they are woven together, they become a culture. They become a mindset and an attitude and occasionally, horrible, extreme expressions of how little we care about our women.

1 comment for “What happened in Irwin, Jamaica…some thoughts on why

  1. Carol Johnson
    October 4, 2012 at 4:16 pm

    I read your article with tears in my eyes too, its sad how women are treated in Jamaica , as a Jamaican living in the states I still shock to hear grown over 40 yrs old men speak of women in such a derogatory manner and they are fathers and then speak highly of their mom.

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