silence is shattering around us. And each time one woman breaks it she
finds a hundred echoes. So it was with the piece “Why marriage is
unnatural”. And here I am compelled to write a sequel.
women said: “You wrote what was always in our hearts.” The men said:
“You are angry.” How differently men and women think.
trooped out, with the same exultation as if they’d finally come out of
the closet. They did not chant slogans or carry placards. The response to
the piece came in the form of a gentle but solid show of solidarity. They
whispered their support (not for a movement against men but towards
equality between the sexes) in rustling silk saris or chortled delightedly
in linen trousers at the idea of men taking our surnames. Their voices
rang out from firm teenage faces and lined mouths. Some of them said it
made them happy that they were the “exception”, that they had good
husbands and were making the most of life.
woman, Catherine Long, wrote:
make the most of life is so refreshing to be able to proclaim, but (she
adds somewhat wistfully) one gets so caught up in the whirlwind of work,
babysitters, etc that you can forget the purpose of it all.
are the bread winners in many families in Trinidad but yet lack the
confidence and self-worth to gain a fulfilling life.
There has been an apparent increase in domestic violence/murder. Is
it too simple to believe that a lack of self leads women into situations
where they accept domestic violence, be it physical or emotional.
(or is it misogyny incognito?) has patterned us to expect our sons to
carry on the line. What about our daughters? Are we to blame for this
twisted cycle where, as mothers, we inadvertently nurture our sons to
‘get’ and our daughters to ‘give’? Do you think we can break this
cycle and learn to have mutual respect and understanding within
wish I knew for sure Catherine, but I do know that by writing and raising
questions, that you are in some way breaking the cycle. But Catherine and
the other women who responded still have the luxury and time to read. Most
don’t, and it was uncanny how many women told me their stories, not
knowing about my article. Which then made me think with alarm - my God
there are so many undocumented stories of “marriages” out there.
weekend in rural Trinidad, an elderly frail woman, obviously uneducated,
obviously ill, in a gaudy dress insisted on talking to me. I murmured,
tried to ignore her, wanted to read my book. But she was tenacious.
see that girl there (she pointed to the ‘maid’, a woman in her late
20s, dressed in a shiny satin dress - pink, so hopeful, so incongruous to
her position in life) that’s my daughter. And these (she pointed to a
six-year-old boy and an eight-year-old girl, neatly but shabbily dressed)
are my grandchildren. Her husband aint any good. Even if he has $2, he
will drink it. So I support my daughter, I give her what I can out of my
pension of $300. She has to feed the children and send them to school. I
tell her ‘go to work. I will take care of myself and the children’.”
look at her and we both think. What happens if you die? How will your
daughter and grandchildren live? The appearance of respectability in the
children (the neatly pressed clothes, the shined shoes), so painstakingly
put together, moved me more than if they had on rags. So the daughter
works for another pittance and together the old mother and the daughter
bring up the children. No husband in sight.
story, a mile away, of a man who lived in a house owned by his wife, beat
her up, abused the children, womanised and, finally, after his wife filed
for divorce, left to live in another woman’s house.
he supporting the children?” I asked a relative. “He doesn’t, and if
he did he would feel he has free reign over her home. She’s better off
paying the bills herself.”
Cinderella to my two-year-old daughter, I thought this is all wrong, I
must update it. So I made up a modern version with a more plausible
ending, even though my daughter stopped listening.
was tormented by her mother and sisters. But although her life was so
wretched, some good did come out of it. All the fetching and carrying for
her step family made her strong. She was street-wise because she had to
deal with all the ragamuffins and hustlers in the market place and no one
could short change her. She became deft at making pretty hats and could
turn out a Cordon Bleu meal for a duchess. She knew she needed money to be
free so sometimes she would sneak off and work as a scullery maid and put
it under her bed.
first she thought the fairy godmother was just another cruel joke by her
step-sisters but she did enjoy herself at the ball with the Prince. She
was used to being disappointed, so having to walk home carrying the
pumpkin instead of riding in it was nothing new to her. When the Prince
came looking for her she couldn’t believe her luck. She really believed
they would live happy ever after. After the honeymoon the prince returned
to his pursuits - collecting taxes, hunting and riding.
had to manage the castle and the servants, measure the grain, pay
salaries, and keep the books. When Cinderella got pregnant the Prince
began carrying on with the young maids and cow girls. One of these maids
had such a fetching figure and smile that he began to forget his duties in
the kingdom. These also Cinderella took over. She was good at management.
She’d done it all her life.
there was a huge revolt by the peasants and soon the Prince and Cinderella
were quite poor. The Prince began to drink heavily for he still had some
vintage wines in a cool cellar, and to forget his troubles he practically
moved into the stables with the maid.
then Cinderella had two children and had to find ways to clothe, feed and
send them to school. So unknown to the Prince who lay in the hay with the
maid in a drunken stupor, she began to offer her culinary services for the
stately homes she’d once dined in. She made hats as a side business.
this way she managed to take care of herself, her children and the Prince,
and even her step-mother who had grown old and feeble and repentant.
day the Prince found out she worked as a Cordon Bleu chef (though not as
highly paid as the male chefs) he beat her senseless for his honour as a
man was at stake.
when he ran out of vintage he came for her money and took it, even her
savings from her earlier days. He beat her again when he saw that a
handsome young farmer brought her some tender artichokes and rare
treated her children differently. She expected her son to restore the
family fortunes, so her daughter often had to make sacrifices like a
choice piece of meat, and later secondary school so her brother could be
successful (which he was - he now owns a chain of wild meat farms). Her
daughter (who was brighter than the son) learned to give and her son, to
take, to conquer.
so they lived, until the children grew up and Cinderella lost her beauty.
be fair, Cinderella’s son, when he married a doctor, was ‘a new
man’. He helped with the children and gave his wife flowers. Except for
a slight tendency to boss her about occasionally and compare her to his
mother, he was an exemplary husband.
funny thing is, when Cinderella’s daughter grew up (she worked as chief
housekeeper at a nearby castle and got paid less than the butler who was
jealous of her ability and undermined her all the time) she believed, as
she made coffee for the count (not in her job description) she would be
rescued from the rundown castle by a prince.
really believed it but when she lost her job she practically had to rope
the butler into marrying her ‘for security’ by having a child for him.
(By now she didn’t believe in ‘happy ever after’ and blamed her
mother for putting such notions in her head). But he left her and the
she took her child and went home to live with her mother, Cinderella. But
Cinderella never left her husband. She maintained his honour and to this
day if you go quietly in the night you can see the Prince lying drunk in
the castle stables, with a younger prettier cow girl drunk on the wine he
bought with the money he took from Cinderella.” THE END
naturally the fairy story is over. Our knights in shining armour are
killing us instead and making us hunt for food while they make us into
prey. Damn right I’m angry. So imagine us chipping away for equal rights
with little chisels at a force as formidable as the Berlin Wall - that
bastion of establishment. We do it in big ways - the way Suzanne Sheppard
did when she came out openly on being a battered woman to give courage and
hope to others.
chisel away at male domination in small ways: when we insist on equality
in the home and the workplace, when we excel in higher education, when we
are economically independent, when we forgo economic benefits and undergo
hardship for spiritual and physical liberation.
the Berlin Wall came down, the people weren’t as happy as they thought
they’d be. In fact, more war broke out all over the Communist world.
People, after being repressed for years, were suddenly allowed to give
vent to their true feelings, to pursue their ambitions, to have dreams of
their own. Maybe we’re seeing a male backlash to that. We need to call a
ceasefire in the battle of the sexes but not before we get our equality.
We’ve come too far to go back now.