An Open Letter to Caribbean Men on Gender-based Violence
Patrice Daniel, Youth Network Coordinator
Dear Caribbean Men,
We do not have to smile for you. Our smiles are our own. Our lips are our own and our smiles are a celebration of our happiness. We do not have to smile on command. We are not pretty, little, Black dolls whose smiles were painted on with red paint and a plastic brush. Sometimes, we’re busy. We’re busy thinking about geo-political trends, the next ten-mile run, and the latest cricket match. We’re too busy to be the smiling decoration that we, as women, are expected to be. Our faces can be thoughtful, angry, sad, peaceful, meditative, or bored. So stop, Caribbean men. Stop walking up to us, harassing us, and demanding that we smile. We do not have to smile for you. Our smiles are our own.
We do not have to answer you. Our names are our own. We were not christened, “Eh! Baby!” We do not have to turn around and pretend that we enjoy being summoned like pets. We are not charmed when you follow us and invade our space. We do not have to make conversation with you as you block our paths. We do not feel flattered when you stand in a group and leer at our figures, competing to see who can make the vilest remark. We do not take it as a compliment when you comment on our bodies and tell us what you intend to do with them. So stop, Caribbean men. Stop making us feel uncomfortable, afraid to walk the streets of our homelands alone. We do not have to answer you. Our names are our own.
We do not have to dance with you. Our hips are our own. Your admission to the fete did not include an all-access pass to our waists, breasts, behinds. When we walked through the gates, we did not sign permission slips. You don’t get to be angry because we don’t want you as a permanent appendage. You don’t get to grab us, restrain us, and force your bodies against ours. Our role at the fete is not to amuse, entertain, or provide you with a grinding post. Dare to imagine that we enjoy dancing alone. Dare to imagine that we enjoy dancing with our friends. Just because we dance with other guys doesn’t mean we now owe you. So stop, Caribbean men. Stop degrading us and insisting we accept your advances. We do not have to dance with you. Our hips are our own.
We do not dress for you. Our bodies are our own. The length of a skirt is not a personal message to you. Cleavage is not an invitation. Like most shoes, ours can’t speak. So, our heels don’t say, “Do me.” Our legs are not dinner bells, loudly chiming, “Come and get it!” You don’t get to say our bare skin provoked you. You don’t get to say you lost control. Take responsibility for your behaviors just as we take responsibility for ours. And stop, Caribbean men. Stop using our clothes as an excuse when you rape or violate us. We do not dress for you. Our bodies are our own.