5 Ways West Indian Women Reinforce Patriarchy


One of the aspects of weaving intersectional feminism into your life as a Caribbean woman involves a lengthy process of unlearning the damaging ideas and beliefs thrust upon you by Caribbean society. Even if I once had a West Indian teacher wrongfully assert that the Caribbean is a “matriarchy” because “mothers tell their sons what to do”, the reality is we are in a culture that’s patriarchal and even our mothers, aunties and grandmothers buy into the mindset.

Here’s to the West Indian mothers who raised us to be strong and defiant, but today I’m going to call out the women in our lives that didn’t raise us to be prone to accepting women’s liberation. I’m going to call out the ones who raised us to only speak when spoken to, who victim blamed, who abused and belittled the boys and girls in their stead…

So today, here are five ways that older West Indian women reinforce patriarchy:

1. “Boys Will Be Boys”

This is the mentality than informs the way many West Indian women raise children differently. Girls are kept under lock and key, taught that the world is too dangerous for them or that they are “temptations” to men. Boys on the other hand are allowed free reign to do whatever they please. Girls aren’t permitted to go out, interact as they normally would but boys are permitted (if not expected) to run amok, with very little control. This attitude that “boys will be boys” removes accountability for the inappropriate behavior male children exhibit. It’s a way of policing women to the extreme while allowing for bar behavior from male children.

Not only is this lazy parenting, it’s patriarchal to assume that expectations for male children should be lower than expectations for female children. This lays the groundwork for men’s poor behavior later in life. “Boys will be boys” paves the way for both men and women to learn that men deserve more respect, they deserve to dominate over everyone and women’s role is to remain subservient no matter what.

2. Men’s behavior is young girl’s responsibility

This particular belief is brought up in many contexts, but one of the most recent ones I’ve noticed is in discussions about girls’ school uniforms. Most school uniforms are long — past the knees — and extremely hot and stuffy considering tropical climates. Yet debates about making uniforms shorter, including physical education uniforms, is often stifled because short uniforms “lead to” men being attracted to young girls (between the ages of 5-17).

A majority of West Indian women do in fact believe that men’s attraction to young girls is “natural” and to curb this natural attraction, school uniforms should be longer. The assumption that young girls are responsible for pedophilia and not the grown, entitled men who prey upon them is another way that West Indian women reinforce ideas that are harmful to women. This is not just a belief that West Indian men hold; West Indian women hold it too. They teach their young daughters that they are responsible for the way adult men behave around them while never holding adult men responsible for their own entitlement or disgusting behavior towards children.

3. Blaming victims of rape/incest

It’s not difficult to see how the second point here leads to this one. In a world where girls are responsible for the behavior of adult men, when terrible acts of violence like rape/incest occur, these young girls are again blamed. When a thirteen or sixteen year old is pregnant, she is the one blamed, not the adult man who likely impregnated her. The concept of girls being “fast” (while not prevalent in Saint Lucia specifically) is used as justification for victim blaming.

Girls are not protected from violence; in fact, they are blamed even by those who label themselves as “progressive” or “thinkers” in our countries. Instead of understanding the sick culture that contributes to male violence against women, girls are blamed for anything from not enough church attendance to inappropriate clothing. Of course, it’s fair to say that these are widespread beliefs amongst all people in our culture but they are particularly insidious coming from West Indian women who (in theory) should understand the way male violence is leveraged against them.

However, the same people who were victimized perpetuate the same oppressive ideas. The cycle of abuse continues unless West Indian women today choose not to believe that every message from their mothers is a reflection of the way things should be.

4. Homophobia

While many West Indian women actually laud their closeted gay sons and nephews for being “good boys” (normally because they defy the expected entitled, brutish behavior of WI men), they are the same ones who sit in church and pray for fire and brimstone to be rained down upon gay people in our countries. Many West Indian women hold onto homophobic beliefs (Leviticus 20:13 informs their worldview) and enact physical and/or emotional violence upon gay or suspected gay people.

Cis, straight West Indian women are just as homophobic as men, using the same slurs and calling upon similar types of violence. West Indian women are just as homophobic to their daughters as to their sons. And of course, along with this homophobia, you will find transphobia as well. These beliefs are so prevalent that even West Indian feminists don’t realize how their groups are exclusionary to the LGBT community. Even women interested in women’s liberation do not notice how their ideas of liberation never even considered transwomen, bisexual women or lesbians.

5. Encouraging Abuse/Violence In Relationships

Harsh and abusive disciplinary tactics are one of the ways abuse and violence is normalized. There’s a reason abusive behavior is often described as “cyclical”. The behavior we experience growing up is what is imitated later on in life. When emotionally or physically abusive behavior is the primary mode of “discipline” in a child’s life, it is difficult for them to function any other way as adults…

This relates to patriarchy because often times, abusive tactics are employed against boys in specific ways that numb them to emotional experiences, encourage a lack of empathy and foster abusive behavior later on. I have a number of examples to back this up but the most recent one happened just last week. I was shopping for new apartment decor and a woman was walking with her son (no older than five years old) and hitting him as they walked. Of course, as he was getting hit (hard) in public, he began to cry. As her son wailed at the top of his lungs, this woman shouted, “Stop being a wuss!”

Is it really “being a wuss” when a five year old starts to cry? Or are you holding him to a patriarchal male standard where he learns his own emotions (and therefore, the emotions of those around him) are unimportant? Another lesson this child could learn is that mocking/belittling someone’s emotions is a way to manipulate them into doing what you want. The lessons learned from this are not simple and neither are they short lived. This is not coming out of thin air either — this is backed by psychological research into child psychology as well as research into effects of upbringing on adult behavior.

Before writing this post, I considered why focus on how women contribute to patriarchy. After all, patriarchy primarily benefits men in our society. I thought it was important to write a post about women however to combat the idea I mentioned in my previous post that the mere existence of women in a particular space makes it feminist. I also wrote this post to inspire accountability in women interested in identifying as feminists or learning more about women’s liberation. One of my personal/political beliefs is that before we can educate others, we must educate ourselves and more importantly do the difficult work of unlearning what we have internalized.

So this post wasn’t written for men to get off scot-free and it wasn’t written to “attack” women for no reason. I want Caribbean women to take a long hard look at what we believe and what we may not even realize that we believe and ask ourselves: how are we teaching our daughters, sisters and nieces to uphold patriarchy’s status quo? And finally, how can we break down these cycles in our communities and push for women’s liberation in our spheres.

Written by West Indian Critic


Daddy’s Girls: How Infidelity Affects Daughters

My father is a country boy from the deep, deep South; so deep in the South, his town doesn’t show up on Google Maps. With a high school diploma and 2 years of military service underneath his belt, he hitch-hiked his way West to make a better life for himself.

He never looked back.

When he made it to California, he worked on the assembly line making planes for McDonald Douglas and saved up enough money to start his own construction company using trades that he learned from his father back in the country – carpentry and masonry.

He became a millionaire.

He met my mother in the grocery store. He followed her through the frozen food section until finally she stopped her cart and talked to him. He lived at the top of the hill, in a home he designed and built with the help of his brothers and his uncle. She lived at the bottom of the hill. Brand new to California, she was trying to find her own way in this big town.

She moved in with him at the top of the hill.

For years they lived together. They never married because they had both done that before unsuccessfully. But, they were partners. And, seven years later, I was born.


Daddy taught me everything. He had a work ethic like no other. He taught me about politics. He tutored me in math. He taught me how to build, paint, & use logic. He taught me the ways of the world. He taught me how to fix stuff; how to use a hammer and the difference between a Phillips and a Flathead screw driver.

He bought us anything we wanted; far more than we needed. He made sure we had it all. As stoic as he could be from time to time, I knew he loved us. I loved him and respected him. He was my daddy.

And then, I answered the phone.

I was in high school. Early one afternoon, as I was doing homework in my daddy’s home office, phonehis phone rang. I answered it. She hung up on me. The phone rang again and it was her. She did
not say much, but I gathered quickly who she was. This time, I gave the phone to my mother.

Everything fell apart.

‘Ms. Lynwood’ would become her name, and she became the topic of many conversations in my
house. She became the root of every argument in my house. She became the barrier between me and my father. And at times, she was the barrier between me and my mother.

I lost respect for both of them.

My mother stayed. For my sake, I suppose. Maybe, it was for her dignity or for show. Perhaps, she stayed for comfort, or fear of starting over again.

In hindsight, I lost respect for myself as well. The way I viewed relationships with men was warped. I trusted no one. I doubted myself constantly, and acted out of my character. I rebelled in every way possible and became the rogue child that couldn’t be contained.

My mother’s heart was broken.

My heart was broken.

We were a broken family.

It was the one thing I didn’t learn how to fix.

Somehow, we lived like that for years.  ‘Ms. Lynwood’ was still somehow involved in our lives. With broken hearts and confused understandings about what ‘love and trust’ actually meant, we lived in the big house on top of the hill. It became one of the top reasons I decided to leave.

And, like my father, I never looked back.

disappointThey say, ‘time heals all wounds’. Twenty years later, after years of self-therapy, meeting a mate who was patient enough for me to relearn what love and trust meant, and learning to let go and no longer give a fuck, I have forgiven.  And, while it took time to fully regain respect for both my parents (and myself), I ultimately realized, I always loved them and they still loved me.

Daddy really did teach me everything, intentionally and unintentionally.

Love through the success, through the happiness. Love through the things you have and don’t broken-family-picture-crack-which-means-concept-46793761need.  Love through the disappointment, the brokenness, the hurt.

Love through the healing, through the understanding. Love through forgiveness.

Whatever you do, continue to love and take accountability for doing so.

Samara Rivers