The Woman, the State and All Our Gods
By Glenda Simms
July 30, 2006
The extremely highly-publicised and much-debated incident which involved the 46-year-old so-called deacon, Donovan Jones of the Church Dayton Diamond Ridge, three young men and a 13-year-old girl, has certainly marked a defining moment in the struggle for the human rights of Jamaican women and girls.
This writer does not intend to rehash the horrific implications of this incident for both the Church and the state. Instead, I wish to highlight a few issues that should force us to treat such serious matters as more than 'nine-day wonders' in our society.
First of all, the criminality of the deacon, the internalisation of evil and hatred of women and girls in young men and the vulnerability of young girls to the erosion of their selfhood should force the Jamaican society to both take a look at what is happening around us and to ensure that we stop rationalising the evil acts of evil men.
Secondly, in the words of fellow journalist Ian Boyne, we need to recognise the cultish dimensions of organised religion. And against this realisation, we need to cult-proof our children, especially our young girls.
Some years ago, I lived and worked in the small southern city of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. This city was in close proximity to three communities which would fit within Boyne's definition of religious cults. These were the Mormon community, the Blood Reservation in Standoff and the adjoining Hutterite colony.
What stood out for me about the Mormons in southern Alberta was their well-appointed tabernacle, which allowed no woman in its inner sanctum and which definitely at that time considered black people as inferior beings stained by a curse which, according to the Mormons, was laid in the biblical conflict between Cain and Abel.
Of course, these Mormons were much more open to an interaction with the indigenous people on the nearby reservation because somewhere in their mythology they saw these First Nations as a special group not quite at the level of white folks, but certainly above the lowly status of black people. At that particular point in time, the Mormons were clearly a racist, sexist and polygamous cult. One of the interesting aspects of the women of this cult was that they lived to attain the status of wife and mother above anything else.
Motherhood and wifedom, meant that every young woman who got married received the precious bottle of a 'starter concoction' from her mother.
This concoction was made of dried fruits such as prunes, apples, raisins, etc. which had been allowed to ferment over the years, and every self-respecting woman kept adding fruits to her bottle and took great pleasure in serving this as the topping on bowls of ice cream at all family dinners.
Those of us who were outside of the Mormon community knew that this was an acceptable method of getting a little alcohol in ones system, in a community that purported that it neither, drank, smoked, gambled nor fornicated.
In contrast to this cult were the traditional elders of the nearby Blood Reservation who were convinced that the native youth had lost their way, not because they were ripped from their cultural moorings and forced into residential schools to be Christianised by the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches but because they no longer listened to their elders, nor worshiped the great sprit in the ways of their ancestors.
While the aboriginal question was highly political on one level, one could sense a cultish preoccupation with those who were supposedly closest to the Great Spirit and his or her ideas of what the "true Indian" should be. Of course, I was personally more involved with the world view of the aboriginal peoples because in my capacity as an assistant professor at the University of Lethbridge, I was responsible for the teacher training programme on the Reservation.
My visits to the Hutterite colony were motivated by my desire to purchase organically grown vegetables, fruits, eggs and chicken meat. On these purchasing occasions I could not help but observe that the women and girl children, fully garbed in long unattractive print dresses and little frilly cloth hats, sat by themselves at their own wooden table, while the bearded, pot-bellied, black suited and black fedoraed older men and young boys sat at their table which was a little elevated above the women and girls.
The rigid separation of the sexes was rationalised by a strong belief that God designed the man to be head of household, controller of the community and owner of women and children. This was a perfectly planned and executed cult which successfully kept the glare of the state out of their business as long as they were not seen to be breaking the road codes, and the criminal laws outside of their community. On the other hand there were always rumors of incestuous relationships, wife beatings and other atrocities that supposedly took place in such an environment. These stories were often told by the young men and women who dared to run away from their unique form of oppression and find a place in the wider society.
These experiences forced me to take a look at the Anglican Church to which I was genetically connected and ask myself whether I too was a member of a cult. In this process I had to rethink the prayers and ceremonials in the Book of Common Prayer, the choice of the biblical verses that were selected to coincide with the various feast days and seasons of the church and the passion with which we Anglicans prayed for the Kings and Queens of England and all their descendants. I also had to remind myself that it was one celebrated King of England who wanted to pursue his sexual appetites and lifestyle that resulted in the formation of the unique institution in which I learnt to serve my God.
Within Ian Boyne's enlightened discussion on the cultish aspects of organised religion, we get a glimpse of how Deacon Jones gained the authority to abuse these young people that he should have been protecting and the aging Sister Kelly took the liberty to attempt to distort the legal framework of the society by pretending that such acts of criminality and sexual violence should be dealt with within the four pillars of her esteemed religious castle.
The women and girls of Jamaica need to thank God at every moment that we have a secular state that has the power to reclassify rape in order to make this horrific crime gender neutral and to deconstruct the institution of marriage to ensure that rape within this institution is a criminal activity. Also according to parliamentary reporter Deon Rose in the July 26, 2006 edition of The Gleaner, the Offenses against the Persons (Amendment) Act and the Incest (Amendment) Act are being returned to the Order Paper. So while we have the freedom to jump and genuflect to the cultish dimensions of our unique religious denominations, we must never forget that the state must protect us from all the evil forces that have conspired over generations to brutalise, dehumanise, marginalise and disrespect the dignity of our womanhood in the name of God.
Glenda P. Simms is a gender consultant.
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