Calls to tackle longstanding societal sexism
Sexism exists in every walk of life and must be tackled across the whole of society, not just the political arena, it was claimed yesterday.
Davida Morris, a former Progressive Labour Party senator, said it was important to tackle the problem as early as childhood to ensure boys did not grow up to believe “locker-room talk” was acceptable.
Renée Webb, a former PLP Cabinet minister, added that sexist comments were part of the island’s culture and went beyond the world of politics.
The two were speaking after Wayne Caines, the Minister of National Security, showed a lack of respect for women when he asked for “titty milk” in a café while on official business in London.
But Ms Morris said: “It would be a huge disservice to women in general to think that sexism and sexist remarks need to be addressed only in the House and Senate.
“It needs to be addressed everywhere where men and women meet because it exists everywhere that men and women meet.
“We need to address how our boys are socialised to think that this so-called ‘locker-room talk’ is acceptable at all.
“We need to address why some men think that they are superior just because they are male.
“We need to scrutinise our conversations with our boys especially to ensure that we are not sending subliminal messages that make them think it is socially acceptable to objectify and degrade women.”
Ms Morris added: “Catcalling is not acceptable, lewd comments are not acceptable, staring lewdly is not acceptable, invading personal space is not acceptable.
“If we choose to ignore these behaviours and laugh them off as women being overly sensitive, even though we can experience them on a daily basis several times a day, we will continue to have incidents of sexism everywhere we go.”
Ms Morris, who became one of the country’s youngest senators at the age of 25 in 2006, said that where men are in the majority, such as government, business and sport, “there is a desire by a few to mark territory and keep women out or make them feel inferior”.
But she added that was a reflection of individual insecurity and did not necessarily represent the views of an entire group.
Ms Morris said: “I personally do not feel that kind of behaviour is supported or encouraged by Parliament or the PLP, for that matter, who will be hosting their Women’s Caucus on the 29th of this month.”
Mr Caines came under fire across Bermuda, and attracted media attention in Britain, after he posted a video of himself on Instagram asking a young woman server in a Cereal Killer Café outlet for “titty milk”.
He later issued a public apology and David Burt, the Premier, said he was disappointed by the minister’s “extremely poor conduct”.
Ms Webb agreed that sexism was widespread and although it might be found in Parliament, the focus should not end there.
She said: “Women in Bermuda are subjected to sexist comments, I don’t think it’s confined to the House of Assembly.
“I think it’s part of the Bermudian culture.
“It happens in corporations, at the bank, on the streets. I don’t think you will find a woman in Bermuda who will say she has never been subjected to a sexist comment.”
Ms Webb added: “I think that MPs should set an example for other men to follow.
“I can’t say that all members of Parliament have engaged in that behaviour but there are definitely some, like some in the community, who engage in sexist comments, sometimes passed off as a joke.”
The human rights activist said her criticism did not apply to all men.
But she added there was a “certain cultural behaviour among males, behaviour that refers to a woman’s looks, her body, what he would like to do to her. It’s very common.”
Ms Webb said that women often “brush off” sexist remarks.
She added: “If it’s her boss or somebody superior, obviously the reaction is going to be different because they want to retain their job.”
Ms Webb said: “Bermuda is no different and it might seem more prevalent because it’s smaller but I think it’s something that happens all over the world.”
Paula Cox, who led the country between 2010 and 2012 as PLP premier, said she was never subjected to sexist comments during her 16 years in the House of Assembly.
Ms Cox added she could not speak for other women in the House of Assembly at the time.
She said: “I think that it was a different time, I think if they did make inappropriate remarks they did them with persons they may have seen as more vulnerable.”
Ms Cox added: “No female came to me in my capacity as premier to say that she had been inappropriately spoken to. If she had I would have been obligated to do something about it.”
Another former PLP premier, Dame Jennifer Smith, who led the PLP to its landslide first victory in 1998, said: “Our personal experiences are very much like personal experiences elsewhere in the world.
“I’m not going to name and shame anyone.”
Dale Butler, also a former PLP minister, said colleagues during his time in Parliament “behaved themselves”.
He added: “I rarely had time to listen to any banter, in fact I had little interest in gossip or idle conversation, so I was always the last to hear any ‘hot or controversial news’.”
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