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What’s in a word?

Liana Hall

“Well-behaved women seldom make history.”

— Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

There are situations in which I can find myself turning to the dictionary despite knowing the meaning of a word. I do it because the dictionary is informative, rather than interpretive. I frequently abuse my own knowledge of a word by assuming meanings that do not exist. So to keep myself in check I return to this simple tool.

That brings me to today’s lesson on vocabulary as I contemplate the word “womanhood”. The dictionary generally defines it in three ways: the state or condition of being a woman, the qualities considered to be characteristic of a woman and women considered collectively.

Whilst we’re at it let’s look at another word: “misogynist”. A misogynist is a person who exhibits hatred, dislike, mistrust or mistreatment of or strong prejudice against women. A homophobe exhibits the same, but in relation to homosexuals. Keep this in mind: these terms are not mutually exclusive. You can be both. You can be one. You can be neither. Those “neithers” are the people I choose to associate with.

Why my obsession with the intricacies of the English language today? Well, you see, the past couple of weeks in Bermuda have been all about words. It has not been just about those that were said (either actually or allegedly), but also those that weren’t. What hasn’t been said is an apology or expressions of outrage from the PLP, the party I have been a member of all my adult life.

I’m not basing my opinion on hearsay for it would be a waste of my legal education if I were to do that. However, as I sit here reading transcripts from the House of Assembly and the Sherri J show I can tell you this: I am deeply concerned. I am concerned not just for womanhood, but for us all.

When reading the words of the Opposition Leader, I have a visceral physical reaction. My hairs stand on end, a lump forms in my throat and my heartbeat pulses forcefully and rapidly. If you hadn’t guessed yet these are indications that I am angry.

I am angry because a man who is a leader in our community has taken it upon himself to unilaterally decide what behaviour is “unbecoming of womanhood.” I hadn’t realised we had returned to the Dark Ages. Oh wait, yes I had, because globally women are constantly subjected to male authority figures’ decisions about their rights, be they reproductive, sexual, professional or personal.

I don’t know what behaviour he’s referring to although I can certainly make surmises, but I won’t because it’s none of my business. It’s certainly not the people’s business. I think I missed the memo that stated it was appropriate to refer to the people’s private sexual lives in the House of Assembly. I do know it happened to Terry Lister when he left the PLP and I was outraged then that this hallowed hall of government was being used to malign and abuse him. Politics can be a vile sport, but the parliament in which my father and his peers served was one where the accusations were of the political, not personal, variety.

Most of us have some sexual skeletons in the closet; we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t. These sorts of attacks mean Bermuda is dangerously close to becoming a tabloid society and the saddest part of that is it’s the elected public officials that are transforming it.

How dare a man suggest that a collective group of women are sleeping their way to the top? Sorry, that’s my interpretation, let’s put it in his own words: “every single one of you young women are doing the same type of behaviour. It appears you are trying to get political advancement using the lowest common denominator.” It’s an age-old assumption that women can’t progress in any other way than opening their legs. No wonder they’ve taken offence. He’s fortunate that he hasn’t singled out people by name in these on-the-record statements, because that would be a very expensive slander lawsuit.

For behaviour to be unbecoming it means that one is not in keeping with standards that are right and proper in polite society. I would contend that the Opposition Leader is the one whose behaviour is, in fact, improper. Although perhaps we need to face up to the possibility that we are no longer a polite society and the inmates are running the asylum.

I am not an OBA supporter. At all. Without a doubt, future columns will dissect them too. I was raised by the PLP. My father, Julian, was an MP for the party and I suffered at school when children of UBP supporters would lean against my tall, skinny frame and say, “You’re my PLP – my Personal Leaning Post.” They would laugh heavily. I would seethe inwardly, but I was always proud of my father and the PLP.

I have fond memories of Freddie Wade, Dame Lois Browne-Evans and Jennifer Smith. Alex Scott, who is my sister’s godfather, gave me my first toaster strudel, setting off a lifelong addiction. These people, along with my father, built a party of integrity on their backs and they sacrificed time with us, their families, to elevate the PLP and try to lead Bermuda. The delegates of the party chose Marc Bean not once, but twice to be their leader. I respect democracy and, therefore, I must respect that choice, but I don’t have to condone it. I can’t support a party that chooses a leader who has no respect for women, LGBT rights, the sanctity of Parliament and the legacy of those that came before him.

There will no doubt be backlash from those who say I’m lambasting my own party. So be it. I must stand for what I believe to be right and proper. I am a woman, I am a citizen of this country and my heart aches. I cannot ignore that feeling in my soul, it wouldn’t be right or proper.

Oh and can everyone stop walking out of the House of Assembly? You have the people’s work to do; you’re paid to do it and you’re elected to do it. Stop failing us, because those on both sides of the aisle are doing so right now.