Despite the cliché of our strong black women, despite our majority female headed households, despite reggae song after reggae song in celebration of ‘Mama’, despite a woman Prime Minister, patriarchy (that old, unflappable institution) is alive and well in Jamaica. It is as true here as it is elsewhere: we are run by the proverbial Old Boys’ Club. And that Club is an especially real thing in a country whose high schools tend to be segregated on the lines of sex/gender. If you want to see real concentration of power on this island, you can do no better than looking to the Old Boys of Wolmers, of Georges, of KC, and maybe even of Calabar. (Sorry, I couldn’t help that.)
In all seriousness, it’s rather incredible to me that so many Jamaicans are dismissive of recent and fair objections being levied at one of our oldest high schools – Kingston College – whose Old Boys have decided, despite recent progressive policies, to revert to an older and regressive policy and host an all-male annual dinner. Like Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting of the Last Supper, only men are welcome to sit at their table.
Some people insist it is just a harmless little reunion. Others have asked, would we equally object to an Old Girls dinner? Such earnest logic is the kind of stupidity that sees BET (Black Entertainment Television) as racist in the absence of an equivalent WET, and those who raise such objections need a refresher course on power and power construct. But that is too much to get into here. Others have moaned – but how can KC possibly help the situation? They are, after all, an all boy school. Now stop, stop, stop!! Let me be absolutely clear: if this were indeed a dinner ONLY for KC Old Boys then I don’t see how anyone could object and I would be the first to withdraw my own critique. However such a defense is a bold-faced lie. It is simply is not the case. The all-male rule was first ‘relaxed’ when the then Prime-Minister Michael Manley insisted on attending the dinner with his then wife Beverley.
But Manley himself had not attended KC. To my knowledge (someone please correct me if I am wrong) he is a Jamaica College (JC) Old Boy. Still, no rule had to be relaxed in order to have him attend. The fact is – I too, having attended another competing All-Boys school of Wolmers can also be issued an invitation to the dinner without contravening a single rule. So too can a man from Georges, and maybe even from Calabar! In fact any man whatsoever can be invited to the KC Old Boys dinner so long as he is indeed, a man. What is of fundamental importance is not that one must belong to the KC family; rather, one must have in one’s own belonging, a penis. The objections being raised are not to a harmless little reunion dinner but to what it is a powerful symbol of a much broader system of patriarchy and unchecked sexism.
Such forces seem to be on the recent rise. Over the last few weeks Jamaica has made a concerted effort to assert its patriarchy and sexism in the most unapologetic and offensive ways. For starters, there was Senator AJ Nicholson’s casual and irresponsible remark in the Senate House. Our esteemed legislators were debating the Flexi-work bill and the senator on the floor (Marlene Malahoo-Forte) raised concerns about women leaving work late at night and being possible victims of rape, Nicholson thought it appropriate to heckle the room with a comment worthy of a teenage boy, something to the effect of ‘So what you want? Flexi-rape?’ It was as if he thought he was in the safe confines of a KC Old Boys dinner rather than in the respectable senate where pesky women were around to hear the jibe, to be offended and to hold him and all of us to a higher standard. The reports are that Senator Marlene Malahoo-Forte just stood there, her mouth open, absolutely stunned by the crudeness of it all. The demand came for Nicholson to withdraw his statement but Nicholson was having none of it. It was just a joke, he asserted again and again. What wrong? You can’t take a little joke?
The begrudging withdrawal only came when the Leader of the Senate – a man – all but demanded it, and perhaps it had to be this particular Leader of the Senate who with his sight disability is probably more attuned to the casual ways in which the Old Boys say stupid, disrespectful and discriminatory things.
Mounting pressure from society at large caused Senator Nicholson to make a more public apology, and yet it was one of the most unapologetic apologies one could muster. Basically, the senator was sorry that we all lacked a sense of humour; he was sorry that we didn’t all realize it was actually ok to joke about rape; he was probably especially sorry that women did not have their own penises (well…not usually) for such appendages would surely grant them a greater disposition towards humour, thicker skins over all, and most importantly, the possibility of being invited to the annual KC Old Boys Dinner. Now who wouldn’t want that!?
Despite his public apology Nicholson has gone on to privately write threatening emails to Senator Malahoo-Forte. He has told her, amongst other things, that “the big pay back is coming. Mark my word!” Funny how in this context, the ‘big pay back’ sounds like some kind of phallic threat. Good for the opposition senator in making that email exchange public.
Men don’t seem to react well when our collective power comes under threat, when women seem to forget their rightful places at kitchen sinks, or under our heels, or at the very least far, far away from our Old Boys dinners and our Old Boys clubs. In today’s Sunday Gleaner, Professor Carolyn Cooper makes satirical commentary on the said KC dinner, playing on the innuendo of them having made a ‘sexual preference’. Quite literally, they have. They would prefer (and in fact they insist on) members of the male sex attending their dinner. But – if we must talk de truth and shame de devil – it wasn’t satire done particularly well. Satire should always work on two levels – a play between explicit meanings and implied meanings; innuendos and puns working their subversive message through the subtext and not in the actual text. But there are whole sections of Cooper’s column that have only one meaning instead of two – and that are explicitly (rather than implicitly) about sexuality. And though I know her politics are much more complicated than that, it kinda grieves my heart to see sexuality being used – even if jokingly – as a way to send coded insult to the Old Boys who really do deserve insulting. It reinscribes the idea of homosexuality as something worthy of public shame and ridicule. Perhaps in this, Cooper’s irresponsible joking is not wildly different from AJ Nicholson’s flexi-rape joke. Both represent humour at the expense of vulnerable people.
Still and all, it seems that the Jamaican twitosphere has gone into sheer spasms of rage – men in particular have taken their 140 characters to publicly wish all kinds of evil would fall on the distinguished head of Cooper.
It’s as if several KC Old Boys and their sympathisers are now channeling their own inner AJ Nicholsons – he who when his blatant sexism was called out responded first by bafflement (What’s the harm done!? It was just a little joke? It doesn’t threaten anyone!) and then, as if looking around to make sure no one else was listening, by seething, chilling, coded threat.
I am in full agreement with this column. The first sentence just sums it up for me.
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Let this be a lesson to all of the Old Girls, running behind the Old Boy’s Associations island-wide, particularly the ones that blindly follow the KC hype even when they don’t have any connection to the school. Dem nuh waan unnuh (lol). But seriously, what are you doing for your own schools? During my years at UWI I saw them investing time and money to support these institutions while Queens, Alpha, and others are neglected. This is the same reason they had to fuse Boys and Girls Champs, because girls were not supporting girls. And now women are not supporting women. Let this be a lesson for all lady wagonists!
So, the old boys can fight for themselves…and probably win. Could the column, see the section I have highlighted below, cause the ‘bullies’ to have a field with the current students? Satire misunderstood. Ignorance. Opportunity.
“But – talk truth – it wasn’t satire done particularly well. Satire should always work on two levels – the explicit meaning and the implied meaning, the innuendos and puns working their subversive message throughout. But there are whole sections of Cooper’s column that have only one meaning instead of two – and that are explicitly (rather than implicitly) about sexuality. And though I know her politics are much more complicated than that, it kinda grieves my heart to see sexuality being used – even jokingly – as a way to send coded insult to people who deserve insulting. It reinscribes the idea of homosexuality being something worthy of public shame and ridicule.”
Wow…very good point, Fae. My mind didn’t even go there. But yes, it’s scary how a misunderstood message can possibly be mobilized for bad purposes. A lesson for all of us writing to a broad public to be especially responsible in how we frame our critiques.
I agree with Ms Fae and with you Kei! Things get twisted and used in all sorts of ways. The discussion on Twitter has been vitriolic at times and has betrayed all kinds of underlying prejudices – it has quite shocked me. I still think it is (or was intended as) satire, but overdone.
Thanks so much for this balanced response sister Fae. Dr Cooper’s response was not satire. I read it and thought, clearly this is written just for the purpose of fomenting argument and driving internet traffic to the Gleaner’s comments section. As a Georgian of 5 years and Wolmerian (6th form), I am the last person to defend “dem purple guys” (lol) but the opinion piece by Dr Cooper was nothing more than a tracing match. She had the opportunity to use satire and pithy commentary to critique the KC old boys but instead squandered it by resorting to “ghetto” behaviour. For example, I can imagine a woman dissed/spurned by a man (or set of men) responding by casting aspersions on their sexuality. “Guhweh!, yuh nuh want we come ah yuh dinner so unno mus’ be ah set ah b@tty man!” She knew exactly what she was doing, given our society’s penchant for hyper-masculinity and machismo. Unfortunately this reinforces the idea that UWI is nothing but an intellectual ghetto. As a proud graduate with two (2) degrees from that institution I am disappointed. But just as the KC Old Boys have a right to set their rules and face criticism, so too does Dr Cooper, have the right to write whatever she wants and also face criticism. But all weh a gwaan still, I can’t help but wonder if this is a strategy to continue to be seen as “media relevant” in the face of competition from other “culture doctahs”. I would only hope that this conversation does not detract/derail the national conversation from (arguably) more serious matters such as the lack of Government transparency and accountability (recent case -NHT) OR AJ Nicholson’s history of toxic misogyny and it’s implications for legislation and good governance
I think ( and hope ) that we are in the long slow process of the conventional patriarchal order being ever so slowly dismantled. Is there maybe a connection in these desires for male only events to the anxiety of the penetration of the patriarchal homosocial rearguard ?
Kei, could you please send this to The Gleaner or Observer? I think it is the best thing I have seen on the issue. (BTW: there is a theory that there is a woman in The Last Supper, hidden in plain sight) Blessings.
Wow, hatred of men is the order of the day here. Women have they their Girls Night out all the time, where is the venom against that? Are they all Lesbians? Feminist double standards at work here.
BET (Black Entertainment Television) as racist in the absence of an equivalent WET,…..I stopped reading at this ridiculous use of this ignorant comparison. Apparently you have no clue that BET was around when Blacks did not win awards at the famous award shows and were not given any roles in movies so they had to create their own. Blacks in the US do not have the luxury of walking down the street like Jamaicans do and go home peacefully without getting harrassed or accused of a crime. How dare you try to compare something you obviously have not clue about. WET is everyday here in the us. it is predominantly White and they don’t let you forget you are black. I was glad I was born in a country where I saw almost everyone who looked like me, but try living in a country where it is not so and now a person in a country who never experienced the exclusion of Blacks from television have the audacity to call it racist? Are you that clueless? I won’t even wast my time to even read the rest of the diatribe you spew. You stopped me at WET…..du mass.
Well Karen, I wouldn’t ask you to waste your time and read more but next time you might want to read more carefully, because here you’ve wasted time, words and anger to make exactly the same point I was making. Thanks for expanding on the point that a station like BET can hardly ever be seen as racist nor a gathering of women as sexist. It’s a pity you didn’t realize we agree.
She saw what she wanted to see. She set out looking for reasons to not agree with you, and jobbed at the first seeming occasion.
I applaud you for this article Kei…. a very good vantage point of the whole situation in its entirety, as a lover of the English language, I too found the “Doc’s” medicine a little on the overdose side, failing the satirical class even. I hoped however that persons would have taken the proverbial bait, to see what more they can do for their own “Old Schools” rather than criticize the power in numbers, which ‘we’ obviously lack.
Carolyn has demonstrated that she should not do satire. Me, I’d have taunted the KC boys for not being grown up. What she does, instead is mean-spirited not just to the KC Old Boys, but to gay men in general. But that’s the Carolyn Cooper I watched in Guadeloupe confusing a waitress by trying to order tea without coffee (thé sans café) when she wanted decaffeinated tea.
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Just some thoughts re the KC ‘old boys’ dinner –
Who is doing the cooking?
Who prepares the room where the dinner is being held?
Who cleans that room, the kitchen, the toilets, does the shopping, before and afterwards?
Perhaps it’d be a true awareness raising event if it could be made exclusively all male throughout. And for the wages to be just as they are at present (and suspecting some current workers might loose income with this arrangement suggestion – for them to be compensated for loss of income as a result of such ‘experiment’).