Shut up Shop

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By Anthony Deyal

I was an only child and when at 19, I did very well in the Cambridge Higher School Certificate (HSC) examination, I got a job as a teacher in a nearby co-educational secondary school. I had grown up in a tough neighbourhood so I very quickly double-crossed the boundaries of academia and tried to make up for the lost time by excessive drinking, smoking, gambling, and mayhem.

My parents became very worried and one evening, when I sat down to have dinner before I left for the bar where my friends were waiting, my father, egged on by my mother, said very seriously, “Son, you behaving real wild and getting out of control. As a teacher, you have to settle down. We believe is time you take a wife.” I thought about it for a second and then replied, “That sounds like a good idea. Just show me who wife to take and I will take her.”

What I learned afterward is that regardless of whose wife you take, marriage is a very serious business and is the major battlefield in what is a never-ending; no quarter given and no-holds-barred fight, literally to the death, between the sexes. Relationship counsellor, John Gray, in his extremely popular book, “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus,” claims that the reason for relationship conflicts is that each gender is accustomed to its own set of emotional balances, cultures, and values, or, metaphorically speaking, lives on different planets.  Even there in outer space, the war goes on to determine who is really the Masters of the Universe.

While opinions are as divided as the sexes, there is no doubt that men and women are different but, as the French say, “Vive la difference!” Billy Crystal, the American actor, and comedian made it clear that it is not a level battlefield, “Women need a reason to have sex. Men just need a place.” Barbara Cartland, the best-selling author of popular romantic novels, puts it differently, “Among men, sex sometimes results in intimacy; among women, intimacy sometimes results in sex.”

British comedian, Les Dawson, famous for his one-liners came up with this classic, “My wife is a sex object-every time I ask for sex, she objects.” Steve Martin, the comedian, added, “You know that look women get when they want sex? Me neither.”

If Steve and other men, especially those from the Caribbean, have problems now there is a possibility things might get worse. According to the Jamaica Gleaner, “Reacting to a wave of spousal violence in her country, the fire of fury was lit by Trinidad and Tobago writer and gender advocate, Nazma Muller, who took to her social-media page urging women to organise a sex strike to starve men into submission and put the cause of women’s right on the front burner. She has proposed that the sex strike be imposed until March 8, International Women’s Day.”

Speaking to The Gleaner, Muller urged women to protest against the ideology that women were property and argued that men “will never miss the water till the well runs dry.” She is convinced, “They will begin to value us and our capacity to produce life if we doh let off none. Lock shop and reflect on what this thing is doing to us and to the future. I am saying to my sisters across the Caribbean, let us really consider and appreciate this thing we have and the case of how it is used.”

According to Maureen Shaw, American feminist writer, and advocate for women’s rights, “It’s not such a crazy idea: Women have withheld sex to protest social injustices and advocate for political reform throughout history. Many of these strikes have proven successful …” Shaw referred to the ancient Greek play Lysistrata in which women teamed up to end the Peloponnesian War, and stressed that sex strikes have spanned hundreds of years and multiple countries.

In 1600, for example, women of the Iroquois tribe “shut up shop” to stop unregulated warfare. The tactic worked and they gained veto power over all future wars. In pre-colonial times, Nigerian women used the threat effectively, and in modern times there are examples from other countries including Colombia, Italy, The Philippines, South Sudan, Togo and Liberia of successful shop closures. In fact, Leymah Gbowee of the Liberia Mass Action for Peace received a Nobel Prize for using the threat of a sex strike as the main strategy in ending a 14-year civil war.

The major question, though, is would this strategy be taken seriously in the Caribbean? In Trinidad and Tobago, there has been no major reaction in the local newspapers. Muller, a former editor of the Jamaica Observer, made headlines last year as “Marijuana activists charged for obscene language outside parliament.” Some Trinis don’t take Muller seriously and one told me, “She should bat in she own crease instead of other people own.”  In fact, Jamaica seems to be the only Caribbean country where there has been some support for Muller’s suggestion but with many doubts about its support or effectiveness.

While saying she would strongly advocate for Jamaican women to also “lock shop,” Professor Opal Palmer Adisa of the Institute of Gender Studies in the University of the West Indies (UWI), Jamaica, is not sure it would be adopted “because many women will not feel sufficiently empowered to engage in a strike of this nature”. She believes men should be recruited as “loud voices” in the campaign against domestic violence. Jamaican gender activist, Nadeen Spence, also believes that the strategy would not be successful in Jamaica because some women “were quick to cast blame on other women.”

If the reaction to the Gleaner article truly reflects the views of Jamaicans, the boycott or “mancutt” or “sexcutt” will fail. In fact, one of my Jamaican Facebook friends said they shouldn’t shut up shop, they should just shut up the shop talk. One person wrote, “Are you all this clueless? This will inevitably provoke the very violence and abuse you’re claiming to want to curb!”

Another warned, “These advocates are asking for more murders in Jamaica.”  Two other responses stand out, “If you withhold sex from men they will simply go and find it elsewhere…” and “When she is on strike another woman would grab the chance to strike.”  While these responses are not consistent with the historical and global success of the no-sex campaigns, they demonstrate what one of my psychologist friends calls “the big gap” (both physical and psychological) between women and men.

As American journalist Mignon McLaughlin pointed out, “Desire is in men a hunger, in women only an appetite.” Basically, this means that while women are concerned with gender, men are always preoccupied with sex.

*Tony Deyal was last seen saying anybody who believes the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach failed both geography and biology.

 

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