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Normalizing Consent Culture in my Caribbean Household

By: Natassia Morris


When consent culture found a space within Caribbean carnival culture, the world was divided. The idea of asking for permission to wine on someone in a party or at Carnival was embraced by many, with some folks celebrating the explicit reminder that unwanted touch is assault no matter where it occurs. Others denounced the notion, claiming that “tiefing ah wine” is part of the tradition of Carnival and that this would create a more isolated Carnival experience. I remember one of the top Trinidadian soca artistes, Machel Montano, became embroiled in controversy when he told a crowd of fete-goers in 2018: “They say yuh could get lock up [arrested] for thiefing a wine. Allyuh forget that, find somebody to jam. This is Carnival. They will have to lock up the whole of Trinidad and Tobago.”


"....let the lessons start from early o’clock, so that we can stop raising boys into men who normalize and condone violence against women and girls..."

As for me, I was closely following the conversation from a distance, thinking to myself - “it’s about damn time... now let it extend throughout the Caribbean, and let the lessons start from early o’clock, so that we can stop raising boys into men who normalize and condone violence against women and girls.”


This is especially important to me as a mother of two boy children, two humans that I am responsible for shaping, nurturing, and empowering so that they can become decent and functioning contributions to society. In fact, it was this responsibility that ignited the dormant activist in me and opened my eyes to the need for change in this world, especially when it comes to how women and girls are viewed and treated in a Caribbean context.


I was finding it harder to ignore how our culture has accepted male dominance over women and girls, excusing it with the mindset that “boys will be boys”. No disrespect to the elders, but this mindset was not going to work if I wanted to raise my children differently. Not when I have personally witnessed time and again how predatory behaviour is condoned, defying a woman’s boundaries is praised, and outright violence justified, by both men and women in the community. It was an awakening for me and I asked myself: was it possible to raise my son outside of these norms?


It had to start with my unlearning. Remember as a child being forced to hug and kiss every “aunty” and “uncle”, some you didn’t even know or remember because the last time you saw these people you were in diapers? How about this gem of a demand: “Where’s my hug”? It seems like such an innocent request and is considered acceptable social behaviour in many cultures, not just in the Caribbean. However, I wanted to teach my children what boundaries and consent look like. I taught them both that my body was my own and their bodies were theirs. I taught them to understand that “no” was a full sentence and “stop” isn’t open for interpretation. And with that came the risk of offending some elders when they demanded hugs and kisses from my children. If my child did not want to be touched by a family member, friend or acquaintance, I supported their decision and would step in if necessary on their behalf. I couldn’t expect them to understand how to respect the boundaries of others if I didn’t also help them enforce their own.


As they grow, the lessons evolve. We talk about interactions they witness in school and I’m always on the lookout for teachable moments. When my eldest son was in kindergarten, he witnessed a young boy his age trying to grab and hug a young girl on the school bus. He was so clearly upset by the incident because, in his words, “[boy] wasn’t respecting her boundaries!” He could not understand why when this little girl said stop and no, the little boy didn’t cease all attempts of touch immediately. A similar incident arose for my youngest who is just beginning his elementary school journey - do you see how early this starts?


"As they grow, the lessons evolve"

I’m now the mother of a teenage boy and I am feeling the added pressure of ensuring that all of our lessons stick with him as he becomes a young adult. More than anything, I don’t want him to believe that because of his Caribbean heritage, he is expected to adhere to harmful and outdated behaviours. I’m no innovator. I know I’m not the only Caribbean parent raising their children outside of what we’ve accepted as “our cultural norms”. But I think oftentimes the impetus is on teaching and empowering girls, leaving our boys out of the conversation and inevitably placing the responsibility back on women and girls.


I’m ready to see an end to this toxic side of “our culture”. As a #boymom and a proud Caribbean-born woman, I think we can do better.






 

Natassia Morris Raised in a performing arts family, Natassia has been actively involved in the arts and culture sector in Toronto since immigrating to Canada from Trinidad and Tobago in the early ‘90’s. She has studied various dance techniques throughout her three decade artist trajectory, including African-Caribbean, Caribbean Folk, West African, Jazz, Classical Ballet, and Modern Techniques (Dunham, Graham, and Horton). An accomplished choreographer and dance instructor, Natassia has created and presented works for the Toronto Caribbean Carnival, Carabram, Nuit Blanche, and the Luminato Festival. Natassia is currently co-writing a new play on the roots of Carnival culture told from a Toronto perspective, and continues to share her cultural stories and knowledge through dance education workshops in communities across the GTA and in Toronto’s school boards. She is also a seasoned media, marketing and communications professional with over a decade of experience across sectors including in the arts, not-for-profit, education and corporate.



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