The depth of sexism and misogyny in the political party bearing the names progressive and liberal has reached another historic low point, perhaps a nadir, in the Progressive Liberal Party.
It follows in a succession of betrayals by the party which helped to usher in majority rule because of the votes of women, whom the PLP largely abandoned over ensuing decades. And still, under the Christie administration.
Tall Pines MP Leslie Miller’s repulsive story of battering a woman, accompanied by complicit laughter from male PLP colleagues was shocking enough. The narrative has advanced well beyond Miller’s brutish words.
The unfolding chapter is the PLP’s cold silence in the face of Miller’s misogyny, mainly that of the prime minister but also the women of the PLP who seem cowered into silence by the men of the party, somewhat mirroring the frightened silence of some women following the infliction of physical and/or emotional violence.
Miller’s behaviour also mirrors a pattern typical of domestic violence as he arrogantly paraded around gloating about how much he loves and has done for Bahamian women, even though he was clueless as to the extent of domestic violence, clueless as to how his post-battering claims conduct typifies the cycle of domestic violence.
This includes his grandstanding and chest-thumping of what he has done for certain women, generosity that a gentleman should keep to himself, as well as his “grand” gesture of offering the pittance of $1,000 to the Crisis Centre, which the organization rightly rejected.
South Andros MP Picewell Forbes decided that he too wanted to be a poster boy for misogyny and sexism.
Forbes refused to apologize for laughing at Miller’s story because others had laughed too, an adolescent mentality that refuses to accept responsibility for one’s behaviour, an odious example of boys will be boys.
Forbes doubled down on his idiocy:
“We are living in a world of political correctness. Everyone’s so sensitive. Things you could have gotten away with saying in a certain way five years ago can’t be done now.”
Translation: Please, please let me continue to laugh about women being beaten mercilessly. Heard any good jokes lately about beating up gays and lesbians, the disabled or Haitians that we can laugh about in the House?
Still, it is the silence of the PLP women that is more disturbing in significant ways, more puzzling, depressingly heartbreaking.
The message of the PLP women in the House and in the cabinet to young girls and women is: In the face of brutality and bigotry, keep your mouth shut if you want to continue to enjoy the favour of men.
And silence still by Prime Minister Perry Christie who found time to defend the indefensible with his VAT Coordinator but who is utterly failing to defend the integrity and interests of Bahamian women in this episode.
It is Christie’s standard non-response to ride out bad news by remaining silent. But, the septuagenarian leader is making a grave error as the Miller firestorm is proving cancerous to the PLP.
The misogyny in the PLP is so deep-seated that the party’s leaders refuse still to rebuke Miller even though it is clearly in their political interest to do so. The longer they remain silent, the worse the damage.
A friend who owns a retail store offered the story of a 20-something female sales assistant, disposed towards the PLP, who simply doesn’t understand the party’s silence. She gets it. The men in the PLP mostly do not.
In their studied silence Christie and the PLP are transmitting to young and female voters, who constitute the two largest demographic and electoral groups, messages about the party’s disregard for women, about tolerance for domestic violence, about women as second class citizens, about the PLP’s collapse as a progressive and liberal force.
The prime minister’s mindset about women was on display in his bizarre comments last year about being a gladiator, code language for a certain machismo. His actions and inaction are even more egregious.
Like so many men, Christie simply doesn’t get it, seemingly betting that Miller’s comments constitute a light rain, instead of the strong category of hurricane that it is, expanding still.
In this storm Christie seems like a climate change denier refusing to acknowledge the severity of the problem.
To understand the scale of the misogyny and sexism it may be useful to reframe the issue and to highlight the PLP’s history of neglect.
Imagine if Leslie Miller had advised the House of his viciously beating a dog in an act of animal cruelty. The PLP’s likely response: Outrage.
Imagine Miller talking about brutalizing a disabled person. The PLP’s likely response: Outrage.
Imagine Miller talking about brutalizing a tourist. The PLP’s likely response: Outrage.
Recall Miller’s claim of brutalizing a woman: “I tell her I get tired, man. My hands hurting a little bit … give me a break.” The PLP’s actual response, silence, i.e., following the laughter.
Imagine if an MP of the racist Old Guard had stood in the House and boasted about beating black people. The PLP would have rightly unleashed fury upon his head.
Depressingly, sickeningly, in a betrayal of the suffragettes, in a betrayal of Dame Dr. Doris Johnson, who was not allowed to present her petition for female enfranchisement in the House chamber, in a betrayal of generations of women, past, present and yet to be born, the PLP has remained silent in the face of Miller’s vulgar misogyny.
In the US and the UK, had a Democratic congressperson or a Tory MP boasted about battering a black person or a woman, President Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron respectively would have expressed outrage as would the party colleagues of the batterer.
For his part, Christie, who mounted the steps of the Lincoln Memorial last year to speak of civil rights and who recently accepted a civil rights award, has remained silent in the face of Miller’s cruel words.
It is one thing to mouth the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It is an entirely different matter to actually be a drum major for justice and equality for women. Sadly, Christie’s abysmal record is consistent with that of the PLP, where the narrative of betrayal and abandonment stretches decades.
There was always mutual distrust between the suffragettes and the PLP. In the light of history the suffragettes were largely correct in their suspicion of the commitment of certain elements of the PLP when it came to advancing women’s equality.
Gender equality is as much a civil rights issue as is racial equality. Yet the PLP so often told Bahamian women, to hell with you.
Except for the brief period Dame Doris served in an early cabinet of Sir Lynden Pindling, not a single other woman sat in the cabinet of The Bahamas during the PLP’s initial quarter of a century rule, not a single one. Hubert Ingraham’s first cabinet boasted several women.
From the inception of the PLP in 1953, and most certainly from the 1956 general election until 1987 – over 31 years – a Bahamian woman was never afforded a safe or winnable seat for the House of Assembly by the party. It was not until 1982 that the FNM, while in opposition, shattered this glass ceiling, successfully running Janet Bostwick.
At the Constitutional Conference in London in 1972 the PLP rejected the FNM’s proposal to give Bahamian women full equality with men in certain matters relating to citizenship. During the 25-year reign of Sir Lynden’s PLP, full constitutional equality for women was never addressed.
In 2002, given a chance to correct a historic wrong, Christie’s PLP turned its back on Bahamian women. Having voted for constitutional equality in the House, the once progressive and liberal party, reversed course in one of the grossest acts of political expediency in Bahamian political history.
The pattern of neglect was repeated from 2002 to 2007, Christie failing in a “second chance” to ensure full constitutional equality for women as promised.
History will record that the first referendum proposed by Christie was one of a commercial rather than constitutional nature; a plebiscite designed to guarantee windfall profits for special interests rather than the broader interests of Bahamian women.
Today, still under the PLP, the interests of a few numbers men seem more urgent than the rights, needs and protection of tens of thousands of Bahamian women.
When asked if the failure of the 2002 referendum hurt Bahamian women, Christie, in one of the most shameful and sexist statements ever made by a Bahamian politician, dismissively, insultingly, and insensitively said no.
Today, Christie and the PLP are play-acting as great champions of women’s rights after years of entrenched sexism and a failure to remove discrimination, after helping to scuttle legislation on marital rape, after silence in the face of a claim of brutality against a woman by one of its MPs.
Even Leslie Miller begrudgingly half-apologized for his comments. Sadly, Christie and the PLP apparently lack the sense of justice and empathy to go further.