Starting A Revolution – #LifeInLeggings

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Powerful movements are usually birthed from frustration and on the 24th of November I was exasperated.

In this year alone I was almost pulled into a vehicle after declining a ride from a stranger. I was sexually harassed on my way to work almost every single morning which resulted in me changing my route. I stopped travelling by bus and started to pay for a taxi to take me to work because I no longer felt safe at the bus stop. I was raped by someone I trusted, among other horrific experiences. Suffice to say, it reached a breaking point.

These experiences were each traumatising in their own way. Some of them changed me and affected the ways in which I could trust people. Last year my doctor diagnosed me with PTSD. Healing is a process and I, like many women, had to learn to cope to be able to get through my day. I wouldn’t say I’ve overcome my experiences because it’s a wound that reopens every single time I walk out of my house.

I’m no stranger to sharing my stories, in fact I’ve documented my cases of sexual harassment on Facebook for as long as I can remember in an attempt to give insight into the daily struggle we as women face. From there, I started using my blog to speak out about the ways we perpetuate rape culture in our society, because I believe one of the ways in which we can dismantle it is through education. On that forum, I’ve been extremely vocal about our culture of victim-blaming and slut-shaming and how it re-victimizes survivors of sexual violence. While my posts had enlightened a few men, I was still being met with rebuttals from men who were exhibiting cognitive dissonance and in most of their “arguments” they placed the onus on women to prevent sexual violence. I was even dismissed a couple times as just “another feminist ranting and blowing things out of proportion”.

As this wasn’t something they could relate to, their immediate response was to argue against it. I was faced with a dilemma. How could I effectively explain to people who believe they are entitled to my body that their behaviour is not acceptable? How could I explain to them that this isn’t an isolated incident and that every woman they know has experienced either sexual harassment or assault? How could I show them that this is a societal problem that needs to be addressed? What would make men get involved and call out their male friends on their actions? What would make them reflect on their own actions and hold themselves accountable for the ways in which they’ve contributed to this problem? How could I create a discussion that could force actual cultural change? It needed to be something that they couldn’t easily ignore or dismiss, something that would show the pervasiveness of sexual harassment, assault and rape within Barbados and essentially the region.

I contemplated rallying my activist friends to create PSAs to dispel the myths about rape, discourage victim-blaming/slut-shaming, and essentially force our government to acknowledge that there was a rape culture in our country, so that we could work towards dismantling it. While I was thinking of a proposal to present them with, I got into an online debate with several men who were adamant that only certain women get harassed and if they only changed the way they dressed they wouldn’t be subjected to it. Knowing that this was inaccurate, I attempted to  debunk the myth only for it to fall upon deaf ears. I retreated to my blog to write a post on rape culture for easy consumption, when it hit me.

A hashtag.

I got the idea to start a hashtag that would create a forum for Caribbean women to share their daily experiences of sexual harassment and abuse. That way they’d be able to see that every single woman they know experiences this, from their mothers to their daughters, from the “bougie” to the “urban”. I envisioned thousands of women breaking their silence, flooding timelines and forcing men to listen. Telling them that enough is enough and they will not suffer in silence one more day. Like our ancestors rebelled against their oppressors, Caribbean women resisting and fighting back against the patriarchal ideals that our society embraces. Unlike our ancestors, we have the internet and what would have taken weeks and even months before another island learned of a rebellion would only take us a few hours. I visualized women reaching out to other women, supporting them and encouraging them to share their experiences without fear of ridicule or shame. Drowning out the misogynistic comments with their feminine solidarity.

I messaged my friend Allyson Benn and told her my idea. She initially wasn’t interested as she wasn’t emotionally prepared to revisit that part of her life. Which was completely understandable. I told her I was finding it difficult to think of a name that wasn’t cliche, and we deliberated on names before deciding on the hashtag #LifeInLeggings.
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#LifeInLeggings was purposely coined to dispel the myth that only certain types of women are harassed and are deserving of their assault/abuse because of the way they are dressed. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Leggings are the one piece of clothing used in these examples to describe “slack dress attire” and to perpetuate this narrative. However every woman and little girl owns a pair of leggings.

Immediately after deciding on a name, Allyson was on board. While I was having this conversation with her, I reached out to my other friends, Luci Hammans and Salama Patrick presenting them with the same question. They both expressed similar reservations and asked for at least a day to come around to the idea of sharing their most intimate secrets on social media.

In less than a minute, the first post was made and my heart started racing. Then my doubts came: what if women didn’t want to share? What if they had been permanently silenced? What if men attempted to derail the conversation and succeeded? I reminded myself that backlash was inevitable but I couldn’t let that prevent me from trying.

Within half hour of posting, stories started creeping in. Friends and their friends started posting using the hashtag and it wasn’t long before all I could see was #lifeinleggings. Then the first message from a male friend came, “I had no idea. I knew it was bad but I didn’t know it was this bad. I’m sorry.” I was speechless… it was working!

By day 2, the hashtag was viral and Trinidad & Tobago as well as Dominica were on board sharing their experiences of sexual violence. After hearing the battle cry for change, Dominican activists Delroy Williams and Khadija Moore created a sister hashtag, #LévéDominik, which translates from Créole to Wake up Dominica/Stand up Dominica.

Soon after, Guyana, Saint Vincent, Grenada, Saint Lucia, The Bahamas, Jamaica and recently Belize joined the discussion. It’s one thing to envisage feminine solidarity throughout the region to take back the power that was stolen from us so that we would finally be able to heal, but to watch it actually happen? Words cannot describe the feeling.
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Now that the hashtag has spread throughout the Caribbean and the diaspora, it’s time to transfer the conversation from online to offline. Life in leggings has evolved from a social media awareness campaign to a grassroots movement that’s committed to dismantling the rape culture within the Caribbean through education, empowerment and community outreach.

We hope to be the space for conversation around gender relations in Barbados and the Caribbean. This includes an examination of how we got to this point and how we move forward to dismantle the patriarchal system that affects both men and women. We’re collaborating with other organisations in order to work towards educational and systemic changes within our community. We intend to keep this platform as accessible as possible for those who need it.

Have You Tried Turning It Off And On Again?

Permission to start 2016 over again?

I’ve been having pretty much of a rough year. I started working in customer service at the beginning of this to earn more cash to further my business as well as fund my other ventures without having to take out a loan. Within one month I was already planning to take a vacation from my new job. I mean I always knew I’d hate working for someone but words cannot describe how much I loathe this place.

I suffer from depression and anxiety and this place only intensifies it. The greatest source of this comes from home but work is definitely second place. I’ve spent quite a lot of time on sick leave from something I developed from working there which sucks because I only just began earning sick leave benefits. If I’m sick it just means I wouldn’t be earning any money. Which in turn affects the overall goal.

Depression can be described as an emotional black hole where everything that is considered happiness and rainbows goes to die.

So to combat this I’ve created reasons to keep me motivated. I love travelling so bae and I are planning another vacation. We would have loved to travel this year but you have to put in a year of work before you go on vacation. Never have I ever envied a school child until this very moment. We decided do a staycation for my birthday at Santosha which I will visit in another post. We were first deciding to vacation in Egypt but we’re thinking Costa Rica or Rome, Italy. At this point I don’t care where once I leave this place for two or more weeks.

Secondly, I love fashion so I would shop online biweekly as a reward for surviving those two weeks. I’ve heard of retail shopping as a stress reliever but I never took it seriously. Now I wish I had sooner. I’m on hiatus from online purchases for now simply because I have no more room to store my clothes. As soon as that is rectified I’ll be knocking on Laparkan’s warehouse door like an ex that refuses to let go.

From now on, I’m taking a serious stance regarding my mental health. For too long I’ve allowed persons to play with my emotions leaving  me with an intense feeling of numbness. My boyfriend and daughter are supportive for the most part and without them I’m wouldn’t be the person I am today. Fighting this at times feels pointless but I’m doing it for myself and them. Growing up with my grandma I know first hand how depression affects those around you. I’ll fight it by using whatever is necessary.

Did someone say exercise?

Exercising is considered to be stress relieving but when the depress really hits its really hard to get out of bed so I consider it to be middle ground. I guess that’s where music would come in. Music can motivate me to do just about anything and I mean ANYTHING. Which is why I incorporated it in my daily routine to do mundane tasks or even to simply just get ready for work. I’m thinking of trying out some yoga  or revisiting rollerblading but we’ll see how that goes. One step at a time.

In summary, it’ll be trial and error but the main focus (and the whole point) is trying

But seriously, has anyone tried turning 2016 off and on again?!

Slut-shaming 101

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In light of recent (and common) events, I feel the need to speak out about this topic mostly because our community actively encourages it.

Slut shaming… *sigh*

Slut shaming is a common problem that generally targets girls, often from a very young age. To slut-shame means to “degrade or mock a woman because she enjoys having sex, has sex a lot, or may even just be rumored to participate in sexual activity.”

It is damaging not only to the girls and women targeted, but to women in general an society as a whole. It should be noted that slut-shaming can occur even if the term “slut” itself is not used.

What our society actively participates in is the slut shaming of underage girls. Whenever a girl disappears from home and it is reported, it is often dismissed by the general public that she is by the house of an older man.

There are two things wrong with that; (1.) A minor cannot consent to sex. Regardless of if she pursued him, he as the adult should know better and decline her advances. In order for sex to occur, two consenting adults must consent to engage in intercourse. Without consent, it is rape and if the second party is a minor it is statutory rape. In our society, a number of older men pursue girls who are underage without fear of the law or public opinion. After these girls have been made conquests, society would view these girls as sluts where as the men would not be viewed as paedophiles.This would fall under rape culture and that would be explained that in another post.

I digress…

(2). It dismisses what might have actually caused the girl to run away from home in the first place. Children often run from home due to abuse (domestic violence, alcohol/drug, sexual, etc) in homes from parents, family members or family friends. At least 1 in every 7 children between the ages of 10 to 18 years old will run away at some point. Because the focus is on the girl’s alleged sexual activity, she is no longer seen as a victim but someone to be made feel inferior. Her case may even be discredited because of said alleged promiscuity.

Calling someone a slut may seem harmless. Slut-shaming may also seem to be useful as a kind of cautionary tale — helping “good” girls from making sexual “mistakes”, or even being sexually assaulted and/or raped, by making an example out of the “bad” girls. But, in fact, the very opposite is true:

“A reputation acquired in adolescence can damage a young woman’s self-perception for years. She may become a target for other forms of harassment and even rape, since her peers see her as “easy” and therefore not entitled to say “no”. She may become sexually active with a large number of partners (even if she had not been sexually active before her reputation). Or she may shut down her sexual side completely, wearing baggy clothes and being unable to allow a boyfriend to even kiss her.”

[Leora Tanenbaum (Harper Paperbacks, 2000.): Slut! Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputation, p. 229.]

The consequences of slut-shaming go beyond the personal, shaping societal discourses on rape, abuse, and harassment:

“How many times has rape been discounted because a woman was deemed a slut? How many times are women called whores while their partners beat them? How often are women’s sexual histories used against them in workplace harassment cases? The sexual double standard is a lot more dangerous than we’d like to think.”

[Jessica Valenti: He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut: The Sexual Double Standard]

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Slut-Shaming Can Have Serious Repercussions…

For some young women, the stigma of “slut” is so hurtful that it leaves their lives in ruins.

Take Rehtaeh Parsons of Canada, who was allegedly raped by four boys who distributed photos of the attack online. She was afterwards bullied and slut-shamed mercilessly by her peers to the point where she decided to take her own life at 17 years of age.

Her mother, Leah Parsons, told Canadian news source CBC, “She was never left alone. She had to leave the community. Her friends turned against her. People harassed her. Boys she didn’t know started texting her and Facebooking her, asking her to have sex with them. It just never stopped. People texted her all the time, saying ‘Will you have sex with me?’ Girls texting, saying, ‘You’re such a slut.’”

This story is a modern tragedy, fueled by cyber-bullying and slut-shaming. The girls and boys who taunted Rehtaeh so cruelly probably had no idea how deep their words cut until it was too late.

Why did so many of her peers turn on her? Why did other girls – some of whom conceivably had endured similar experiences (because hell, they live in this messed-up society, too) – call her a slut and disown her as a friend?

While the blame for the crime rests on the shoulders of the alleged rapists, it is possible that if Rehtaeh hadn’t been labeled a “slut” and endured the cruel bullying that she did, she might be alive today.

Tragically, this type of cyber-slut-shaming is not uncommon among the younger generations.

Imagine how it would feel to be that teenage girl who everyone is whispering about in the halls. To have hurtful names like “slut,” “whore,” and “skank” assigned to you by people who barely know you. To be judged harshly and without caution for engaging in sexual activity, as most curious teens do.

These young women were intensely slut-shamed, and had their very traumatic experiences invalidated by judgment from their peers. Their very worth was brought into question because people chose to side with the rapists instead of the victims.

Slut-shaming is rape culture, plain and simple. And for some people, it is utterly life-destroying.

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Slut-shaming doesn’t end just because we grow up….

Whether in the dating world, the professional arena, education, or in friendships, adult females are not immune to slut-shaming either. As with many sexist phenomenon, women aren’t just the targets of slut-shaming, they are often the perpetrators as well. The first thing to realize when talking about women slut-shaming each other is that infighting among oppressed groups is a necessary part for keeping those groups oppressed; ergo women are encouraged, through internalized sexism, to distrust each other and fight for male approval. In other words:

“Slut-shaming is one of the chief ways that women attempt to compete with each other for male approval in a patriarchy that defines women’s worth by their physical attractiveness and limits their ability to distinguish themselves by other means.”

[Nine Deuce (Rage Against the Man-chine): Sluts!.]

It is also important to keep in mind that, in a patriarchal society, “male approval” translates into a form of power (albeit a limited one).

Most of us, whether we realize it or not, have judged or degraded someone (usually a woman) for being sexual, having one or more sexual partners, acknowledging sexual feelings, and/or acting on sexual feelings outside of marriage.

Internalized sexism is a disease, and by carelessly throwing around sexist, hurtful epithets like “slut” and “skank,” we all act as the carriers.

Any woman who has had sex can be a victim of slut-shaming. A virgin can be a victim of slut-shaming. Indeed, as long as gendered slurs like “slut” continue to be weapons casually wielded against girls and women by both people from all walks of life, any female who acts in a way that another person doesn’t like is at risk for being slut-shamed.

We may not be able to change the way that others talk to each other right away, but we can start by presenting an example with our own behavior.

This is why I encourage everyone (including myself) to eliminate the word slut from their vocabulary.

I also encourage everyone to not engage in cyber-bullying by posting or sharing malicious social media posts regarding alledged sexual activity of minors (and adults). These posts ruin reputations and can lead to suicide. Let’s make an effort to do better.

Read more: http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/07/stop-saying-slut/
https://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/2010/04/04/what-is-slut-shaming/

PSA for Crop Over.

 

After hearing a recent PSA for crop over on the radio where women were warned to conserve their drinking for the crop over festivities, I was livid.

Here’s why..

It perpetuates rape culture by blaming the victim as opposed to the perpetrator. Instead of preventing rape by explaining/educating about consent, it places all of the responsibility on the female in the situation therefore stating that if she is raped that it is her fault because she was intoxicated. Which is absolutely incorrect. That only justifies the action of the rapist and the act itself. It removes the responsibility and blame that falls solely on the rapist by labeling him or her incapable of rational thought when seeing a female unconscious.

It completely dismisses the fact that men can be raped. Which is extremely harmful and completely inaccurate. Men too can be victims of rape by this scenario. Its already bad enough that men do not want to report that they have been abused physical but complete dismissal of this would discourage them from being able to report instances in which they have been taken advantage of sexually.

Rape is the rapist’s fault. Period. Rape can occur no matter what you’re wearing, doing, going, gender or whom you are with. The only way to prevent this is to educate everyone about consent.

Consent

What is consent? It is the voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity with someone. Consent must be clearly given every time people engage in sexual contact.

A person has the legal right to change their mind about having sex at any point of contact. If their partner does not stop at the time they change their mind, this is sexual assault.

Instances in which someone cannot consent to sex:

When he/she is under the influence of alcohol/drugs.
When he/she is a minor.
When he/she is unconscious.

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If someone consented to sex and then became intoxicated, DO NOT have sex with them. They are no longer in a position to consent. Make sure they’re safe or that they arrive home safely.

If someone is underage and they engage you, DO NOT have sex with them. They cannot consent period. Engaging them in any sexual acts is statutory rape.

If someone consented to sex and then fell unconscious or asleep, DO NOT have sex with them. They are not in a position to consent. Make sure they are safe or have arrived home safely.

If someone consented to sex once before, it doesn’t mean they automatically consent again in future. If they decline the offer then they have not given their consent. DO NOT force yourself onto them.

If someone declines to dance with you, back away and dance with someone else who has agreed to allow you a dance or dance by yourself. Under no circumstances do you continue to badger that person or force yourself onto them. That is a direct violation of their personal space and a complete disregard of their desires.

Buying someone a drink does not automatically give you consent to their body. You are not entitled to their body simply because you purchase their beverage. Consent is not a vending machine item, you don’t put money in and consent falls out.

Going to someone else’s house after partying does not automatically give you consent to their body.

If they say no, then the answer is no.

No is a complete sentence all on its own. It does not require an explanation.

Let’s make this a safe and enjoyable Crop Over for all. 🙂

 

Happy & Nappy

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I’ve been natural all my life. My mom never allowed me to straighten my hair as a teenager and when I became an adult the urge to do so wilted over time.

I began my loc journey completely on a whim in 3rd form. After removing my afro kinky braids, I kinda said ‘fuck it’ to the comb and had my hair palm rolled. Never again would I endure the pain of my hair being combed out again.

I completely skipped what I deemed ‘the awkward short loc phase’ by wearing protective braids over my hair. Switching them out over time and only ever wearing my hair without them when my locs became shoulder length.

As a child I idolized having long flowing blonde straight hair. I absolutely hated my hair and the way it wold alwas stick in the comb. It never lay flat, it was always bouncing back up. It was defiant like myself and over time I grew to love my hair texture and all that I could do with it.

One of the best parts of my natural hair journey is being able to share it with my daughter.

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We sit together and go through pictures of natural hairstyles for children her age and she tells me what she’d be interested in getting.

I can’t plait cornrows to save my life but she is patient with me and never fails to thank me whenever I do her hair. Even if I put it in a simple ponytail for her to go to school, after she looks at it in the mirror she tells me she thinks it’s beautiful and thanks me with a hug.

I want her to love her hair in the way I wasn’t able to as a child and for that very reason her dad plays an instrumental part in her hair journey. They go to my hairdresser once a month where she sits in the big stylist chair and under the hair dryer… Something she’s extremely fussy about. He takes notes and purchases her hair products. Sometimes he tries to do her hair lol. At least he tries, eh?

I recently purchased a couple natural hair dolls for Ximena and a book about loving one’s natural hair to read for her at bedtime (or anytime really). I cannot express to you how stoked I am to be able to do for her what wasn’t able to be done for me as a child. These are the memories I hope she’ll grow old with and hopefully pass on to her own children if she decides to have any.

But until then, we’re content with being happy and nappy!

The Beginning…

Everything must first begin with a step.

The first step can be scary but so exhilarating.
My first step today is blogging.

I started blogging about three years ago but unfortunately I was inconsistent.
Being a new mom, studying and trying to maintain a social life was extremely time consuming and often months would go without a post being uploaded.
I promise to be more consistent with this one.

So me…
Who am I?

My name is Ronelle, however I go by Xilomen.

What does Xilomen mean?
I have no idea.
I have never been able to find a meaning for the name so instead I decided to create one.

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Xilomen (n).
Barbadian activist
Afro-Caribbean.
Book lover.
Pettiness incarnate.
Fashion stalker.
Pierced and tattooed goddess.
Embodiment of black girl magic.
Mother. Girlfriend. Daughter. Sister. Friend.
Model, Singer & Aspiring Actress.

A brief summary but there is more to come.

What is the blog going to be about?
Fashion.
Books.
Me & my life (which also includes my daughter, Ximena.)
Activism, etc.

Stay tuned as that’s all for now… until next blog post!
👋

P.s. Feel free to follow me on the social media accounts listed in my sidebar.