Opinion

This incident not the exception but the rule

  • Under scrutiny: Minister of National Security Wayne Caines (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Wayne Caines, Bermuda’s Minister of National Security, posted a video of himself at a cereal café in London last week, asking two female servers whether they had “any titty milk”.

Apparently the irony of sexually harassing servers after attending a meeting on sex crimes was lost on the minister, who intended the comments as a joke.

As the post made its way around social media, Caines responded with an apology in which, while he called his comments “inappropriate”, he minimised the incident by insisting that he made the comment too quietly for the servers to hear him.

By saying this, Caines is essentially confirming that he was well aware that his comment was inappropriate — and yet, not only did he make the comment, he posted it on his Instagram page. This is inexcusable behaviour from anyone. But from an elected official, it speaks to a seriously concerning lack of judgment.

Sadly, Caines is not an outlier when it comes to this particular issue. Bermudian culture has a disturbing amount of tolerance for sexual harassment and sexual violence. For evidence of this, look no farther than the comments on social media: a large percentage of them minimise his comments and dismiss those who are angry as “nit-picking”.

Our culture is one of disrespect towards women, so are we really surprised that some of our elected officials reflect that? Caines is not the only one of them to have made sexist comments. This is the only incident to be well publicised; what is said on either side of the aisle when there are no recording devices around is anyone’s guess.

Nor is it simply those involved in government: the public do not treat female MPs well, either. Former senator Toni Daniels’s personal life was somehow considered relevant to her tenure as a politician. Former home affairs minister Patricia Gordon-Pamplin was referred to as the “Princess of Pettiness”, not an epithet that would have been directed at a male politician.

Certainly, Paula Cox, Dame Jennifer Smith and Dame Lois Browne-Evans had to deal with absurd comments as well.

Getting harassed is rather an occupational hazard of being a female politician.

There are only 14 women serving in the House and Senate, as opposed to 28 men — only a third of the Government to represent more than half the population. That is not enough.

Every woman I know is constantly taking precautions — not to avoid harassment, which is nigh on impossible — but to at least minimise it and the risk of violence.

If we go running, we run with our dogs or at least take very public routes: the Railway Trail is beautiful, but we are warned not to run it alone or at all if possible.

Girls are told to be careful riding their bikes at night for fear of being followed home or attacked.

If you work in service industry as a woman, sexual harassment is a daily reality. Bermudian men seem to have the idea that a waitress’ job is not only to serve them their food/coffee/alcohol, but that it is also to take suggestive comments and inappropriate actions in stride. Your options are to ignore them or smile and laugh about them. Some men will get angry and violent if a waitress does not respond to their advances positively.

I highlight Bermudian men in this case because we seem to have a much bigger problem with sexual harassment than many other places. I have been at school in the United States for the past four years and while sexual harassment still very much exists here, it pales in comparison with the sheer volume of harassment at home.

Few people are so brazen in Boston. In Bermuda? It’s an almost daily occurrence.

Take an order? Be told your lipstick is arousing.

Walk down the street alone? Have someone pull over to tell you they think one of your body parts is sexy.

Bermudian women live under a mountain of indignities that we have been taught to accept as normal, and frankly I’m tired of it.

If this is the part of Bermuda that Caines chooses to reflect while abroad, perhaps David Burt would be better served with a new minister.

The rest of the world already considers us a backwater for repeatedly trying to outlaw same-sex marriage — let’s not try to add blatant chauvinism to the list of things we are famous for.

Francesca Dill is a Bermudian writer and musician living in Boston, Massachusetts