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March 8, 2015

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Four Inches to Femininity: The Aria Incident in review

December 18, 2015


I know this topic is getting tired but bear with me. Some misconceptions need to be addressed and valid points consolidated to help those none-the-wiser get a clear grasp of The Aria Incident, what it means for us as a society and what we can do to understand one another better. So to start, I’ll give a run down of what this issue is NOT about.


Last weekend Shannon Jacob- Gomes got dressed to go to Aria nightclub on Ariapita Avenue. Contrary to popular belief, this was NOT her thought process: “Crisp shirt + pants + un-elevated shoes= man; got to let these ladies know my intentions”. Rather just like any one would on a night out, Shannon wore an outfit that made her feel good about herself, attractive, cool and above all, with the intention of expressing herself and her own personal style.


This is NOT a gay rights issue; this was NOT discrimination based on sexual orientation as the Aria Administration has so eagerly ensured that we know. However, there were some brazen assumptions made by said administration based on something as arbitrary as Shannon’s outfit.


It is no ones right or business to make suppositions about a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity. If you’re so curious, open your mind, acknowledge that gender and sexuality exist on a spectrum and admit to yourself that when all is said and done you may not understand. But perhaps most importantly, approach with respect for your fellow human being. As Dr. Daniel Phillips so aptly put it, a woman who dresses in ‘masculine’ attire does not make her a man, and if this is indeed your computation, then you must accept the validity of a trans-person presenting their affirmed gender identity. See link here


I acknowledge that we live in a world where upon meeting some one you make all the mental calculations necessary to categorise them in the socially constructed boxes of gender, sexuality, race, religion... I implore us all to try to stop. It’s hard, it will be hard and we probably won’t get it right in our lifetime but let’s try.


Here’s another thing that The Aria Incident is NOT about- paying to get into a club. I mean it; it really is NOT about paying to get into a club. This is NOT about men’s rights and we’re all really tired of the poor-me-one rhetoric. See link here

That is not to say that the desire for all persons to pay the same fare to enter a club isn’t valid. It is. Not that I would fight the cause considering the 0.55 wage gap. But it is valid. And if any one feels this to be an important issue to take on, investigate the root cause of these policies.  Is objectification as a marketing ploy okay? And objectification with accompanied expectations of a woman’s appearance, how about that?


Many persons are talking about Shannon taking advantage of the ‘best of both worlds’. The deceptive tactics of the gender ambiguous person. Why is this an actual concern? It’s insulting. Aria could have easily told Shannon that it was passed the allotted ‘get in free’ time frame (which it was) if this was really just about money. And just so it’s clear, free entry into clubs and parties is definitely not the best part of a woman’s world. Womanhood is whole, complex and filled with wonderful aspects of the self.  


Simmering underneath these tangents is the bigotry and classism of club and party culture in Trinidad & Tobago, the true meaning of Shannon’s experience. The narrow, sexist and classist expectations of a club’s patronage; Amilcar Sanatan shed some much appreciated light on this thought. See link here


Also, see Gabrielle Hosein’s brilliant article for a historical explanation on how maintaining a conventionally desirable image became a tool of empowerment for smart, qualified women who deserve equal opportunity always, regardless of appearance. See link here


That is not to criticize women who embody or aspire to this, but this is not the sole image of a woman. These expectations transcend club culture. The imposition of feminine standards scream for attention is all spheres where a woman intends to be taken seriously or even seen as a woman, apparently.


The standard of dress in the context of club and party culture in Trinidad is unapologetically higher for women and let’s face it all comes down to shoes.  I would bet that if Shannon were wearing the exact same outfit, donning heels instead we would not be having this conversation. We’re all just four inches to femininity.


The path to this unreachable ideal of womanhood is filled with contradictions but women are expected to navigate them clearly, fluidly and preferably with few words. As explained by Danielle McClashie, this is an example of Gender-based violence. Before any talk starts about dramatization, think first that gender-based violence spans many experiences, some more immediately dire than others; see Danielle’s article here.


To be chastised in any way for not conforming to an ideal of gender is violent behaviour; this includes the imposition of strict dress codes for women and prohibition from public spaces. The effects of punishment here are perhaps less tangible or visible, but harmful stereotypes are perpetuated and real harm inflicted on those who do not conform.


When it comes to gender expectations, we can all empathise. Think of any time you were pressured into being a version of your gender that you did not identify with. How did that make you feel? Inadequate? No one should be made to feel less than how they choose to present themselves to the world.

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