Rastafari and Sexism

Power and EqualityJamaican RastafarI: Misogyny and Sexism in the ‘One Love’ Culture
By Linda Petrusi (2007)

Every patriarchal organized religion has its own unique brand of misogyny and sexism.  Rastafari is no exception.  Grounded in the words of the old testament combined with traditional African culture; one can argue that RastafarI women are more oppressed than Jamaican women as a whole.  Beginning with Adam and Eve, the Old Testament teaches women to believe they created “sin” because Eve ate from the tree of knowledge.  (God forbid that women should have knowledge)

The Bobo Shanti sect in particular view women as polluted, consistent with Christian dogma and traditional African culture where women are perceived as devious, manipulative, and are forbidden to express any political thought during “reasoning sessions”.  This in turn, creates greater subordination for RastafarI women.  It would appear that Queen Omega was only honored because of the man she was attached to.  Once King Alpha died, so did any respect for the Queen.

I am not suggesting that all Jamaican RastafarI men are this way.  However, one can not ignore the fact that the majority of Jamaican RastafarI men are sexist misogynists.  While it is true that the Nyahbinghi Order (named after Queen Nyahbinghi of Uganda who fought against the colonists) might in theory be seen as non-sexist simply because the sect was named after a woman.  The reality is that all other sects emerged from Emperor Haile Selassie, who was a man.  The twelve tribes are perhaps the most liberal, except that the twelve tribes represent the twelve sons of David.  No mention of a woman.  This is because men were the historians and women’s voices were not allowed.

In fact, “One Love” is a commercial enterprise for the travel and tourism industry and undermines the integrity of Rastfari as a potential for social change and transformation.  This creates an illusion that all is well in Jamaica and throughout the Caribbean.  The pieces just don’t fit well together.  In fact, what emerges is a hypocritical movement which consistently undermines the integrity and knowledge that RastafarI women could bring to the table if they were allowed.

Focusing on a fundamental change in a political economy that addresses the various forms of abuse women endure; Rastafari women can and should be the leaders of Rastafari.  Instead, many believe their “brothers” who tell them they are respected while engaging in polygamous relationships contrary to Rastafarian system of marriage.  The “rationale” for this is that it is okay for Rasta men to be with other women if they are not Rastafarian.  This not only insults Rasta women, but, all women who are “fair game” to Rasta men.

Men who advocate for the liberation of African people in the African Diaspora are not exempt from sexist attitudes towards women.  Rastafarian men have dominated leadership positions and consider Rasta women to be secondary in all matters pertaining to Rastafari.  This position is not unusual given the existence of global patriarchy.

The transformation of reggae music from “for the people” to appeasing a commercial audience, questions the role of reggae within a capitalistic framework.  These uneven relationships are significant because there is a male propensity to exclusively struggle for male power — a focus that has historically pervaded all Diaspora African movements.

Some may think I believe Rastafarians to be atypical, singling them out.  This is not true.  I offer them as a microcosm that depicts African and Diasporian African male/female relations.  By keeping Rastafari women in a subordinate position betrays the African movement and seriously questions the revolutionary potential of Rastafari for meaningful social, political and economic change.

Original source www.caribbeannetnews.com


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