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Gender and the Ace of Hearts

By Selwyn Ryan

There are several prisms through which one could view the events which have been taking place in the precincts of the PM's office on St Clair Avenue.

Gender is one such prism. One of the interesting dimensions of the confrontation between Mrs Kublalsingh (Dr Sylvia Moodie) and Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar was the use made by both parties of the gender card.

Mrs Kublalsingh used the Ace of Hearts in an attempt to browbeat the Prime Minister into submission.

She was in fact quite explicit about her objectives. In what seemed to be a prepared, yet emotional statement, she told the PM that she was "ashamed of her" for allowing the men around her to determine her policies and political style. Unlike the latter, her husband stood for "truth" and "honesty".

Given all this, Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar did not deserve to occupy the office of Prime Minister and should be disqualified from doing so. Very tough words, but there was more abuse to come!

The PM was further accused of pandering and lying to the Debe crowd. Instead of telling the unvarnished truth, and nothing but the truth, (as if there is only one truth in these matters) she had given a well-rehearsed and dramatised stage performance, one which was produced and directed by men who had no competence, and certainly no moral authority to hold high public office.

Compared to her minions, Dr Kublalsingh was a strong, courageous, and powerful man who deserved to have his life preserved. Instead of attempting to do that directly as Dr Kublalsingh's sister was pleading with her to do, her explicit strategy was to "put pressure (ie, blackmail) on the PM and all the other ministers around her", men whom she clearly held in contempt.

The PM had perhaps anticipated that she might have fallen victim in a game in which high trumps was the Ace of Hearts. She had in fact remarked that she was the most watched (maccoed) leader whom we have had in Trinidad and Tobago, perhaps because of her gender and the curiosity that swirls about her. She however made it clear that her gender was not a handicap or a constraint on her political behaviour. She was not a prisoner of any gender ideologies. She was a woman, yes, but she was also strong and certainly not afraid. Despite what was said from time to time about her being weak and easily led by a "rascal elite" to borrow Verna St Rose Greaves' toxic phrase, she was not weak.

"People think I am weak because I smile, and I am a woman. But I am strong."

Kamla is also often won't to remind her auditors that she is "not afraid". She also knows that feminist analysts and scholars (including some who are male) watch and grade women leaders in terms of how they perform as women, and that she too is treated as an exotic specimen. Given all this, women leaders invariably have to multi task and put on multiple political masks. They often see more realities than men do, and often have to satisfy two or more constituencies. As in this particular case, they often end up fully satisfying none. This could make their jobs harder and more complex, and their response time longer.

The exchanges between the women were informed by feminist ideologies. Some feminists argue (correctly) that men are aggressive, violent, abusive and have a hierarchical and patriarchal approach to decision making, whether in the home or the workplace. As a UN official said just four days ago at an Aspire meeting in Barbados, "the socialisation of boys...reinforces the traits of aggression and dominance, just as it does the complementary trait of passivity in girls and women".

The data supports her.

We were recently told by the Minister of National Security that of the 1,610 murders committed between 2009 and 2010, only 15 were committed by women. Most men carry their aggression into the work place, and overtrump with the Ace of Clubs or Spades.

The letters exchanged between the PM and Mrs Kublalsingh senior were also informed by the doxa that women are generally kinder and gentler, more family driven, and can address and solve political problems in a more humane and less adversarial way. I am certain that many of our feminists believe that Kamla's posture in this crisis was ultra macho, and that she had in the process let down the team.

She not only performed like a man would in terms of what was at issue, but allowed herself to be used by all those men in the party caucus who talked about winning and mandate to rule.

My own take on the respective performances of the two women is that Dr Moodie was misadvised. She was rough and tough and verbally abusive, and made it very difficult for Kamla to appease Dr Kublalsingh and the alternative Route Movement.

She was "hard".

Kamla could not give way without seeming to be weak, indecisive, and unreliable in the eyes of men. She was in a no-win situation.

Some would say that the PM could afford to be magnanimous.

But given Dr Moodie's tirade, this was difficult. Doing so would cause a serious loss of face.

The JCC is also trying to negotiate a win-win outcome and may succeed.

Wayne however believes he has won, if only on points.

We will have to see what the outcome is, especially if an independent committee chooses an option that alters the route already decided by the government.

There was evidence of hubris in the performances of both teams.

Kamla flew close to the sun on the assumption that she had the legitimacy that derives from being the holder of office and the support of her traditional base in south and central Trinidad. She felt that she could draw down on her political capital without much real net loss.

No need then to mobilise her troops in advance of the battle.

Dr Kublalsingh, for his part, may also have felt that the environmental lobby was behind him, and that with the wind in his back, he could "overrule the Gods".

He also overestimated his own resources.

He forgot that the "street" gets tired as does the media who are easily distracted by some other crowd.

He must also have assumed that in the final analysis, Kamla was a woman, and not a maximum leader type, and would not allow a son to "go through".

There are a few questions that remain to be answered. The first on my list has to do with Jack Warner. Is there any lower for him to go?

Then there is Winston Dookeran.

What political debts are being paid off?

Given the fact that he and a few others broke ranks and called for Kamla to be compassionate, does it now mean that collective responsibility is no longer the official doctrine? Was there a conscience vote or was Kamla opening a hole for him to crawl through by signalling that he was now home, and in the loop, and now knowing what issues were on the table, that he was expected to get in line?

What happens if a review is done, and the report is deemed unsatisfactory and unacceptable?

Should she give way and change the route? Does not such a concession mean a loss of prestige to both herself and her Cabinet? Would that be the end of the beginning for Kamla? Would that mean that the state would effectively have a revolving door, open to anyone who makes a credible threat?

And what precedents would have been set? Would questions soon be asked about the "Brazilian Connection"?

• This column was written last Friday and would not have taken note of anything that transpired over the weekend.

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