Picking My Feminist Battles

Grocery list in hand, ready to bang out some errands, I stride from the parking lot and am close to making it into the store when I hear a West Indian man‘s voice behind me, calling out almost chant-like, “David princess, David princess, David princess…”

I pause in step and do my best to breathe through the nerve of irritation pinching in my neck. David is my boyfriend’s name, and the local accent generally doesn’t make use of the possessive apostrophe “s”, so I know the man is talking to me, aka  David’s princess. Just writing it makes me gag. If I were in the states, there’s no way demeaning crap like this would merit a response on my end (or, at least one that didn’t involve expletives), but because I am here, and because this is how life works here, I let out a defeated sigh and plaster a polite smile on my face as I turn around to greet him.

After six years as a member of the community on this island, most locals still choose to forgo the hassle of actually committing my name to memory and just refer to me as “Mrs. David” or “David wife”. I am, in fact, neither of those things. David and I are not married, so I am no one’s Mrs., no one’s wife. Yet, this little tidbit seems to be irrelevant on this rock.

It’s another one of those cultural quirks that makes you feel as though you’ve taken a joyride on the DeLorean and somehow found yourself back in Yesteryear. Yet while I’ve come to find many of the old timey island idiosyncrasies charming, this one in particular makes me want to scream.

So much of life in the Caribbean is far too misogynist for my taste. Our current gardener has a conniption if I so much as ask him for a schedule change, requiring a call from David to intervene. The recent construction workers we had at the house wouldn’t even acknowledge me half the time when I asked them a question, forcing me to grit my teeth and constantly repeat myself. Even the women tend to treat David with much more deference, brushing me off in government offices if I go alone, yet rolling out the red carpet if I’m accompanied by David. Locals laugh when they see me carrying heavy things, driving a boat, or generally handling any shit on my own. As a woman who grew up in a pretty progressive place and has lived her life under the belief that she can do anything a man can do (barring obvious physical limitations), daily life on the rock can often incense me and ruin my mood if I’m not careful.

Beyonce wouldn't stand for this shit.

Beyonce wouldn’t stand for this shit.

But just as so much of what you tolerate has to be adjusted to live here (your sense of timing, your sense of customer service, your cleanliness standards, etc.), I’ve learned to pick my feminist battles. I try and understand that someone calling me “princess” is not intended to belittle me, but is more of a complimentary term of endearment. When all anyone wants to remark on when they greet me is my hair, my fluctuating weight, or my eye shadow, I try to remember that they’re just being social and friendly with me. And when the men stop to stare as I dock the boat, assuming I’m about to give them some incompetent woman gaffe to laugh at, I do my best to ignore them and prove their asses dead wrong with my proficient docking skills.

The name thing though – now that’s a battle I can’t wave my white flag on. My name is my name and I can’t imagine a day when, even if I am married, that I will be okay with being referred to as someone else’s name. I remain unrelenting on this issue, constantly correcting people, and giving them the fair-ish option that they can only continue calling me “Mrs. David” if they start calling him “Mr. Chrissann”. But this option simply gets big belly laughs, as though the mere idea is so atrociously wacky that I must be a comedienne.

For my birthday, we decided to go to one of the island’s resorts for a lazy lunch. We love this particular beach grill, as it makes us feel like we’re on vacation ourselves, if only for an hour. We usually come once a week and the staff know us well. They greeted us warmly, a few of them wishing me a happy birthday, no doubt cued in on the occasion by David. At the end of our meal, they carried out a special celebratory dessert, and set the plate in front of me.

"Happy Birthday Mrs. David"

“Happy Birthday Mrs. David”

All I could do was laugh. David looked at me knowingly, no doubt ready for me to launch into my standard name lecture, but I just shook my head and thanked them for their thoughtfulness.

You can’t win ’em all. At least this time, it makes it slightly more tolerable that it’s written in sugar. I’ll correct them next time. And you better believe the birthday cake I made David was frosted accordingly…

(I also received an island cake that just read "Happy Birth" so I incorporated that funny into his cake as well ;) )

I also received a cake that just read “Happy Birth” so I incorporated that island quirk into his cake as well


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Chrissann Nickel

About Chrissann Nickel

Chrissann’s home rock in the British Virgin Islands feels bigger to her than it actually is. Though after spending five years on a teensy one acre island, the current 13-mile long rock she’s residing on now IS ginormous, at least by comparison. As with everything in the tropics, it’s all about perspective.

Once upon a time she used to care about things like matching her purse to her pumps but these days, any activities that require a bra and shoes go under careful, is-this-even-worth-it consideration. If island life has taught her anything at all, it’s that few things are more rewarding than time spent in the pool with a cocktail in hand.

As the Editor in Chief of this site, she spends her days working from home with her blue-eyed sidekick, Island Dog Diego, writing, editing, and cultivating content in the hopes of bringing some laughter and lightness to her fellow island souls. She recently published her first children’s book, When You’re a Baby Who Lives on a Rock, and is pretty pumped to share it with all of the island mamas out there. Her days off are typically spent boating, hiking, and meeting up with the neighborhood's imperious roadside goats, who she shamelessly bribes into friendship. While normalcy was never listed as one of her special skills, Caribbean life may indeed be responsible for new levels of madness. She attributes at least a smidge of her insanity to the amount of time she spends talking to drunk people.

If you’re somehow still reading this and feel inclined to find out more about this “Chrissann” of which we speak, you can also take a gander at her eponymous website, www.chrissannnickel.com, or follow her daily escapades on Instagram @womanonarock.

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33 thoughts on “Picking My Feminist Battles

  1. OMG, Thank you for this post! I have worked in a female dominated field in the mainland all my life and have never had the experience of being treated as a 2nd rate person. Then 1.5 yrs ago we purchased what will be our retirement home in a couple of years in the USVI. We are currently renting the property and required a property manager. I found the property manager (pm), I was the one to contact him, and the rental checks are under my name. HOWEVER, he constantly ignores my e mails, but responds immediately to any sent from my husband. My husband always cc’s me when he sends the pm e mails but unless he explicitly tells him to respond to all, the pm only responds to him. And last, the pm knows that I just retired and my husband still works. Thus, I am to be the contact person. He simply ignores this info. This has been a source of incredible frustration. I have been on the verge of replacing him, but alas, he is a neighbor, has been living on island for many years, and we know that we do not want to alienate our soon to be tight community. Stuck is not something I do well and your post has helped me see some humor in the situation! Thank you!

    • Thanks so much for the note – glad it helps to alleviate your frustration in some way! So annoying, I completely understand. If all else fails, gin always helps too. 😉

      • I just discovered this site yesterday and just love it. You are a very talented, insightful, and witty writer. Please keep your blogs going. I hope a magazine or newspaper will pick them up, if that is your wish. They are certainly better than many articles I have read in the mainstream media. Good luck to you.

  2. Great story..here on our rock if you are living together you are wife/husband even if there is no piece of paper that says you are!! I find locals polite as they all call me Miss Donna..hey I have been married 40 years and I am still a Miss..that is ok. Anyway my gripe…we have a construction rental equipment business and needed a new office manager. Thought this time we would try a guy. Well the office was a mess..when told he needed to at least dust..his reply..”that is womans work” Needless to say we are back to a girl in our office and the customers seem ok with that. Enjoy your island life!

  3. When my husband and I used to visit my mom, in the BVI, we were known as “miss Jill’s daughter and miss Jill’s son, for about 15 years. always thought of it lovingly.

  4. Pingback: #mediterranean #heat #quietlife #island #fun

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