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.
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.
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…