The Changing Role of Haitian-American Women

Haitian Women, in Haiti, are terribly oppressed, both economically and psychologically. I know this first hand having grown up with five women in Haiti and by often observing their delicate task of navigating in a sea of sharks: the male oppressors who limit them to being subservient and objectified. But, as Bob Dylan sings, “The times they are a changing…” Now Haitian American women are exploring their own disparate identities, abilities and attainting psychological, spiritual and economic autonomy from Haitian male chauvinism, classism and oppression.

I want to start out by qualifying my statement, by declaring that I am aware that not all Haitian-American males are oppressive to the women in their lives. I, for one, am an example, since I consider myself a male-feminist in direct contradiction to the often-Haitian male chauvinist. Having evolved from the roots of oppression, Haitian women are basking in their newfound freedom in the United States and they are growing out of the limitations once set on them in Haiti, branching out to achieve success and independence in the United States. Yet, they still have to deal with their former oppressors, the Haitian males who still refuse to see and accept them in their new roles as heads of their own families, and who at times ask to drive the cars that the working Haitian women pay for, even though the women are making the car payments.

The oppressive Haitian male in the United States is experiencing a cultural shock to his outdated mentality, that places women at the bottom and man at the top when it comes to the power structure that used to put women at a disadvantage in Haiti. My own mother has been approached many times by Haitian males who often proposition her to be their “woman”, and by this I mean they want her not only to continue to work to take care of herself, but they also want her to make time to cook for them, wash their clothes, drive the car that she pays for while the males stay home, watch television, and sneak other women to her bed while she’s working to financially support them. Haitian men are often surprised when my mother decides to decline their generous offer. One even told her “I know why you don’t want to be with me, you enjoy being free don’t you? Because if you were to be with me, I would have to know your whereabouts every hour on the hour!” which is the typical behavior of most Haitian males back in Haiti and even in the United States today. Some Haitian women tolerate this domineering behavior from the Haitian males in order to keep them in their lives. For some, their identities are empty without the often-suppressive presence of a man, any man. Perhaps it’s because they have grown accustomed to that type of subservient relationship, and perhaps it’s because very early on, as my mother Marie Evelyne has told me, they are taught to acquiesce and “behave” out of fear of financial and/or physical punishment. Even when enduring physical and psychological abuse, some woman prefer to stick by their man because they really believe, as they did in Haiti, that having a man is more acceptable to society then being single. They are somehow perceived to be more “respectable” even if it costs them their freedom.

The uneven balance of power between the oppressive male and the suppressed female leads to the desperate and dangerous act of emasculating the male so that females can empower themselves. In Haiti, there are narrow choices for Haitian women if at all, but in the United States the choices are widened to accommodate their yearnings of living independently from men and to free themselves from the anchoring chains of subservience, and to reach ultimate levels of competency when making their aspirations a reality. To be endued with power, in the United States, women have gained the temerity to challenge the limitations imposed on them by Haitian males who thus infringe on their civil liberties and yearnings to pursue boundless happiness through their own personal achievements.

Essentially in the dawn of the new Millennium, Haitian women are reaping the rewards of acclimating to living in the United States, fundamentally finding spiritual freedom and coming as close to social and economic equity as possible since leaving oppression in the form of economic and psychological misery in Haiti. They are proving that they can be both iconoclastic and diplomatic in their torrid pursuit for justice, economic and social equity in the face of the officious male mentality. They have proven to be good communicators by being neither too passive nor overtly aggressive, but rightfully assertive. Some women are still so angry about having been oppressed by Haitian males in Haiti, that they have stopped dating them or limit their interactions with them all together. They have sought other ethnicities like Caucasian, Portuguese and so forth as partners. The Haitian males in the United States still try to flex their dominating muscles on the Haitian women who have reached a higher level of being by creating a life for themselves independent of the males. They have two or three jobs, are often homeowners and entrepreneurs who also happen to be mothers. In Haiti, being some man’s wife and somebody’s mother is usually a woman’s main identity, but in the United States, they have shed those restraints to explore other parts of themselves, like innate desires to take on leadership roles like pastors, artists, doctors, lawyers, engineers and last but not least, single mothers. They no longer feel the need to be trapped in bad marriages in order to have some sense of identity.

Today in the United States, Haitian women are finding their truest identities outside of the unequivocal scorch of oppression from the Haitian males to live exhilarating lives that include, but are not limited to, being mothers, breadwinners and essentially survivors!
—Jacques Fleury

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