Stories of Girls’ Resistance
Marsha, Barbados


“Womanists don’t want power. Womanists want a more emotionally intelligent world.”

Marsha's Story

By Ashlee Cox
Marsha is working on healing the pathologies of the black family

President of the National Organisation of Women (NOW), Marsha knows what it is like to be filled with so much rage that she blacks out. She knows what it is like to feel muzzled, unsafe and to be wary of those who instead of helping to resolve the situation are willing to further the hurt and injustices.

This Barbadian mother of three sons and a daughter knows what it is like to have to fight, struggle and endure all in the name of survival and is using this wisdom to help other women and men to push back against the many injustices and acts of violence they have fallen victim to.

In an exclusive interview with the Girls Narrative Project, Marsha shared how her childhood fueled her understanding of resistance, which further developed into a woman who is working to create a better world for all, through activism.

She spoke of growing up in the northern parish of St Lucy in Barbados with her grandmother and not understanding why her mother had seemingly given her away, as she knew she was living in the same island. It was only later in life that, she understood that her mother was suffering with postpartum depression and her grandmother basically made the executive decision to raise her and a cousin on her own.

She also spoke candidly about her grandmother’s death when she was only eight years old and her having to go live with her mother and father for the first time in her life, which was not only a big adjustment, but the beginning of years of abuse.

“Well, when my grandmother died at eight, I moved in with my mother and my father. Their house was wall. Fancy bungalow, upstairs and downstairs house, which was very different from my grandmother’s chattel house, just on the side of the forest that was expansive. There was a streetlight in front of my parent’s house that shone through the window at night. It was uncomfortable, it still is uncomfortable. To this day I cannot sleep with a streetlight shining through the window. Because my grandmother’s house was just different from all of that. It was small, it was intimate. It was myself, herself, and my cousin who slept in a bed.

So, you leave all of that and you go to this new fancy room and everybody is like oh, this is an upgrade … and you just miss everything that you were accustomed to. So, I was angry because I was uncomfortable, physically, in my surroundings. It was a lot to change,” she recollected.

Marsha also spoke about having a rough time at school, from being bullied by mean girls to her opposition to conforming to social norms which she felt made no sense to her, including the ‘no visible panty-line’ rule specifically for female students and the idea that her natural hair was messy and unladylike.

However, despite her conflicts with some of the teachers, Marsha quickly realized that education and doing very well in secondary school could be a great form of resistance which could deliver her from her abusive father and the narrative of her being an unruly and promiscuous teen, he was creating to hide his abuse towards her.

“My father was,- still is-, big up in the Anglican Church. He had a good job and he was just the most abusive person. Physically abusive, sexually abusive, emotionally abusive. All kinds of abusive. Where do you get somebody to support you to be able to stand against the abuse? I tell people as hard and as traumatic as the abuse itself is, the silence for me was the part that almost broke me. You are living almost in an alternate universe. You are sitting at this family table and you’re having dinner and it’s like, this is the biggest farce! Like, what are we doing? But you can’t say anything and for me that was the more traumatic part than anything else,” she said.

“You are standing up in the church serving in your white robes and he is standing up in a church serving in his white robes. And the two of you are looking at each other. The two of you pretending that you are this crucible of righteousness that the other people in the church are supposed to be looking up to and I’m like, this is madness. What do you mean?” she continued.

As she reflected on her own adolescence, she revealed she had a lot for her to be angry about, and came out of her teenage years with extreme anger issues which she is still working through with the help of therapy.

In the midst of that anger, Marsha discovered the benefits of education and said it was one of the best ways of resistance at that time in her life. Determined to do her best to achieve her degrees, she saw the correlation between being ‘bright’ and getting a job, so that she could escape the tyranny of her father for good.

This is why she is all for education being as affordable as possible for those who need it.

“So, this is why when people start to jump up and talk, “Make them pay to go to UWI!” I never joined that bandwagon and I will never join that bandwagon, because education is still the only resistance that a lot of people in Barbados have. And I cannot pretend, knowing where I came from, that that is not the truth. I did my CXCs because somebody paid. I did BCC because somebody paid and because of a scholarship and on and on and on it went,” she said.

There is a long list of those who helped Marsha with her education resistance, including teachers, a principal and even someone from the education department of one of the tertiary institutions she attended who helped her to receive a scholarship.

Being a strong believer that education is something the government owes its citizens, because it is the only way that its people can break the colonial model and become truly independent.

Marsha through her own activism, proved that education is not only found in a classroom, but can also be found in a rum shop, or anywhere a person is willing to learn.

“It’s doing the work still, but not just doing it with the converted, or doing it with the people who need work but also doing it with the people who are also in it but we probably might not know, because when a man comes to a rum shop and sit down and drink, we don’t know… You don’t know what he’s doing to his wife at home and those are spaces I think that you need to have the conversations and that’s where I want to take the work,” she said.

Marsha proudly proclaims that she is a ‘womanist’ rather than a feminist, as ‘feminists’ were white, and did not extend to “the African back-of-the-yard child” that she is.

She explained that while people may think womanists wanted power, what they were actually working towards is a more emotionally intelligent world, where men and women are all free to live together in harmony, and all the improved relationships that entailed.

“ A big part of my advocacy looks at how women relate to women. I want to support a younger sister. I want to connect to an older sister. Sometimes looking at the relations between men and women so much we lose the reality that we as black women also have a lot of restorative work to do in our relationships with each other. They taught us to fight against each other. They taught us to fight each other on the plantation. Everybody wanted to sleep with master because he had the money,” she said.

This is why she is so excited to work on breaking the pathologies in the black family, and said if she every joined the support for reparations, what she would be calling for would be for counseling services to be more accessible to the community.

She said, “Find a way to educate people about mental wellness, mental health. How to preserve it. How to eat for it. How to meditate for it. If I were to exert energy in a reparations fight, that’s what the money would have to come to do. Because when you put a child who is not centred in a school, that child has to fight harder to benefit from that school experience. I benefitted from my school experience because I saw school as resistance.

If I had seen school as anything outside of resistance, I wasn’t going to invest in it. Because I had too much going on to be able to invest. You understand? We have to fix people. We have to build people up and I think that if there’s one thing that is changing, it’s also that… and a realization that that needs to be done”.

Artist Description

This image of Marsha was created by Elizabeth Barrera, who explains their thoughts behind the illustration: Marsha was abused since she was a little kid and her safe place was found while she was running or climbing. She mentioned that she likes the Caribbean mountains, and I was inspired by nature and the freedom that it gives you when you walk.