Several years ago for Trinidad Junction, I blogged a kind of weaving introspection about daggering, dancehall and sexuality, where among other things, I attempted then to lay bare the ways I saw how:
So many young men see their dancing skills as representative of their virility. This being representative of their skill, an extension of their sexual self even. Thus they think it’s really cute to pick up a girl and ram her like a human jackhammer in a circle of people.
If you’re a female in or near that kind of dance circle, prepare to have your body swamped and owned. And you’d better be malleable like the dough of a pretzel. The sexual aggro of dancehall dejays’ lyrics today and their accompanying dances are at an all time high. I’ve heard many people I know say with regard to this issue, that dancing cannot possibly get any dirtier. . . . What connections if any, can be drawn from young men who choose to wipe the floor with a female back for their dancing/pseudo sexual pleasure or those who think it’s cool to do so? What messages does this send to young women?
The blog quoted is dated and some of my frames for certain aspects of dancehall dancing and sexuality have widened, some have shrunk imperceptibly, some have morphed into other things. There was some exaggeration too, because evidently, dancehall DJs sexual aggro then couldn’t possibly be worse than it is now. And in hindsight, it didn’t really peak back then at all with “Ramping Shop”, now did it? But what does that mean for where we are now?
For discussion purposes, daggering is a singular dance move that also contains multitudes; and here I’ll use that term to involve a range of transition movements not limited to rhythmic pelvic thrusting on a batty, but inclusive of all of the other imposing moves used by male dancers leading up to, around and alongside the actual daggering: so picking up a woman and throwing her in the air before swinging her around, for example, counts, even though technically, this may be considered a precursor to a dagger and not actual daggering itself. Forcibly bending her over to receive daggering also counts.
Even if a woman is at a dance and dancing, the assumption cannot be made by all dancing men that her body is open to all manner of wrangling; her body can still resist if she chooses to, and she should be allowed to extricate herself from any dancing scenario she does not enjoy. Mobay Marvin and crew’s viral video of them groping on and assaulting a party goer to force her to receive daggering and be on display for their benefit really reminded me of how it seems we have come full circle with some of my earlier questions. The sexual and physical violence of this clip and the near feeding-frenzy vibe of the male dancers’ insistence that she participates in their sport is very disturbing.
The extent of the violence enacted upon this fat, dark-skinned black woman’s body can be connected to representations of fat black women’s bodies in West Indian music culture. She is almost always used as a trope to test a man’s mettle in both soca and dancehall. There are countless examples of this taking place on stages even when women explicitly volunteer to participate in the dancing. This is somewhat different from Saucy Wow choosing and deciding after trying, that no, a man cannot handle her bumcee. Still, the idea persists culturally, that “a rolly polly” or a big fat bottom must be conquered and handled. When the large bottom vanquishes the man, the joke is on the fact that he couldn’t manage what he should be able to.
I am not saying that daggering is uniquely, inherently misogynistic or problematic, to be quite clear, but it’s absolutely functioning as an arm of patriarchal expression and has been for quite some time now. I think we can say that male dancehall dancers’ societal, personal and cultural constructs of masculinity, sex, gender, strength and ownership are imbued within and communicated through their dance moves: the ways they grab, violate, take claim of and presume access to female bodies. Every time we see the ante getting upped in some new clip, it’s just more of the same old, perhaps only in slightly different ways.
I regularly watch and subscribe to several Jamaican video entertainment brands on YouTube. There are young women in dance crews whose acrobatic feats of winery, head top balances, splits and reception of daggering are worthy of slow-claps and awards. There are women giving the men permission to frenetically pummel their pum pum to the beat. There are women who want to bruk off some cock and can puppy tail at a serious pace, and they do so quite well. Nothing is wrong with any of that. It’s a skill set like any other and West Indian party culture, again, by itself, divorced from context, is not some entirely awful expressive space as far as I am concerned.
The issue with daggering on display, specifically, and not just people wining or women choosing to get dagger, is the way it hinges upon decimation of female bodies through movement, or at least, it has come to a point where that is a large component of the male dancer’s exhibition of competence for the cameras. The male dancer’s perceived prowess, in fact, is directly proportional to the subjugation of dancing women’s bodies; and there is an undercurrent of female debasement in some daggering that is very troubling and at the same time, nothing new. The spectacle of dancehall daggering involves the actual or pantomime of climb or some other physical feat (and this might be across a woman’s back or speaker box for launching onto a woman); speed of thrusts; bravado of movement; surrender of the woman on her back or some other position (but most often on her back); if the woman attempts to leave, she is prevented from doing so; humiliation: extensions and wigs removed, or by physicality through bullying strength and not giving a woman the space to brace or situate herself the best way she can to participate fully in the dancing; and in the above mentioned video, covering her head with a bucket.
She is a prop against which the male dancers’ bodies are thrown and her concerns, needs and safety become irrelevant. Which isn’t too surprising a leap if you consider the culture of gender in the West Indies. Oftentimes, I know Jamaicans stereotypically get a bad rap for regional macho identity, but really, we all have to deal with it and we are all touched by the reach of its violence.
Photo credit: Acrobatic dance in Negril, Jamaica, by Pietro Carlino via Tumblr. Used under a creative commons license.