The first time I heard of (a) pretty pussy was when someone I knew referenced the song to me. It was so awkward, I didn’t even have the presence of mind to properly process a problematic compliment. Lady Saw said what? was my preeminent thought, followed by something in the zone of, buh what de. . . ? It was also the first time that I really reckoned with the notion that pussies could be pretty, and that women as well as men, from my part of the world were just as concerned with the notion of tidy, pretty, vaginal parts. I knew a smattering of people in general, up here, were concerned with such it seems, if the articles on cosmetic vaginoplasty I came across in popular magazines were any indication. Recently, on Jezebel, I read a contemplation on whether porn gave men unrealistic expectations of what the variegations in vaginas really look like, essentially a reminder that: “your ladyflower is not the wrong color”, (nor possessing the wrong lip length) despite what popular pornographic renderings might tell you.
I was also out of it because to be honest, I really haven’t taken on much of the new (or relatively new) dancehall now, or at that time. I can just barely skip to my lou (yes, I know that’s already old by now, but that’s my point) and I haven’t paid too much attention to Lady Saw since “The Healing”, still my favourite dancehall love-song duo ever. And of course, if I’m in a party, I will totally get perpendicular to her “Back-Shot”, and “Sycamore Tree” to name just a couple. Overall, I do dig Lady Saw though, more so than not; her brashness, skill, vocal dexterity: one minute hitting a powerful guttural note, the next purring dangerously or riding a riddim with unapologetic sexually-laden gusto.
Some of the work of Dr. Carolyn Cooper especially, seeks to consider the range of ways in which Lady Saw interrogates and complicates gender and sexuality (to name just two) norms inside her performances and persona, among other things, and I agree with her on all those fronts. Still, I was never really certain about how I regarded Lady Saw’s musical aesthetic overall, (my perspective shifts around on it a bit) and I am hardly skilled in the many nuances of her work because I haven’t listened to her close enough consistently over the years.
“Pretty Pussy” (2004) caught my ear though, mainly because someone brought it to my attention recently and used it as a barometer to broach a certain topic. When I found the song, I was surprised how much of Lady Saw’s trademark braggadocio became whittled down to a well kept vagina, and how much of the song’s narrative made no pretense of where it was located (literally) and why. Loads of both men and women it seems, whole heartedly support the song’s premise. I’m torn between the seemingly sex-positive delegation of a pussy being “pretty” because presumably, this means there are also “unpretty” ones and what does that even mean? Who decides what constitutes prettiness of nether regions?
For Lady Saw, pretty pussies are considered thus, primarily within the scope of grooming, such as, “yuh pussy clean shave / pretty pussy, it nuh bushy.” The verses are interspersed with the first half of the recurring hook, “black and beautiful / pink and fruitiful / g-string with chains tuh pull / show off, cute girl.” Most telling is the possibility of said pretty pussy being able to “gi’ yu rolex watch” and other such rewards. It’s an interesting sexual dancehall song because it correlates the upkeep of a vagina with sexual performance, (in fact, prettiness just almost trumps performance or at least alludes to how it can be a trump all by itself); then performance is connected to keeping a man happy (of course!) and reaping a multitude of economic and social rewards.
A lot of sex specific dancehall songs, like soca songs, tend to be consumed with performance for the most part: how long, how big, how hard, how deep, how tight, how much like ah-nine-inch-banana, how many jabs-jooks-stabs, how sweet, how tantalizing, how juicy etc. and etc. (Of course, soca is usually more euphemistic, where dancehall isn’t as much). It works well only because women’s bodies are the only ones that require certain levels of unrealistic upkeep in all spheres of being. Not only do you have to be able to take care of your man, keep your body loooking fine, and look good overall but every single nook and cranny and crinkle and fold of you must be this way too. Vaginas, apparently, are not exempt in the slightest. They must always be tended to like a well manicured lawn.
Meanwhile, in a nearby vein, one of Patrice Roberts’ 2011 Trinidad carnival offerings (2010 crop-over release), “Give Him,” which interweaves a well-known lyrical sample from the illustrious “Bam Bam” (1982) by Sister Nancy, is also cautioning women how to stay on top of their erm, game. Both songs are concerned with pussies — or the “giving” of them, as it were. While Lady Saw conjures images of pretty, bejweled vaginas with “ring pon di pussy / bling pon di pussy”, Patrice is hoping that by reminding women to “give him de ting” regular — bling-ed up, or otherwise — women help ensure that they can keep their man happy and sticking around by their sides, as opposed to “chillin’ out next door”. Ideally, “give him it, when he want it/ don’t be too moody, don’t be too selfish”, because, “a man is a species that eats every minute / And if you doh feed it / You will regret it.”
I was quite surprised by the Patrice song because it was so devoid of female autonomy in a way that women soca singers rarely sing about. Most women-centric popular soca is focused on women’s sexual agency as a tool for manipulation or celebration (sometimes both simultaneously) — often symbolised by the ubiquitous bam-bam, bottom or bumsee; so, (if yuh want it, here’s how yuh need to do it or what yuh need to do for it), celebratory: (watch how I movin’, wining, etc.); taunting: (“come tes’ my wine / doh waste my time”*, yuh tink yuh could handle this? and things along that line); sometimes it’s all about you (is my bam-bam and I will do what de hell I want with it and how); or complicates the male-gaze: (I am more than this, “but yuh only see de bam-bam”,** “I’m not yuh property / I’m not yuh property / Boy, you doh own meh”***).
The whole of “Give Him” however, is a treatise on how satisfying your man is your responsibility and how it’s your responsibility if he isn’t satisfied and it’s also your responsibility if he strays! And if he does, you did it, not him. Like, seriously Patrice? And don’t you dare “tease him if yuh not going to please him,” because “every time of de year is de horning season / yuh better satisfy him.” And sure, you can find lots of people who will say well, that is how it goes and agree with it, which speaks to heternormative constructs of sexuality and its invariable catch-22s. Don’t be a slore, slut, skettel, too easy and don’t get too use-up BUT be a “good” woman to your man, be sexually insatiable and sexually creative with your man, always. This is the way and the only way to keep him. (Your own sexual pleasure and/or interests be damned).
And because marriage isn’t mentioned, (and even if it was), the single woman’s sexuality is constantly precariously suspended between these two places: the virgin and the whore; and it’s often hard to find a happy medium that satisfies our varied cultural and social mores. I would commend Patrice somewhat for her sex-positive song if it was not all about what the man wants and what the man needs. Between all that and the power of the perfect, pretty pussy (re: neat and undoubtedly symmetrical) — the range of options for the sexual, hetero woman in these two songs is a bit bleak to say the least, and just a few hairs shy of revolutionary to say the most.
Suggested further reading, references & informative related links:
* From Destra Garcia’s “I Dare You” (2007)
** From Alison Hinds & Square One’s “Girls’ Bam-Bam” (2001)
** *From Sanell Dempster’s “Control” (2003)
Dr. Carolyn Cooper interviews: http://www.jouvay.com/interviews/carolyncooper.htm
Soundclash: Jamaican Dancehall Culture at Large (2004) by Dr. Carolyn Cooper