Archive for the ‘women’ Category

Saltfish, Pleasure and the Politics of Eating

August 25, 2017

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Hearing Ishawna’s “Equal Rights” for the first time months ago was so very satisfying. I’ve written about Ishawna before and I am a fan, so when I first heard this song, I hollered out one stink jamette cackle. It is the kind of song you nearly don’t know you need until it happens: actively demanding pleasing, riding and owning a “mainstream” dancehall beat and Ishawna coyly demanding “show mi what yu tongue can do.” The song is also gratifying because we haven’t heard female pleasure articulated in that way before while we were so busy being inundated for years with men’s opinions of why it shouldn’t be done.

Lyrically, not all of the metaphors work to the same degree; I’m so here for the delicious physicality inside the verbs “suck” and “nyam”, but “chewing” on my pussy decidedly like French fries of all things — not so much. Still, nearly every line is unapologetic. The weaponising of the pussy and Ishwana’s reinscribing of the dancehall men’s lyrical and phallic gun (for one example, but there are others that approximate the cocky and specifically, penetrative sexual intercourse, with violent imagery) means that what is between her thighs is simultaneously like a cutlass: a tool frequently used throughout the region to enact horrible injuries upon bodies in both public and domestic spaces.

The spectacular horror of a cutlass attack wielded high, with every dull thud of the blade’s crack through flesh and bone is likened to the pussy’s grip and the pussy owner’s potential to extract what’s needed and demanded through its cutting hold. What does the investment in vaginal tightness mean for women and can women elect to do so: elevate their own pussy performance on their own terms for their own damn selves and satisfaction? I am reminded of Red Dragon’s classic chune and how I am further of the belief that the pussy pat is an affirmative and declarative statement when outside of and separate from a man directing you to do so.

Sections of Ishawna’s song’s hook and its title are obviously hyperbolic to some extent, but the estimation of “equal rights and justice” with getting your pum pum eaten, given the specific cultural context, does not happen in a vacuum.  There are reasons behind why women are squealing out hearing this song. Those people expressing indignation that “rights” and “justice” have anything to do with pussy eating were probably not lambasting performers and regional sound systems that have continuously made violent assertions of masculinity against the backdrop of not eating pussy.

Ishawna’s evocation of the pussy as cutlass, rooted in questionable sexual respectability concepts of vaginal tightness versus looseness, is not less problematic just because she said so, but it further complicates our examination of what good pum pum looks, feels and tastes like and where we, as women, get those ideas from. It would have been wonderful to hear yu gon’ eat whatever comes out of these panties and yu will enjoy it, but Ishawna is not about completely subverting the sexual expectations of cishet men; she still chooses to cater and she just reframes their expectations, so the pum pum is well shaved and she drinks her pineapple juice daily.

The other issue with one part of the song’s opening is it uses pum pum eating as a prop for a man to feel good about otherwise failed sexual performance, not because he genuinely loves and wants to go down, and his partner deserves all the orgasms; but the clincher is really the next line where Ishawna caustically observes that the man is “bright enough fi a look gyal fi shine you, but yu no wan’ taste.” The whole double standard is here laid bare and stripped to its center of nonsense.

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Gathering Healing

November 23, 2016

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Several days before embarking for the 4th Caribbean Women and Sexual Diversity Conference in St. Croix, I was perched on my haunches around parts of my apartment sweet-talking to my pum pum; over bedroom carpet and bathroom floor, trying to coax a medium-sized yoni egg down. What would TSA think if their scanners picked up something dark and ominously egg-shaped tucked beyond my vaginal canal? This was more than a small worry. In perfect timing though, my yoni answers my breath and directives. Working with a yoni egg is (among other things) an exercise in patience, in tuning in, surrender and understanding your own fears.

Next thing is I leave and I reach. Two days into arrival, my waist beads break after the return from dipping them by hand into the ocean’s morning warmth. I take this as a sign they have probably completed the work they were meant to do, or I have worn them the hell out. Attempting to pick up small beads of mauve, rose and gunmental gray feel like a kind of penance. Conference agenda beckons, so with no time fuh dat, I abandon the goal. When I return to my hotel room, seeing the floor clear, the Ziploc bag on the bathroom counter top crowded with what I didn’t do — by the women who clean rooms, undoubtedly black or brown and Caribbean; I am grateful for their hands, their deft sweeping, their attentive eyes missing nothing. I miss my beads’ snug embrace above my hips though, the way the stones press into my skin beyond my belly’s jiggle.

Earlier this year, a wise Jamaican woman informed me that healing also happens on an energetic level and because energy flows, you can start small in one area of your life and this will invariably flow into other areas of your life. A crucial aspect of that is being mindful and intentional about what your energetic flow is like. What thoughts am I feeding myself with? Where are those instances where I can pivot from that energetic shift to another one that nourishes me better? Can I treat myself with compassion in these instances?

Meeting new people can test my projections: the things I ricochet internally and outward and back; the endlessly seeping wound. The conference gave me many opportunities to reflect on these. It goes without saying that though wonderful, this was hardly strictly utopia either; we were not all people who think the same way about everything. There were moments of dark antagonism, both real and perceived. But in there too, flashes of necessary illumination. I am still mastering how to take ownership of my projections and handle myself with the same care I allow for others.

What does healing look like to you? To me, it might look like three Caribbean women frankly talking desire and sex and consent, buffeted by sea breeze. It might look like another conversation, ripe with honesty about vulvas and revelation, the mush and the wet want of sex. Sexual conversation is a really good place to lay yourself bare with folks (pun intended). What better place to throw off the shackles of societal conventions around respectability and nuzzle down inside declarations of our own desires, and what better place than a pussy or an anus? Though Caribbean sex talk is plentiful in our societies: kaiso and picong and comedy sketch and dancehall and rum shop and street corner and “gyal, sit down like a lady,” whose sex is acceptable and whose isn’t?

How often do I get to freely indulge in  ribald expression with other women whom I have newly met? Not nearly often enough for me, apparently. I told a friend afterwards, “I have never had a discussion like that with women who aren’t all straight (or mostly straight).” I have never held community with diverse West Indian sexualities before to know how much I needed it. In resisting, or attempting to resist, the cultural narratives so many societies have thrust onto us as black and brown women, transmen, gender non-conforming folx and queer women, you make breathing room possible for someone else who is not there yet.

Of course, people’s lives are also much more than just the “issues” they represent and/or embody. It’s messy and beautiful and resilience and plenty more. Being a West Indian activist of the diaspora and living outside the home region means confronting issues of accessibility and privilege and above all, it means listening to those who live and fight and do the hard work on the ground in the region day in and out as the authority on their own lives. I am reminded that moving forward, I need to remember to ask how and in what ways I can be of service to the friends I’ve built connections with.

What do you need that I can assist with, either through mobilizing or emotional support? What are you crowdfunding, who needs clapback back-up, signal boosting or someone to bounce around some ideas with? I am reminded that the culture that grew me and I lovingly theorise on from afar is consistently growing and thriving (or regressing) in ways and I am not there to intimately know, but I need to make more time to engage with that through the regional people that I know and not just the articles that I read.

Twice at different airports, I became leaky, a certifiable basket case of tearful emotions with all of my raging, sensitive Cancer moon. How am I so moved by this gathering of activists, the photographic art and the poetry, space-making, knowledge sharing, the weirdness of being and feeling? In Puerto-Rico, I spill most of what I am carrying and another conference attendee helps me gather, hold space and honour what I am bumbling through with care and without judgement.

Knowing yuhself only gets messier the further you dig, but that isn’t always such a bad thing after all. Thank-you CWSDC 2016 for being a space to help me unearth more of who I am and who I am working towards being.

For other perspectives on the conference, please check out Freedom House and Arc International.

Big shout-outs to Earth & Alkemy for the body beads and for offering to fix them for me; I’ll be taking you up on that offer soon. Gave her a link if you want any; trust meh, they will change yuh life.

My conference Prezi probably makes way less sense without the talking points but feel free to get into it if anyone’s interested.

How Ishawna Encourages Us to Be Sexy, Brilliant and Free

August 25, 2016

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It’s been a long time since I was last a schoolgirl, rolling up the waist of my dark blue, A-line skirt to make it shorter, scraping my hair into a ridiculously tight bun with the aid of copious amounts of hair grease and water. There were at least a couple desks bearing futile attempts at immorality and infamy through etchings noting that I was here once, and naturally, my form class was the best and baddest. Now, secondary school and its accompanying experiences almost seems like a whirl. The schoolgirl though, forever occupies a significant space within the Caribbean.

She is still ever watched over and lectured to, and her comportment and decorum in the streets — particularly in uniform — are still lamented over. We always hear more about the ills of schoolgirls than the schoolboys. Under a video shared on Facebook of a line of teens, seemingly on the balcony of a school getting wined up on, the caption considered whether this is what young girls are being sent to school for. Nothing is said though to the young men receiving those wines.

Education is one of the pillars of West Indian cultural identity; it’s a social marker in our respective islands and a vehicle for possible socioeconomic class movement and in migration, it’s wielded as a veritable cultural staple of who are as a people: people who utilize the benefits of and understand the need to “beat book.” Many West Indians abroad are beneficiaries of post independence educational offerings like government scholarships which allowed our parents to study and helped some of us to be the second ones in our families to go away for university. We project a lot onto schoolgirls through the ways we revere education and its possibilities, with the hopes and dreams of generations getting stuffed into their book bags and saddled onto their backs. And because they are little women in training, everything expected and demanded about good womanhood is also heaped upon them early as well.

The schoolgirl fighting videos, which are plentiful and nearly endless: a flurry of hair pulling and shouting and cuss-outs and blouses askew and fists and legs flying, feed into the public’s haranguing over them. The fights are problematic for true, but are the boys not fighting as much, or are the girls just showing out more? At times, it seems we’re so captivated by being voyeurs of messy schoolgirl violence that no one stops to enquire what else is behind what’s taking place. No doubt a plethora of factors contribute to the filmed altercations, but the path of decent womanhood means containing anger. Women with broughtupcy aren’t supposed to thrash about and rage.

I can only make assumptions about why it appears as though that girls fight more these days, and they fight for an audience, and they fight to assert themselves and eke out an identity that is against what society, for a long time now, expects school girls to be. Though school-aged boys do occasionally appear in parent shaming videos, school-aged girls are far more prominent. They are shamed and violently berated and hit for twerking and being sexual among other reasons.  A schoolgirl got peed on by R. Kelly once. Some schoolgirls ceremoniously pledge their virginity to their fathers assuring the sanctity of their hymens. This shows the sexual violence, dangers and sexual gate-keeping afflicting all kinds of school girls.

In dancehall and reggae, the schoolgirl intermittently appears and nine out of ten times, she is a kind of cautionary tale and invariably, in need of guidance of some sort. Sometimes, it’s already too late, and although Vybz Kartel gallantly decides to stand by her side, in nearly no way, shape or form is schoolgirl pregnancy considered acceptable by most religiously informed West Indian societies.  When not directly prefaced by “school,” she is a girl, no doubt of school age, who is referenced in song  who will “never stay at home”, and has “been with many men since she was only ten.”

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Dancehall Daggerings’ Patriarchy

May 16, 2016

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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 all the 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.

Cultural Resonance in Rihanna’s Dancehall

February 25, 2016

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Rihanna’s “Work” is slathered with dancehall aesthetics, oozing and dripping off the brows and shoulders of dancers, the froth spilling from Red Stripe neck and mouth, and in every twist, dip and arms crossed on the lower back arch of a woman throwing it back on a man. The dancing is straight dancehall as is her look, equal parts dancehall queen and fashion staples from yard.

When The Guardian explored Rihanna’s use of accent and language in the song, linguist Lisa Jansen is quoted as considering how, “Although she uses some prominent Caribbean features in Work, they are not specifically or uniquely Bajan”; while contemplating that “Rihanna draws on various elements and eclectically builds her own linguistic repertoire.” What Jansen doesn’t note is that those “Caribbean features in her lead single” aren’t just quasi-Caribbean-sounding-kinda-ting, and yes, it’s not Bajan at all, but it’s not some Rihanna-speak, it’s specifically Jamaican patois with a Bajan lilt. I am not fluent in Jamaican patois (not even remotely close), so I won’t presume to comment on the replication of that patois, but we know it’s Jamaican patois being employed — at least the Anglophone West Indies and anyone who knows sung Jamaican patois knows this.

Jamaican patois is the lingua franca of Caribbean Cool and dancehall is its long standing center as the pulsing vein of contemporary West Indian popular culture. And in a region that is sometimes bubbling with inter-island assertions and jealousies about culture, pride and ownership, this might be a difficult thing for some of us to acknowledge, but it is. Jamaicans know this; the rest of us either begrudgingly admit this or pretend this isn’t the case.

Where dancehall culture and black cultural masculinity meet, further interesting things unfurl which dictate the lean and swag of men, the stereotype of the screw face of every badman in a Jamaican movie, the clothes they wear, how they operate, receive and give wines, dagger, receive or give oral, or purport not to, and this is all encoded in the language of dancehall. It’s part of what DJ Khaled taps into in his snapchats punctuated by sporadic Jamaican patois interjections and phrases, and his claims that he doesn’t go down on women (“like a Jamaican”): it both complicates and ups his cool quotient.

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‘But Mi Hear Say She Gi’ It ‘Way’: New Dancehall’s Sexual Politics in Song

April 18, 2015

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How does a dancehall song surprise me in 2015? Well, hear nah, Dexta Daps’ “7eleven” does. It’s been a long, long, long time since I last heard a dancehall song possibly complicate the areas of gender and sexuality in the West Indies. And possibilities for complexities count for a whole damn lot where I am coming from (I’ll take it where I can get it at this point). Worse yet, a song being sung by a man. Worse yet a hot song at the cusp of an artiste finally blowing way, way up.

Female sexuality is, of course, no stranger to dancehall. All throughout the diaspora, we find musicians and performers wrestling with an articulation of self and culture through the rhythms and lyrics created. Sex is ever (though not solely) prominent. In Jamaica, as elsewhere in the region, we often do a dance between the “virgin/Madonna-whore dichotomy. On the one hand, venerating the female body and womanness, purity and fidelity when enacted appropriately, and demonizing the sexuality of women who don’t play by the rules, who have too much sex and like it, who dress provocatively, and who have had more than one man* to name just a few. (More on more than one man later.*) These women are thots, hoes, sluts, skettels and baddises.

With its liberal usage of “fuck” and “pussy” inside beautifully melodious articulation, I really like the song. I dig it for several reasons, least of all how it helps us delve into pum pum politics in song. Firstly, to hear a West Indian man acknowledge — even barely acknowledge — that his woman has a sexual past (maybe) is nearly unheard of. Men do not do that in dancehall. Or many other places even. They don’t and if they do, they are hardly singing about how she’s his main in the same breath.

Most men sing about a woman as though the only man who has ever existed on her realm of sexual experience is them. Even though, in reality, that’s often hardly the case. Dancehall love songs like Kartel and Spice’s “Ramping Shop” or “Conjugal Visit” create the same kind of sexual bubble. There’s a whole lot of fucking and quinting going on, but only between Spice and Kartel. Nothing else exists or has ever existed in the history of their fucking.

Obviously, if you’re in a presumably committed relationship, probably your sexual history is in fact, not relevant to the current boo and no one expects it to be brought up regularly, but the fact is it’s all part of who we are. It shouldn’t undermine your current sexual relationship/s at all. Separating women from their sexual history is this weird patriarchal inclination whereby a woman becomes incrementally devalued by her sexual experience (basically anything and anyone outside of who you are currently dealing) but for men, it’s a plus. A lot of men internalize this nonsense and pathologize sexual women. They would do the same to their gyul too, the only difference is being with her now. Too many men are overly consumed with notions of how much man a woman might have had before they came along. Get over it, you’re probably not the only person she’s fucked. (more…)

Good Wining: Dancing and Cultural Identity

November 9, 2014

“She had no timing; she was East Indian.” * 

The truth is good wining is really subjective. One person’s perceived expert daggering is another person’s “leave me alone nah.” I always like to think that I can tell where people are from — by their wining. In Caribbean parties, when a groin stealthily presses against me, fusing its oscillations into mine, sometimes I’ll dance back and afterwards, whirl around to guess triumphantly, “You’re Jamaican, aren’t you?” Sometimes I am wrong, but I am usually correct. I can tell a Trini wine too. Boy, can I tell a Trini wine. We fit like puzzle pieces riding a soca rhythm that we both know intimately. Let me restate that, a good Trini wine.

There are good wines and bad wines and across cultures, we can find different wining styles. Vincentians don’t wine like Trinbagonians or exactly like Bajans. None of this is inherently better or worse. It all depends. I like to lead and set the pace. I hate to be juggling with a dancing partner over leading a wine. Sometimes, our rhythms don’t match up. Sometimes people are off beat. And a hot mess. Sometimes, it’s all Mean Girls-esque like, “You can’t wine with us.”

So, how do we end up deciding what “good” wining looks like? It’s not so much that the video lead can’t wine in Olatunji’s recent “Wining Good” video, but when her wining then gets filtered through the peculiar lens of race and culture, some interesting things start revealing themselves. Judging by youtubers, there is plenty of that occurring with recurring echoes of this Indian girl can’t wine good forming a significant portion of the criticisms of the video. Inside of Trinidad and Tobago, cultural anxieties about race and nationality get well wrung out and tellingly signified inside of soca and calypso. Olatunji himself, is part of a rich lineage of black and Afro-descendant Trinbagonian men singing about wooing, seducing, loving, and or paying homage to a certain East Indian woman.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, wining often symbolizes sexual ownership and alternately or concurrently, sexual agency — the question of whether wining itself, is inherently, primarily, sexual, is another issue altogether. I think it can be whatever you want it to be. The exact same movement can constitute a polite wine you might deliver once then hustle off and extract yourself from it. It can mean nothing. Or it can mean something. The same movement can also be incredibly sensual when both parties want to take it there.

Before Olatunji, there was Mighty Sparrow’s “sexy Marajhin“, Shurwayne’s “East Indian beauty” in “Don’t Stop“; Scrunter’s “Indian gyul beating bass pan coming up in Despers“; Preacher’s “Dulahin“; Moses Charles’ “Indrani“; Machel Montano (with Drupatee) in “Indian Gyul“; and of course, curry songs like Xtatik’s “Tayee Ayee” and Mighty Trini’s classics about “Indian obeah” or the curry and the woman who packed up and left him. I would also classify Second Imij’s enduring “Golo” as firmly within this trope too, where the golo, “this Indian beti living Caroni”, takes a firm hold of poor Uncle’s sensibilities under some questionable means. Or, we could just say that Uncle went quite tootoolbay over his Indian woman.

Conversely, Indian artistes very rarely sing about or employ Afro-descendant amours in soca, chutney or calypso. Black and African descent female soca women sing about Indian men far less than the men sing about Indian women. Denise “Saucy Wow” Belfon’s “Indian Man” and Destra’s “Come Beta” are notable exceptions. Drupatee Ramgoonai burst onto the soca scene significantly claiming her space in a male and Afro descendant space. Drupatee could not  have done so singing about how well a black man wined, I imagine. Absolutely could not. When Rikki Jai enters the soca arena, fittingly, the mango of his eye is a lovely Indian girl named “Sumintra” whose Indianness, in fact, is strongly mitigated by telling Rikki “I am a Trinbagonian” and “hol’ de Lata Mangeshkar, gimme soca.” She exists in song in sharp contrast to widely held local ideas of Indian nationalism.

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Of #prisonbae and Beauty Ideals

June 23, 2014

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So, #prisonbae is now a certifiable meme and while I am not too surprised, I was annoyed that so much of the rhetoric around this unfolding meme and Jeremy Meeks’ perceived attractiveness got leveled onto the shoulders of superficial women of the interwebz everywhere. Of course. Because we love driving the machine that upholds unrealistic and problematic beauty ideals and we do this by imagining giving cute guys with arrest records a shot at getting with us. It was all: look at these women! Look how thirsty they are! Most of the commentary on my social media feeds looked like this with few people actually taking to task the constructs of beauty that we get inundated with or anyone really grappling with the ways in which these ideas particularly impact, specifically here, hetero women. No, women are just beyond thirsty, when the reality is no one — and I mean no one — adversely suffers from the effects of beauty culture and its endless demands like women. If there’s someone who understands the lookism of society and the leverage it pays out: a woman does. Fat women and black women (of all sizes) know it even more.

Likewise, female-of-center, cisgender women and trans*women — whose “woman-ness” often gets mitigated against how well they can adhere to “traditional” (and often Eurocentric) notions of feminine beauty know this. It’s insidious and difficult to just be able to live fully, as you are. People can make it shitty for you and we can make it shitty for ourselves based on beliefs about looks and being attractive, or not. The extent to which most of the hetero women who “liked” Meeks’ pic understand that an attractive man — recently arrested or not, represents a standard of beauty that affords him privileges, is probably a given. To live in the world, wherever we are, inhabiting a female body, means that we also grow to know this well. Women are held to unrealistic standards of beauty on a societal level and personal level that most hetero men will never have  to deal with, quite in the same ways.

So I couldn’t give a judgmental damn about women thinking that Meeks is attractive. What would you do, if you worked at the front desk somewhere and he walked it near late to drop off/send in something? Would you give him a bligh? I probably would, especially if he asked nicely with some charm. Lots of people would too. The same people who are out on social media calling people misguided etc. and preaching respectability standards to women. Have some standards; he’s a felon. And what? Perceived attractiveness is one of the attributes in this world that keeps on paying out for some people, in small ways and big ways. And we all know this. Why else are so many of us bleaching ourselves into walking jumbies? Why are celebs product pitching?

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Feminist Kaiso and Soca Playlist

February 11, 2014

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Because you needed this in your life and the carnival season is upon us and because wining (without an “h”) is totally a feminist act. And some of allyuh need to be schooled in some classics.

Do note: for the purposes of my personal analysis, a feminist calypso or soca song can be feminist regardless of whether the performer has explicitly called themselves feminist. So, no, Destra may or may not consider herself feminist (I have no idea about that) but that doesn’t prevent a feminist lens from being applied to her work.

I’m also aware that male songwriters have penned some classics for women, but unless we are going to completely erase the agency of the women performers who bring the songs to life, then that too, doesn’t detract from meaning and implications. All shared art: musical, written and otherwise, is liable to interpretation, which may or may not collude with the artists’ agenda. Additionally, all songs sung by a woman aren’t implicitly feminist just because a woman sings it. Case in point: Patrice’s “Give Him (Bam Bam).” Yeah, no eh.

Anyhow, a soca or calypso song may be feminist if it advocates for women’s autonomy and agency, interrogates and or celebrates women’s sexual agency (in soca and calypso, this is often symbolised by the free movement of and “ownership” of the bam bam as well as wining); reinscribes social mores, or advocates for or examines gender (in)equality, or complicates how we think about gender or gender roles in society. Or just sounds good to the feminist ear. Basically, if feminists can flex out to it and not cringe inwardly, then we might be on to something.

Without further ado, some of my favourite feminist chunes in no particular order. (List is not at all exhaustive. List is also, arguably, very Trini soca/calypso oriented.)

“Die With My Dignity”: because you shouldn’t have to bull for a wuk. Unless of course that is what your work entails. Voluntarily, safely and with personal agency of course. (We don’t slutshame or invalidate sex work in these here parts.)

Also, because Singing Sandra was part of The United Sisters, the first ever all-woman kaiso soca group and she’s a legend!

Sample lines: “Well if is all this humiliation/ to get a job these days as a woman/ Brudda, dey go keep dey money/ I go keep my honey and die with my dignity!”

Which leads me to “Whoa Donkey” by The United Sisters because of soca sisterhood and the no-attempt-to-hide-sexual-innuendo coupled with a dance that is nothing short of classic. Sample lines: “Tonight in de fete/ Is ride until yuh wet/ climb up on ah back. . .”

Saddle up, fellas! And ladies.

“Obsessive Winers.” Denise, Alison and Destra. Soca Queen Triad who doh deal with outta timers. That is all.

Calypso Rose’s version of a classic, “Rum and Coca-Cola.” She is a Tobagonian by birth from the sister isle and the first woman to ever win a Road March title!

Drupatee Ramgoonai for rewriting social, gender and racial expectations as the first female East Indian soca star. (Also see the equally classic “Mr. Bissessar.”)

(more…)

Strength and powers tee

December 16, 2013

Strenth and powers tee

Reppin’ for our Caribbean and West Indian women writers.

Click photo if you want one!