Posts Tagged ‘feminist’

Why I Love to Love and Hate to Love West Indian Men

June 4, 2015

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Every now and then, an article or two makes the rounds touting the pros of dating “a Caribbean man”, primarily for the elucidation of women outside of the region and our cultures. Sometimes, a few women and men friends of mine post these on Facebook with either an eye-roll, a pointed ‘no comment’ or as comment bait, but more often than not, they often go ignored by most of the folks I know personally. It’s almost like once you’ve been living with it all your life, like sunshine and warm oceans, it’s not that special — The Caribbean Man — and certainly not warranting all that list attention. Plus, we like to try to not feed the machine (cough, egos). Furthermore, not all of us may agree. According to a Trini sistren I know, “Trini man is de worst!” But unfortunately, guess who holds her heart right now? Yes, a Trini man. Cue the sound of sighs. Love dem too bad and hate to love dem.

But what is it with West Indian men? Living abroad, dating West Indian men can be like comfort food. I like hearing my own accent and dialect tumbling in my ear. I like the worn familiar feeling of an old and obscure-to-nearly-everyone-but-Trinbagonians Machel song. I like how they love me — for the most part. I like how they freely wine or stoically rather not. How we fight. How I challenge their worldview as a queer black feminist. Or, watch them leave me, walking away with a headshake saying, “Nah. We are too different.”

I love West Indian men’s carriage and swagger, their walk and heteropatriarchal expressions of protection and care. I love how they hail up one another and embrace, give each other bounces and touch thumbs. I love some of the many things they share all up and down the archipelago, not just Trinidad and Tobago. There is plenty that I don’t love about West Indian masculinity too, by the way. But right now, for the time being, I just want to sit on the verandah and watch them gallery deyself.

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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.”)

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The Problem with Red Woman (And Red Man)

October 23, 2013

The problem with “red woman” isn’t really an issue of individual red women, per se, but rather it’s a response to, and emblematic of the ways in which we, as a society, process skin colour, beauty and desirability. In the end, it ends up muddled into an expression wrapped in humorous observation that puts folks of the lighter-skin persuasion on the defensive but really, it eh have nutten to do with you on a personal level.

What’s really taking place is a quasi-examination of desirability privilege and beauty privilege (conversations not often had on the Trinbagonian pop cultural landscape) via these observations, but the observations themselves are rooted in the historical and social capital many of us tend to place on colour. These are systemic concepts not meant to attack individual red people, though individuals are complicit in the ways in which these ideas remain rooted and passed on.

Two popular videos currently trending in the Trinbagonian social media network, “Top 5 Worst Women to be with in Trinidad” and the “Top 5 worst men to hook up with in Trinidad” both posit individuals of a “red” skin tone — the only skin tone singled out by shade on both lists — as people to be wary of getting romantically/sexually involved with. The subtexts  of both vids, with regard to colour are fascinating and revelatory. Fascinating, perhaps more so if you get the subtext.

Responses by red-skinned individuals on social media, particularly women, fell into the existentialist “what allyuh have with red woman so?” and “why the hating on red woman?” categories, as though the listing themselves indicated anything less than a preferential inclination toward light skinned men and women–the irony being that this was cast (ironically) as a bad thing, but clearly, obviously, it’s not (that’s in the subtext).

I mean, the biggest problem with red men (according to the vid) is that you will have to fight other women off yuh man. And for red women, “their attributes allow them to stand out in a crowd, thereby drawing attention.” This woman also has multiple men, allegedly, doing her financial bidding. And why is this woman standing out? Among other things, Trudy at Gradient Lair informs us that: “When people speak of “traditional beauty” and those considered attractive, several factors come into play. For women, it’s Whiteness in general, or light skin for women of colour, its thinness, it’s height/weight distribution (i.e. curvy but not too curvy), it’s length of hair, it’s texture of hair, it’s hair colour, it’s eye colour, it’s facial symmetry; it’s how these all interact with class and overall appearance. (It’s also time. Different eras in time meant different conceptions of beauty.)” Trinidad and Tobago, like much of the diaspora, as a product of colonization, imperialism, slavery, indentureship and Eurocentric norms means that we also grapple with similar notions of what it means to be beautiful and “stand out” because of that perception of beauty.

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Race and Desire on a Fantasy chat line

April 1, 2013

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For a few months shy of a year, I worked part-time, then full time at an adult chat line business in the United States. Much to my friends’ chagrin (those in the know), by day, I went to grad school; by late evenings and over night on others — I was having conversations with and getting random dudes off. I did so in the chipper, (so-deemed) all-American-cheerleader-type sound that I was required to employ. On top of it all, as a person with a pronounced non-American accent, I had to actively work at feigning a strong American accent alongside the requisite  chat line “sound.” I took a cutlass to the Trini inflection of my words, chopped my accent out and blunted the sound on consonants like the “t” in party that was typical of the American accent. And I became an expert at orgasmic breathing over the phone and recreating the sweet squelch of wet pussy inside an ear.

The adult phone chat industry is a sub-set of the larger sex and pornography industry in the US and elsewhere, and on its own, accounts for a “4.5 billion” dollar revenue of the overall sex market that brings in “57 + billion [in] world wide business annually.” Certainly, it’s another one of those places where race, desirability and perceptions of desirability underscore many facets of the very workings of the industry, similarly, inside the adult film industry.  The chat line, too, is also a place where sexual desirability is reflected in and revealed through the “products” of this industry, and the ways in which they are marketed. Because of the pervasiveness of sociopolitical, cultural and historical constructs of race, the insidious effects of racism, internalized and otherwise,  and white supremacist heteropatriarchal norms, it’s no wonder that who we deem desirable or want to date becomes informed by a variety of these norms.

On the phone, you are able to engage with various individuals in a unique way: through the medium of the analog and or the caller’s mobile phone. You hear voices and nuances, you talk, flirt, share and arouse and release through language and sound. And if we can gauge anything by what some people are willing to profess via online postings and/or online personals — anonymous folks calling into an adult phone chat line are just as revealing, and potentially just as problematic in conversation.

Unsurprisingly, fantasy phone chat is rife with gross generalizations, misogyny, ageism, racial and ethnic stereotypes; in fact, problematic frames of almost every kind, to say the least. There were many times that I cringed inwardly, reflexively, while doing a call — while panting, “oh yes, big Daddy!” salaciously on a call. Most interestingly, playing the default “white girl” character and assuming that role as a black West Indian woman was a fascinating juxtaposition with calls involving men of all colors.

As per my job description, the role of the phone chat operator is to play a stereotypical (usually) heterosexual female “character.”  We were effectively “fantasy girls”.  A kind of dream young woman, between the ages of 18-24 (unless otherwise specified) that a (more often than not) man could pick up the phone and connect to for conversation and sexual pleasure. We were always available, always perky, ultra stereotypically feminine, submissive (unless otherwise specified), always ready to indulge and utterly capable.  And the default character was always white. Always, again, unless otherwise specified. The collusion of whiteness with ultimate fantasy female presupposes that this is what the majority of male callers are looking for (especially regulars), and expect — and seemingly, they do.

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Updates: On life, living etc.

November 18, 2012

So, while I have missing from my corner of the blogosphere (if anyone noticed), I have been staying relatively busy on the Facebook page, linking and posting all manner of poetry, articles, images that inspire and incite and more, from various web sojourns. I suppose, overall, lots of stuff has been taking place — let’s see, I got a manuscript accepted. My forthcoming (and first!) poetry chapbook will come out in late 2013, published by the ethereal and immensely talented dancing girl press. It will be suffused with hibiscus, creaking spines, dark rum, blackness and blackgirl love.

Also, in the meantime, my heart has been aching for Palestine, I have kept peeping my favorite blogs (yeah, I see you all), I’ve been bonding more with Mama Oshun, snuggling regularly with a certain deliciously warm and wonderful brown body, I got involved with the Two Lips collective project where I’ll be trying to work all kinds of black-West Indian-femme-feminist-fierceness in partnership with Kayla from Sage (among others); I watched Sesame Street (random post coming on that soon); I got more in tune with my cosmic ish (take heed: Jupiter is in retrograde allyuh!); plus, I got thoroughly annoyed with the ever tiring myth of Indian exceptionalism being spewed by one of our country’s ambassadors (post might be coming on that soon) Grrrr.

All that taking place, then I saw this:

OK, to start with, I understand that “jokey soca” is supposed to be a genre onto itself (see some chunes by Crazy for example) which is separate from picong, though the traditions inform one another in some ways. This is also separate from the tradition of double entendre in soca and kaiso which, may or may not, be funny. Alright — now with that said, we can connect cultural notions of Trinbagonian picong too to similar diasporic manifestations like “playing the dozens” where insults and barbs are “New World” incarnations of African sociolinguistic expressions and the oral tradition carried within descendants of the earliest Africans.

We also cannot categorically consider this song anything close to picong because there is only one voice in the song and that is of Myron B’s. Picong involves an exchange of wits at least. The woman has no voice here. I’ve noted before how even inside supposedly “jokey” soca — there are always problematic elements of truthtelling about who we are as a people and who we decide to make fun of and in what ways.  In Anthurium, Andrea Shaw has observed how the fat black female body became this site for hypersexualisation in soca and dancehall, as well as humor.

Note the kind of big woman in this music video, note her shade, note her nod to Mammy — her simultaneous pseudo-sexualisation (from the first attraction) then the chronic, progressive desexualization throughout the song and video; this is key here: the fact that the “attraction” and whatever sexual attributes once there, (oh wait, it’s happening only because he never dated someone 300 lbs before) positively shrink throughout the song and the fat black woman is in fact, the central punchline by the end. The joke is on her actually, never him, even though they end up in a bed together and he ends up in bandages and he would like us to think the joke is on him (she dreams of ice-cream while next to him, remember?). And that’s a problem. The whole thing is a problem.

Image via: Buttah Love

The very premise of fat women and fat black women as voyeuristic challenges for a man to prove his manly mettle because of their size, is problematic all on its own and not just because real fatphobia exists and women who don’t fit in the dominant paradigm’s mandate of what an appropriate size should be end up having to deal with these same attitudes from too many people every damn day. It’s not okay because fat people are human beings and their feelings are valid just like anyone else’s. Their right to exist free from body shame, bullying and damaging parodies is valid, again, just like anyone else’s.

‘Femme is on Purpose’: Truthtelling for us all

May 27, 2012

My Trini sista Kim, speaking fierce truths at Slutwalk Toronto 2012.

Hair, Home and Meaning

January 28, 2012

“To tell the truth is to become beautiful, to begin to love yourself, value yourself. And that’s political, in its most profound way.”  — June Jordan

I come from a culture, it is said, somewhere between where the Ganges meets the Nile, converging with European colonialists, Chinese, Syrians and indigenous people. Where girls slicked their hair back with petroleum jelly and water — cinching cinnamon buns wound close and pulled tight with woogies. Where box-plaits were common and traditionally, you got braids for carnival, even my East-Indian, white and black mixed friend whose hair I’d done, tightly winding the ends with tiny rubber-bands. Her father hated them, she told me — hated how it looked when she plaited up her hair. And my curly haired primary school friend: a Trini ‘Spanish’ — every swivel of her head echoing with the clack of snap fasteners and aluminum foil on the ends down her back.

In secondary school, rebellious girls shaved half the underside of their heads — it was a way to be definitively edgy then. And more than one East-Indian girl came into her own by loping off the long, dark strands she’d been waiting to remove. Many of them, never looked back. Some girls permed their hair straight; some were life long naturals like me. Some of those naturals permed then when natural again — some stayed natural, adding length in locks, in nattys: coiling, clumping, unbridled, twisting, spiraling across shoulders, down lower backs.

Our heads once smelled like Luster’s pink oil, Let’s Jam! pudding and African Pride products. We pulled brushes from school book-bags and dipped them under the tap before dragging them across our scalps and flaked black gel buildup from our tresses.  We leaked jheri-curl juice onto the top of our blouse collars and maintained dry-curls and glittered finger waves.  We learnt about “weave-ons” and sat still with our selves, quietly dancing fingers around and around to put our hair in corkscrew twists.

We traded in banana clips, barrettes, the sharp teeth of tortoise shell hair combs and baubles; and sported bandeaus, bandanas wrapped around buns and metal hair clips made famous by those girls tumbling through the air at the Olympics on TV, instead. Once upon a time, our mothers slow-rubbed Dax grease into our roots, coated strands with coconut oil and wove colored woolies into plaits and styled them to match uniforms. They burnt and sewed the edges of our hair bows so they wouldn’t unravel — and when they did, we ran the length of school yards in vain, searching for them like lost dreams in the breeze.

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