Posts Tagged ‘women’

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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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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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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How to not be a Hoe

March 14, 2012

In the same week that I discovered Nicki Minaj’s new song and watched the video online, I became privy to a blog purporting to showcase a selection of “hoes” from Trinidad. I wanted to think quietly about what all of this meant: this naming and shaming of young women on the internet, ignited by the quick spread of social media.

This coupled with the earlier cacophony of Nicki’s staccato rhymes, verbal whirls, snarls and tics; a slick, kaleidoscope of a diss-rap whose power and futuristic imaginings my third eye surely had to get hip to. And it did, atop and around the sting and caress of the word connecting the two episodes, “hoe.” Although the word makes me uncomfortable and the song makes me hella uncomfortable, for mainly that reason, it was insightful for me to consider why the discomfort was there and acknowledge it.

The title of this blog post is ironic. There is no real way to not be a hoe.  Also, context matters and can be relative. And as bell hooks has noted, “any black female risks being labeled a whore whether she is sexually active or not, by sexist black men if she does not conform to their expectations of desirable femininity (178).”

For the West Indian girls featured on the now defunct “Trini Hoes” blog site, there was no requiem or celebration — only retribution it seems. The operative word in the byline was “exposed” which lets us know that the central aim was shame, which leads me to further conclude that with intentions like this, there’s no way to not be a hoe.  You could be one; I could be one. Girlchildren are endlessly inundated with the important lessons of everything from comportment to good womanness. Who among us, cisgender, or other female identified women, does not know a litany of:

. . .this is how to sew on a button; this is how to make a buttonhole for the button you have just sewed on; this is how to hem a dress when you see the hem coming down and so to prevent yourself from looking like the slut you are so bent on becoming.

Caribbean girlhood, like those of a myriad of girls in many places is full of these reminders:

this is how you set  a table for dinner; this is how you set a table for dinner with an important guest; this is how you set a table for lunch; this is how you set a table for breakfast; this is how to behave in the presence of men who don’t know you very well, and this way they won’t recognize immediately the slut I have warned you against becoming. . .

How exactly does one do that? Not become a slut, an “ol’ hoe,” a skettel? And how do you do so easily in a small place? A small place that sufficiently worked to trounce the jamette enough to slink into the shadows? Yet, remains indignant and scandalized every time she reappears, like a phoenix. Furthermore, if it came to it, who can vouch for your sexual history anyway? How?

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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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In the Castle of Our Skins: The Darker the Candy The Sweeter the Syrup

November 1, 2011

By: Tanya Marie Williams

Body Lovin’

October 19, 2011

A couple days ago, I did this physiological word puzzle below (click to enlarge) seen floating around online. I got “beautiful, broken, fat.” Then I took a moment to scribble the words in my notebook and sit quietly the finding.


Today is Love your Body Day. It’s the only one we’ve got — might as well, right? And if it wasn’t for the blogosphere and facebook, I’d probably never  have remembered. One year the FSA (Feminist Student Alliance) had this wonderful event where we celebrated various body types and made stickers and posters to share all around the campus. I was certainly smaller in size back then and in retrospect, it was easier (slightly) to be happy with who I was then. As for how I feel about my body currently, overall? Could be better for sure. And I frequently think about Stephanie  Quilao’s examination of culture and body image where she talks about family members making impertinent observations on her body size and weight. I told a good white American girl-friend of mine, that reading Stephanie’s blog post was so much like my experiences within my own West Indian cultural background. My friend was so appalled.

“But you’re not fat,” she told me. “And people have no right trying to make you feel that way.” I don’t know that it’s a goal necessarily, but I get what she is saying — I think people just don’t always think about the impact of their words. I had a close relative say to me this year, “What happened? You used to be so nice and skinny!” One of my aunts, who I haven’t seen in a while, between her new found bible beating (and directing me towards specific soul-saving scriptures *insert eye-roll*) found time to exclaim about how big and fat I was. And I just had no words to reply. None. Because it feels like I’m in the twilight zone and I still wear a single digit size in shorts and pants. I don’t feel exceedingly large. (I also don’t think anything is inherently wrong with being fat or claiming fatness as a body-positive self identifier for yourself  and/or being okay with it used by others in a myriad of ways that are not degrading or insulting, but I do have issues with people declaring how they read and categorically define my body changes just because I haven’t seen them in a while. And I especially have problems when it’s counter to how I see myself). It makes me uncomfortable and I don’t appreciate it — being made to feel uncomfortable in my own self when it’s been such a damn hard painful journey as it is.

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Brams, Fete-ishness and the Female Form

October 13, 2011

One day during the summer, I went into a Jamaican food spot to politely ask if I could leave a stack of flyers for my friend’s party. Caribbean party flyers are usually always hella interesting to peep. They’re fascinating snapshots into male centered flights of fantasy, and gives a look at what will presumably sell an event to the masses (read: cisgendered hetero men). The average event flyer is full colored, about 6″ x 4 ” on average, bordered or highlighted by images of female bodies in various levels of sexy (or scant undress).

When was the last time you saw, er, Tyson Beckford or a bevy of half-dressed men advertising a party? Exactly. Even though, on average, the soca & other Caribbean parties I go to, seem to be predominated by women — usually. Men are there for sure, but young women frequently run the route. And while not all women care about whether men are on a flyer or not, some of them just might appreciate it. Meanwhile, said flyer images will be plucked from just about anywhere — so you end up with a picture of Stacey Dash advertising a soca party in Florida. Or a random photoshopped still of Vivica Fox with a vacant stare looking back at you.

Which is fine; women on flyers don’t deter women from parties and they shouldn’t, but it all points to gendered notions of event marketing and what’s acceptable and the norm, especially in West Indian themed events. And because it’s only fellas I know who seem to have connects who do flyers (always another fella) and the party promotion circuit seems to be overwhelming male around here — advertisement reflects this. The agouti look-back, the stereotypically pretty women armed with unrelenting come-hither eyes. In fact, the only men I ever see on Caribbean party flyers are ubiquitous dancing crews, local-famous types celebrating a birthday bash or some other seminal event, performers that are male or sound systems that are always all male. You’ll see a whole flyer teeming with men then.

“Wow. It’s Stacey Dash! Is that really her body?” I asked my friend, the party-thrower. I’ve only known Stacey Dash from “Clueless” (as if) in her box-braids and fabulous knee-highs and I have not really been keeping myself up to speed with her current manifestations. On this flyer, she looked over her shoulder back at you, bronze skin glowing, ass-cheeks like full breadfruits beneath an ivory colored bikini swimsuit, beckoning you to come the shorts pants and summer dresses party. And as it turns out, the event went well. Perhaps Stacey had a lot to do with it.

At every Caribbean restaurant and small grocery in the area, posters and flyers can be seen lining some of the windows and layered thick on the appropriate counters. All use the bodies of black and brown women to entice the masses to come rockaway and bruck out to reggae, dancehall, soca, chutney and calypso. And they really completely turn a blind eye to any notion of pandering to the tastes of straight women who might be looking for beefcake.  The formula I’ve heard before is that fellas go parties for ladies — ladies will either come regardless, or not — so  marketing to the men is key to get them to come.

Women in the West (especially in North America) are already inundated with a media market that is saturated with the female form to sell and push products or ideas. So, it’s not too surprising that other parts of the English speaking world follow the same models. The same or similar models of masculinity get disseminated far and wide too, which is why no straight man wants to see shirtless males advertising an event that he might be thinking of going to — even if it’s not on there for him, per se. Men on a flyer would disrupt the straight male, fantasizing gaze — and West Indian men, on average, wouldn’t like that. Women (straight or otherwise) are expected to filter through or past the images and extract info about the event but the images are not there to titillate them. Even though, conceivably, some lesbian or bi lady might be watching a flyer and thinking, “Waaays, Stacey Dash have more forms than a secondary school. Bram sounding nice — I up in dat!”

But really, male centered event promoters aren’t thinking about them in the slightest. Even though, clearly, the extent to which any  Caribbean party is considered successful is based on whether both men and women show up and show out at  your party.  A ‘stones party’ is one of the worst things you can have — as a straight man promoter. Yet party advertising finds it all too easy to erase women attendees from the equation, with their primary focus on tantalizing and luring the men with visual bait, like carrots on a stick, hoping or knowing that women will invariably follow suit.

words to live by…

September 16, 2011

The Carnival Body

September 13, 2011

“Big ting, small ting, I winin’ up on all ting. . .”

Hot on the heels of New York’s West Indian Day Parade celebrations, I saw two people I know, bemoaning online about the “rights” of women with certain body types to wear carnival costumes. It’s not the first time that the ever annoying body conscious, bodycentric undercurrent currently running rampant in Trinidad’s carnival for a while now, rears its ugly head. The increasingly body conscious aesthetic of Trinidad carnival has been steadily frustrating to me, personally, because of the way in which it enables people to feel free to police the expression of women (always women), with a range of body types who choose to take to the streets for these festivals.

All this “who she feel she is” and, “why she think she could go in de road looking like that,” which is to say: not toned, flat-bellied and slim is both reductive and silly. (Also referred to at times, allegedly, as the “Brazilianising” of Trinidad Carnival. Apologies to our South American neighbours who may, or may not, feel unfairly maligned).

Plus, it bothers me that some of these people are constantly acting as though it personally affronts them — these women who might even *gasp* have the audacity to not choose a whole suit. As though women outside of a certain size range have no business in a revealing costume, effectively engineering an oppressive space for women who don’t fit a certain mould, in a supposedly ‘free’ space, while nothing of the sort happens for men inside that same space.

Yes, men can be fit for carnival and choose to be — or they can not choose to be and you will hardly hear as many people either thrashing viral carnival pictures online and the like, complaining fervently how men with pot-bellies and or less than stellar bodies, have no right to be shirtless or in a carnival costume offending your eyes. Respectability politics practically never seem to come in to play for men’s bodies inside of carnival culture. And the discourse has shifted; from back when I played my first adult mas and if I am re-thinking carnivals past, from my parents’ generation and snatches of conversation I heard back then: the looming issues were always one of cost, and things like design, functionability, colour and themes of costumes seemed to matter more.

The whole point of carnival (if one can whittle down a complex sociocultural, historical expression of resistance, music, dance and revelry to a single point) is precisely that — that these women, and everyone else can have to ‘freedom’ as it were, to participate in these spaces and wield their bodies to the rhythm, however they see fit, and wearing whatever they desire. Why can’t you wine down the road in a two-piece if your stomach has soft folds or your thighs love to kiss one another?

It’s more than just simply fat phobia too, because Trinidad like many parts of the Caribbean and the diaspora, do accept possibilities for a beauty aesthetic that makes way for “thickness” (and I don’t just mean like Beyonce-thick) — to a certain point, so to speak, depending on one’s purview. If I think back to my school days and among people I know for instance, girls and women lauded as beautiful and desirable were never exclusively skinny, or flat-bellied with stereotypical modelesque figures. (Not to mention, considerable levels of sexiness is constantly meted out and lauded in the curvaceous figures of soca women like Alison Hinds, Destra Garcia, Denise Belfon, Fay-Ann Lyons-Alvarez and Tanzania “Tizzy” Sebastian to name just a few).

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