According to Linden Lewis, the work on masculinity in the Caribbean is underdeveloped but what emerges from the literature is a characterization of men and masculinity which views the Caribbean male as powerful, exceedingly promiscuous, derelict in his parental responsibilities, absent from the household and when present fails to take any responsibility for domestic chores. The Caribbean male also comes across in this literature as possessing a propensity for female battering and a demonstrated valorization of alcohol and drug consumption. While this might be true for some Caribbean men, it is obviously not true for all.
The Caribbean male is also defined in terms of the distinction between hegemonic masculinity and other subordinated forms of masculinity. Hegemonic masculinity refers to the practices of a particular representation of men and manliness. It refers to an orientation which is heterosexual and decidedly homophobic. It prides itself on its capacity for sexual conquest and ridicules those men who define their sexuality in different terms.
Hegemonic masculinity often embraces certain misogynist tendencies in which women are considered inferior and violence against them is encouraged and condoned. Due to this perception, women who are stallions and can “wuk”. Departure from this form of masculinity could result in a questioning of one’s manhood. As a result, hegemonic masculinity contains a high level of hostility directed toward homosexuality and to a lesser extent to men who perform oral sex. Homosexuality is seen as a phenomenon that undermines and fundamentally contradicts hegemonic masculinity and which brings much derision and wrath upon persons who engage in its practice. Men who perform oral sex are portrayed as unable to handle the “wuk” so he ejaculates prematurely.Order now
This characterization of the Caribbean male is located in several dancehall songs. Beenie Man’s Ole Dawg Like We likens men to dogs and as such, it is expected of them to have more than one woman: However, regardless of these two ladies performances, many critics like Norman Stolzoff, Cooper’s claim and brand dancehall as a medium that represents women as sexual objects and whatever power they gain in terms of their “full-bodied sexuality” is still to please men.
Dancehall continues to perpetuate the image of man as dominant and controlling and women as their subjects. Also, these female performers could just be an example of women who even though they are challenging the “male gaze” in society is merely constructing their reality through the lens of the said “male gaze” where women are appreciated for their “ass-ets” and are not treated fairly. If these women want to effectively challenge their inherent subordinate role in society, it is necessary for them to develop a genuinely female gaze that represents them as human beings that can do any task just as well as a man can and not just reinterpret the male gaze. It is their responsibility to offer society a new definition of themselves that doesn’t limit their opportunities as a mere consequence of their sex.
It is important to note however that not all dancehall artistes take pleasure in degrading women. An emerging generation of young Jamaican artistes are subverting the dancehall scene and improving its prospects for international acceptance by taking the music back to its roots in reggae. This new breed is led by singers and songwriters such as Luciano, Sizzla, Capleton, Richie Stephens Warrior King and Tony Rebel. These artistes are on a mission to uplift women. In responding to the lewd nature of dancehall music, Tony Rebel said “I think it has to do with how they were socialized, from the days of the Bible, the concept is that sin came into being because of the woman and apart from that most artisites do it because they get a good response from it”.
In his song, Virtuous Woman, Warrior King says “a good woman is essential to a man’s purpose and his missions, a good woman is a glory to her man, she will never take his power, she will just make him a better man”. He was further quoted in an article as saying “I love and honour the woman dem, nuh matter what race, class, creed or religion. I am sick and tired of men blaming the women for the wrongs of creation”. Capleton refers to the ‘Black Woman’ as the ‘Mother of the Earth’ and often warns “Never yuh dis Mother Earth, bwoy wise”. Whereas Caribbean men are often times perceived as derelict in their responsibility to their families, Sizzla in his song “Black Woman and Child” contradicts this perception:
“For you I really have so much love… Dollar bills and coins will fade away, They could never make I so proud” Queen Ifrica, a female artiste managed by Tony Rebel says she is frustrated with those that continue to disrespect but she is more disappointed with those females that condone this behaviour. She says “Jamaica is a society where men consider themselves to be the head, so they feel they can do as they please with no consequences. And I think that women who condone it have low self-esteem, also if someone is to address the issue, these women would be the first one to bash you”. Brenda Hamilton, a female manager in the male dominated “business” responsible for Baby Cham, said she is not at all impressed with artistes that disrespect women in their lyrics.
“The ones who do it are not respectful to their mothers, sisters or any other female family member as a matter (sic), if they had any respect at all, they would not think about doing it”. Doctor Dread of RAS Records in his response to dancehall songs emphatically declared “…we are now tired of being passive observers. It is time to declare that slackness is done!”. Again, Richie Stephens, in an interview with the Gleaner, said “Women to me are like flowers, they help to beautify the world. It’s very simple.
A woman plays a very important role in a man’s life, when a woman is around there is so much beauty. It’s not hard to compliment the ladies. Although these views contain some element of the traditional subordinate way in how women are represented, they tend to be kinder to women and recognize them as human beings with a voice, who are also valuable and not worth the degradation. This recognition can serve as a starting point for women to continue to break the conceptions of how they are normally viewed in society.
The derogatory lyrics about women in the dancehall seem to stem from those dancehall artistes trying to be hardcore. This leads dancehall to be seen as just another form wherein men try to protect their “manliness” and power in society. Through the denigration and degradation of women, DJs exert their power and emphasize the importance of males as dominant. Through the DJs hostility towards homosexuality, he is protecting what he values most, his sexuality. As much as society is tending towards greater equality between men and women, this is slow to becoming a reality in the dancehall. Women are still portrayed as sex objects worthy of slander and violence.
This violence is even taken top the act of lovemaking where these DJs promote rough and “wicked” sex that will privilege the women with a near death experience. On the other hand, the fact that these women are scantily clad and openly display their sexuality could be a form of freedom or release for them. The degradation of women, however, does not go unchallenged as artistes who have become frustrated with the unequal treatment given to women, have risen up with counter lyrics that praise and honour women instead. Although these lyrics are sometimes a reflection women’s subordinate state, it is an open door through which Caribbean women can continue to remind society of their existence independent of an attachment to a men.
Dancehall is often seen as a culture whose expression doesn’t emit positive messages in society but one should not take it at face value. Rooted in dancehall is the expression of a subordinate or “forgotten” people that use dancehall lyrics as a medium for expressing their frustration at a system that they believe is built to preclude them. This is demonstrated in Bounti Killa’s rendition of “Poor People Fed Up”: Poor people fed up Cause the system sheg up In this way, gender and class share a similar relationship. The persons at the lower class are discriminated against because of their social status and as such are not given fair and equal treatment in society. In terms of gender, because women are the “lesser” sex, they are not given fair and equal treatment either. Therefore, dancehall tends to reflect the mood of the disadvantaged.
As far as expressions of masculinity and feminity in the dancehall are concerned, men are still dominant and women are inferior but this is changing. Women have entered the dancehall arena as performers but they need to emancipate themselves from the shackle of the male gazer and create an original female gaze. Other male artistes are now defending the rights of women as human being and worthy of respect. However, it will take a more concerted effort by our women to bring about change. This involves women who perform, women who are in administrative positions and women who listen to these songs. This is something that affects us and if we want to bring about change then we have to consistently use every medium available to us to enhance our status in society.