On Wednesday, March 6, 2013, Television Jamaica aired on its current affairs programme, All Angles, a segment that looked at the issues of lengthening the school year in Jamaica as remedial action for poor academic performances and whether or not religion should be allowed influence in the nation's schools. The latter became a contentious issue after principal (or pastor???) of Jamaica
And silencing the voice(s) of dissent is what, in my opinion, Minister of
On a separate note, the Edna Manley College (EMC) of the Visual and Performing Arts hosted a public lecture in commemoration of Women's Day, entitled, "Who's In Charge of the Rompin' Shop: Sexual Politics in Jamaican Dancehall Culture." The guest speaker was the bright and charismatic, Carolyn Cooper. Cooper is no doubt a very skilled communicator. She easily enraptures you in her gifts of words, wit, (wry?) sense of humour. BUT I left the lecture very disappointed.
Firstly, the principal of EMC made the gender discourse seem to be a competition between the sexes for dominance. This for me was very awkward as gender discourse is not about pitting females against males (that is not woman's empowerment)but challenging systems that foster and entrench gender inequalities.
Then the moment came for the long-awaited lecture, which was clearly running behind schedule. I waited with bated breath to hear Professor Cooper situate the "Rompin' Shop" and interrogate the sexual politics at play in dancehall culture, beyond the content analysis of lyrics written. Unfortunately, what I was left with was a rehashing of "Soundclash","Noises in The Blood" and articles such as "Femstration". For me, Cooper just stamped a different name on old work and delivered. There were some clumsy negotiations of social issues, particularly that of the existing gender inequalities, which play out in sexual politics. Some may even argue, intellectual dishonesty and disingenuousness.
For example, Cooper laboriously took us through the lyrics of Shabba Ranks, who (though not "advocating" prostitution)suggests to women that they must not allow men to make use of their vaginas without some financial/material benefit to her from the engagement. Cooper calls this and Shabba's call for men to own up to their responsibilities to their women and the children that those men fathered by them a veneration of the female. I did not find this to be a genuine critique of the gender issues and contradictions present in Shabba's lyrics. While Shabba Ranks makes it clear that the economic relationship between the sexes is not sex work, and the woman is not seen as cheapening herself from gaining financially, in Shabba's representation of the power dynamics involved, the woman is always recipient/weaker/dependent and beholden to the man; a feature of patriarchy! Women are still commodities - valued commodities - but commodities nonetheless. Sexual expression of women and sexual desire by men are focused on male consumption and validation of (the performance of) masculinity. I expected some real description and interrogation of sexual/gender politics, instead I received the usual dancehall apology rhetoric from her previous works that I mentioned earlier.
Moreover, Cooper went through the entire presentation, totally avoiding any discussion about the "Rompin' Shop" and then shocked me in the end with a little "tups" of Kartel's and Spice's duet by the same name (She should have started there) and concluded by suggesting that the Romping Shop is egalitarian. Apart from feeling that "Rompin' Shop" could have featured more prominently, I was aghast at how she arrived at that conclusion. Admittedly, Cooper said that the dancehall is a heterosexual space; yea, even a heterosexist space. Yet she concludes that said heterosexist space is egalitarian???? The dancehall space cannot be seen as simultaneously a heterosexist (patriarchal) space and a space where men & women equally share (sexual) power (egalitarian). Heterosexism is rooted in patriarchy and features male/masculine sexual ideals; where maleness is legitimized by the male's phallic prowess and femininity legitimized by the woman's sexual role in pleasing the man. Both the male's and female's sexuality belong to the MAN. In a heterosexist (dancehall) space, gay men are seen as sub-masculine. He is called names like sissy, mama man, chi-chi man - any name that points out his sub-male status, which is seen as on par with the feminine (hence the nomenclatures "mama man" & "sissy" and sometimes "Gyal"). The repudiation of homosexuality in the heterosexist dancehall space (which I assume is Cooper's Rompin' Shop") can, therefore, be interpreted as disregard for the 'feminine'. How then would such space be egalitarian? Egalitarianism does not exist simply because Shabba says he loves women and "Man must tek care a ooman" or because Lady Saw boldly grabs her front and talks about it. The over-talk about the vagina in dancehall is not necessarily about veneration if the vagina remains a space for performing masculinity and entrenching heterosexist prejudices. Nuff man who abuse dem ooman and (deceivingly)maintains many other sexual relationships concurrently say dem love ooman bad... Perhaps, I was expecting too much from Professor Cooper. Perhaps, in light of Women's Day, I wanted more than a lesson from the dancehall lexicon to interpret and discuss sexual politics. Perhaps mi just too nuff. One thing is certain, Cooper had nothing new or novel saying and perhaps won't any time soon.