Et tu, Bunji?
There’s been a disturbing trend since 1990s gangsta rap began to globalise ‘the club’, meaning the strip club, as the site par excellence for cultural and sexual expression and exchange.
Caribbean women’s sexuality was taking over the road, but across the hemisphere primarily male performers, producers and video directors were disciplining this disorder with fantasises of brown bodies whose power lay in shaking their ass for men’s money.
Sharlene Boodram went from singing ‘Sweeta Sweeta’ on a beach to singing ‘Ask It’ in the strip club. Bunji Garlin’s new hit, ‘Red Light District’ extends this, big pimpin the Caribbean as a sexual and leisure playground for any men who want to come.
Strippers are a category of workers, and mostly women, whose femininity and sexuality are defined primarily by men: what men want to consume, what bodies they desire, and what performances they will reward.
Strippers are not the same as skettels and sluts, labels assigned to women whose sexual expressiveness and power is defined by their own unruly pleasure.
What Bunji hails as the “feminine gender” are a larger group of persons whose sexuality, including when they wine dong at Jouvay or when they have consensual, safe and pleasurable sex out of marriage, may not be represented by any of these terms. Women are more than strippers, skettels and sluts. Even strippers, skettels and sluts are feminine and sexual in wider, more complex ways than social hypocrisy allows.
Women who express their sexuality, who are sexy, and who give and receive pleasure in one way or another are everyday women, amazing and compelling just because we are.
What is disturbing is when we are reduced to narrow categories, especially those that exist to service male demand and command, often not in empowering conditions of women’s own choosing.
I’m not putting down sex workers, I just think women’s sexuality should have visibility and value in Caribbean pop culture beyond the provocative compliance of exotic dancers and ‘young hos’.
Such hypersexuality retains its vulnerabilities to violence and exploitation. I’ve been to red light districts in Thailand where you can see fully dressed men holding a beer in one hand and the breast of a young women half their age, with none of their economic power and clothed in only a thong, in the other. I’ve watched men sell sex shows where women put balls or needles in their vagina, whatever you will pay for, where they have asked whether you are looking for a ten year old boy or girl.
When you are feting to Bunji’s big tune or pole dancing for exercise, because for empowered women that’s trending and cool, be glad that woman or girl isn’t you.
I’ve been to red light districts in Amsterdam where Surinamese immigrants, our Caribbean women, work under conditions of race, class and gender inequality. Women doing jobs that society looks down on, without legal protection, unions or rights to respect in police stations is what goes on in red light districts in most countries. Not the delusion of girls just having fun.
Wining adults fail to take seriously how the airwaves both represent and produce existing realities. We will, however, blame girls when they upload videos of themselves, play sexy too early or look for status with their bodies, when they get shamed or violated for enacting the very femininities these songs rotate on the radio.
Where’s the girls dem darlin that chanted down rape? Like Bruno Mars with his pole dancer at the VMA Awards, he’s mainstreaming conflicting messages about sexuality as freedom, but not as women’s complete violence-free, economic, legal, moral and reproductive control over such sexuality.
Red Light District could mash up place whole night, but we are more than a pimper’s paradise.