Post 363.

Kes’ 2020 hit, “Boss Lady”, is a catchy representation of men’s current negotiations with sex, labour and power.

It describes a time when our society considers itself in a crisis of masculinity typified by men’s lower enrollment in tertiary schooling, their turn away from the formal economy, and a shrinking, male-dominated industrial and energy sector. “This economy”, Kes sings, “have meh looking for wuk”.

By contrast, over decades, women have capitalized on educational opportunities and, to the extent they are available, secure jobs. They have also mobilized traditionally feminine skills in beauty, catering, sewing, jewelry-making, suitcase trading and childcare to survive in the informal economy in ways that enable greater economic empowerment and more say over their lives.

Women still experience unemployment at higher rates than men, but the educational trends will eventually shift the income trends. This won’t topple patriarchy, but it will make men contend with their role differently, offering their labour, including sexual labour, to women on renegotiated terms.

We’ve long heard this narrative in UWI principals and prime ministers’ worry that women wouldn’t be able to find suitable husbands. Yet, neither of these authorities considered that women may become more interested in men for sex and labour than marriage, or that sex and labour may ultimately be what men are most able to offer.

This is a fascinating twist, for women, such as secretaries, were the ones historically sexualized by a boss man, and were eroticized in pornographic fantasies of a willing maid providing both domestic and sexual service. What happens when men start offering themselves for such “wuk”?

As early as 1935, Attilla’s calypso, “Women Will Rule the World” warned that, once, women only wanted to be a mother and wife, but now there is “no limit to their ambition”. He lamented that women would become “tyrants” expecting men to scrub floors, wash clothes, and mind the baby when women go out at nights to roam.

By 1987, amidst an economic decline, Tambu’s “Yes Darling” expressed similar dread about changing sexual relations. The song is about Tommy who was once breadwinner, and used to boast about how hard he had his woman working. But, “One day he lost he wuk and end up home/ Now she turn breadwinner, and he become housemaker/Man she have him working, the way he had she doing/Each day as a rule, she have Tommy working like a mule”.

Simultaneously, women seized on the theme of “Woman is Boss” when it comes to excelling at “caring, sharing and achieving”. From Denyse Plummer to Destra’s “Independent Ladies”, this has been a feminist narrative of doing as well as or better than men, but also doing well without them if women had to earn, save and also raise their babies on their own. A “real woman” echoes Patrice, “own house, car and land” and “take charge of yuh man”.

Women also began to respond to men’s anxieties by expressing desire for a worker man; a play on the sexual pleasure of a cocksman, but one who also provides satisfying manual labour. “I want you to take your broom and sweep my yard/You better brush it good or we go fall apart/Don’t give me no shortcut thing, you have all day and night/I had to satisfy, so you better do it right”, thus sings Denise Belfon in the 2001 song, ‘Work It’.

No surprise, then, that Kes offers his physical and sexual labour to a woman boss with a job vacancy, who is looking for a flawless resume, guaranteed proper ‘wuk’, and a #1 employee.

It’s not coincidental that, after decades of apprehension, up to Blackie’s 2009 ‘Ah Hook’ where the fellas considered him a “mook” for doing his lady’s laundry and ironing, men may be re-considering what they offer to well-educated, financially-capable and successful women.

To that end, in a sexual economy with changing relations of gender and power, well-equipped men will always have a job which women want done, whether it involves a broomstick or a hose to water their garden.

What’s fascinating is that the double entendre isn’t simply about sexual suitability, but also about an ability to meet a boss lady’s domestic needs.

Derrick Seales’ 2020 tune, ‘House Husband’, nails this moment by circling back to Attila’s fears. However, man-woman relations have changed so much, he now sings about proudly washing clothes, cleaning the house, vacuuming and making up the bed night and day.

“Put that wuk in front of me” concludes Kes, “and I go come in right away”.

Two interviews from November 2015 with Vernon Ramesar of iETv on women, men and Caribbean feminism….hoping to continue a conversation about what we should discuss more, eg indigenous women’s issues, particularly in places like Belize, Dominica and Guyana, what young women see as the issues important to them and their generation, continued forms of backlash and solidarity by men, the influence of neo-liberal capitalism on social movements today, social media and cyberfeminism in the Caribbean, and the extent to which celebrities, fashion and fun are both narrowing and expanding the meanings of what a feminist looks like…..the place for transgender persons in women’s movements, and more and more and more.

A revolution is a way of life. There is no pure place for resistance. Let’s grow with joy. Bless…

Part 1…

Part 2….