Post 407.

“WE WANT justice!” is the powerful cry echoing across the country, and one can’t help but think that political elites are watching from behind security protection, waiting for gatherings to die down so that we can be thrown scraps of disconnected reform.

When citizens take to the streets in these numbers, it is a sign of widespread desperation, of a system so failed that people feel they must shout to be heard, of trust so broken that people will gather in anger outside of our institutions, believing justice cannot be found inside.

I keep wondering if we will see continued protest, knowing that we can expect dozens of women and girls to be killed or go missing this year. When will numbness or a sense of powerlessness set in? Or, as I hope, will feelings of horror, trauma, fear and anger continue to build with each report that confirms men’s war against women, prompting more to the streets?

This is not the time for men to say, “Not me.” Not when grandfathers, uncles, fathers, cousins, neighbours, maxi drivers, teachers, pastors, bandits and other forms of predators roam with impunity in our families and communities, or are on extended bail, or are freed by a court system that appears corrupt, inefficient and haphazard, in which it takes years to start a trial. Women’s and girls’ right to justice is not and has never been anyone’s priority.

To this day, we blame women. To this day, we do not yet hold men, including at all levels of leadership, sufficiently accountable for a world in which they are dominant. Men must make this change, without taking over or speaking instead of women or trivialising decades of ongoing feminist advocacy. Certainly, our investment in patriarchal power must be destroyed, despite all the discomfort that may bring. Women cannot continue to be fodder for this violent monster.

Young women are living in terror; nowhere safe. They are panicked about using public transport, as they long have been. They feel abandoned by state and society, as they should, for they face the greatest risk of daily harm in homes, on streets, in taxis and at school, by any or possibly every man. They are growing up in a state of perpetual self-defence, and even that offers no real protection. Women are driving with a weapon in one hand. Women and girls are under greater surveillance from brothers, fathers and boyfriends than ever before, further sacrificing freedom. We can do everything right and still be killed.

Amidst these disappearances and deaths, we struggle, as we have and as we will for real solutions. “No bail for rapists” is one call, but the bail amendments proposed holding suspects without charge for 120 days. What happens when they must be released if no charges are laid? What happens when court delays, magistrates’ decisions, and police absenteeism lead to rapists being freed, as with Andrea Bharatt’s alleged kidnapper?

Even if we make rape a non-bailable offence –, because who doesn’t want to get rapists off the streets – keep in mind that murder is non-bailable, and killings continue unabated. Hanging has remained legal, but has not been a deterrent. Neither are stand-alone solutions.

The AG has blamed women’s groups for the Sex Offenders Registry not being public. We recommended the registry not be public because its use is for an integrated police and court response, because the public would run perpetrators from one community to a next, and because the majority of sex crimes remain unreported and committed by male family and friends.

We already know so many sexual abusers. We tolerate and protect them for the sake of family name, respectability and survival. We don’t need a registry to tell us who they are, some of us always know. Again, it is one strategy for protection, not a solution.

The AG is also aware that vigilantism is a likely outcome. Sex offenders might get community licks, and maybe even dumped for dead in the places women are. That is a dangerous road he now seems prepared to go.

There are many other necessary paths. Vision 2030 promised a National Transportation Policy. It should treat women and girls’ risk, as we saw with Ashanti Riley, as a national emergency. There must be co-ordinated transport-system solutions that urgently respond to women and girls’ needs. We will make and must back these demands with public pressure over future days and deaths.

We are deep in battle, and no shortcut will win this war.

Post 350.

As Carnival takes over airwaves, we can explore its representations of music, culture and sexual pleasure. These representations are often contradictory, drawing us into debate. They are sometimes more important than first appears, charting a historical moment, or highlighting generational change or US influence, or showing what adolescents, tuned in on Instagram and Youtube, are learning from us about empowerment and gender.

Destra’s recently released ‘Rum and Soca’ video is an intriguing mix of representations that signal much about our time. The video’s narrative is basically like the African-American movie, ‘Girls Trip’, which is a story of women’s friendship and a wild weekend of dancing, drinking, and romancing to excess.

This narrative is at home here in Trinidad and Tobago, with its long history of “girls’ limes”, and women drinking and wining with each other in fetes and on the road. It’s a welcome story as there are far too few videos of women enjoying themselves without performing at men’s command or for men’s pleasure or to attract men or as backdrop to a dominant male voice. “Party done” may have been the last time women were out like this on their own.

There are almost no men in Destra’s video and none on the mic. Those in the scenes are mere background to the social intimacy that affirms a right to woman-centred fun. The take up of a particular brand of consumer and celebrity feminism in Port of Spain is symbolized by the wealth and status of a limo, mansion, long blond wig and closet full of clothes combined with the Carnivalesque bacchanal of bam bam, and its emphasis on women’s licentious freedom as empowerment.

There’s much to say about such empowerment. It seems to be symbolized by drinking to excess, a privilege traditionally reserved for men. Destra herself has at least eight drinks, and I found myself wondering about the messages to adolescent girls. Such drinking has historically costed those who may find themselves assaulted and then blamed for getting to a point where they can’t remember their last name. Such risks of victim blaming are real and I wondered about the counter warning to young women that excessive alcohol consumption easily turns a sense of power into vulnerability.

The drunkenness is simply Destra keeping up. Men have been triumphing such excess for decades, from “Drunk and Disorderly” to “Rum till I Die”, and it’s debatable whether it’s fair to hold women to a higher standard. Indeed, one can argue that the video is also an Afro-creole version of a matikor, the Caribbean’s longest and most iconic historical expression of rum-drinking, women-only wining and queer potential in a safe space created by women themselves.

Yet, one can’t be naïve about alcohol marketing in the Caribbean. Only four brands are visible in the video. It’s almost blatantly an extended Angostura ad, following in the footsteps of Machel, who introduced advertising for his own rum into his repertoire of songs, because scraping the barrel in this way as an artist makes good business sense. Company branding conflated with cultural production should compel us to question the role that alcohol companies play in sponsoring and profiteering from fetes, bands, artists and videos, and encouraging young adults to become drinkers.

The video’s major intervention, however, is its erotic intimacy among women. Women’s same sex sexual attraction has been going mainstream with videos by Rihanna and Shakira, Shenseea, Rita Ora and Cardi B, Kehlani and Teyana Taylor, Janelle Monae, and more.

In these videos and in Destra’s, women are also holding hands, near kissing, and touching bodies in ways that blur the line between heterosexuality, bisexuality and lesbianism, or in ways that ‘queer’ being straight. Whether it’s alcohol, or sexual experimentation, or sexual fluidity, Destra’s video can be simultaneously read as straight and gay, as deliberately ambiguous, and as defying easy identity labels.

Such queering has a long history in the region. Yet, for lesbians in Trinidad and Tobago, same-sex desire isn’t something that happens when you’re drunk or that is about a night out. It’s an identity that isn’t taken on and off, and still carries great social stigma. One can only hope that women celebrities’ openness to ambiguity, play and enjoyment normalises challenges to homophobia and an inclusive world for women beyond its rules.

Cultural representations of empowerment, sexuality, womanhood and feminism in the Caribbean can be problematic as well as emancipatory, but shouldn’t simply be dismissed. Signs of our times, and their shifts and debates, continue to come in Carnival music.