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Reflecting on "Love Puny Bad"

Negotiating Misogynistic Masculinity in Dancehall Culture

By Aduku Addae


In spite of the very lengthy discourse presented by Ms. Hope in the above referred series of articles (Sunday Gleaner) the question of whether the dancehall is misogynistic is still a moot one. One comes to such a discussion with the devotion born of an emotional response and goes away with an un-tempered opinion. All pretenses to the contrary the answer is already given before the deliberation commences. It is YES, or, NO, theory and argumentation not withstanding, depending on one’s position in the gender war.

But what does it really matter if DJs are misogynists? Misogyny is considered deviant behavior. Official society has long branded dancehall culture as deviant and butoo-ish (low class). And seldom has anyone thought it worthwhile to contest this slander. Certainly not the guardians of polite society represented by the Jamaica Gleaner. So what is going on here with all this energy being spent to show otherwise? 

Here is a reminder for those with amnesia. Bob Marley was for so-called "decent" Jamaicans a "dutty nasty niega [nigger]" until the youth of North America and Europe acknowledged him as "King."  This once "deviant" son of the soil is now synonymous with all that is good about Jamaica. Since his death in 1981 his image and his work has been co-opted in the service of the national interest, i.e., the interest of the ruling elite. The point I’m making here is that if the cultural and artistic expressions of the dancehall are to be so regarded, then "deviancy" is a positive aspect of Jamaica’s cultural experience.  

The culturally sterile upper and middle class have no custom of their own. They borrow shamelessly from the Europeans in Europe and America. Now that the Europeans are embracing Dancehall music the middle class has to de-stigmatize it. It just will not do to embrace "low life" Jamaican (African- proletarian) culture without sanitizing it and divesting it of its "unsavory" qualities by scholarly reinterpretation. Weed smoking and misogyny aside, the Jamaican elite has to embrace the Dancehall or find itself left out of the loop of euro-hipness. And, that is the rationale for this reassessment of the gender politics of Dancehall. Co-optation is the name of the game.

It is an especially urgent exercise in view of the emergence of a Portuguese-Jamaican, the quintessential Euro-Jamaican, Sean Paul, as dancehall icon. 

To be truthful the DJs are irrelevant; the dance hall is a grotesque masquerade, a new age Jonkunoo (a slave dance); and the punaany debate is a farce.  The real debate is about relations of power (gender politics included) and about the political drama in a stagnant and derelict society. Common sense tells us that!  There is a hint that Ms. Hope (the writer of the articles) understands the important issues but she sacrifices the illumination of this understanding to enter a meaningless debate about DJs and Dancehall Queens (DQs). The DJs and DQs are the symptoms. The disease is the corrupt power structure that has shunted the aspirations of a nation – the aspirations of the intellectuals included – into the dancehall. (The dancehall is a publicly acknowledged safety valve!) 

In today’s world one might abandon common sense, and understanding, and safely make a vocation, in the arena of scholarship, of pursuing an absurdity. In fact, the more perverse the absurdity the more highly prized the scholarship associated with it. And we have the very essence of an absurdity here in these articles.

I shall borrow copious quotes from the article in the course of making a few observations about the matter under discussion. 

Under patriarchy, the cultural norm of male identity consists in power, prestige, privilege and prerogative as over and against the gender class women.  That is what masculinity is. (John Stoltenberg in Toward Gender Justice quoted in Clatterbaugh, 1997:41)

In so far as masculinity consists in power, prestige, privilege, and prerogative as over and against the gender class women, femininity is implicitly defined in antithetical terms. To the point, femininity is powerlessness, lack of prestige, privilege, and prerogative over against the gender class women.  By definition then, this is what it means to be female!  The larger proportion of men in the world, therefore, is feminized, indeed, by this proposition, are female under patriarchy.  

The corollary of this is that, by these criteria, a significant number of the world’s female population who have wealth, power, prestige, and prerogative over against women have become masculine. Martha Stewart, Margaret Thatcher, Hillary Clinton, and Oprah are rich, powerful, newly minted men. (Perhaps there is something to the outrageous allegation that these women have balls.)  It is a concept which borders on the preposterous! It is not gender that is at work here; it is the power of wealth, the power of Capital.

Indeed, the existence of what has been labelled homophobia, I argue, may be more correctly labelled "femmephobia," as in Jamaica, this dialogue speaks to some core issues affecting not only the masculine and feminine identities in the dancehall, but also a broader masculine and feminine identity in Jamaica.

The author consistently confuses identity with power relations.

The identification of “homophobia” with "femmephobia" is not at all illuminating. The conception runs into trouble on this account: homosexuality transforms some women into masculine beings and some men into feminine ones.  In these states of being (roles) men are conquered by the penis and women are conquered by the punaany. The “receptive” subordinate men are feminized; the dominant women are masculinized.

It must be pointed out that women are as anti-homosexual as men are. If this non-acceptance of homosexuality represents a phobia, a fear, then women fear homosexuals just as much as men do.  Extending the writers logic, women fear masculinization just as men fear feminization. So homophobia for women is masculinophobia (if I may coin a word) as it is femmephobia for men. Homophobia is both femmephobia and masculinophobia, not just the former as the writer asserts. The writer’s theorization produces a lopsided analysis that implicitly incorporates the fictive non-analytical notion that “homophobia” is a male affliction. So, even in this subtle manner, heterosexual men find themselves under attack.

In any event, it is absurd to say that people who are not pro-homosexual are homophobic. Most people simply find this conduct abhorrent and are not any more afraid of homosexuals than they are of heterosexuals (men and women) who are profligate.

Gay women are the ones, who evidently need to be fearful of the "repository of power," the punaany, for, finding themselves subordinate to other women, they are the ones who are conquered by it. The men in this drama, of course, have something more repulsive to fear the overpowering penis. Homophobia (read, in the biased language of the author of the Jamaica Gleaner articles, fear of the phallus) is the appropriate response. The DJs have properly identified this source of fear. The academician is wrong. It seems, though, that all these fears must be ascribed to homosexuals and not heterosexuals.

It [patriarchy] is masculism in a political context and is supported by all the institutions operating within that system or society. One should note here that patriarchy is not only male dominance in its strictest sense, but also a persistent ideology of male super-ordination that both men and women maintain consciously and unconsciously.

The alternative to patriarchy is of course matriarchy, female "dominance."  It is a system in which both men and women would continue to be "victims!" Any notion of a genderless society is deception.  Only a very stupid man could believe this absurdity. Politics is about who rules in society and gender politics is no different. Women want to rule, plain and simple.

The feminist agenda is not domestic as the title of the first installment of the article suggested.  This agenda is patently and overtly political. The gender war is a political struggle not a "bedroom conflict." (My woman and I have bedroom conflicts.  She pouts at me for being insensitive.  I pull a “long face” back at her for not getting my lovin’. A little later we make up. No political issues arise.)  This political drama is played out in the public arena, in this instance the Jamaican Dancehall.  The objective of this struggle is the institution of a system of Matriarchy. In short, it is to substitute the domination of women by men for the domination of men by women. 

It is a proposition that I cannot abide. I much rather mine to be at the helm if a gender has to rule. When the time comes, mine will be the most reactionary role – I will take up arms to subdue those "feminine rebels." I am as serious as a heart attack! Those who have not suffered the wrath of women in America, or the brunt of pro-women legislation to the extent of having their wages taken away or their meager property divided in half are free to lend their support to the feminist agenda. I am patently against it! Gender rule is every bit as bad as class rule.

And that, incidentally, is what the issue is, in the Jamaican dancehall.  The DJs have taken a firm stand against the feminist and gay-lesbian agenda even though official Jamaican society has submitted to these. In this respect the Jamaican DJs are political activists. They are resisting what they perceive to be the alien political ideologies of Feminism and Gay-Lesbianism which is taking root within the cultural and political landscape.  They are articulating the sentiments and giving expression to the will of the overwhelming majority of Jamaican people. 

In a profound way this is a life and death struggle for a people whose very survival hangs in the balance (courtesy of AIDS, starvation, fratricide, economic and cultural stagnation, etc.) They are moved instinctually to guard against attempts to curtail reproduction. Feminism and Gay-Lesbianism runs counter to this imperative for survival in Jamaica where, as in Africa, breeding is a MUST.

Mohammed notes that crucial sites for power struggles in gender relations are generally located in the sphere of sexuality and reproduction.

One of the most powerful political currents is the advocacy of gay-lesbian rights.

The "sphere of sexuality" is practically synonymous to gay-lesbian activism.  This, in essence, is the political struggle of the homosexual population to secure concessions. It is a struggle instructed by reformism, a struggle for "civil liberties," and a struggle for gay people to be integrated into mainstream society.  It is a constricted political agenda informed by a pernicious hedonistic philosophy, which does not challenge the status quo fundamentally. Homosexuals are not trying to abolish Capitalist society, they are trying to "fit in" and live a more un-closeted life.

Reproduction is a non-issue on this platform. Homosexuals are not trying to breed.

By contrast reproduction is the focal point of the radical feminist struggle (as distinct from the gay lobby).  Here in the USA, it is styled the pro-choice agenda. 

The womb has found legal recognition in America as a means and instrument of production (surrogate motherhood at a price). It is the source of a most valuable commodity – the human individual. The struggle between the factions (working class women, on the one hand, and conservative Capitalist America, on the other) will persist until labor power becomes obsolete; until a satisfactory industrial means (bio-robotics, let us say) is developed to produce laborers; or, until state-sponsored welfare motherhood is legislated universally. 

One observes that the society becomes more "permissive" toward abortion, homosexuality, punaany for hire, and welfare-ism (a ghetto vice which is worse than crack cocaine) as industrial production progresses through phases of mechanization. This reflects a progressive devaluation of reproductive labor-power (the ability to breed) in accordance with the replacement of human labor-power by machines. It signifies a decline in the power of the punaany.

The feminist struggle for so-called "reproductive rights" is a struggle to appropriate to women the "means of production of human labor power."  It is gender politics with profound implications. The seizure of the means of production (reproduction) by a social class, in pursuit of exclusionary class interests, is the hallmark of capitalist revolution. The gender-class women are reinforcing private ownership over public resources. 

The feminist movement constitutes today the most radical element among the capitalist class (a concept with which University of the West Indies (UWI) intellectuals are very familiar).  They are not the redeemers of the society they profess to be!

It appears to me that the working class has no economic incentive to reproduce itself. The economic motivation lies with the capitalist. They have to renew the supply of labor. The struggle, therefore, is between capitalist (men and women) on the one hand, and working class women on the other, for their reproductive power and rights of control over it. 

"Liberated" women will have to fight tyrannical capitalist women for this right as long as labor is in the economic equation. The liberation of women from male tyranny hands them over to female tyranny in much the same way as black people are handed over to black tyrants after they have been liberated from white ones.    

Because of their tenuous place in the relationships of production, many black men have little real power over black women.

All right then! The premise of gender politics is false where a population of powerless men and women are concerned.  The power brokers are to be identified and the real struggle pinpointed. It is not about sex, or, the punaany! But let us talk about the punaany if we must.

Urban society reduces the power associated with the punaany – more aptly the womb – for it diminishes the important link between reproduction and the sex act.  Sex becomes a past time, a mode/source of entertainment, a recreational activity (as opposed to creational).  In this manner the punany is transformed from a "repository of power" to a mere orifice; from sacred vessel to a utilitarian receptacle – a disposable thing!  It is delusional to think otherwise.

Women liberated from the traditional gender relations and, in consequence, from their habitual roles in society are free to participate fully in the market.  Thus are women made free in capitalist society, free, that is, to offer themselves as things in the market (the universal cultural space). Just as the wage earners price (wages) may be set at a piecemeal rate so too the price for the sexual commodity.  

Punaany becomes a thing to be bought, used, discarded, and generally ill-used, as are all commodities. A man may “love” punany in the same sense as he "loves" fried chicken, sushi, a glass of red wine, and dumpling.  He may treasure it as a sacred chalice, or, discard it like rotten fish. And, of course, he may talk about it in a shameless fashion, for what is in the public domain is already publicized – no more privacy for punaany! 

Women too are free to engage, and do engage, in the punaany market as buyers and abusers of said commodity. It is a consumers market subject to all vagaries of the marketplace and completely tied to the power of money. Women with the power of Capital behind them can do what they will with other women. They can have as much punaany as their money will buy. That is the trouble with punaany nowadays, it has no power. Money has divested it of all its power.

As a resident of the golden state, I can attest to the benefits, or, lack thereof, of liberated womanhood.  Punaany galore!  And a lot of angry, unfulfilled, vindictive women besides.

Contrary-wise I have maintained a monogamous relationship with my woman secure in the knowledge that punaany is free. She is assured of the complementary prospect. Yet for all this liberated pubis we feel no "freedom."  Ours is a bond in the struggle of life, so, we keep our "stuff" strictly between the two of us.  It is a compact between equals.  There is simply no room for conquest. I do not have to negotiate my masculinity – I take it for granted. 


Origins of black bedroom conflict, Jamaica Gleaner, 1/27/02

Courting and conquering the feared p---ny, Jamaica Gleaner, 02/03/02

Love for ‘Mama’ in the dancehall, Jamaica Gleaner, 2/10/02


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African Revolutions

       By  Mukoma wa Ngugi

Her womb pressed against the desert to bear the parasite

that eats her insides like termites drill into dry wood. 

He is born into an empty bowl, fist choking umbilical cord. 

She dies sighing, child son at last.  He couldn't have known,


instinct told him - always raise your arm in defense of your

own -Strike! Strike until they are all dead! Egg shells

in your hands milk bottle held between your toes,

you have been anointed twice, you strong enough to kill


at birth and survive.  You will want to name the world

after yourself but you will have no name- a collage of dead

roots, tongues and other things.  You will point your sword

to the center of the earth, duel the world to split into perfect


mirrors after your imperfect  mutations but you will be

too weak having latched your self onto too many streams

straddling too many continents, pulling patches of a self

as one does fruits from an from an orchard, building a home


of planks with many faces. How does one look into a mirror

with a face that washes clean every rainy season? 

He has an identity for every occasion - here he is Lenin

 there Jesus and yesterday Marx - inflexible truths inherited


without roots.  To be nothing to remain nothing, to kill

at birth - such love can only drink from our wrists.  We

storming from our past to Jo'Burg eating wisdom of others

building homes made of our grandparent's bones.  We


gathering momentum that eats out of our earth, We standing

pens and bullets hurled at you, your enemies.  Comrade, there

are many ways to die. A dog dies never having known

why it lived but a free death belongs to a life lived in roots,


roots not afraid of growing where they stand, roots tapped all over

the earth. Comrade, for a tree to grow, it must first own its earth.

Source: Zeleza

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The Slave Ship

By Marcus Rediker

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Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues

                                                         By Ida Cox

I hear these women raving 'bout their monkey men
About their fighting husbands and their no good friends
These poor women sit around all day and moan
Wondering why their wandering papas don't come home
But wild women don't worry, wild women don't have the blues.

Now when you've got a man, don't ever be on the square
'Cause if you do he'll have a woman everywhere
I never was known to treat no one man right
I keep 'em working hard both day and night
because wild women don't worry, wild women don't have no blues.

I've got a disposition and a way of my own
When my man starts kicking I let him find another home
I get full of good liquor, walk the streets all night
Go home and put my man out if he don't act right
Wild women don't worry, wild women don't have no blues

You never get nothing by being an angel child
You better change your ways and get real wild
I wanna tell you something, I wouldn't tell you no lie
Wild women are the only kind that ever get by
Wild women don't worry, wild women don't have no blues.

 Born Ida Prather,25 February 1896 in Toccoa, Habersham County, Georgia, United States. Died 10 November 1967 (aged 71) Genres Jazz, Blues Instruments Vocalist.

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

*   *   *   *   *

The Last Holiday: A Memoir

By Gil Scott Heron

Shortly after we republished The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, Gil started to tell me about The Last Holiday, an account he was writing of a multi-city tour that he ended up doing with Stevie Wonder in late 1980 and early 1981. Originally Bob Marley was meant to be playing the tour that Stevie Wonder had conceived as a way of trying to force legislation to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday. At the time, Marley was dying of cancer, so Gil was asked to do the first six dates. He ended up doing all 41. And Dr King's birthday ended up becoming a national holiday ("The Last Holiday because America can't afford to have another national holiday"), but Gil always felt that Stevie never got the recognition he deserved and that his story needed to be told. The first chapters of this book were given to me in New York when Gil was living in the Chelsea Hotel. Among the pages was a chapter called Deadline that recounts the night they played Oakland, California, 8 December; it was also the night that John Lennon was murdered. Gil uses Lennon's violent end as a brilliant parallel to Dr King's assassination and as a biting commentary on the constraints that sometimes lead to newspapers getting things wrong. —Jamie Byng, Guardian / Gil_reads_"Deadline" (audio)

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Hunger for a Black President  / Introduction I Write What I Like

Biko Biosketch   Biko Speaks on Africans

*   *   *   *   *

The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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