I have written previously about being a 16-year-old girl at a school fair when a grown-ass man burnt me with his cigarette because I refused to dance with him.
I my teens I watched the colour drain from a friend’s face as we walked along Spring Garden in the thick Kadooment Day crowd. A man had sexually assaulted her as he casually walked by.
In my early twenties I was stung on the buttocks multiple time by a popular-for-the-season calypsonian in full view of security who only told him to “cool out” after I pleaded with them to do something.
Security at fetes is meant to keep men safe. Security guards will break up fights between men. I’m yet to see them intervene when women are being obviously harassed or assaulted.
There is a video of a fat, black Caribbean woman being sexually assaulted and stripped by a group of men whom she unsuccessfully fights off and attempts to run away from. No one intervened. Someone(s) recorded the video and it was viewed 1.4 million times when I saw it. Hypersexualized in Caribbean popular culture, male performers often engage with fat black women in ways that border on ridicule. In the video, that ridicule escalated to physical and sexual violence. I felt such powerless rage and sadness at the utter contempt for that woman displayed by the men who assaulted her and the crowd which looked on.
The carnivals, dubs, fetes that we consider key spaces for the production of Caribbean popular culture and emblematic of Caribbean identity are grossly hostile and violent to women. These are value producing, income generating activities from which men disproportionately benefit and where women are collectively unsafe. Women risk harassment, coerced interactions, physical and sexual assault and even death in order to participate in Caribbean culture. And now in our social media-saturated times our bodies, stripped bare but still fighting back can be viewed over and over again. Most viewers utterly and completely unable to fathom that what they are viewing is a sexual violation that no woman should have to experience. Male sexual entitlement and the objectification and (hetero)sexualization of women is so commonplace that assaults on us are understood culture.
Carnival is woman. What if women refused to show up for carnival?
EDITED TO ADD Carla Moore’s vlog about the assault below: