Kick in she back door: Violence Against Women Takes Road March

Kick in she back door by veteran band Burning Flames recently won Road March in Antigua. Some bands refused to play the song because its offensive lyrics endorse anal rape of women. Nonetheless, it emerged as the most popular song of Antigua’s carnival.

Local activist group, Women Against Rape spoke out against the song saying:

We find the contents of the song unacceptable. The lyrics promote a lack of respect for women and condone the abuse of women and acts of non-consensual sexual aggression and violence against women. To put it frankly: the song encourages rape and/ or sexual violence against women and is in direct contravention of among others Article 4(Basic Documents Pertaining to Human Rights in the Inter American System).

We find the song so extremely offensive that we are calling upon the Hon. Minister Jaqui Quinn Leandro, Minister responsible for Gender Affairs and the Honorable Minster of Information and Technology, the Hon. Minister Edmond Mansoor to ensure that all steps are taken to ensure that all media houses within Antigua and Barbuda and those agencies connected with the media and carnival to immediately stop playing the song in public.
Below is a partial transcription of the lyrics:

[woman screaming]
[man mocking woman’s voice “murder murder,  ah kill he gine kill me”]

If she front door lock and you can’t get in
And she bathroom window lock
And you can’t get in
And she bedroom window lock
And you can’t get in
And she kitchen window lock
And you can’t get in

What to do?

Kick in she back door
Kick in she back door
What ah mean?
Kick um in

And she bawling murder
[more screaming]

I don’t really know bout you
But I know just what to do
When a woman batten down she house
Make up she mind to keep you out
You push your key to find it jam
And it in {something} in you hand

So the solution to get inside
Cause she lock down she house so tight
Whether rain or shine
Morning, noon or night
Is the only way to win this fight


[more screaming: “Call the police, come of mi yard, you too damn wicked”]

Women does mek things real hard
Especially when they get mad
No matter how hard you try
No easy way to slip inside
So the solution to get inside
Cause she lock down she house so tight
Whether rain or sun
Morning, noon or night
Is the only way to win this fight.

The song conceives of heterosexual relations as an adversarial competition in which men, through the use of sexual violence, emerge as winners.  Sex with women is seen as a man’s right and therefore women’s consent to sexual relations deemed immaterial.  In fact, if you follow the song’s logic, if women refuse to consent to vaginal sex, they should be punished by being anally raped.  The song writer’s lament that “women does mek tings real hard, especially when they get mad”  suggests that women should not have the right to determine under what circumstances they will consent to sex.  It rests on an implicit assumption of a man’s right to control a woman’s body because they are in an intimate relationship.  All these beliefs need to be discussed, unpacked and refuted.  As heterosexual relationships are normalised and naturalised, often sexism, misogyny  and unequal relations of power between women and men in heterosexual relationships are made to appear normal and natural too.

Not only has the song not been banned, it’s the most popular of the season and will no doubt be exported across the soca-loving Caribbean.  Since it’s quite likely that many of us will hear it, whether we like it or not, or may very well like it, even though we don’t like the message, we might as well use it as an opening to discuss sex, gender, power and violence in heterosexual relationships.

So, let’s talk about sex. And power, pleasure and gendered expectations.

What does equitable, just and loving heterosexual sex look like? To the many, many vocal people who see absolutely nothing wrong with message in this song, who have argued that the lyrics speak of the “reality” of relationships, what would you say?

A Slutwalk in the Caribbean?

“I want to ask our young women, in particular to dress themselves properly. I know that sometimes, their mode of dress is not good at all and it is important that they dress themselves and do not give temptation to our men,” said Miguel, who is also Minister of Education, during the Budget Debate.

“I know that many a times, they do this but our men can sometimes pull them up a bit and say ‘No’. They have all their mammary glands (breasts) outside — some of them — and they need to know there are two good reasons why we were given these glands.

Source: Dress Properly, Don’t tempt men – Deputy PM

St. Vincent and the Grenadines: Deputy PM tells women to dress properly and not tempt men. She says that women’s breasts are intended to feed children and comfort their husbands. This hetero/sexist drivel was offered in response to the high level of violence against women and girls and femicides in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

One person left this comment on CODE RED’s facebook page:

It’s pretty ignorant. Revealing clothes do not cause murder or any other crime. She’s reaching for an easy conclusion and it’s the wrong one. She should be ashamed of herself and the government should be embarassed.

Not only are her comments ignorant, they are particularly dangerous in the context of such high levels of violence against women and murders of women. She is actually saying that women’s bodies do not belong to themselves, that they belong to men, and conflating women with mothers, that women’s bodies are to be in service of motherhood. Its the same kind of hetero/sexism that is at the root of the kind of violence against women you see in SVG. The respectability discourse, that the human rights of women, should only be protected, if women are “respectable” subjects is absolute sexist drivel. For the millionth time, clothing does not invite nor excuse violence against women.

What the Deputy PM is saying about men is also troubling. By arguing that women’s clothing tempts men into violence she is painting men as naturally inclined toward sexual violence and with no control over their own sexuality. But in the same breath she sets men up as “protectors” of women by asking them to pull women aside and tell them when they are dressing inappropriately!!! In the Caribbean street harassment of women by men is a daily nuisance. Her comments invite more of the same.

It is understandable just how frustrating it is to witness such everyday violence against women and to feel powerless to change it. But seeking to discipline women and our bodies is not the answer. Neither is positioning men as simultaneously naturally violent and as potential protectors of women.

in 1985 in SVG schoolgirls took to the streets of Kingstown in protest against violence against women and girls. They understood that they had a right to life and a right to a good life and used their very bodies to insist that their rights be respected. How is it that schoolgirls in 1985 understood what the Deputy PM in 2012 does not seem to understand?

Do we need a Caribbean slutwalk?

Everyday Rape

Earlier this month a Trinidadian police officer refused to help a rape survivor  because she was naked.  When asked if he could lend her his raincoat so that she could enter the station to report the rape, he refused.  Two good samaritans then took her to her mother’s house where she dressed before returning to the station to report the rape.

This month the Daily Mail published the story of a 62 year-old visitor to Barbados who was raped on the beach. After the police were called they told her they would drive her around to see if she happened to see the rapist anywhere nearby.  After an hour of driving around she was taken to the station where she waited another hour before she was  taken to be seen by a doctor.  She was then driven back to the station and left inside the vehicle parked outside the station for nearly an hour.  Passers-by peered into the vehicle to get a look at her bruised face.

A friend of my mine recounted recently that while at a local police station to report a missing cellphone he struck up a conversation with a woman who was there enduring the lengthy wait to report a crime.  The woman confided in him that this had been her third visit in as many days to the station to report the rape of her primary school-aged daughter.  The police were yet to take a statement or offer any kind of victim support services.

According to a 2007 UN report, St. Vincent & the Grenadines (SVG) has the third-highest rate of reported rapes in the world. Last year SVG ranked 8th in the world for refugee claims to Canada.  The majority of these claims are by women fleeing domestic and intimate partner violence.

In 1997, a 22 year-old Jamaican rape survivor was remanded to Fort Augusta Prison in Kingston for speaking too quietly while giving her testimony.   The judge said this was for her own good.  She ended up spending the night in jail.

Two independent senators in Trinidad & Tobago spoke out against a bill which would force rape survivors to provide DNA samples. The Justice Minister dismissed their protests as unacceptable “feminist posture.”

The examples provided above are drawn not to highlight them as extreme cases which are interesting because they are anomalous. Quite the opposite.  They point to the long-standing failure of Caribbean states to adequately address violence against women generally, and sexual violence specifically.  This is an everyday failure, a systemic failure.  A failure that cannot be solved exclusively by more and better laws or by gender-sensitivity training for police officers, even though these are important.

CODE RED has also been tracking a growing trend across the region where the sexual abuse of boys by adult men is prosecuted under the laws against buggery.  (The buggery laws criminalise anal sex between men regardless of age or consent.) Are prosecutors using the buggery laws to secure convictions in these child abuse cases because the laws against child sexual abuse are inadequate? Or is it that the crime is not that an adult has had sex with a child but rather that the sex act itself is viewed as criminal?  What does this mean for heterosexual rape?  Is the failure to take heterosexual rape seriously because heterosexuality and hetero/sexism are viewed as normal and natural? Heterosexual rape therefore becomes a normal, natural sex act that is only criminal because of the lack of consent? Or as one commenter put it: “I prefer a man to rape my daughter than bugger my son, Lawd of mercy” ? For the record, both acts of rape are to be condemned equally.

This brings us back to the matter of rape as a fact of life, an everyday part of life:  The construction of women’s bodies as inherently vulnerable and violable, and men’s bodies not just as inviolable and invulnerable (a myth given how many young men die as victims of violence) but as weapons themselves.  Everyday rape. The fear that causes women to police themselves, the warnings that women should not walk the road late at night.  The incest, sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children-  an open secret in the region.

You would think that recent calls to end child marriage in T&T would be met with unanimous agreement but that was not the case.  “Child marriages [are] often used as a method to avoid prosecution for sexual violations against minors, or to take the shame away from teenage pregnancies. [..] young girls are married off for economic reasons. [..] the country’s four marriage acts are in conflict with conventions to which T&T is a signatory, including the Convention for the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women.”  The majority of children who get married off are girls.  Some of the most vocal opponents of ending child marriage were less concerned with the well-being of girls and more concerned about retaining the masculinist power and privilege which the marriage acts confer on diverse religious patriarchies.  The Muslim, Hindu and Orisha Marriage acts all set a lower age of consent for girls than boys.

Crimes against women continue to be discounted as crime.  Even just saying  “violence against women” is met with opposition.  Next time a story of rape, child sexual abuse or domestic violence murder grabs the headlines look past the sensationalism for the ordinariness, the everydayness of the story.  How else do we maintain commitment to ending the misogyny and heterosexism that are part of everyday life?

Man Down: Biting Brand Jamaica

Rihanna’s Man Down video is generating quite a bit of chatter, no doubt to the delight and expectation of the Rihanna machine.  However, not all the reviews have been positive as many are questioning the nativizing and stereotypical images of the Caribbean presented, and of Jamaica specifically:

 No seriously now fada gad…why Rihanna leave all di way from Merica come a Jamaica come shoot ar video fi show scar face man inna red holey holey marina a rape ar inna zinc house??? Jah kno, like we needed any more of those stereotypical perceptions of dis ghetto paradise….ah boi…lol.. (facebook user)

Why she had to come to Jamaica to shoot a man and become a criminal. The video highlighted Jamaica as a criminal, illegal haven, showing “bad men” and to make it worst she chnaged her style completely to that of singing reggae/dancehall using a one-drop rhythm. It really peeves me! (facebook user)

A commenter on CODE RED’s facebook page felt that the video represented the “Othering” of Jamaica and Jamaicans which takes place in the Caribbean:

This is ‘Caribbean racism’ at its best. Unfortunately I am not au fait with bell hooks or any other feminist writer to be able to fully deconstruct the video and highlight all the ‘othering’ taking place in it. (Tennisha)

The theme of Rihanna’s inauthentic appropriation of Brand Jamaica (and her negative portrayal of Jamaica in the process) is a frequent one:

1) Like Barbados nuh have nuff zinc and board house she could duh it in kmt
2) A dat me say too. She should tek it to B’dos
3) mi waan kno if rape nuh gwaan a barbados y she affi come a Jamaica fi di rape song (facebook users)

Rihanna is cashing in on the cultural capital of dancehall—the rough, edgy ‘cool’ of dancehall—of course without any of the experiences of being part of Jamaica’s underclass. (And she is by no means the first. Global capital has been cashing in on brand Jamaica and brand Caribbean for quite some time). In part, this perhaps represents the contradiction of how black popular culture is consumed, packaged and sold while many black people are considered expendable bodies (think of the USAID quibbling over how many died in Haiti or were made homeless by the earthquake specifically). The images in the video are indeed nativizing and stereotypical…we’ve seen them before in other Caribbean artists’ portrayal of the region. It is perhaps the music video version of the Caribbean picturesque updated to include sexual violence. This is how the Caribbean represents itself. Think of state tourism ads and how they sell hedonism, sensuality and sex. I sense though that the criticism of this video reflects much of the recent Barbados-Jamaica tension. I would say that within the Caribbean Jamaica is asked to stand in for the best and the worst of Caribbean culture. (Tonya of CODE RED)

The focus on Rihanna’s use of dancehall, however, may in fact overshadow the comment on sexual politics in the Caribbean which the video makes:

I am slightly intrigued that little has been said concerning the actual content of the video in what is the reality far too often in the Caribbean – how forms of women rejecting men’s advances whether directly sexual, or the casual psst through town or otherwise often has violent repercussions- scroll down Code Red’s wall for example, and one has to acknowledge that the Caribbean is too violent a space in some regards. What of the sexual politics of the encounter on the dance-floor which often transcends that moment in the club… (Rashad)

Many Rihanna fans (and it seems Rihanna herself) are claiming the video as a powerful statement against rape and an anthem of “female empowerment.”  The Crunk Feminist Collective reviews the video positively and one facebook user posted the following message on our page:

My reaction to the video has been the inverse of what it seems most people above experienced – it was the inclusion of the rape scene that most struck me. Sexual violence against women is hardly dealt with by ‘mainstream’ artists, & its general absence in public conversation forces the “privatised experience”. All the other discourses evoked by the video are of course valid, but as a Caribbean woman, as a survivor of sexual violence, and having worked with other survivors, I am yet to viscerally move past the emotional – and actually freeing – impact of seeing the experience of rape and it’s resulting mess (for both victim and perpetrator) depicted in popular media. None of it is pretty, but it’s real, and it is refreshing to have the messiness forced into everyday conversation, the messiness that many of us wish we could hide from but can’t.

In the US the video has generated a completely different kind of controversy with some groups calling for the video to be banned due to its depictions of violence.

One CODE RED member considers the video’s subversive possibilities:

Is it violence to be consumed as entertainment? Women and girls who face the very real threat of sexual violence, unequal relations of gender, gang-rape, incest etc typically do not get to “shoot a man down”. Rape becomes the individualised, privatised experience of the woman. It is not considered “public” violence like that of the gun-wielding shottas. So perhaps you could read subversion in Rihanna’s use of the gun. But in the wider context of the video with its problematic images of black working-class masculinity and an exoticized and nativized Caribbean, the everydayness of (sexual) violence and the sensationalism of the video, for me at least, that subversive moment is lost. (Tonya of CODE RED)

Yet, as another CODE RED commenter insists, the lines between advocacy and entertainment cannot be so clearly drawn: “If we only speak to violence when it is a news article, or a study, we miss a huge demographic” (Rashad).

What are you thoughts on the video?   Join the CODE RED collective on facebook and have your say! We’re having a very lively discussion on facebook with varying perspectives, all of which are not captured here in this short post!