Friday, April 18, 2008

one Jamaican's perspective on gender, house music

Dj Fflood, one of the djs I respect most, in that bedrock, soul-of-the-music and damn-hard-working-dj kind of way, has started a blog, and one of his first posts is about Jamaica, gender and house music. As a Jamaican man who lived and dj'ed in New york City during the great house music era, his experience sounds fascinating and I hope we'll hear some stories form that time, as well as the insights he brings.

check it out here

On one small point he makes, about masculinity in JA, I can only say my experience supports this. At least in the parts of Jamaica I was in, the gender box seemed fairly narrowly defined, and also (I note his comment on the campiness of some black comedians) oddly campy but layered with heavy denial, and kept denied on pain of violence. The flamboyance of much of the men's fashion is at odds with many American gender performances of masculinity, but it's all underscored with serious policing of what is and isn't appropriate behavior for men.

That's the sad, serious underpinning of the also-hilarious "badman commandments" that Gabriel of Heatwave summed up for Woofah: it is to laugh, but in reality it's because you dare not cry --some of these things can suddenly become triggers for actual attack, where everyone suddenly decides that drink X or clothing style Z means you are gay. Factor in that artists can shoot for a hit with an anti-gay song since people who fear being marked as gay (or otherwise bad) feel more obligated to support that song, and you get a string of songs that make up more and more outlandish shit.

It was worst and most obvious in the men's prison I volunteered in, where, for example, if an inmate picked up a bottle of water that someone else had dropped and drank out of it, that marked them as gay. (I'm not sure what it meant if a guard did that, but guards certainly tolerated all of these rules and their punishments too) Gay meant "bad" but it also meant specifically gay in a couple of ways - one was that you were a legitimate target of violence and social ostracism, the second, particularly horrible repercussion, was that gayness eradicated the already shaky vision of "consent" in the sexual lexicon - if you permit one person IN THEORY access to your body, that means you have de facto permitted anyone. (although not perhaps as common, this is true outside prison, outside Jamaica, and especially true for women - this second fact is actually considered a condition of being female, but that's another rant)

Ayway, outside the prison as well, men spent an awful lot of time talking about the markers of what made a man, and demonstrating the proper qualifications. Those demonstrations often affected women, because they often involved treating women in a particular way. One of the sadder aspects of my experience in the prisons was the insights from the inmates at the women's prison. It also affects the shape of family relations and children's sense of self and connection with others, as these women testified. Corroborated by some of the people who were in the organization I was with, they talked about how fathers did not feel free to show affection and support for their children, especially their sons.

the sad subtext to this (possibly fictionalized) Overheard in New York: "thugs don't make bears"

While I'm usually extremely resistant to psychological explanations for systemic problems (suspicious of psychology in general), I did start to wonder about how that particular shape of emotional relationships affects how people work together and what kind of institutions they build. It seemed to derail a lot of energy into something that didn't produce a lot of good.

1 comment:

  1. Solid post.

    Marlon James, a prolific Jamaican blogger, also wrote about it. I really enjoyed his account, so maybe you will too:

    "But I knew beyond any doubt that they were Jamaican because they were doing one of the Jamdown man’s favourite pastimes: Convincing the world that he’s straight.

    Yeah man when me fuck 'ar she jus' awwww and ohhhh and eeeeeh and IEEE-I-I-I-! said stud number one. "