'A Woman we Name!'

Published: Sunday | October 25, 2009
Kevin O'Brien Chang


"A woman we name, so we born lucky!" - Lady Saw.

Over the last three years, 141 Jamaicans have taken their lives, 128 men and 13 women. Jamaica's suicide level is pretty low by world standards. There were 48 in 2008, meaning a national rate of about 1.66 per 100,000, far below say Lithuania's world leading 38.6, Trinidad's 12.8 or the United States' 11.1. Yet while men everywhere kill themselves more often than women, our 10-1 sexual disparity is virtually unprecedented.

A January 6, 2008 Observer article was titled 'Females to blame for male suicides? : Anthropologists, psychologists urge women to stop manipulating men'. In it, Dr Herbert Gayle commented, "Women have grown up without restrictions on expressing their emotions and so they are more emotionally developed than most men and pretty much manipulate men and make them feel incompetent and inferior ... Women have to realise that men's weakness is their sexuality, so women have that sort of power."

Well, the good doctor is right about females having more emotional freedom. However, he cannot be seriously suggesting Jamaican women are unaware of their sexual power. To hear females at a dance gleefully chanting along to songs like Stab Out The Meat and If Him Lef, is to realise there are no more sexually-liberated women on the planet.

Female friends tell me Jamaican women desire three things in a relationship: romantic love, financial security and vigorous lovemaking. Their ideal is all three in one man. However, if this is not forthcoming, they simply seek each component from different sources. In their eyes, a satisfying sex life is not a luxury option, but a non-negotiable right.

enormous pressure

Enjoying the vibes at a Passa Passa street dance. - Nathaniel Stewart/Freelance Photographer

Such expectations naturally put enormous pressure on our men and may be the cause of the massive suicide disparity. In fact, Jamaican males suffer from a kind of sexual slavery, for they are simply not allowed to say no. By flaunting their sexuality so openly and making their demands so plain, our women have created a culture in which the big head is never fully in control of the little head, thus rendering men practically defenceless in the battle of the sexes.

Not that the men are complaining. In fact their contentment and even enjoyment of their bondage brings to mind Louise Bennett's famous lines:

"Jamaica ooman cunny, sah!

Is how dem jinnal so?

Look how long dem liberated

An de man dem never know."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy recently proposed replacing Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measure of a country's well-being with Gross Happiness Product (GHP). Of course, Jamaica recently placed third on the worldwide Happy Planet Index. Any guesses where we rank by Gross Sexual Product (GSP)?

Some say our sex-on-the-brain mindset is a plantation legacy. Well, whatever the origin, it's a present day fact of life affecting Jamaican men of all classes and colour, from top to bottom. It's hard to say which group has a greater reputation for infidelity, dancehall deejays or male members of Parliament.

suspicious of male fidelity

Not that male fidelity is a trait particularly prized by Jamaican women, who often appear to view the notion with suspicion. The logic seems to be "If he's not good enough for other women, how can he be good enough for me?".

Lady Saw once commented in a newspaper article about her partner: "Well, I know he's faithful to me. But is a man still. And as long as him use condom, well is not really a big deal". And nobody understands the female Jamaican mind better than the queen of the dancehall.

Tony 'Daddy O' Robinson, often writes about our women's preference for rogue partners, and their disdain for faithful puppy types. In his words: "Show me a man who wash, cook and clean, and I'll show you a man getting bun!"

As ever, dancehall music expresses this reality most vividly. Through all its variations, one theme is constant - women are God's greatest gift to mankind, it is every man's duty to please as many of them as he can, and any man who turns a willing female away from his bed must be homosexual. Those 'Gal a run dem head!', taunting deejays always bring to mind, 'Methinks thou dost protest too much'. Not for nothing did a local paper vote Beenie Man and Bounty Killa the nation's top two 'gal clowns'.

misogynistic and anti-woman

Dancehall is often described as misogynistic and anti-woman. Yet it celebrates female sexuality like no other music. Women in deejay tunes are sometimes money-hungry, manipulative and unfaithful, but are never less than the crown of creation.

The most telling line in Buju Banton's notorious Boom Bye Bye goes, "Woman a de most beautiful thing God ever put pon the land, Me love her from her head to her foot bottom". At dances, Boom Bye Bye is always met with a huge roar of approval and is invariably followed by Shabba Ranks' Love P.... bad - "Because p.... to mek yuh happy, p.... to mek yuh sad". For good or bad, women must be the most important thing in every man's life, and any other attitude is contrary to the Father's plan.

Commentators often speak of Jamaican homophobia as a strictly male phenomenon. However, it's just as prevalent among women. A couple years ago police had to intervene at Jamaica Carnival when some men who were 'wining' with each other were stoned by women shouting "Is woman carnival this, not gay carnival!". It was a woman who started the uproar that triggered an anti-gay mob scene at a Constant Spring mall in 2007, and women who screamed most of the abuse.

[Disclaimer: This writer condemns violence against any race, creed or sexual orientation. However, how it is, is how it is.]

Whatever the past situation, it's obvious that today's Jamaican society is primarily a female construct. Take the fact that 85 per cent of children are born out of wedlock and less than 50 per cent have registered fathers. Since few children are the product of rape, these statistics must be the result of collective female decisions. It's always the woman who decides if intercourse will take place and if contraceptives are used.

current law

The current law only allows the mother to put a man's name on the birth certificate if he agrees. In April, Prime Minister Bruce Golding loudly promised fast-track legislation that would permit the father's name to be registered without his permission - with court-ordered DNA tests if he objects. "Give me three months!" the PM proclaimed. Almost seven have passed and we've heard nothing more.

To my knowledge, no commentator has even thought the matter worthy of discussion. One can perhaps understand the male reticence, since who knows what skeletons are in which closets? However, astonishingly, not a single woman of prominence has come out in support of a law accepted as the norm in most 'civilised countries'.

Our female Parliamentarians such as Portia Simpson Miller, Olivia Grange and Lisa Hanna have remained deafeningly silent on the issue. So have feminist activists like Glenda Simms and Carolyn Cooper, and human rights advocates such as Carolyn Gomes and Yvonne McCalla-Sobers.

(The United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child says that the child "shall, wherever possible, grow up in the care and under the responsibility of his parents". So how come otherwise vociferous human rights groups like Jamaicans For Justice completely ignore the fact that most Jamaican children don't even have a legal father?)

With men increasingly outmatched on all fronts - educationally, emotionally and sexually - it's clear that only women can bring about real change in this country. However, where is the evidence of them wanting to do so? Action, or the lack of it, speaks louder than words.

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