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A therapeutic art form, music not only entertains, but also calms the soul. Some genres celebrate people, their abilities, or inform the public about current situations. The majority of dancehall music, however, does the exact opposite. Through word choice, dress, dancing techniques, and roles in the videos, Jamaican dancehall music in particular denigrates the female gender. The sexual objectification of women is the lifeblood of this genre. They are addressed by derogatory names, forced to dance in particular ways to demonstrate their value as women, and clad in clothing that exposes practically all of their skin. Lyrics of dancehall music demean women. There is a common trend of using graphically detailed offensive words to describe female Jamaicans and/or their body parts. The most described parts are the buttocks (for lack of a better word), breasts, and birth canal. Here, the musicians say that a woman’s behind is the most defining feature which any female must possess to be seen as a befitting human being. According to Mavado’s lyrics of the song Squeeze Her Breast, and Swing Republic’s song Scrub Me Mama With a Boogie Beat, the musicians have unapologetically and openly talked about the pleasure they get from the body of a woman. For example, Swing Republic is advising his listeners that a woman who does a washing work in a place known as Harlem can give a full day’s entertainment from her body movements. He is referring to a househelp who spends the day doing laundry and washing floors. As she moves, her body, especially her behind and breast, make rhythmic moves which the lyrics term as ‘boogie woogie.’ These are what give pleasure to the man and his followers. It is saddening that while the woman is toiling to make a living, male misogyny takes over. Similarly, Mavado’s lyrics of the song Squeeze Her Breast are more explicit and shaming. He chooses words which show that the birth canal of a woman is a pleasure tool for men. When the woman bends ‘with her back towards him’ he is happy. Some of the words are too indecent to mention here but they still apply them.
Moreover, dancehall music commodify female body. Often, the girls and women in the music videos are adorned in sexually explicit attires as they also dance in sensual moves. Dancehall musicians believe that it is these women’s bodies and movements which attract their audience. For example, the female ‘whine’ or ‘grind’ their buttocks in circular manner while bending over. Whining or grinding refers to the intense rhythmic movement of their buttocks in circular motions. More often than not, these women’s behind are literally bare. They are covered in small clothing such as ‘booty shorts.’ Lovers of dancehall love seeing the nudity such that if a music video have little or no women body exposed, there is a high likelihood that the music will not sell. Konshen’s song Gal A Bubble is a good example. The girls dancing in the music are dressed in skimpy clothing. They are ‘bubbling’ their body and the men are happy when they the girls dance so. One of the lines say, “…watch the gyal dem a shoob it eeih...When the gyal dem a dip it n drop it, you a funnyman if u nuh happy…” It says that the audience should watch the girls’ movements and anyone who is not entertained by the body movements is most likely a man who does not know what entertains men, hence appears like a funny man. So the music sells the body of women to give entertainment to men. Although lovers of dancehall and some artists believe that music is an expression of creativity, the consequences it has on the image of women is damaging. It is one thing to appreciate women through music while it is another to use them as the main ingredient for commercial purposes in the videos.
According to most of dancehall lyrics, women and girls who do not know how to whine are worthless. In fact, Mr. Vegas, one of the renowned dancehall artists once said that an perfect woman is one who is ‘a good body girl that can whine.’ The lyrics of his song Good Body Gal supports this belief. He says. “Gyal whine pon the sky scraper Bend over, meck mi slap up da big batty deh.” He is praising the girl’s ability to dance and he wants her to do it to the highest limit so that he can feel good. Similarly, T.O.K’s music Gal You Ah Lead considers physical features of a woman who can dance as the measure of beauty and importance. One of the stanzas says,
“First place inna di race You leff dem gal deh a last If a look good test you get more than pass Wid finesse and di class Shape like an hour glass Yuh a di boss (Hey!) Pressure dem inna di E class”
The reference to the woman in this lines show that a girl who dances according to the expectation of men takes the frontline. They are ‘fine’ (beautiful) and have class. Additionally, being at the top make them have class and it justifiable for her to push the rest of the girls who cannot ‘whine’ in the E class. These two songs promote the culture of abuse of women. They make it appear that a woman’s worth is dependent on what the men want form them or what they see them to be. Consequently, many young girls grow up knowing that the only way they can be accepted in the society is through learning how to dance like the music video ladies. Those who cannot match up to men’s expectations are considered less pretty, incapable of loving, uninteresting, or unable to make a man happy.
Further, dancehall music promotes gender-based violence against women. This is done in two means; the way women dress as compared to men, and the manner in which the women are forced to dance. Over 95% of female dancers in this genre of music are less dressed than men. The men are in baggy clothes and seem overdressed. In as much as the male musicians intentionally expose women body parts through direction of choreography to attract the audience, the manner in which it is designed and shown indicates that women are to unquestionably obey what they are told to do. They women are portrayed as objects of sexual gratification which the men use to boost their ego. Secondly, the dance styles are excessively aggressive against the female gender. For example, in Demarco’s video of the song Backaz, the women are made to bend while their behind face the singer. This is what happens in most of the dancehall videos. The man do all kinds of things to the bending men. For example, they touch and slap them. Although the women appear to be comfortable with the acts, they are made to subject their bodies to physical violence. More often than not, Jamaicans have believed that women are meant to follow instructions form men. This form of submissiveness is propagated by the way the female are made to dance. Besides, some of the things they are commanded to do while dancing are demeaning and dangerous to women folk. For instance, like in almost all dancehall songs, Demarco’s song Puppy Tail has female dancers who are dancing with their legs in the air while supported by their heads. In some scenes, they are balancing their weight on moving motorcycles and showing their naked lower body.
Dancehall music has a lot of sexual objectification of women. The demeaning acts range from the choice of words of the songs to the dance styles and attires. Even though it is a common belief that Jamaicans express their culture through these styles, it is unethical and unacceptable that the culture has to be portrayed in these ways. The female gender is used to attract audience by making them dress minimally. Even if the women willingly agree to pose, dance, and be used as depicted in the videos, it is the dancehall culture and the Jamaican society which has made them to believe that their worth depend on such objectification tendencies.
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