I STAND WITH ISHAWNA: Dancehall's 'Equal Rights' Fight
In a piece I wrote last year for The Establishment on women in Jamaica's dancehall culture, I said the following:
Misogyny, violence, and homophobia permeate [hip hop and dancehall], with the male-dominated nature of each being highly prevalent. Through the transition from girl to woman, I loved my culture, but didn’t always feel like it loved me. Where was the room for women’s ownership and expression of dancehall music and culture? In what ways could women siphon some of the control from men and create space for themselves?
Through my reverence for Carnival and love for women in dancehall who helped pave the way to my own brand of womanism, that positivity is all-too-often interjected by a misogynistic, patriarchal, homophobic poison that reminds me just how much my culture doesn't love me - or anyone who isn't a heterosexual, cisgender male.
Some of that poison permeated the general bashment and bacchanal of my life a few days ago, when I got caught up on the latest gendered controversy happening in dancehall. Long-time artist Bounty Killer issued an Instagram post "warning" to fellow artist Ishawna, demanding that she not perform her new hit single at a Labour Day show they're both billed on for tonight (EDIT: post has since been deleted, but screenshots live forever). Why would he do such a thing, especially after recently speaking out against gender-based violence? Follow me, camera. (RIP Messy Mya!)
Dancehall artist Ishawna recently released her new single, "Equal Rights," which explicitly details her preferences for a sexual partner who can provide her the oral satisfaction she desires. Now - dancehall enthusiasts know that discussing the merits of heterosexual sex is not off-limits in the music, and explicit lyrics ensure that the point is not misconstrued. However, dancehall's (and Jamaica's overall) patriarchal culture has normalized the permission for male dancehall artists to speak on sex as they see fit, and hypocritically clutches its pearls at a woman doing the same.
Enter, the current eruption over "Equal Rights." A significant amount of men (and women who uphold the practice of misogyny for their own myriad of reasons) have condemned Ishawna and the song, seemingly unable to swallow (pun intended) a woman who is calling the shots on her own sexual pleasure - what she's willing to give, and what she wants to receive.
From the dawn of dancehall in Kingston's inner-city communities to now, men have detailed exactly how they like sex, how dem bad inna bed, how they (think they) pleasure women, and how they're "champion lovers" and "bedroom bullies" drinking peanut punch and magnum tonics with the stamina to 'tan pon it long.' Anything other than penis-inserted-into-vagina sex is shunned, with an interesting juxtaposition between the gunfingas that fling up when a DJ says "dem nuh bow," the women who look around the club and see the men who they know are lying, and artists like Vybz Kartel, who openly sing about receiving blow jobs.
Ishawna isn't the first woman in dancehall to share how she likes it. Lady Saw and Tanya Stephens came before her, and Spice is currently touring Europe, letting audiences know she likes when her partner "stab up mi meat, mek mi tear up di sheet." It hasn't been an easy road for any woman in dancehall - but Bounty Killer took it to a new low when he threatened Ishawna and tried to blackball her by refusing to do any future shows with her (actually, not that new - since male artists did the same to Lady Saw in her heyday).
Misogyny, sexism, and homophobia weren't invented in Jamaica, and aren't unique to dancehall. However, for the purpose of today's blog post, I'm going to put the videolight squarely on men like Bounty Killer who exhibit their fragile, toxic masculinity in reaction to a woman making a song for other women. These men stay firmly pressed about what others do in their bedrooms, inserting themselves into conversations no one invited them to, and puffing out their chests to share what they will or won't do in their own encounters. These men exhibit their innate sensitivities at not being the head of the sexual pyramid, recoiling at the idea of *gasp* reciprocity in sex and pleasure. They react with violence when they feel threatened, when their status quo is rocked, when others dare to love differently from them, when sex isn't just about getting pussy and getting their dicks wet. These men put their cards on the table, and all of them show weakness. In Bounty's case, being braggadocious on Instagram and threatening the livelihood of another artist - a younger woman who will do something for the audience that he can't - is the only way he can scramble to clutch at some semblance of strength. These men and their delayed evolution are a pox upon the richness of dancehall, supported by a society that serves as a Petri dish, allowing their bacteria to multiply.
Call me an overthinker if you want - but reactions to Ishawna's song clearly tie to other issues across the Caribbean region and diaspora. The Tambourine Army in Jamaica and the #lifeinleggins social media movement started by Bajan women fight against sexual harassment, rape culture, and violence against women. Heteronormativity plays into the rigid gender roles and homophobia that are dangerously rampant across the culture. And though there's further societal and historical context that can be applied to this entire discussion, we're scraping the bottom of the barrel if we continue to assume that things - and people - cannot change.
All this to say - #IStandWithIShawna and want her to do the damn thing tonight at the show. She's already responded to Bounty, basically telling him to "bring it on," so I hope she's got a supportive circle and audience standing with her - and I hope Bounty is ready to get put in his place and watch how 'oman run tings.