Marcia Forbes: Disrespecting Women (And Men) in Jamaica


By Marcia Forbes, PhD
CJ Contributor

The following is the second excerpt in Caribbean Journal from Marcia Forbes’ book, Music, Media & Adolescent Sexuality in Jamaica . The research-based book examines relationships between teens and TV, in particular through the music videos they watch.  Findings are based on the participation of about 550 Jamaican teenagers. The book explores issues of sex and sexuality and how these relate to questions of identity – self, social and sexual.

Disrespecting Women (And Men)

Among adolescents the most contentious aspect of music videos was the lyrics.  Invariably and spontaneously participants mainly focused on dancehall lyrics and especially those from Vybz Kartel.  Dancehall lyrics were variously described as disgusting, disrespectful, degrading or derogatory.  Interestingly these expressions were used by female as well as male interviewees and by adolescents of all ages.

Comments related to the ways in which lyrics spoke about women as well as men.  Several girls were offended by the majority of dancehall songs and the ways they described and objectified women.  I Want It Now, the 11 year old upper middle income interviewee, indicated that she did not like Kartel’s lyrics.  In response to the query, “Any of his lyrics?”, she retorted with disgust, “All of his lyrics”.  With probing as to what about the lyrics she did not like, she responded, “he talks about girls in a way that I don’t like”, explaining that she was “disgusted” by these lyrics.

The older girls were more specific about what they did not like.  Brash Girl, the just turned 13 years of age inner city resident, as her nom de plume suggests, was self-confident with the potential to be loud perhaps even vulgar.  She was very sexually aware.  In this light, her views about some of Kartel’s lyrics bear significance.  Despite admitted admiration for this DJ, explaining that “once you get to know him as a friend, he’s a nice person”, she too used the word “disgusted” to describe her feelings towards some of his lyrics.

She was offended by his reference to “tight pu##y gyal [tight vagina girl]” and the contrast he drew between them and other girls whose vaginas “placka like mud” (mixing onomatopoeia and simile with reference to the noise he felt vaginas with lax walls made).  She felt Kartel disrespected girls “’cause him talk ‘bout nuff [because he talked about many] girls…and I’m a female myself so I gwein [am going to] feel a way [feel badly]”.

To a very large extent the focus group girls were highly critical of Kartel’s lyrics.  One described his Tek Buddy song as “promoting sexual violence towards women and it promotes rape.”  Another saw it as giving males “the OK to use force to get what dem [they] really want…advocating rape.”

Ms Goody Goody, the 17 year old upper middle income interviewee, felt that Jamaican singers “degrade women more than the American singers”.  Noting, “like how we [Jamaican singers] speak about women vagina, like you hole [vagina] big…”  It was not only girls who objected to the ways in which some lyrics disrespected females, in particular with reference to derogatory comments about their vaginas.  Mr Dance Teacher, the 13 year old lower income interviewee who lived with both parents, also took issue with this.

He described it as “nastiness” when lyrics made reference to “you private area, when them call it certain words in the song”.  Other boys spoke out as well.  Comments such as these and several others emphasized the ways in which many DJs objectified women, making them the sum total of either their vaginas in particular or their physical bodies in general.  Girls largely objected to this, but not always.  Some felt validated and highly entertained.