“Badman don’t bathe with him baby-mother rag.
Badman do it hard, make she go ‘round go brag.
Shotta clothes don’t wash with gyal underwear…”
That’s my Semi-Standard-English rendition of dancehall song, “Badman” by Jamaican artiste, Elephant Man.
For me, this song has always been both hilarious and annoying – and for the same reason: the male character overshares personal hygiene and housekeeping details, touting them as evidence of his masculinity, his “badmanness.”
So, he does not bathe with his baby-mother’s wash-rag (although, I can’t imagine why anyone – badman or otherwise – would want to use the rag someone else just rubbed their muck with). He does not permit his clothes to be laundered together, in the same tub, with any female underwear (I’m not sure what’s the risk here…leprosy?) And, when engaging in intercourse with the owner of said female underwear, he does it “hard” to ensure she has no choice but to walk around town telling everyone about his prowess.
If this song is not an advertisement for Jamaican hypermasculinity, I don’t know what is.
“Hypermasculinity” is a psychological term for the exaggeration of male stereotypical behavior, such as an emphasis on physical strength, aggression, and sexuality.
And you know what? Jamaicans aren’t the only ones who suffer from it. There are Trinidadian men walking around with the same mentality. And you know what’s worse? There are Trini women actively enabling this hypermasculine mindset in their sons, and propagating the acceptance of it in their daughters. I know this is happening because I’ve had some of those conversations, with well-meaning elders, about the finer details of marriage. You know, tips on how to keep a man by being a proper wife/maid/cook/ironer/exotic beauty-queen.
Hypermasculinity is dangerous though. Its effects are debilitating, just like a disease, and it cripples boys. It supplies them with a long list of things they cannot (and dare not) do – if they wish to be seen as men. Schoolwork is one of those things. A recent bbc.com article looked at Jamaican and Afro-Caribbean boys and concluded that these boys chose to perform poorly at school to avoid undermining their masculinity. The article says, “That notion of masculinity says that if as a male you aspire to perform highly it means you are feminine, even to the extent of saying you are gay.”
Hypermasculinity isn’t just an “Afro” problem either. Sure, in Jamaica where the majority of the population is black, only 20% of students are men at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus. However, in Trinidad, where the population is significantly more diverse (2011 Census: 35.4% East Indian, 34.2 African, 22.8% Mixed) men account for a measly 25% of the student body at the St. Augustine campus. Where have all the schoolboys – of all races – gone?
Let’s be real: pernicious masculinity has always been a feature of gender relations in the Indo-Trinidadian community. You cannot study our history without encountering that chapter on “coolie wife murders.” And who can forget VS Naipaul’s classic, The Mystic Masseur? When the protagonist, Ganesh, beats his wife, Leela, on their wedding night, “it meant much to both of them”, for this first of beatings gives her status equal to other Indian wives.
In the traditional Indo-Trinidadian culture, girls are groomed for marriage from childhood. At marriage, the woman becomes part of (read: “the property of”) her husband’s family and she is expected to be submissive to her husband as well as his family. She is expected to cater to their needs and desires at the expense of her own.
Undoubtedly, there have been significant changes in Indo-Trinidadian gender relations now that more women are going to high school and university, and holding prestigious jobs. We can even boast of having had an Indian woman as Prime Minister. But don’t be fooled, hypermasculinity is still alive and well in that community. You need only look as far as local Chutney-Soca music. Let’s take, for instance, the song that copped the 2017 Chutney Soca Monarch title:
“Ramsingh Sharma, the village ram from San Juan.
He have he wife and he dey with the sister.
They buy he visa to take him to Canada.
One give him house, one give him a motor car.
…Them girl does bathe he, dress he, mind he and give him all their money.”
So, Ramsingh Sharma is the Lothario of the town of San Juan. An urban legend. As “The Village Ram”, his sexual exploits make him a kind of Robin Hood – he goes deep into forests that are not his own and reaps where he did not sow. In fact, the man is so good that he’s screwing his wife AND his sister-in-law at the same time, and they both know about it and don’t seem to mind. Instead, they shower him with material things and cater to all his vices.
Although this song originated in the Indo-Trinidadian community, it is the biggest crossover hit of this Carnival and can still be heard everywhere, gleefully sung by everyone – even my two-year old daughter. Why was it so popular? Because it personifies the ultra-masculinity which is most applauded in our society: “the sweet man”. Every male aspires to be Ramsingh Sharma. And females – wives, mothers – are conditioned to accept this aspiration as normal and inevitable.
As adults, we all laugh at the lyrics of Ramsingh Sharma, we treat them like an inside joke and assume that children don’t understand. Or do they? Mind you: this isn’t a case of double entendre, nothing is tongue-in-cheek here, the song is very clear for any half-literate man, woman, or child to grasp: Ramsingh is fucking and living off his wife and her sister. I wonder how many fathers (and mothers) actually took the opportunity, after hearing their sons singing this song, to stop and explain that Ramsingh’s promiscuity – particularly the intra-family aspect – is morally wrong, reckless and nothing worth emulating? Maybe such conversations are too awkward – God forbid we should to talk to our kids about sexual behaviour? Or maybe we expect boys to figure out these sexual and moral do’s and don’ts for themselves, later, after they’ve made life-altering, family-wrecking decisions.
But if we aren’t talking to our sons, the music will. Whether Indo or Afro, Jamaican or Trini, or otherwise, the cultural exhortation to Caribbean boys goes something like this: Badman don’t study schoolwork, he does study gyul. Why work? Just fuck hard and get everything for free.
What about your son, Reader? To him, what are the do’s and don’ts of manhood? Do you know?