How Much Am I Worth: Sexual Tourism in the Caribbean
When considering the ideas of female sexuality as it pertains to tourism in the Caribbean, people tend to envision call-girls at upscale parties and prostitutes that sell their bodies to the highest bidder.However, when taking a deeper look, one can see beyond the surface into the reality of the situation.
Taking into consideration the ideas of female sexuality as it pertains to tourism in the Caribbean, people tend to envision call-girls at upscale parties and prostitutes that sell their bodies to the highest bidder.However, when taking a deeper look, one can see beyond the surface into the reality of the situation.The fact is that women in the Caribbean have found ways to manage their involvement in sex tourism, music and dance to their own advantage, thereby demonstrating agency.
Prior to exhibiting the truth about female agency within sex tourism in the Caribbean, it is necessary to call attention to the myths that suggest that most women are oppressed within the industry.According to Victoria Durant-Gonzalez, there is a theory that speaks to the “grace of sexuality” which suggests that women are placed into a detrimental situation at the hands of this theory: “In Jamaica, the number of women with social ties to a man is an indicator of his social status. In this way, women in the society reaffirm, reinforce, and in some instances determine male social status. An important aspect of female affirmation of male social status is the underlying assumption that these ties are sex-based.
… simply suggesting intimacy reinforces male status.It is from this suggestive element that the grace of sexuality is derived. Thus the grace of sexuality places men and women into reciprocal relationships whereby women receive access to sources of livelihood and men receive arbitration of social status..
.. The grace of sexuality persists because it is an efficient way of meeting and carrying out female familial responsibility. ” (Henry 1981, 7) These sentiments suggest that women are indeed disadvantaged due to the setup, which surrounds sexuality in the Caribbean. This is just one of the many untruths that need to be dispelled.Another misconception is linked to the violence that female sex workers are subject to within the industry. When a group of researchers studied the sex industry in Barbados, Belize, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Jamaica, the Netherlands Antilles, Suriname, and the Colombian city of Cartagena de Indias, they called attention to this very argument.
“Now, women’s groups throughout the Caribbean are concerned that female prostitutes are increasingly becoming victims of violence. There are no government initiatives aimed at protecting or empowering the region’s prostitutes” (Shephard 2010, 19).There appears to be a growing concern that these women are in such dangerous situations that they are unable to fend for themselves. This theory makes women victims and takes away the sense of agency that they have within the industry. One last misconception which must be cleared is that women who participate in sex tourism in the Caribbean are reactionary in this work. “Women relate to sexuality in a predominantly defensive mode while men are urged to explore within hetero-normative practices (Lewis 2003, 135).The fact is that researchers, tourists, and foreigners alike have pictured female sex workers in the Caribbean as weak and incapable of acting of their own self-interest.
However, there is evidence to suggest that these women do indeed have strength and choice in their actions. It can be assumed that some of their actions are deliberate. In a book entitled What’s Love Got to do with it? : Transnational desires and sex tourism in the Dominican Republic, by Brennan, Mignolo, and Silverbatt, women’s economic survival strategies are explored, in the face of extreme poverty and for most, single motherhood.Dominican sex workers navigate their own comfort zones, police arrests, threats of violence and AIDS. In fact, it would appear that they exploit foreign tourists’ sexually and racially motivated stereotypes in hopes to secure long-term economic relationships with these tourists, including money wires, future vacations, and in some cases marriage and visas. These women act independently, without pimps, but against a power imbalance composed of racial, gendered, and classed hierarchies.Brennan displays that tourists who visit the Caribbean for sex are supported by their native countries with the weight of the colonial and economic dominance over these developing nations.
This support displays more than just a monetary aid, instead, it incorporates travel access, and the freedom to enact on fantasies at will. The sex workers than use these forces at play to give them the upper hand with regard to “earning their keep”. This book displays a clear feminist perspective and demonstrates the agency of sex workers at all points in their search for economic and at times romantic satisfaction, even as they face daunting odds.In another article, Sandra Duvivier argues that “the employment of sexuality, particularly female sexuality, is a feasible means of socioeconomic development in the Caribbean” (Duvivier 2008, 1104). Duvivier speaks about the fact that women believe themselves to be a sort of commodity. Currently, women in the Caribbean take ownership of their bodies and use it as a means of survival. Not only do they know how to handle themselves but, they also believe that they are in control of the situations where they place themselves, thus demonstrating a sense of personal agency.
Along those lines, a researcher by the name of Carolle Charles wrote: In Haiti, poor and working women speak in a different way about the image and usage of the body for social reproduction, for economic survival, for social status, and for heterosexual encounters and conjugal relationships… While the dominant discourse symbolically describes women and their bodies as “ripe fruit ready to be eaten,” working class women, in contrast, define their bodies as a “resource, an asset, a form of capital that can reap profits if well invested. “Kom se kawo tem” (my body is my piece of land) claim many poor Haitian women. (Charles 1994, 137) It is evident here that even local women have decided to take dominion over their situations and their bodies.Contrary to the majority of the patriarchal constructions of Haiti that place the advantage of women’s sexuality in the hands of men, working class Haitian women have begun to define themselves in revolutionary ways and have also started to capitalize off of their own bodies.Furthermore, it is evident through the actions of sex tourists and their connections with sex workers, that there is an exploitative representation of black female bodies in the market. Travelers have appeared to take complete control of this fact, marginalizing black Caribbean women. These women are then expected to be obedient to these men, and occasionally other women.
Duvivier also calls attention to the identities of race and class within this context: “For their johns, who are of various races, these sexual engagements also allow them to affirm their First-World, gendered identity.White men, as previously mentioned, assert an uncompromised white masculinity that had been threatened in their respective home spaces. People of color, while often subjected to racism and not asserting a racialized identity, affirm ‘a sense of Western-ness and so of inclusion in a privileged world. ’” However, as she later points out, Caribbean women do not share in that privilege. On the other hand, it is quite clear that females have begun to take charge of their sexuality, especially with respect to sex work in the Caribbean. …Caribbean women see sex work as a legitimate way to raise money for purchasing a home for their families or sending their children to private schools… both men and women who inhabit marginal sexual spaces assume an active agency over their sexual lives, sometimes rebelling against narrowly defined sexual regimes. ” (Sharpe and Pinto 2006, 249) Active agency is the key portion of all of this research.
The fact is that, regardless of how one gets there, exerting agency is a huge part of taking away the defensive aspect of a situation.These women, who are taking their bodies into their own rights, create prices and, situations and, who say “No” or “Yes”, for that matter, they are revealing power. This power is undeniably putting the face of sex work into a whole new light, thereby, taking away the control of the usual “First-World” tourists, which is part of the fantasy. For this reason there has been little to no concrete evidence found to support these theories. However we do know that, “As sex has become part of the exotic fantasies that destinations around the world offer tourists, sex tourism has grown to become a multibillion-dollar industry. (Sharpe and Pinto 2006, 250) The reality of these women taking control ruins the fantasy for their customers, thereby decreasing profits so, many women have yet to speak up about this matter. The books on sex work in the Caribbean (Kempadoo 1999b, 2004; Brennan 2004) represent a paradigm shift inasmuch as, first, they treat prostitution as a legitimate alternative to low-paying domestic work or jobs in the export-processing zones; second, they break down the rigid boundary between sex work and domesticity; and, finally, they articulate how workers exercise some control over their exploitation.
The studies attempt to find a place for women’s agency and dignity within an occupation that was previously treated by feminists as degrading and exploitative. Characterizing sex work as one of the limited options available to poor, uneducated women for feeding and clothing their children, Kempadoo includes it with other informal forms of self-employment such as “higglering” or “huckstering” as one of the strategies for survival… (Sharpe and Pinto 2006, 251-2) Sharpe and Pinto call out a number of key points which seem to shape the arguments of agency within sex work.They later go on to speak about the fact that women see sex work as a path to social mobility either through its “superior earning power over other forms of unskilled labor or, ideally, as the path to marriage with someone who is willing to support them. ” (Sharpe and Pinto 2006, 252) Though, as discussed earlier, it may be hard to see the agency exerted by these women in sex work, there are other areas where it is easier to see the fact that women in the Caribbean have, indeed, taken their sexuality into their own hands.Agency can be seen in the growing culture of reggae and dancehall. Women have exerted their power outwardly and have begun to take charge of their sexuality. “Bwoy mi glad seh mi hold yuh, use di pussy control yuh/ Bwoy yuh give mi di biggest wood mi ever get inna my life/ Bwoy mi never believe yuh when yuh tell mi seh mi would a need yuh/ Bwoy yuh give mi di biggest wood mi ever get inna my life” exclaims a chorus by a very famous dancehall artist, Lady Saw.
This translates into: “Boy I’m glad to hold you, Use my vagina to control you/ Boy you give me the biggest penis I’ve ever had in my life/ Boy I never believed you when you told me I wouldn’t need you/ Boy you give me the biggest penis I’ve ever had in my life. ” By these lyrics alone, one can see the control that women are exerting within the Caribbean. Even within the lyrics, Lady Saw uses her knowledge of a man’s ego to make him feel as though he is in control by complementing his penis. However, it is very clear that she believes her vagina is in control.For a number of years, culturally-based music, dance, and ritual has attracted tourists from all over the world to the Caribbean. Here, citizens of developed countries come to view what they deem as a “spectacle to behold” in watching women parade through the streets during carnival. Though, many have ignorantly assumed that these women do these dances and create these fantasies as a form of their own, unknown self-exploitation, the fact is that the dance and music of the Caribbean is a forum where women can liberate themselves.
In a piece written by Belinda Edmondson she exerts: My main argument centers around the different meanings accorded to different kinds of female public “performances,” a term I use to describe women’s popular culture rituals and behaviors in the public sphere. In that “performance” suggests a physical gesture made with a physical body for a passive viewing audience, it is a particularly apt term for my purposes here. “Performance” implies agency, an act meant to do particular kinds of work or make particular kinds of statements. Edmondson 2003, 2) In a culture which may often repress a woman’s sexuality, using sexuality as an active agent in music and dance helps to release this dissonance of not owning one’s own body/feeling. Jeanie Forte has argued that, these sexual female performers “expose their bodies in order to reclaim them, to assert their own pleasure and sexuality, thus denying the fetishistic pursuit [by men]. ” This thought is not actually all that revolutionary. In fact, consider the late Josephine Baker who traveled all over the world, exhibiting her sexuality as a tool for money making (similar to that of a sex worker).
Though not participating in the physical act of having sex for money, Mrs. Baker’s performances created a fantasy where people of all genders and races could be united through one common, attractive factor—sex. Ultimately, the women in the Caribbean are beginning to take their sexuality into their own hands, much like Mrs. Baker, gaining from it what they want and what they need. For centuries, patriarchal societies have deemed men the sole beneficiaries of sexuality; however, the intense rhythms of Soca, Reggae, and Dancehall and now the industry of sex work is becoming a serious threat to that belief.In a book entitled, “Noises in the Blood,” Carolyn Cooper decisively considers the dismissed communication of Jamaica’s vibrant pop-culture, reclaiming these cultural forms, both oral and textual, from an undeserved neglect. The language of Jamaican popular culture–its folklore, idioms, music, poetry, song–even when written is based on a tradition of sound, an orality that has often been belittled as not worthy of serious study.
Cooper’s analysis of this cultural “noise” expresses the influential and reminiscent content of these performers and highlights their contribution to an undervalued Caribbean identity.She then connects this orality, or otherwise considered the “feminized Jamaican mother tongue,” to the issues of gender in her postcolonial view. Cooper argues that these contemporary dialect forms must be recognized as genuine expressions of Jamaican culture and as expressions of resistance to marginalization, racism, and sexism. This further exacerbates the idea that women, even in their speech within the music and culture, take an active agency in their decisions. It would appear that they are divisive in nature and use every outlet possible to exert their power. To all the ladies in the dance/ I lose all control when I see you/ Standing there in front of me/ Your style, your clothes, your hair/ You fair woman, you look so sexy/ De way you wine and, de way you dance/ And de way that you twist and turn your waist/ Leaves me wanting, leaves me yearning/ Leaves me feelin for a taste” proclaim the lyrics to Rupee’s popular song “Tempted to Touch”. This is yet another exhibit of a woman’s power.
Rupee explains how a woman can make him lose all control and leave him “tempted to touch”.The mere fact is that women have gained ownership of this control and have begun to use it for their own advantage. In fact, in a documentary entitle Masquerade, where the sexuality of women is explored within the context of carnival and other Caribbean festivities, it appeared that the general consensus was that women were taking ownership rights over their sexuality. It appeared to be a piece of them which would be hard to steal. Pat Bishop was quoted having said, “I see a sense of hedonism in our culture, it is a way of intensifying life.Others say that Carnival exhibits cathartic behavior but, to be cathartic, by definition, is to submerse oneself in grief, thereby, purging that grief. When I am performing… there is no grief.
” For Bishop, these rituals bring about a sense of pride and joy and she is fully aware of the fact that the way she views herself is not aligned with the way others have viewed her culture. Another woman in the documentary was quoted saying, “My race is sensual. Even when a woman walks, the sway goes to the beat. You may not hear it but, I’d bet she can.Because her knees move, her hips move; that is the base of dance. Sexual NOTHING—that’s the way we move. ” This woman takes agency to an entirely other level.
She would argue that Caribbean women are just being natural and that, what the rest of the world deems sexual, is actually just innate. Whether it be through music, dance, or sex work, Caribbean women have exhibited agency across the board. For a very long time, patriarchal societies and foreign tourists have deemed their behavior as such that is defensive or reactionary, when in fact, they have been in control for a long time.Asserting their own ideas and benefitting from society’s lack of knowledge about them, they have made their way toward true dominion. The single issue that remains is whether or not Caribbean women had this “disguised power” first or is it something that derived from a lack of power in previous years. Truth be told, the issue goes back to that of which came first: the chicken or the egg. It is uncertain but, ultimately does not matter.
The facts remain the same: Caribbean women have found a way to exert their agency through a number of outlets, despite patriarchal systemic views.Regardless of whether or not they are paid for their actions, they receive what they want: whether that is monetary compensation, life-time partners, or just a release from daily troubles through rhythm and dance. These women are extraordinary beings and should be credited as such.