The Caribbean Student Association at the University of Maryland set out to explore and explain the answers to this question at their General Body Meeting on Thursday, October 23rd at the Nyumburu Cultural Center.
If you didn’t know, the Caribbean Student Association, or CSA for short, is a student organization designed to unite, socialize, and educate the Caribbean student population at UMD. CSA prides itself on enhancing and celebrating Caribbean culture, politics and history at the University of Maryland through programming and community service.
Thursday’s mission was to discuss the over-sexualization of Caribbean women in American culture.
First on the agenda was to discuss the difference between exotic and erotic.
By definition, erotic means a quality that causes sexual feelings while exotic means originating in or a characteristic of a foreign country. However, surprisingly enough, many Americans often confuse the two when referring to those of Caribbean descent.
In order to accurately examine the difference in the sexual cultures of America and the Caribbean Islands, the CSA representatives came up with a few short activities illustrating their arguments.
One way the view of Caribbean women in society was explored was through a series of performances/skits created by CSA members. The skits included interactions between several men and women at school, work, McKeldin Library and at a typical college party.
In the first skit, CSA members addressed the derogatory ways in which Caribbean men often refer to the physical attributes of women.
In this skit, both the Caribbean and American audience members were able to compare and contrast the ways that men (and sometimes women) approach the opposite gender. One of the ways the approaches differ by culture is how Caribbean men are known for complimenting a women’s physical appearance such as her eyes or her smile; whereas in American culture, many men refer to women by their body parts.
Later, to showcase the oversexualization of Caribbean culture in the music industry, CSA members played popular Caribbean songs such as “Dude” by Beenie Man ft Ms. Thing and Skinny Banton’s “Soak it Good” to display how explicit lyrics in Caribbean music are often overlooked. These songs raised the question: As much as we all enjoy these songs, do we actually know what we are singing/dancing to?
Upon finding out what the lyrics in each of these songs meant, many audience members (especially non-Caribbeans) were shocked by the derogatory references to Caribbean women and the prevalence of sexual innuendos. With songs including slang terms like “pum pum” and pumzlickah, CSA members addressed how being overly sexual in music is seemingly acceptable in Caribbean culture.
When asked “What do you feel when you hear these songs?” and “Are these songs representative of our respective cultures?,” audience members revealed that they never payed much attention to the lyrics of these songs. In fact, many of the lyrics elicited responses such as “Wait, what did he say?” or “Wow, I didn’t know what that meant!”
Interestingly enough, many of these songs are favorable not because of the lyrics but because of the Soca rhythms that accompany the words. Often, Caribbean women are seen performing dances such as the “Dutty Wine” to the combination of fast and slow rhythms in Soca music. To Caribbean people, this style of dancing is a symbol of appreciation for the music that characterizes their culture. However, the major difference in dance styles often causes a drift in American and Caribbean cultures.
The next skit introduced the idea of women being taught to use their bodies to become successful. One of the most significant arguments spurred from several comments about pop culture glorifying the oversexualization of women especially in the music industry.
When asked for an example of oversexualization in the media, nearly every audience member agreed that women like Rihanna are known for being “too sexy.”
Looking back, Rihanna’s image has set the “standard” for Caribbean women as being both erotic and exotic. Videos similar to Rihanna’s “Rude Boy” and the infamous strip club anthem “Pour It Up” have contributed to stereotype of Caribbean women as hypersexual beings.
Sophomore Darien Ellis is fed up with the false perceptions people have of Caribbean culture.
“A lot of people know us as being sexual people but that’s just in our culture. However, perceptions can be mixed with ignorance and it kind of alters the way we want to be perceived.”
At the GBM, Ellis questioned why American people glorify Beyonce for being overly sexual in her latest self-titled album yet criticize Rihanna for not wearing many clothes and twerking in the “Pour it Up” video.
“There’s definitely a double standard. Beyonce’s last album was just as sexual yet she was not as criticized as Rihanna. I think this is somewhat because Beyonce grew up as an American whereas Rihanna is Caribbean. In the Caribbean, yes we like to dance, yes we like to wine but there is way more to us.”
CSA Public Relations Chair Justine Dawes believes that Thursday’s GBM encouraged Caribbean students to embrace their culture and American students to be understanding of the differences in perspectives of people from other cultures.
“I think its always good to get other people’s perspectives on things because, I mean, how would we all grow as a community or a society if we keep doing the little things to put others down or ourselves.”
The Caribbean Student Association will be hosting several other General Body Meetings throughout the school year.