A few months ago I was involved in a staging of The Vagina Monologues. We did a piece (we are over it!) which encapsulated just how fed up women were with having issues concerning the abuse of women’s bodies and women’s reactions to that abuse shunted aside. There’s a section in that piece that touches on the fact that women who are justifiably indignant about some such abuse – a line crossed in some way – are often dismissed as not having a sense of humour. Maybe that’s why I’ve been dragging my feet to write about a song that’s been bugging me since I first heard it and really a general trend in the popular music. No one wants to be a wet blanket.
But here goes.
I don’t like that Kick een she back Doh song that’s everywhere, and is no doubt a leading Road March contender. There, at the risk of coming off like C Dolores Tucker shaking my fist at the music today, not to mention incurring the wrath of Flames fans everywhere, I’ve said it.
The song begins with a bone-chilling scream and proceeds over a catchy beat to blue print how to get around a lady’s resistance to your sexual advances with (sexual) aggression. There’ve been too many rapes and break-ins, too many women feeling unsafe in their houses in recent times to shrug off its use of a physical home invasion as a metaphor for an invasion of a woman’s body as just another Carnival song.
I have nothing against sexual innuendo, I’ve even jammed to songs where you had to squint to see the innuendo because the sex was laid out plain as day – never let it be said that the rhythm box can’t cause us to forget our sense or our sensibilities.
Still, am I imagining that there was better masking of the intent of the songs in clever language than there is now? Seems to me there were songs we kids enjoyed singing along to and parodying because it was funny or had a catchy beat, while parents and other adults smirked knowingly, the song’s real meaning not lost on them as perhaps it was on us. But my issues with this Back Doh song moves beyond its lack of creativity.
It’s also not about romanticising the past; because yes, back in the day, there were songs that crossed somebody’s line; that’s part of the lure of calypso and soca after all, looking for the hidden message in the playful and deceptively playful language? But there’s little that’s playful about the violent imagery on both the conscious and subliminal level of this song. Despite the admittedly catchy beat, the lyrics don’t feel naughty, they feel …well, listen for yourself:
“Women does make things real hard, especially when they get mad, no matter how hard you try, no easy way to slip inside, so the solution to get inside ‘cause she lock down she house so tight…wha fu do, wha fu do, kick een she back doh, kick een she back doh…bruck um een, bruk um een, bruk um een…and she balling murder …” – all while a woman in the back ground does just that.
Is this sexual innuendo or a sexual attack?
Consider its implicit sanctioning of rape, or if, as some will say that’s reading too much into it, its blatant insensitivity to those who’ve survived rapes and break ins, who may hear the scream that precedes and runs as an effect throughout the song and suffer a flashback because the memory is still too fresh for them to laugh about, much less dance to, it.
The thing of it is though, as a writer myself, I don’t believe in censorship. I believe in people exercising good sense. I believe that some content is appropriate for adults and some for everyone, that’s why movies and TV shows are rated. And the only kind of censorship I embrace is parents’ right to censor what they consider to be inappropriate material for their children. And that might be another reason I’ve been hesitant to speak on this. Because when I’m writing, I try to turn the mental censors off and just let the true-ness of the story come true. And that true-ness has bucked up a time or two against people who think the content crosses a line. So then how can I say that Flames don’t have the right to sing what they want to sing, even if it rubs some people the wrong way?
Well I don’t, but it’s one thing to download and listen to a song in your private space. But don’t we have a right to expect that better discretion be exercised with respect to the public airwaves and other public spaces? Don’t we need to remember that, in these public spaces, even our five year olds are listening and beginning to parrot the songs?
And we maybe need to ask ourselves what these songs they’re beginning to sing are beginning to say to them about how boys relate to girls, about taking what isn’t offered, about kicking in back doors – even if they don’t get that it’s a heavy handed metaphor for a certain type of sexual activity, even if they don’t get how with a “kick” as opposed to a knocking and asking to be let in, that activity is framed in violence.
I mentioned the Vagina Monologues earlier. The piece I did had to do with surviving rape. We played to a full house and I wondered, in a series of articles around that time, if it was just from the audience’s standpoint just entertaining or would it spur real change. I’m still wondering, wondering how all of us so moved by the stories in the play, all of us so eager to say we are over it, are so eager to dance to something that champions the kind of behaviour we denounced.
True say, some are beginning to let their thoughts be known in public spaces about this and other songs of the bacchanal season, at the risk of being accused of being old, out of touch or pulling down a fellow Antiguan and Barbudan notwithstanding that they are young and young at heart, among the country’s most patriotic and ravenous supporters of the arts, and as soup for Carnival as I am.
I asked for feedback on this on Facebook and one person commented on the whole it’s only a song mentality. She said, “There are some issues that people would never joke about because they realise that nothing about the issue is amusing. This shows that people are capable of drawing the line somewhere.”
I guess the question then, a question we must ask ourselves as a society, is: is there a line to be drawn here or is this just good Carnival fun?