Kaci Versus Rapunzel

In the Miss Universe contest between Kaci and all those Rapunzel lookalikes, our girl didn’t stand a chance. In his review of the show which is on YouTube, the comedian Dutty Berry makes a pretty good guess about why Kaci didn’t win: “I don’t know if is because her hair short an a whole heap a hair company a sponsor di show an dem love di Rapunzel look.”

If you don’t remember the fairy tale about Rapunzel, here’s how the story goes. A man and a woman live next door to a wicked witch. Maybe, she was just a lonely old woman. But this is a fairy tale, so she has to be a witch. The ‘normal’ woman gets pregnant and starts to crave rapunzel, a plant that grows in the witch’s garden. It has a beautiful flower and the leaves and root are edible.

The man steals a plant and is caught by the witch. He begs for mercy and she proposes to let him off on condition that the couple give her their child. Yu see how she wicked! Or lonely. The poor man agrees. His wife gives birth to a beautiful girl and the witch claims her prize. She calls the child Rapunzel.

As the little girl grows, so does her hair. She ends up with long, golden hair. This is going to be a big problem. When she turns 12, the witch locks her up in a tower in the middle of the forest. There are no stairs and no door, just one window.

I suppose this fairy tale is a warning about what happens to girls at puberty. They end up trapped by wicked witches who are afraid that the girls will get pregnant – especially if they are beautiful and have ‘tall’ hair. Sometimes, the wicked witch is the girl’s own mother.

BEAUTY A BURDEN

Rapunzel-fairy-tales-and-fables-1004994_375_500Rapunzel’s only visitor is the witch who would give this command: “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair so I can climb the golden stair.” What a stress on poor Rapunzel! Her golden hair becomes a ladder. Can you imagine the pull on her scalp! Of course, since this is a fairy tale, one is not supposed to raise these practical questions. But I think this story is quite subversive. It suggests that beauty can be a terrible burden for women.

Anyhow, the story gets better. You know there has to be a prince to rescue the damsel in distress. He comes riding through the forest and hears Rapunzel singing. He falls in love with her voice but can’t figure out how to get up to the tower. Then the wicked witch comes and he learns the magic words. In his case, letting down Rapunzel’s hair is foreplay. Next thing, the prince climbs up and in two twos Rapunzel is pregnant with twins.

Locking up girls isn’t a reliable contraceptive if there’s a prince on the loose. It’s the boys who should be locked up. When the wicked witch finds out that Rapunzel is in the family way she cuts off the golden hair and casts the disgraced young woman out into the wilderness. A familiar fate for pregnant teenagers!

The witch sets a trap for the prince who comes climbing up Rapunzel’s detached hair – now a weave. So many men have been caught by weaves! The witch pitches the prince down to the ground and he falls on thorns and is blinded. I suppose this is his punishment for impregnating Rapunzel.

The prince wanders around the forest for months. He eventually hears Rapunzel singing and is reunited with her and his children. Rapunzel starts to bawl and her tears of joy cure his blindness. And they go off to his palace where they live happily ever after. So what’s the moral of this improbable story?

TRUMPING DONALD

the_real_life_rapunzel_01_dWomen all over the world have been tricked into believing that ‘tall’ hair makes them beautiful. Even when it becomes a rope around their neck! And so many of the Miss Universe contestants seem to have weighed themselves down even more with Rapunzel weaves. Dutty Berry asks Donald Trump a wicked question: “A vex yu did vex because yu tink seh Kaci woulda mek hot gyal stop buy weave?”

On her return to Jamaica, Kaci Fennell did an ‘On Stage’ interview right at the airport. Naturally, she was asked about the short hair affair. Her response was beautifully plain and simple: “This is how I look best. And if this is not what they wanted, then it just wasn’t for me.” I wish more Jamaican women could be sensible enough to realise that ‘tall’ hair can’t make them beautiful. In fact, some weaves are downright ugly.

Beauty contests and language are two issues that continue to cause contention in our society. Dutty Berry deals with both of them. He commends Kaci for her answer to the social media question: “Fen-Fen sit down pon da question deh like hassock.”

Then he continues, “An di old Kardashian reject Colombia, wid di waist-trainer glue inna her waist, tek bout 10 centuries fi give fi her response. You tell me now. Yu see why Jamaica need fi mek Patwa be di official language! So we can buy time too and pause and think after each line.”

Dutty Berry has been nominated for a Youth View award in the category Favourite Breakout Celebrity for 2014. With lyrics like that, he’s a sure winner. Unless he’s trumped, like Kaci.

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Mirror, Mirror On the Wall

Miss Jamaica World 2014

Miss Jamaica World 2014

I’d decided to stay out of the kas-kas over this year’s beauty contests. But last week, one of my friends who’d been bugging me about the Miss Jamaica World contest started up again when she saw the Miss Jamaica Universe winner: “Yu mean to seh yu not going to write about it?” What difference would it make? It’s the same old tired story. The judges and the audience never seem to agree on who should be the winner of our rather ugly beauty contests.

Here’s the headline of Janet Silvera’s Gleaner report on the finals of the Miss Jamaica World contest: ‘Laurie-Ann Chin crowned Miss Jamaica World 2014 despite crowd’s dissatisfaction’ (July 14, 2014). This is not news. If you follow these beauty contests, it’s easy to predict the outcome. The light-skinned girl is almost always going to win.

The top-three winners of this year’s Miss Jamaica Universe contest are even more uniformly light-skinned than their Miss Jamaica World counterparts. I don’t know why the audience keeps on expecting miracles. I suppose hope springs eternal in the human breast. Especially here in Jamaica where the breast of the vast majority of women is dark-skinned!

snow-white-mirrorFive years ago, I wrote a column ‘Everybody’s Miss Jamaica’, which was published on September 20, 2009. I mischievously suggested that we forget about old-style beauty contests and promote a new model. This is how I put it: “So every year we ask ourselves this very loaded question: ‘Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of us all?’ And we all know the usual answer: ‘the fairest.’ But in an ‘out-of-many-one’ society it’s simply not fair that it’s only one type of beauty that is almost always privileged as the winner.

So why don’t we just agree to judge beauty in clearly distinct racial categories? I suggest five types: ‘African,’ ‘Indian,’ ‘Chinese,’ ‘European’ and ‘Out of Many, One.’ And I use the quotation marks to suggest the fact that these terms are quite arbitrary. There’s not going to be universal agreement on who exactly fits which type”.

LAPSE INTO LUNACY

shockedOf course, nobody took me seriously. It was satire after all. And we’re still fighting over who should win these beauty contests. As Janet Silvera reports, “Those shocked by the decision spoke loudly at the coronation show, raising their voices emphatically, as they cried ‘no, no’, booing the announcement.” But why were they “shocked”? They should know the score by now.

In the 1960s, one of my friends entered the Miss Jamaica beauty contest. I hope she won’t be vexed with me for reminding her of that lapse into lunacy. Or so it seemed. In the 1960s, Miss Jamaica looked just like Miss Jamaica today. You know exactly what I mean. My aspiring friend was not a Miss Jamaica lookalike. So I couldn’t understand why she would willingly subject herself to public humiliation.

Earlier on, when she’d asked me what I thought about her entering the contest I hadn’t been able to resist the temptation to tell her the truth as I saw it: “You entering Miss Jamaica? You must be mad!” Words to that effect. I guess I could have been much more diplomatic. I could have said, “Well, if they change the rules of the contest you might stand a chance.”

My friend did admit that she appreciated my honesty. Other people were pretending that her behaviour was normal. She was eliminated in the very first round. To give my friend her due, I think she had entered the contest to make a political statement. The politics of beauty! It’s really all about power. Judges assume the right to decide who is ugly and who is beautiful. Who gives them that power? The contestants? The audience? The owners of the competition?

‘SHE UGLY EEH!’

Unknown-2More than two decades ago, I was in a local bookshop and overheard two young women discussing a photo spread of the supermodel Althea Laing in Essence Magazine. One of them said, “She ugly eeh! Wa she a do inna magazine?” Well me an dem! “What wrong wid her? Unu no see how she beautiful?” Under pressure, they grudgingly conceded that maybe she was ‘attractive’. After all, she had attracted their attention. She had the look. But it was hard for these young women to appreciate the model’s beauty.

In a newspaper interview, Althea Laing wickedly describes the supermodel ‘look’ in this way: “The ‘look’ is when people can’t figure out whether you are ugly or pretty. You know you have the ‘look’ when people can’t figure that out.” I suppose the exclamation of that young woman in the bookshop was half question, half statement. She couldn’t figure out exactly what Althea Laing was doing in that magazine. Simply being attractively beautiful!

images-2Then I was intrigued to see that the prizes for this year’s Miss Jamaica World contest included the following: “10 university scholarships valued at $6 million, of which nine are from the University College of the Caribbean, in collaboration with partner universities such as Florida International University, London University, Kursk University; a $1 million master’s degree scholarship in Logistics from the CMI”. I only hope all of the degree programmes on offer are accredited by the University Council of Jamaica! Or it won’t be pretty.

A Letter From Adidja Palmer

Adidja 'Vybz Kartel' Palmer

‘Yu a Kartel mada?’ A dat one lickle yute ask me one Satday last month. Im dida walk an sell inna Tropical Plaza. ‘Weh yu seh?’ mi ask im. Im see seh mi lickle slow. So im ton i roun: ‘Kartel a yu son?’ Mi ask im, ‘Wa mek yu seh so?’ Im seh, ‘Mi see yu pan TV.'”

So I’ve now joined the band of aggrieved mothers who routinely appear on national news loudly protesting against the arrest of their sons who, supposedly, have been falsely accused of crime.

May Pen Cemetery

The youth must have seen the LIME TV interview at the Trench Town Bob Marley Tribute Concert in which I said I wanted to visit Kartel at the Horizon Adult Remand Centre. Quite an ironic name! There can’t be much of a view of the horizon from that vantage point. The May Pen Cemetery, perhaps; but that place of final rest cannot possibly be an appealing horizon for most prisoners.

It’s not easy to visit the Centre. You need a TRN card – the TRN number on your driver’s licence is not enough. You also need two passport-size photos, certified by a justice of the peace. You have to submit a formal application, which takes two weeks to be processed. And the prisoner has to agree to be visited. Last week, I got the temporary TRN card, so the distance to the horizon is decreasing.

The man and the role

On air, I did express doubts about Kartel’s guilt, based purely on my assessment of the DJ’s intelligence: Vybz Kartel couldn’t be foolish enough to think that Adidja Palmer could get away with murder! That is certainly not an indulgent mother’s stubborn affirmation of her son’s complete innocence. It’s a recognition of an essential distinction between the man and the role he plays as a DJ.

At the now-infamous lecture Kartel gave last year at the University of the West Indies, I asked him a penetrating question: Does Adidja Palmer ever disapprove of Vybz Kartel? His frank response was, “Yes.” I think Palmer knows that Kartel is an unstable character. Stardom really does make some intelligent entertainers lose their grip on reality.

Like it or not, Kartel is undoubtedly an international pop star. This January, one of France’s premier newspapers, Le Monde (The World), carried a story on the DJ in its Culture and Ideas section. According to the journalist, Arnaud Robert, it was “one of the most-read articles on Le Monde website the week it was published”. The story is illustrated with a box of Kartel’s signature cake soap and a photo of the DJ, naked from the waist up, displaying the much-tattooed canvas of his skin.

Guilty with explanation

Truth really is stranger than fiction. The same week the youth asked me if I was Kartel’s mother, I got a letter from my questionable son. Over the three decades I’ve been teaching literature at the University of the West Indies, I’ve received ‘whole heap’ of letters from Jamaicans imprisoned at home and abroad. Many of them send poems, asking for help in getting them published. Prison seems to bring out the creativity of criminals.

I once got a letter from a young man locked up at the St Catherine District prison for murder. He did not pretend to be innocent. He was guilty with explanation, a peculiarly Jamaican plea: “Miss, my action was not premeditated we had an on the spot arguement which developed into a fight knives were brought into play he got a stab and die.”

What is so intriguing about this man’s account is his poetic use of the passive voice. He did not stab the man. The man ‘got a stab’. The grammar of the sentence absolves the stabber of responsibility. The knives that were ‘brought into play’ apparently acted all by themselves. And the victim was so inconsiderate that, having got a stab, he took it upon himself to die!

Using media to slaughter

In his letter, Adidja Palmer (definitely not Vybz Kartel in this case) most certainly does not plead ‘guilty with explanation’. He declares that he is completely innocent. ‘So mi get it, so mi give it’:

“Dear Ms. Cooper,

Good day to you and i hope you are in the best of health and the highest of spirits, but I am not.

“Ms Cooper as you know i am in jail on numerous charges and i’d like to tell you that i am an innocent man who needs your help because i’m being painted as this evil ‘D.J. by day, don by night’ murderer who is society’s number one cause of crime and violence. The police is using the media to slaughter me and as such i don’t think i will get a fair trial. They are using the media to form public opinion of me that is so contradictory to the person that I really am. They (police) have tried my case in the public & found me guilty.

“Every single piece of alleged evidence, every new development in the case is thrown on t.v. as if this is a soap opera, but i can assure you that this is no movie to me. This is about my life and my freedom and i take them very seriously.

“My charges are merely allegations, but they are giving the public the impression that i am guilty and that is not fair to me or my family.

“I have been to court on numerous occasions and saw hundreds of accused men who are charged with heinous crimes like murdering children, killing police officers, burning & shooting whole families and i have never once saw police on t.v. discussing the development of those cases, much less every week, as in my case.”

To be continued. . .

Jobs For The Girls (And The Old Men)

PM Portia Simpson Miller and members of her Cabinet

In defeat, the ageing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) continues to wage its war of contempt against Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. Her decision to appoint three other women to the Cabinet has been mockingly dismissed by Arthur Williams as jobs for the girls. It’s not a dead issue. This disdainful reduction of adult females to mere ‘girls’ is pure sexism; putting women in their place as minor players in a big man’s world.

Attorney-at-law Paula Kerr-Jarrett

It makes you wonder if the 13 female candidates fielded by the JLP in the recent election were nothing but window-dressing. How many of these ‘girls’ would have been appointed to the Cabinet had the JLP won? Hardly any, it seems.

In an article headlined ‘JLP unleashes Operation Beautification’, published on November 20, 2011, an Observer analysis  makes an intriguing claim: “When Prime Minister Holness names the election date, four PNP men will find they have a pretty little problem on their hands.”

Dr. Saphire Longmore

The ‘problem’ women were Dr Saphire Longmore, Dr Patrece Charles-Freeman, attorney-at-law Paula Kerr-Jarrett and attorney-at-law Marlene Malahoo Forte.

Attorney-atl Law Marlene Malahoo-Forte

As it turns out, all four pretty ladies failed to defeat their male opponents. I don’t suppose these accomplished women were campaigning on the basis of their looks. They’re too smart for that, I trust. In any case, the Jamaican electorate is sufficiently sophisticated to look beyond appearance. It’s substance, not style, that matters when you cast your vote.

Dr. Patrece Charles-Freeman

But it does seem as if the men in charge of managing the image of the JLP believed that good looks, rather than political acumen, would give the female candidates an edge. Daryl Vaz’s enthusiastic parading of his party’s “13 ‘boonoonoonus’ pretty women” did suggest that women in politics are decorative objects first and foremost.

‘Man must run tings’

There are only four women in Portia Simpson Miller’s Cabinet of 20: a mere 20 per cent. Yet this relatively small number is cause for great concern. The troubling disrespect for the ‘girls’ appointed to the Cabinet seems to confirm that the JLP is committed to the backward notion that ‘man must run tings’.

Eighty per cent of the Cabinet is male! Nobody in the JLP is complaining about jobs for the boys. Why not? Is it because the presence of boys (or old men) in the Cabinet – whether PNP or JLP – is ‘natural’ and, therefore, taken for granted? Turning the size of Mrs Simpson Miller’s Cabinet into a gender issue betrays a deep-seated prejudice against women in politics.

It is true that the prime minister set herself up for sharp criticism by appointing such a large Cabinet. Her own words have come back to haunt her. Last May, when she was asked if she would appoint 18 members to her Cabinet, her response was, “I will not give the country a breakfront.”

The prime minister has definitely given us a breakfront which many fear will ‘bruck wi pocket – back an front’.

All the same, it is not the four women who have turned the Cabinet into a breakfront. The imbalance is decidedly in favour of the 16 far more weighty men sitting pretty in their rightful place, it would appear. And some of these heavy men really do need to lose a lot of ugly weight. They might just tip over the breakfront.

The 51% Coalition

Attorney-at-law Arthur Williams

There’s a movement afoot to right the gender balance in Parliament and across the public and private sectors. It’s called the 51% Coalition. And its watchword is ‘development and empowerment through equity’. In a recent press release, ‘More Women in Decision-making – Good for the Country!’, the coalition lauded the JLP for endorsing the National Policy on Gender Equality in its manifesto. It also expressed disappointment at Arthur Williams’ unfortunate remark.

Launched last November, the 51% Coalition takes its name from the percentage of women in the Jamaican population and the world at large. In December, the coalition outlined its objectives in a letter to Portia Simpson Miller, then leader of the Opposition:

i. Quotas must be legislated for public-sector and publicly listed companies to have no less than 40 per cent and no more than 60 per cent of either sex as board members;

ii. The principle of the 60-40 quota for either sex as proposed be applied to the appointments to the Senate and to appointments of members to public-sector boards and commissions even before any law is passed;

iii. The quota principle outlined above be applied to the selection of candidates for local government elections;

iv. A plan for effective implementation of the National Policy for Gender Equality be developed with specific and measurable outputs and specific timelines.

The South African Experience

At the launch of the 51% Coalition, from left, Dr. Leith Dunn, Mrs. Judith Wedderburn, Her Excellency Mathu Joyini, Mrs. Lorna Green

If you think these goals are far too ambitious and contentious, think again. The keynote speaker at the launch of the 51% Coalition was the South African high commissioner to Jamaica, Her Excellency Mathu Joyini, who lauded the bold initiative:

“Quotas tend to generate discomfort in a society, and it takes leadership and courage to take them on. Often people think that it is about just putting women in positions they do not deserve.

“This cannot be further from the truth. It is really about creating space for women who are capable and competent to break through structural and artificial barriers that are often put by society to limit equal access to opportunities and resources, and equal enjoyment of the benefits of society.”

As a result of the introduction of the quota system in South Africa, there has been an astounding increase in the percentage of women in government: from two per cent before 1994 to 18 per cent in 1994; and 45 per cent in 2010! If the 51% Coalition is successful, there will be far more jobs for the ‘girls’. Not just in the Cabinet but on every public- and private-sector board. And the women, most certainly, will not be dead wood.

Dying To Be Beautiful?

Crazy as it may seem, some supposedly sane people are quite prepared to risk death in order to fit the current model of what it means to be beautiful. Whatever that is. Just think of all of those exploding breast and bottom implants!

This week, the Montego Bay campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Jamaica, raises the provocative question – dying to be beautiful? – at its very first scientific conference on ‘Body Image, Eating Behaviours and Health in the Caribbean’. Pre-conference seminars will be held at the Kingston campus this Wednesday and Thursday. The main event starts on Friday in the Second City.

The ‘Kingston’ and ‘Montego Bay’ campuses of ‘UWI, Jamaica’ exist only in my imagination. The reality is far more wordy and confusing: the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica, now has two campuses: the Mona campus in Kingston and the Western Jamaica campus in Montego Bay.

More than six decades ago when the University College of the West Indies (UCWI) was founded as an outpost of the University of London, there was only one campus – at Mona.

Branding UWI, Jamaica

Three more campuses have been established over the years: St Augustine in Trinidad and Tobago; Cave Hill in Barbados; and the Open Campus which hosts 42 sites, both virtual and physical, serving 16 countries across the Creole-Anglophone Caribbean. Since Mona is no longer the only campus in Jamaica, it would make sense to move with the times and change the name.

But sentiment often prevails over good sense. Many graduates of ‘Mona’ would not be happy to hear that their campus no longer existed – in name. All the same, UWI, Mona, really ought to rebrand as UWI, Jamaica, with two campuses – Kingston and Montego Bay. Eventually, there may even be a Mandeville campus! Would that have to be named generically as the ‘Central Jamaica’ campus?

Sam Sharpe Square, Montego Bay

Associating the Jamaican campuses of the University of the West Indies with easily recognised names of cities would actually strengthen the institution’s brand. ‘Kingston’ has much greater global brand recognition than ‘Mona’. And ‘Montego Bay’ definitely has more vibes than ‘Western Jamaica’. But whatever name you call it, the new UWI campus is certainly making a big impact in the west.

Half Moon

Last month, I was the keynote speaker at the End of Year Awards event for the Half Moon resort. The taxi driver who took me back to the airport enthusiastically sang the praises of the Montego Bay campus when he heard I taught at UWI. His granddaughter is a student there. She’s enjoying the challenging academic programme. This, after all, is not a university ‘fi stone dog’. But the thing he valued most was the fact that it was so cost-effective for her to live at home. The family didn’t have to go to all the expense of finding accommodation in Kingston.

‘A man is never ugly’

The UWI, MoBay conference is co-hosted with the Renfrew Center for Eating Disorders and Eating Recovery Center, based in the United States. The centre was established in Philadelphia in 1985 as a residential facility for women suffering from a range of psychological problems disguised as food issues: anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder. The centre now has several branches. Dr Jennifer Nardozzi, who practises at the Coconut Creek facility in Florida, is one of the distinguished conference panellists.

Traditionally, men didn’t have problems with body image. They were not expected to be beautiful. Their role was to be breadwinners. They didn’t worry about how much bread they ate. The Nigerian novelist Buchi Emecheta puts it beautifully in her satirical novel, The Joys of Motherhood: “A woman may be ugly and grow old, but a man is never ugly and never old. He matures with age and is dignified.”

Danny Padilla

These days, men have got on the beauty bandwagon. And they are suffering the consequences. Pumping iron as if it’s going out of style; skin-bleaching, cosmetic surgery. You name it; men are doing it. Nobody seems to be satisfied with the package they’ve inherited. And even after all of the ‘fixing’, some people will never ever be happy with how they look. Beauty is a moving target.

Racist editorial policy

The UWI conference covers a wide range of topics: the ethics and practice of cosmetic surgery; the social, psychological and medical aspects of skin-bleaching; healthy eating and exercise; medical and cultural norms that define body image; skin tattooing and plastic surgery; standards of beauty.

One of the highlights is the panel discussion with local celebrities which focuses on ‘Defining sexy: Fluffy or Skinny Women; Black or Brown Skin (to Bleach or no), Tattoo or no Tattoo?’ Vybz Kartel was invited to be one of the panellists but, of course, he’s now out of circulation. Perhaps he’ll get bail in time for the conference.

I was most amused to see that Novia McDonald-Whyte will be giving a plenary lecture, following a panel on ‘Standards of Beauty’. Her topic is not advertised. I wonder if she’ll be talking about the racist editorial policy of the Observer‘s notorious ‘Page 2’, which usually features almost exclusively ‘high-colour’ socialites.

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Independence, we need to question our national motto, ‘Out of Many, One People’? Is Jamaica really a multiracial society? Obviously, not! We are a black-majority nation with a small minority of other racial groups. Our national motto is clearly delusional.

Fabricated by the brown/white elite half a century ago, the motto symbolises the arrogance of those who consider themselves entitled to rule. Disregarding the black majority, the self-centred minority deliberately falsified the truth. They concocted a motto in their own image: ‘Page 2’. No wonder the black in the flag represented ‘hardship’. In the spirit of Marcus Garvey, I propose an emancipated motto: ‘One Aim, One Destiny, Full Freedom’. That should cover just about everybody.